dilemmas

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Ten days ago Angela returned home to find the door open and the video taken. She got new locks and keeps the door on a chain, but feels a "basket case". The police say it's common, her husband says: "Pull yourself together", she's rung Victim Support, and other people simply say she's lucky worse didn't happen, considering what happened to them. But she still frequently finds herself in floods of anxious tears ....

Until it happened to me I was always fairly flip and unsympathetic when other people got into a state when they were burgled. I thought that as long as no one was harmed and you were insured, burglary should be no more upsetting than finding your washing machine had packed up.

But when, hearing a rustling, I went to investigate and saw a dark and sinister shape flee out of my front door, then, like Angela, I turned into a gibbering wreck, bursting into tears for no reason, waking up in the night and pottering downstairs in my nightdress to check my new lock.

How did he get in? Could he get in again? Now he's got in, will he have taken a good look around the house to mark other entry-points when the one he came in by is sealed? Angela will start to indulge in paranoia. Why did the phone ring and then stop? Who was that woman who rang the bell and said she was looking for Albert? Why did the entry-light suddenly go on and off although there was nobody there?

Angela needs to do four things. She should contact the Crime Prevention Officer who will probably be able to explain the crime in a plausible way. No, the man doesn't have a magic key; no, he's not pre-occupied with burgling her, Angela. Secondly she should talk about it, but only to friends who don't bang on about the dreadful things that happened to them. When my son was mugged, he found solace in talking about it, but became wretched when other people would say: "Well, you're lucky. When I was mugged, they slit my throat and tried to cut the rings off my fingers." Thirdly she should ring Victim Support and ask for a visit. It's a help. And fourthly she should remember that her husband is almost certainly as frightened as her, and worse, feels irrationally guilty. He feels, in some odd primeval way, that he should have been there to protect her and the house. Her crying only reminds him of his inadequacy.

Angela is perfectly normal and will get over it. As my Victim Supporter said, on the phone: "If you weren't feeling like this there'd be something wrong with you." I hope her words help Angela as much as they helped men

Be bigger than them

Finding your house burgled is a terrible shock, a strangely humiliating and menacing invasion of privacy, so you are entitled to react emotionally. When our house was burgled, my first reaction was to want to move; but after a thorough spring-clean I began to feel it was my home again. Then I started a Neighbourhood Watch in our street. Local people looking out for each other is the best security, and also helps restore your faith in human nature. Most of us would feel such a crime to be beneath us, though we are all capable of dishonesty to a lesser or greater extent, so how low their self-esteem must be. Whatever motivated your burglars, Angela, be bigger than them and try to forgive.

Ruth Holt

Didcot, Oxfordshire

Seek counselling

As a counsellor I help people cope with loss and bereavement. This not only covers death and divorce but also traumatic events like being burgled. Angela needs someone to talk to who will accept her feelings instead of denying them. One way would be through Victim Support. Just a phone call was not enough.

Peggy Simmons

Bedford

Rely on time

I was burgled in 1992 and cannot deny it was upsetting and unnerving. The feeling of "invasion" was immense and stayed with me for months. You will go through a gamut of emotions including anger but eventually you will forget and you will be able to get on with your life and you will feel at home. I know it is a cliche but time is a great healer.

Jackie

Stretford, Manchester

Next week's problem: My daughter doesn't want to take a school trip

Dear Virginia,

My daughter is 11, in the last year of primary school. Next month her class goes away for a week to an outdoor activity centre and she doesn't want to go. She's intelligent, strong-willed, but has a lot of fears and uncertainties - and doesn't like staying away from home. She's terrified of the thought of four nights away because she knows she'll be so homesick. Her dad says she should be made to go because there are some things in life you have to do and it's time she realised this. Eight months ago she stayed two nights away with the Brownies, cried when I left her there, enjoyed the days but hated the nights. Should we make her go this time?

Yours, Petra

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171-293-2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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