Cybershrink: some tough questions

CyberShrink answers some tough questions dealing with fear, loss and destructive behaviours that can surface inside of us and our relationships.

Q: I think I'm a shopaholic

I've just read the daily Health24 tip and I realise that I'm definitely a shopoholic. And not in the funny sense that we all joke about.

I lie about how much things cost, I juggle accounts (better now, thank God), I have too many credit cards, I shop to make me feel better (and it REALLY REALLY does). I'm not anxious about purchases, but I sure as hell get that rush of euphoria. I'm even in a better mood when I've bought groceries, for pete's sake.

But I've got myself into lots of debt. I can still pay it every month, but it's reached the point where my husband and I fight bitterly about my spending habits, and I have very little disposable income left after bills and debt. What should I do?!

Expert:  Lying about one's bad habits is a pretty reliable indicator that they are out of control. If you shop responsibly, for only what you need, you only need one credit card, and better still, rather, a debit card, so you can't spend more than you have in your account.

Cancel and cut up all the credit cards, in consultation with your bank, so you can consolidate all your debt into one single account; and maybe arrange one debit card with your bank, maybe setting a lowish limit on spending on it, related to what you MUST spend each month, and allowing for no luxuries or unnecessary purchases. And see a psychologist for CBT style counselling/therapy to break this bad habit, and to find better and cheaper ways to feel good when you need to.

Q: 13-year-old and faceBook

My daughter is only 13 and I got the shock of my life to find that she has a facebook account and 21 friends all from her school. I don't want her on facebook and I am angry at her. I want to take her phone away - why should she do this without discussing it with me?

Expert: This sort of thing shouldn't come as a surprise to you - I happen to dislike Facebook, too, but expect kids to join in the empty fad, especially when everyone else at school is doing so, and they feel foolishly left out if they don't. Rather prepare for this. Discuss it CALMLY with the child, asking what she hears about and it, what she thinks of it.

Emphasize that bad people can and do use such opportunities to find inexperienced people and make trouble for them. The best mum I know has allowed her kids to have a facebook presence, but only on condition that she has free access to the page, is listed as a friend, and that the children know she can and will check randomly to see everything's going all-right.

Discuss the risks of posting details of yourself online, especially address, and contact details, as it's open to EVERYONE on earth, and not only your friends.

As to why she did this without discussing it with you - it probably seemed harmless to her, and maybe she expected you to go through the roof rather than to discuss it calmly? If you didn't discuss this in advance, and didn't specifically tell her not to, she has hardly disobeyed you. 

I think it is extremely foolish for any indulgent parent to buy any child a cellphone with internet access - it is totally unnecessary (NO child needs that) and not available for parental control, With home-based web access on computer, preferably with the computer in the lounge rather than available for secret stuff in the bedroom, you can also use parental control software to appropriately limit access.

I totally disagree with the view that sites like Facebook "are important for a kids social development" - that's naive and populist hokum and hogwash (enough to wash a whole bucnch of hogs!). The very best possible thing for kids' social development is the old-fashioned way, by developing actual real life flesh-and-blood friendships with actual people at school and in the neighbourhood, rather than the phony "friends" on Facebook.

Switch her phone to one without internet access, but give her internet access from home, and encourage her to use Facebook from there with you as a friend with full access, and yes, try a page of your own, maybe with her advice and helping you, so you can bond over this rather than make it an unnecessary crisis.

Q:  Is this normal post-traumatic stress?

After being assaulted, robbed, held hostage and gang raped 3 months ago is it normal to be obsessed with the death penalty and punishment? I am on mood stabilisers and anti-depressants, but it is getting worse. Please advise me.

Expert: Sorry to hear about your awful experiences. It often happens that one remains disturbed by such trauma. This may be in milder forms, and natural that one feels angry about what happened, especially if the perpetrators got away or were gently treated, as happens far too often in our country. But one may also develop PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which needs careful assessment and treatment, including medications and skilled psychotherapy, to enable one to recover. I don't believe any victim should ever be encouraged to "forgive" those who harmed her, but it is indeed useful to work with a psychotherapist/counsellor to let go of the sort of bitter brooding over what happend and those who did it, which does them no harm at all, but ties you firmly to replays of the awful events, instead of enabling you to move through this and to get on with the happier part of your life.

Q:  Paranoia

My fiance and I are very worried about his mother. She is 55 and is showing increasing signs of paranoia such as her husband plotting secretly behind her back (which is not true).  She is worried her husband is speaking about her to her son behind her back, she is worried she is being monitored through her email and sms activities and that everyone is out to get her.

This type of behavior has been going on since my fiancee's childhood – he was not allowed to stay over at friends as she feared something would happen to him and constantly questioned him about where he is going and what he is doing.  She would phone him at least 3 times daily to see if everything is alright and being very upset if he did not answer. The signs have gotten worse over the years and seem to be progressing quite fast now. I fear that confronting her about it will worsen the situation and we don't know how to go about getting her to speak to a professional.

Expert:  There are forms of paranoid disorder which tend to develop later in life; and they do respond to proper treatment. The problem is, often, finding a way to persuade her to see a good psychiatrist for assessment and a discussion of treatment options.  Sometimes they will accept referral and treatment to help them get stronger and better able to cope with the worries they are describing - one acknowledges that what she believes is happening must be alarming and distressing, without agreeing that they are true. 

It sounds as though these more recent developments have been an exaggeration of a paranoid personality of long-standing. Confrontation is usually useless in most situations, especially one like this. One more often succeeds by being sympathetic about how distressing it must be to have worries like this, that things are, fortunately, often not as bad as they may seem, but none the less they are very stressful, and that its worth seeing someone who understands such concerns, as some treatments may help one to become stronger and better able to cope with these worries.

Q:  craving of soil

I am male and always craving soil/earth. I am obviously not pregnant - what is wrong with me?

Expert:  Well, craving of odd things we don't normally eat is called Pica. It doesn't only happen in pregnancy. You may, for instance, have an iron deficiency, or any of a number of other concerns. First stop, see a good GP for a physical check-up. This isn't usually a feature of psychiatric illnesses.

Send your questions to CyberShrink

Tips for Facebook safety

(Joanne Hart, Health24, October 2011)

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