ANgST: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
Six years ago, when my marriage was going through a miserable time, I had an affair and fell very much in love with the man. I would have gone away with him, but I had a young daughter and I just didn't feel I could wreck her life as she gets on very well with her dad. Now I hear that my ex-lover, who went abroad, is moving back to our town and I feel turned upside down, very nervous and very excited. I am terrified I will be as susceptible to him as ever and my marriage is still not good enough to be protection against that. Of course he may not want me now, though I know he is not married. But although the pain of breaking with him before was dreadful I am very scared I might be drawn back to him.

After six years it is likely your memory of the affair has become almost mythical and that you have created something more perfect than actually existed. Most affairs are about bringing something new into an existing relationship, a way of changing it, but often once they are out in the open they do not offer more than the marriage. The fact that you did not feel you could leave your husband suggests you actually wanted to stay. It sounds as though you would do well to talk with your husband about what you want from the relationship and where it seems unsatisfactory - clearly the lover appears to offer something you want. You may improve things this way. In any case, you need to ask yourself whether you really want to go back into the same situation and risk all that pain again.

Fiona Green, counsellor, tel: 071-580 9223.

I have a problem which sounds absurd when I tell it, but which is real to me. If I have to stay alone in a strange place where it is at all possible that somebody could get in, I start hearing noises and become convinced there is someone trying to get in. It also happens if I have to walk down a street alone or go in taxis which are not black cabs. In my imagination it is always a psychopath who is after me, although it is no clearer than that. I have puzzled over why this occurs and the only thing I can come up with is that when I was a teenager I dressed in very tarty clothes, wanting to be noticed but also very fearful of the 'punishment' that would follow, because my mother used to say to me, 'You'll get into trouble it you go around looking like that.' Have I somehow absorbed the idea that I still deserve punishment?

I would say you have certainly taken on the idea that you deserve to be punished, even though it was said to you long ago and you probably behave in a very different way now. This kind of phobic fear which comes from a deep-rooted feeling is not uncommon, nor is the fear of it happening in a physical, human form. But it is obviously distressing when it interferes with your life and you can see that it is irrational. We tend to think our phobias are unique and this makes us embarrassed and lonely, but in fact a huge number of people have them about all sorts of things and it is possible to overcome them. I suggest seeking the help of a psychologist, through your GP, who would try to help you understand the roots of the fear but would also bring in behavioural techniques, teaching you how to relax. You might also contact the Phobics Society for counselling and information on more specialised help.

Harold Fisher, The Phobics Society, 4 Cheltenham Rd, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester M21 9QN, tel: 061-881 1937.

I talked recently to the teenage daughter of an old friend about her attitude to sex and drugs. She told me a lot of interesting things which were very enlightening. I mentioned what she had said in a letter to another friend who is also an acquaintance of her mother's. The friend told the mother, who is now furious with me and feels I had no right to pass on her daughter's revelations. I have written and apologised and tried ringing suggesting we meet, but she says she doesn't want anything to do with me for the time being. I am very upset as she is a friend I value a great deal.

Your friend may well be wondering why her daughter didn't talk to her. It may be, too, that she didn't like what she heard and that part of her reaction is about that. But there has certainly been a breakdown of her trust in you. The only thing you can do is try to find a way to build that again but it may take time. You can remember special events such as birthdays and perhaps, after a few months, drop her a line and ask if it wouldn't be possible to try to build bridges. If she values the friendship, the rift will heal eventually.

Parentline National Organisation, Westbury House, 57 Hart Road, Thundersley SS7 3PD, tel: 0268 757077.