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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 5334
Experience:  Dr. Mark is a PhD in psychology in private practice
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I'll try to be as brief as possible. 4 years ago this

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Hi! I'll try to be as brief as possible. 4 years ago this Sunday, I left my boyfriend as his 2 little boys. He is an abusive alcoholic. I was 32 at the time. Though I had dated many people, and even been married once before, this person & his little boys were the loves of my life. I have been grieving ever since, and cannot get my life together. I've been hospitalized for depression 4 times, subsequently lost my job, then had to file bankruptcy. Every day, I wake up knowing that I'm never going to see those 3 people again. The pain is overwhelming. I just don't know what to do.

Hi! You know, to give you the best answer, I think I should ask you a few questions first that will help define the problem and the situation.

Your question is very evocative of such deep seated feelings. Why do you think you are so obsessed in thinking about someone who was abusive and alcoholic and clearly didn't treat you as well as you would deserve?

Do you tend to obsessive thoughts? Has this been a problem before in your life of having obsessive tendencies and thoughts?

Was there trauma or abuse in your childhood? What about alcohol or dysfunction in your family?

Why do you think it has not been successful in freeing you from these obsessive thoughts of him?

Any extra information that will help, feel free to share.

I will most likely log off for the night before you reply, but go ahead and reply to these questions and I’ll answer as soon as I log on tomorrow. Okay?

Dr. Mark

Customer: replied 6 years ago.
Dr. Mark,

Thank you very much for your prompt response.

Brief history:

My Mother: void of maternal instincts. Never any emotional attachment. I got a job at 16 & have supported myself since (until I lost my job last August). Put myself through college waiting tables. I graduated from the Univ of Tenn with a Bachelor's in Business. Haven't had any contact with my mother in five years, and I have chosen to permanently sever that relationship.

My Father: Narcisitic Personality Disorder. Retired Colonel in U.S.A.F. Been married 6 times. I have just recently decided to sever that relationship due to his constant emotional and verbal abuse.

1 Sibling: My brother. He is close to our mother. He has not had a relationship with our father since he was 12.

My mother & father divorced when I was 4, and we were raised by our mother.

Dr. Mark, I have asked myself the same questions that you have posed. I completely opened up and gave 100% of myself to John and his children. He had 2 little boys: 2 1/2 and 5, and I absolutely adored them, and they adored me. I guess for the first time in my life, at 31 years old, I felt like I had a family. Since I left home at 18 to go to college, I had not celebrated the holidays or had any family interaction. All of the sudden, I had everything that I wanted with John. He was great when he was sober, but a monster when he drank, which was every night. After a year of instability with him, I left.

For the 1st 2 years after I left John, I could barely make it through the day. I would wake up everyday thinking, "I've got to make it through today without seeing the 3 people that I love, and I have to do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and next week, and next month..." Everynight, I would go to bed hoping that I wouldn't wake up the next day.

For the past 2 years, the "sting" of the breakup is gone, but now there is just emptiness. Last August, I lost my job due to the number of hospitalizations, and I'm currently not working. The person that I am dating now is supporting me, but my not working, and my constant depression is putting a strain on this relationship. Since I lost my job I have been suffering from anxiety, but for the last couple of months, that anxiety has turned into depression. I know I need to go back to work, but I have no motivation. I stay in bed all day, I don't leave the house for days on end, I don't eat, I actually just don't do anything.

I regret wasting the past 4 years of my life. Ages 32-35 should have been some of the best years of my life, but they were awful. I guess the way I feel is that I had a small window of happiness in my life with John and his boys, and now that's gone, and I do not have the desire to keep living.

I appreciate your time.

Thank you for the added information. It helps a lot. I believe I can now be of help with this issue.

First let me say that I can imagine how difficult and frustrating this situation must be for you. You are clearly an intelligent woman. I knew there had to be a basis for these feelings that you have and this is why I asked the further questions. And it turns out there is. You write the key to these feelings you can't understand right there: when you were with John you felt like you had a family.

So reread your posting and you will see: you are talking about stages of grief. You have been grieving THROUH John and his kids for that family you never had when you were small. That John was abusive and dysfunctional made it even more a replaying f your childhood in the way you wish it could have happened. You know, when a child has no home but is also beaten, the child fantasizes about the heaven on earth that having a home would be. But in that child's fantasy, she's still being beaten, she's still suffering. But she has a home, it's heavenly.

When we are small we can't imagine what it would be like to create a totally functional reality. And so children who grew up in dysfunctional situations often gravitate toward dysfunctional situations even when they are adults, and very competent, and intelligent. So you are grieving.

