Wednesday 23 October 2019

Ask me anything: Our resident psychologist answers your queries about sex and relationships


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Allison Keating

Question:My son suffers from anxiety. He is in his thirties now and despite his talents and intelligence, he never really took off. He still lives at home, works in an entry-level job despite a good university education, and contributes nothing to the household. He visited a therapist a few years back and says he uncovered memories of extreme bullying by his older sister. She was shocked and upset and to be honest all of us were thrown into chaos. I remember them having a lovely relationship and she has no idea what he is talking about. He refuses to discuss it and has offered no details at all. He is holding my husband and I to ransom saying it is our fault he never amounted to anything. He refuses to go to a counsellor. What should we do?

A Nothing. That one word, as a full actionable sentence, needs to be jarring. One of the core tasks of being an adult is taking self-responsibility. If I re-read this and there was no age on it I would assume your son was a young child/adolescent backed up by your saying 'what should we do?' The next steps need to be taken by your son. He sounds like he is in a lot of distress. I think he needs your support within his own self-directed change. Hopefully this will start you on that path.

Set clear boundaries for what you won't accept anymore. The ransom ends now. Your son and daughter are saying they had vastly different experiences in childhood. These perceptions of the past need to be explored.

There is a lot of fault finding, temper tantrums, manipulation and blame being thrown around at everyone. You say that your son is saying it's your fault, your husband's fault, your daughter's fault - and I wonder do you feel some of this is your son's fault? There's too much fault finding.

Everyone needs to step back and be accountable for what they are responsible for. Just because you feel your son and daughter had a good relationship doesn't mean this is the truth. An open conversation is needed here. I think I would advise for it to be mediated.

Self-responsibility cultivates growth and confidence in our own self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is integral to every decision we make in life as you recognise that even though life is challenging, you believe in your own abilities or at least that you can give whatever it is a try. The third aspect is self-regulation, whereby you strategically achieve your goals. Each aspect of 'self' described above in taking responsibility, believing you can do it and then taking the necessary steps are all well and good unless you feel stuck, overwhelmed and incapable of knowing where to start. Your son sounds stuck.

If you fix everything for your son, which is so easy to do when you are being blamed, as the underlying guilt drives you to 'help', he won't be able to develop the life skills he needs. Coupled with the anxiety that hacks away at his confidence the fear, doubt and dread create a vicious cycle of avoidance, which is where it sounds like he is at right now.

Many 30-year-olds have no choice but to live at home as a part of our major housing crisis, which I feel adds to the developmental stunting of being able to act and live as an adult. More specific to your son, I hear how his anxiety sounds like it is enmeshed in avoidance. It would be very helpful for him to talk with a mental health professional to see what the main concerns are and what is inhibiting his ability to go forth.

How is your son socially? Social anxiety can be deeply debilitating and impact the ability to function in college, work and relationships.

Even though I started asking you to do nothing you can try and set up a safe conversation to tell your son that you are worried about him. To state what you see, such as, 'you seem to be unhappy and frustrated and I would like for you to be happier in your own life'. To suggest that he consider speaking with someone in a safe, trusting space where he could explore what is going on for him.

The next step is then his choice. You could say that you can see that life is hard for him as things are, so taking the chance to talk with someone could help. If he agrees, he can then seek out a professional in the 'find a psychologist' section on the PSI (Psychological Society of Ireland) website and a psychotherapist on the IACP website.

Family therapy could also be very helpful to openly discuss the different roles and dynamics and what each person's experience was like within a safe space with the intent of repairing the past to hopefully rebuild a new family future. Or at least, to become aware of each person's differing experiences, the understanding of which can be quite cathartic.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at

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