From Surviving Childhood to Changing Habits

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“Suzanne Gelb Image”

Dear Readers:


As an added resource, over the next few months I will be supplementing my responses with references to self-help materials. Supplemental reading for today’s answers can be found in my book “Welcome Home. A Book About Overcoming Addictions” (pp. 69-70 relates to Answer No. 1; pp. 71-72 relates to Answer No. 2). For more information visit my Web site at

”Childhood – When is it Over?”

Dear Dr. Gelb:

I had a rough childhood but I feel like I have come out on the other side and am doing fine as an adult. When things go wrong however, I find that my knee-jerk reaction is to blame my past. I really want to leave my childhood behind.

Time To Grow Up

A: Dr. Gelb says . . .

Dear Time:

I can’t tell you how many people I have heard say that they had a difficult childhood and that they had put it behind them and got on with their lives, only to find that this was wishful thinking. They had been trying to grow up, but they had not had the opportunity to resolve the childhood traumas that caused them to continue to reflect on their past. This is not unlike what you describe. An analogy could be made to those alcoholics who have to be constantly reminded that they do not need a drink in order to be able to get on with their lives.

Some people have been able to resolve unhealthy ties to the past by identifying the grief and anger that they have repressed about the past. Once these emotions have been externalized in a safe way, by way of catharsis, for example, then it is possible to truly let go of the past. It is also important to forgive oneself for any involvement in unhealthy past relationships. This paves the way for being able get on with one’s life.

”Study Habits – Why is Change Difficult?”

Dear Dr. Gelb:

My child, who is a sophomore in high school, has always studied at our dining room table. All of a sudden she moved into her room to study. I miss her presence and this feels like a loss. Can you help me understand why I feel this way?

Proud Mom

A: Dr. Gelb says . . .

Dear Mom:

It is important to grieve one’s losses. That is what crying is about. Crying is a process whereby people can express their losses. We naturally grieve a loss. Understand that we are habitual creatures and habitual behavior is a way of expressing familiarity. You miss the presence of your daughter in the dining room because it is like anything else in the dining room — if you were to remove an item of furniture or picture from that familiar surroundings, even if it was by choice, you would miss it. Your five senses and your energy would miss the presence of anything that was removed from that environment.

It is not uncommon for parents to find themselves in a position similar to yours, where for whatever reason their child wants more privacy and makes a change in habit as a result. Parents must respect their child’s growing pains and need for more privacy and accept that the child does not need the parents’ presence to feel secure in their own right. It is also important for the parents to grieve the loss of their child’s presence just in that one particular setting, in your case, the dining room.

Sorry to say but as your daughter grows older, there are likely to be other familiar routines and things that you used to do with her that you will need to let go of. And yes of course, it is a loss and we must grieve our losses and get on with our lives. Happy resolution.

”’Suzanne J. Gelb, Ph.D., J.D. authors this daily column, Dr. Gelb Says, which answers questions about daily living and behavior issues. Dr. Gelb is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Honolulu. She holds a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Ph.D. in Human Services. Dr. Gelb is also a published author of a book on Overcoming Addictions and a book on Relationships.”’

”’This column is intended for entertainment use only and is not intended for the purpose of psychological diagnosis, treatment or personalized advice. For more about the column’s purpose, see”’ “An Online Intro to Dr. Gelb Says”

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