Dear Thelma: I'm haunted by my broken past and failed relationships

  • Living
  • Wednesday, 12 Aug 2020

This reader confides in Thelma that he was a neglected, lonely child. Now, as an adult, he grapples with anxiety and depression over his past and his broken relationships. This has greatly affected his personality and work.

I am a single man. When I was young, my parents had a divorce. I ended up with my mother while my father went on to start another family.

My mother then went overseas to work, so I lived with my babysitters. I spent a big part of my childhood living without the love of a parent.

My mother would return to visit me from time to time but every time she left, I would hide and cry silently all on my own.

The absence of a parent’s love left a void in me that was never filled. Every time I see my classmates with their parents, I would envy them. Even though I was young, I felt ashamed of myself. I felt left out because I never had a father and my mother wasn’t really there for me. Whenever my teachers asked about my father, I would lie and say that my father is a businessman or pilot who only returns home once in a blue moon.

Fast-forward to my teenage years. My mother finally returned for good and even though I lived with her, we spent most of our time fighting. I felt that my mother was a totally different person as we disagreed most of the time.

She had high expectations of me and I spent my teenage years living under authoritarian rule. Basically, I returned to a house that wasn’t a home. There were times she treated me well but most of the time, I wish I didn’t have to return home from school.

Things were so bad towards the end that one day my mother decided to disown me.

After graduating from college, I found myself a girlfriend and was working in a well-known tech firm as an executive. It was the best time of my life when I had a good paying job and a loving partner. Even though there were disagreements, we worked things out effectively.

The thought of having a family grew stronger with each passing day. I was so certain that this woman would end up being my wife and I even had dreams having children with this woman.

But one fine day, she told me she was seeing another man and had decided to part ways with me. To me, it didn’t make any sense. I spent most of my time analysing what I’d done, wondering what went wrong.

I couldn’t cope with my work and kept forgetting things. I still loved her and my mind was so occupied with trying to win her back. A few months later, I found out that she was getting married. My heart sank. My anxiety disorder escalated to depression.

Things were so bad that I suddenly felt hopeless and I lost motivation.Because of my depression, I made costly mistakes in my job and got fired. It took me almost two years to get over it but the damage had already been done. The trauma was so great that I developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I kept changing jobs, which affected my finances. I turned from an optimistic, energetic, confident extrovert to a pessimistic, lifeless, doubtful introvert.

To escape my troubles, I turned to an RPG mobile game where I exist in an alternate reality. This game offers an alternate reality where good triumphs over evil and where hard work is fairly compensated with in-game currency.

This game gave me something to look forward to and I had a family of friends as well as an in-game partner. I knew very well that I wasn’t supposed to invest my emotions into this partner but I couldn’t help my feelings. I enjoyed her company and stayed on. She gave me a reason to smile and I felt happier with her around.

I would log on to see if she’s online and even though I didn’t know what she looked like, I’d already invested my feelings in her without even knowing it. Because of her, I was in paradise despite the Covid-19 lockdown.

However when recovery movement control order began, it’s back to reality for me. I had less time for my game, and depression started to bother me again. Thoughts of my past relationship started to haunt me and my childhood memories didn’t make it any easier.

I was constantly blaming myself and I was anxious over everything that didn’t turn out right. I worry about small things such as my words, fearing unfavourable outcomes. To make things worse, my RPG partner got herself a new partner.

My heart sank and my life has since turned for the worse. I couldn’t concentrate on my job and sleep because I kept thinking about her. I tried calming myself and doing the things I enjoy, but my thoughts were overwhelming. I felt paralysed. PTSD started to kick in when I realised this was exactly what happened with me and my ex.

At the moment, I feel like a worthless fool. I feel like I was born to be socially ostracised. I’ve lost interest in my favourite things and my mind is constantly flooded by memories of my broken past. My brain refuses to take a break.

I’m desperate for help but I feel ashamed to speak to my friends. I’m afraid of being judged and laughed at. Because I portray the image of a tough, confident man in front of the world, I’m afraid to expose the fragile side of myself. Please help me.


I’m sorry you’re having a bad time. Your letter is very clear, so let’s look at some root issues and what you might do to address them.

Our early experiences are very important as they shape our attitudes, beliefs and values and train us in the skills we need in adult life.

At that young age, we look for unconditional love from our parents and family. When we don’t get that, it really hurts. Some kids become angry, others have the false belief that they’ve done something wrong or that they’re unlovable.

Also, good parents socialise their kids, teaching them how to make friends and forge healthy relationships. It’s a process where we learn through example and experience.

So, neglected little kids are lonely, feel unloved and have trouble making friends. They really want to be loved, but they lack the skills to make happy relationships. Also, when they are stressed, their deep-seated fear that they’re unloved and unlovable comes back.

I think that’s where you are at.

The most important thing is to understand a fundamental truth: everyone has good qualities as well as flaws, and we are all perfectly lovable.

I suggest the first step is to see how your early learning has contributed to the adult you are. This is because we tend to hang on to childish values; evaluating your past with an adult eye will lead to helpful new insights.

For example, your dad abandoned you. That is his disgrace; it does not reflect on you. Your mum went away to work. As a child, you felt abandoned. I suggest that you may see her life choices differently if you look at her choices as an adult.

As for the relationship that didn’t work out, that is not unusual. However, you perceived it as a sign that you aren’t worthy. Your sensible self should tell you that’s not reasonable. When people decide they’re not a good match, that’s no reflection on the people involved.

You’ve tried to hide in an online world of make-belief but of course that can’t live up to reality.

Thankfully, you are aware of this, but it’s making you very aware of how unhappy you are.

Because of your sense of isolation and despair, I urge you to talk to a mental health professional as soon as you can, so you can get yourself assessed for depression.

Then invest in therapy sessions where you focus on learning what you want in terms of relationships, friendships and work, and the steps you need to take to get to your goals.

You can’t plan to fall in love but you can strengthen your network and work on deepening friendships. Read lots of books on how to overcome a neglected childhood, how to leverage the happiness in your life, and work so that you can learn to be at peace with the past. Also, if you want a better relationship with your mum, you could explore that in therapy.

Finally, please lose that sense of shame. You are sad, feel alone and long to be happier. That is a perfectly normal wish and the fact that you are honest about reaching out for help is thoroughly sensible.

So get that help as quickly as possible.

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Email or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11,46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Please include your full name, address and a pseudonym. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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Relationship problems , PTSD , anxiety , depression


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