What do you do when someone you love is suffering, but refuses any help? Bella was in just such a position. Her daughter was living with an abusive alcoholic who didn't work, stole money from her, intercepted her letters, and, when he wasn't putting across a charming and helpful image to outsiders, verbally abused her.

Over 20 years, Bella's daughter had changed from a sparkling girl to a thin, miserable wreck. But despite offers of help, she was too frightened of her partner to leave.

The answers fell into three categories. There was the SAS hostage-busting approach, exemplified by Jenny of Middlesex. 'My hands are shaking as I write. Men who do this are weak. They seek to bully. The thing that people who have no direct experience of emotional or mental cruelty fail to understand is the dehumanising effect this treatment has on the victim. I cannot stress strongly enough to Bella that her daughter has been completely disempowered.

'Bella, enlist the help of friends and family and rescue your child; allow a male friend or family member, if necessary, to physically stand up to this cowardly bastard.'

J Mills of Swansea, agreed. She had also been married to man who was 'outwardly charming, but a demon when we were alone, and he was 'in drink'. He, too, ground me down to his own level, until finally, with the last vestige of self-preservation left in me, I broke free. It wasn't easy, as he realised his scapegoat was retreating from him.

'Bella's role will not be easy either, as she must encourage her daughter to leave him now. She must also provide a safe haven for her daughter while she and her boyfriend adjust to life without each other.'

The second approach was strictly hands-off. Stella of Lancashire said that Bella must back off. 'If her daughter chooses to live with this man she can expect to be unhappy. Bella should offer her daughter a means of escape if she can. If she decides to stay, Bella must accept that.'

There was a third option: for Bella to encourage her daughter to join Al-Anon, the 12-step help group for relatives or friends of alcoholics. She could learn how to respect herself and, most importantly, release herself from the destructive addiction she has to this ghastly man. This is what Anne suggested.

'I was fortunate when desperate to find Al-Anon. My life has been transformed. My partner is in sobriety and I have grown immeasurably through my membership and experienced much healing.

'If Bella's daughter does not find healing for herself, she will carry dysfunctional patterns of relating into further relationships and history will repeat itself. Bella could even attend meetings herself to learn constructive ways of behaving in this situation.'

Despite the fact that some of the advice seems to conflict, I feel there's no reason why Bella shouldn't go the whole hog and use all of it, stage by stage. I would suggest she offers her daughter a week at a health farm, with herself and, preferably, one of her old friends from the days when she was full of beans.

She should get a reading list from Al-Anon, and go armed with their literature. After she has examined it herself, she should hand it on to her daughter. Finally, she should beg her daughter to go to six Al-Anon meetings with her, using as much emotional blackmail as she likes. If her daughter still decided to stay with her partner, Bella would have done everything she possibly could. Only then could she take the 'backing off' advice, knowing there was nothing else she could do.

Al-Anon Family Groups, 071- 403-0888.

I'm embarrassed by mum going topless

Dear Virginia,

I'm 15 and next month I'm going on a beach holiday to Greece with my mum and her friend. I thought nothing of it until my mum announced that she and her friend will be going topless. I don't know why but I just can't cope with the idea. I live on my own with my mum, and even at home I find it hard to be private, as mum's a very let-it-all-hang-out person. I'm starting to feel I'd rather make myself ill so I don't have to go. My mum just laughed when I confided in her and said I shouldn't turn into an old prude, and I'd like seeing all the girls my own age topless. But it's different with my mum. What can I do?

Yours sincerely, Mike.

All readers' comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted in the column will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features Department, The Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB; fax 071-956-1739, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share with readers, let me know.