Ask Dr. Frank

Family therapist Frank Pittman III, M.D., imparts his wit and his wisdomto the planning and manning of weddings, who should -- and who shouldn't -- become a psychotherapist, the unbearable anger of paranoia, and the psychic costs of working with harmed kids.

DEAR DR. FRANK: I AM PLANNING MY FIRST WEDDING AND I WANT IT TO BE REALLY BEAUTIFUL, BUT MY MOTHER IN-LAW-TO-BE INSISTS THAT MY FIANCE'S SISTER, PRUNELLA, BE IN THE WEDDING. PRUNELLA IS A MARINE SERGEANT, SHE HAS A CREW CUT AND IS A MUSCLE BUILDER. SHE WILL LOOK OUTRAGEOUS IN THE BRIDESMAIDS' DRESSES I'VE CHOSEN. SHE RIDICULES MARRIAGE AND I THINK SHE WANTS TO LOOK RIDICULOUS TO EMBARRASS ME -- SHE PROMISES TO UNVEIL A NEW TATTOO FOR THE OCCASION.

MY PICTURE-PERFECT WEDDING IS BEING RUINED BY THESE AWFUL WOMEN. MY FIANCE IS NO HELP AT ALL. HE IS SO RESPECTFUL OF HIS MOTHER HE WOULD ALWAYS TAKE HER SIDE. HE SAYS WE CAN ELOPE IF I WANT TO, BUT IF THERE IS TO BE A WEDDING HIS SISTER IS GOING TO BE IN IT. HOW CAN HE BE SO INSENSITIVE? THIS MAY BE THE ONLY WEDDING I'LL EVER HAVE.

-- MISERABLE BRIDE

Dear Miz: Actually, this probably won't be the only wedding you'll ever have. It is quite clear that you are in love with weddings, yet have no appreciation of marriage. Marriage brings two families together, families full of people of every size, shape, and condition of humanity; people who are not chosen on the basis of appearance. The wedding ceremony should be a celebration of that merger, a demonstration of everyone's acceptability to everyone else. If you are not ready for that messy and often inconvenient reality of family life, I urge you to call off the marriage.

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Instead, let me suggest that you hire a photographer, get together some beautiful people, stage a wedding, and frame the picture. Then later, when you are ready to join a family, you can marry without having to worry about how the photographs are going to look.

When you get past this preoccupation with pretty pictures, and are finally ready to actually marry someone, this groom sounds promising. If he is loyal to his mother and his sister, even if they are not "beautiful people," and he is this flexible with you, then he may understand family, loyalty, commitment, kindness, respect, and all those things that matter so much more than the wedding show.

Dear Dr. Frank: What can a man do when he is being stalked by the gay community? I am agoraphobic and some homosexuals became aware of my disorder before me and played a game of hooking into my panic reactions. I react to movement and they wait until a man walks in front of me and they howl or something.

The Asian community here is throwing its full support behind the gays. I have dreams of a normal family life, but these SOBs are as mean as snakes. There is even electronic surveillance in my living area and my mail is being monitored. Would you as a doctor tell me if this is common, or would that put you in the bad books with your fellow doctors? I'd just like to know what the hell is going on.

-- Startled by Gays and Asians in Vancouver

Dear Startled: In this country many people are uncomfortable around people of other races and sexual orientations; we call them Republicans. Some Republicans know that the anger and hatred is coming from them rather than toward them; some do not.

When you know that there is anger in the room, but you don't realize that it is coming from inside you, you come to fear people who bear no ill will toward you at all. This is known as paranoia. I assure you, all the gays and Asians in Vancouver have a lot more things to worry about than you.

But I'm worried about you. If is hard enough to go through life agoraphobic, but it is unbearable going through life paranoid. You need a good therapist to help you overcome this. If you want a normal life, you are going to have to get comfortable with gays, Asians, and all the other people around you.

I would urge you to seek out friends who belong to these groups. The more effort you make to try to understand different types of people, the less they will startle you when they walk by.

Dear Dr. Frank: I have just started a new job as a child-abuse investigator. Before I started this job, I was having panic attacks three to four times a week, but with the aid of self-help books, I have not had an attack for about three months. Since that time, however, I have obsessed over several different fears, from death to going insane to the dangers I face on my job. I majored in psychology in college, and I get mad at myself for being so ridiculous.

Two weeks ago, I dreamed that I sexually abused a child. The dream was very vivid and I cannot seem to forget it. I now obsess over it and worry that it might have some deep-seated meaning. Could I be capable of such a thing? I have never had any sexual fantasies about children. I am married but I don't have any children. Since this dream, I'm almost afraid of looking at a child.

Will you tell me what do you think this dream means? How can I forget about it and resolve my fears?

-- Afraid of Babies

Dear Afraid: Your job is the stuff of nightmares; I'm not surprised that you're losing sleep over it. Of course you dream about it. Your mind is hard at work understanding child molestation. You've been hired to think about child abuse all the time.

If your job requires you to suspect otherwise sane and sensible people of doing such an awful thing, it would be insensitive of you not to question yourself about it. You raise the question, sleeping and awake, of whether you could molest children, and you determine that you would not do it despite the fact that you and everyone else in our society these days seems absolutely obsessed with it. Little naked babies used to symbolize innocence, angels, or hope to you; now they symbolize only sexual perversion.

But this obsession is leading to a bigger problem for you, the fear of children. At least one child-abuse expert has declared that the best protection against molesting children is me experience or changing a whole lot of messy diapers. My advice is this: hang out with children (whether a relative's, or a friend's). The more time you spend with them and take care of them, the more comfortable you will be with them and with yourself.

Believe me, you are not alone. Psychology majors are always getting themselves into these positions, like medical students looking up their little symptoms in the big pathology books, and fancying themselves having the most bizarre and heinous of conditions. I'm glad the self-help books you found have helped you up until now, though I would have recommended you see a real, live therapist who could keep your sense of alarm in perspective.

I wish someone would write a self-help book for sex-abuse workers, who seem to be going understandably crazy as they do their jobs. At least you know the problem is you, and that is the most important step.

Just think, you could be going so crazy from the horrors of your work, you might imagine that everyone except you is a child molester.

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