But I need you to recognize WHAT you are grieving for. John is only the latest representative of your primal hurt. Of what you were grieving for throughout your youth. What you are still grieving for. So let John go and recognize that he is not the man of your future. He is the representative of a step in your going from dysfunction to healthy life.

The rest of my answer, therefore, is going to focus therefore on two things: first, on motivation. And second, I will also at the end of the posting give you a technique you can use on your own as well for when you are in the throes of depression and/or anxiety.

This first recommendation may seem unusual. You clearly are ready for taking positive steps to help your own mood and attitude situation. I've given you a framework from which to understand your loyalty to John: the grief you placed on him for all the lack of family in your life. It's time for you to recognize you are not the small girl who needs to fantasize only about a little bit of goodness. You're a grown woman who can make and has the right to make a functional life. Therefore, I want you to finish the grieving for your past and to get really into motivational videos and books. Here's a simple YouTube search I put together for you on "motivational speakers":

Some like Tony Robbins are the classic big guys. Some are newer. Watch them all. Get inspired. There are now some really good women speakers. Buy a book or two. Here are some possibilities, but they are only suggestions as there are so many good ones.

The first book is the father of all these type of books. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. There are classes in these books now! It was written in the 1930s and still has something to say to us today that is very worthwhile.

I think very highly of the second book on my list, which is a real classic: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It is the book that has helped more people than probably any other.

The third book is by Anthony Robbins. He's one of those speakers who fills up huge auditoriums. For a reason. He's a terrific speaker and writer. The particular book (if you like it, try his others): Awaken the Giant Within.

Please give this a chance. Yes attitude is just attitude and you've been through the rough stuff. But attitude shapes a lot of how we feel inside.

Now, I want to give you a tool to use for when the depression is overwhelming or there is anxiety. Here are instructions on a therapeutic protocol called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). It's really quite easy to do almost anywhere. My patients suffering from depression or anxiety, when I teach them PMR at first are amazed how simple it is and that it is a psychological protocol. It was first used in the 1920s! Since then, of course, it has been refined and many studies have been done showing its effectiveness. You will practice PMR at first when you don't wake up with an attack so that you will be familiar with it. I want you to practice the PMR at least 5-6 times before an attack or feeling acute anxiety. Why? Because when you're in the throes of anxiety, you will only remember to do something you are very familiar with it. So practicing 5-6 times is really a minimum.

I want to stress the importance of breathing as well. Part of the physiology of what is happening to you in anxiety is that your breathing is getting shallower. This reduces the oxygen in your blood to your brain. That increases the anxiety reaction, which strengthens the attack and you are in a vicious cycle! Not good. So breathing is the primary tool. I have found in my practice that learning breathing techniques can be helpful. But some of my patients are not interested in learning more than one thing at the beginning, so I have found that just reminding you to BREATHE deeply at the same time you are doing PMR is almost as good. If you are willing to take a yoga class and learn breathing techniques, that's the best. But, breathing deeply with your PMR will help.

So, we're ready for learning PMR. I want you to print my instructions below my signature and have a copy in each of the rooms of your home where you may be when you have an attack. And again, you need to practice this easy technique at least 5-6 times as soon as you can. It needs to become as natural to you as breathing. Ah, remember breathing?


  1. After finding a quiet place and several free minutes to practice progressive muscle relaxation, sit or lie down and make yourself comfortable.
  2. Begin by tensing all the muscles in your face. Make a tight grimace, close your eyes as tightly as possible, clench your teeth, even move your ears up if you can. Hold this for the count of eight as you inhale.
  3. Now exhale and relax completely. Let your face go completely lax, as though you were sleeping. Feel the tension seep from your facial muscles, and enjoy the feeling.
  4. Next, completely tense your neck and shoulders, again inhaling and counting to eight. Then exhale and relax.
  5. Continue down your body, repeating the procedure with the following muscle groups:
    • chest
    • abdomen
    • entire right arm
    • right forearm and hand (making a fist)
    • right hand
    • entire left arm
    • left forearm and hand (again, making a fist)
    • left hand
    • buttocks
    • entire right leg
    • lower right leg and foot
    • right foot
    • entire left leg
    • lower left leg and foot
    • left foot
  6. for the shortened version, which includes just four main muscle groups:
    • face
    • neck, shoulders and arms
    • abdomen and chest
    • buttocks, legs and feet

Quickly focusing on each group one after the other, with practice you can relax your body like ‘liquid relaxation’ poured on your head and it flowed down and completely covered you. You can use progressive muscle relaxation to quickly de-stress any time.

What You Need:

  • A comfortable place.
  • Some privacy.
  • A few minutes.


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