ETCETERA / ANgST: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
I am a 23-year-old Jewish woman in a state of confusion. My parents are Orthodox Jews and have brought me up this way with all the rituals and conditions this implies. A couple of years ago I fell in love with a non-Jewish man and we wanted to marry, but my mother made it plain how upset she was and, although she did not say so, I realised my marriage would mean an estranged relationship with my mother. I ended things with the man. I am now seeing another non-Jewish man, but I realise fear of my mother's reaction prevents me getting close. I feel very disenchanted with Judaism at present and very trapped by my parents' unwillingness to let me live my life with their blessing.

There is a conflict between what you feel you were born to and may be rebelling against, and your own philosophy on life. You probably feel immensely guilty, for it is difficult to challenge a faith which is so deeply held by parents. You need to be able to explore your feelings fully and without guilt. Have you ever tried talking to your mother about how you feel? If you have a close enough relationship, this might be the best first step and you might find that your openness and trust enable her to think about the pain her rejection of your choices is causing. Otherwise, perhaps a close friend or relative would be able to help you talk through the situation, or a rabbi. Or perhaps a counsellor could help you work through the dilemmas you face.

Fiona Green, psychotherapist, 071-580 9223.

My husband and I have been married 24 years, and both our children have just left home. Our relationship has veered between dull and animated, with fairly ghastly rows. I really don't feel there's much left to stay together for and a large part of me wants to go and try living on my own. I have not let myself consider such a thing until now because I did not want to upset the children by breaking up their home. But even now that they are living away, people tell me, they will be terribly upset and damaged if their parents separate. Is this really so? It feels as though I can never do what I want for myself because of the suffering it will cause my children.

It is usual for couples to reassess their position vis a vis each other when the children leave home. It is also usual for children, no matter what their age, to experience loss and upset (but not necessarily damage) if their parents separate. The variables in a situation like this most often stem from how these actions are played out. You might want to find a way of taking care of yourself while managing the process of change with love, care and tact. Talking to someone who will care about you but who can look dispassionately at what you are saying could be valuable in helping you explore the 'next chapters' in your life story, without having to risk living them first. And don't forget to explore the bit of you that wants to stay - it may have some interesting information for you.

David Smallacombe, Director, Kensington Consultation Centre, 47 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RH. Tel 071-793 0148.

Since a rat ate my baby rabbits when I was a child, I have had an unholy fear of them. I recently moved to an old farmhouse in the country and I find rats are all over the place. I am in a constant state of anxiety in case - as certainly happens - I come across a furry, long-tailed monster lurking in the kitchen or running across the yard. Whenever I see one I get very shaky and want to faint. Could hypnotherapy help?

From what you tell me I think hypnotherapy using systematic desensitisation would very likely work. The advantage of this technique is that it brings you closer and closer to the phobic object - in your case a rat - without needing to use a real one. The theory here is that if you can learn to do something gradually in your mind you can quite often then do it in reality.

Peter Savage, National Register of Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists, 12 Cross Street, Nelson, Lancashire BB9 7EN. Tel: 0282 699378. They will send a list of local practioners if an SAE is enclosed, or give names over the telephone.