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Getting Deep #3: Friend’s Racist Parents, Privacy, Sudden Claustrophobia


Q&A with Dr. Dorothy: Your tough questions answered

dorothy ratusny
Dorothy Ratusny is a Certified Psychotherapist specializing in Cognitive Therapy. Send your ‘Getting Deep’ questions to dorothy@faze.ca


I have made a great new friend and have been over to her home several times now. She’s amazing, but her parents are another thing. They are openly racist. They make awful comments when watching TV and I don’t know how to react. What should I do? I like hanging out there but, of course, it is there home and I don’t want to seem rude if I speak up.

It is quite possible that your friend may feel a bit uncomfortable with her parents’ comments as well. By talking with your friend, you may develop a better understanding of how her parents came to have their particular beliefs about others, and about the world in which they live. Their life experiences, cultural background, ethnicity, religious views, and the environment in which they grew up, have undoubtedly contributed to and, in many ways, shaped how they view others—rightly or wrongly. Having a better understanding of these contributing factors often helps us to accept others’ differing beliefs – especially when they may be biased or critical. This knowledge may not make you any more comfortable when watching television in your friend’s home, but it will certainly help you to develop empathy.


I have asked my parents to stay out of my room because I feel it is my ‘private space.’ I don’t have anything to hide but I still don’t want them in there. Yet, my mom always has some reason why she needs to go in when I’m not there, like she was looking for dirty dishes, needed to put my sweater away, etc. How do I keep her out without putting a lock on the door?

What you are describing is the wish to ‘change’ your mom’s behaviour. This is going to be impossible unless your mom makes a conscious effort to agree to not go in your room when you are not around. I’m sure it is frustrating for you because no matter how much we would like to, we can’t change other people’s behaviours. We can, however, change our reaction to their behaviours. In this case, have a sincere conversation with your mom (again), explaining how you ‘feel’ when she goes in your room when you are not around, and why it is so important to you to have your own private space. Get her thoughts around the definition of ‘privacy.’ Sometimes, another person is thinking that they are honouring what we are asking but actually, they may have a very different interpretation of what it is that we want.


Is it possible to become claustrophobic overnight? Lately, I feel really uncomfortable in small, closed up spaces like the girls’ bathroom or the change room in school. It’s getting really bad. I feel like I’m going to panic and scream or something if I don’t hurry up and get out. Is this normal?

It is not likely that you have become claustrophobic overnight. It does, however, sound like you are experiencing what may be an anxiety attack. Some people when feeling very anxious, have sensations whereby they feel like thing are ‘closing in on them’ or that they can’t breathe in small closed-in spaces. Make a note of what has been going on in your life recently that may be causing you to feel this way. More importantly, pay close attention to what thoughts are running through your head immediately prior to feeling panicky and uncomfortable in small closed up spaces. Your thoughts are a good indicator of your present mood state so noticing your thoughts will give you some important information as to why you are feeling the need to run from the bathroom, change room, or other small spaces. When you begin to feel panicked there are also some really effective breathing techniques that you can use to help you calm yourself down and alleviate the feelings of anxiety.


I think my friend is being physically abused at home. He seems to always have these unexplained bruises on his arms and legs (maybe more that I can’t see). I don’t know how to ask him about them or if I even should. What do I do?

How close your relationship is with your friend will certainly determine your level of comfort with this one. If you believe that we all have a responsibility to help anyone who might potentially be physically abused then you may simply decide to openly (and delicately), ask your friend about all the bruises that he has. He may have a reasonable explanation, which leaves you satisfied or you may still feel concerned for him and his safety. Based on your instincts you may choose to let him know that you are still concerned and that you are there for him if he needs help. Look for other apparent signs, like how his parents treat him in front of you, changes in his emotional state or signs of depression and self-isolation, which may support your theory of physical abuse. There are many avenues for support if your friend is in trouble. Most importantly he needs to know that help is available to him and that he is not alone.


For more on Dorothy check out www.dorothyratusny.com


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