Ask Dr. Frank

Offers advice from a family therapist on a variety of issues. Planning a wedding; The unbearable anger of paranoia; The psychic costs of working with abused children.

By Frank Pittman, published on January 1, 1995 - last reviewed on October 28, 2005

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.

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.