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Is it too late for me?

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Is it too late for me?

Postby Philosopher7 » Wed May 29, 2019 8:54 am

I have had emotional problems since I was a little boy. I am now 69. Some of the therapists I saw throughout my life helped a little bit, but I didn’t discover the core problem until one year before I was diagnosed with a terminal cancer.

I have had various diagnoses in my life, but the current diagnosis is some kind of personality disorder and the one my therapist seems to think fits best is Avoidant. Although there are elements of Dependent and Borderline as well.

My parents were refugees from World War II and their experiences had left them pretty damaged. They were unable to nurture me as an independent person, but rather saw me as an extension of themselves, whose mission in life was to compensate for all that they suffered. My one sibling — a younger sister — was brought up the same way.

Our parents showed love inconsistently — alternating shows of affection and concern with rage and disapproval. This was particularly pronounced from our mother, who was our primary caregiver. She taught us that the word was a dangerous place in which no one could be trusted. I believe that my problems began with an attachment disorder, probably disorganized attachment. She couldn’t “mirror”, couldn’t help me understand my own emotions, and those of others, and so I grew up being frightened of my own emotions, not knowing how to process them. And finding other people largely unfathomable.

My defense mechanism was suppressing virtually all of my true feelings, always being frightened of others, with hyper vigilance about signs of rejection, which was intolerably painful when it was experienced.

I had one nervous breakdown as a sophomore in college, and another in my first year of graduate school. After my mother’s death when I was 24 (my father had died when I was 11), I gradually was able to put my life into some semblance of order and built a career as an engineer, in which I was successful.

But my modus operandi was mistrust in others, hiding behind a false self, and avoiding social engagements. I did enter into a long-term marriage, but my partner and I both had very absorbing careers and intimacy was limited. He was as damaged as me, but in a different way. We had, in effect, a “trauma”-based relationship. I never learned to truly love or care about anyone, including him.

I only began realizing all of this after four years of work with my current therapist. And I am finally able to surface many of these suppressed emotions and understand how their suppression has deprived me of a happy life filled with friends. I did my job well, and that was it. I tended to treat others as objects. I have a very unstable and inchoate sense of self.

And so I am trying to “fix” this while dealing with an illness that will kill me in a few years.

It often seems to me that this is too much to practically deal with and I want often to scale down my therapeutic goals. As I resurface and work through all of the buried emotions and traumas with my therapist, I become overwhelmed by tremendous anxiety, depression, and crippling panic attacks.

I now know that my deficits caused me to miss so much that is good and even essential in life, and I find myself praying to G-d to grant me a “do-over”, as crazy as it sounds, so that I could leave behind a happy, fulfilling life, rather than a sequence of bitter memories and terrible mistakes. I still don’t know who the “real me” is.

So I am faced with the challenge of at last knowing the origin of much of my emotional troubles, and with the help of a great therapist, rebuilding myself.

But is it realistic to have this goal at this very late stage in my life? And is there enough of a stable personality structure within me to support such an effort? I doubt both of these premises.

I would appreciate anyone’s thoughts and observations.

Many thanks!
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Re: Is it too late for me?

Postby lilyfairy » Wed May 29, 2019 1:19 pm

Hi there

I'm sorry to hear of your terminal diagnosis. That's a lot to be dealing with.

I also have Dependent and Borderline features with my AvPD diagnosis, and more recently, an autism diagnosis- I'm having an assessment done next week. I'm in my mid 30's.

Originally the plan had been therapy for the AvPD, but the further my therapist delved, it became clearer that it wasn't just AvPD. I am very happy for others who have recovered from AvPD, but as much as I would like to reach a point of recovered, I don't think it's realistic for me. My therapist put it as learning to live as best I can within my limitations. A big step has been learning where some of those limitations are. And learning to respect them rather than trying to carry on regardless to a point where I really can't cope with and then crashing. Big time.

Philosopher7 wrote:So I am faced with the challenge of at last knowing the origin of much of my emotional troubles, and with the help of a great therapist, rebuilding myself.
I've found understanding why I do what I do has been really helpful, rather than just passing my behaviour off as being quiet and shy. Whether it's realistic to have that goal- it's probably one best addressed with your therapist. But I don't think it's too late to do whatever you can do to make yourself feel more emotionally comfortable with your day to day- whether that's things big or small.
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Re: Is it too late for me?

Postby skyflyz » Sat Jun 01, 2019 3:27 am

I'm so sorry Philosopher7, to hear of your troubles and then the illness on top of everything else.

It's never too late IMO. Keep on fighting the good fight and best of luck with everything.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
― Lao Tzu
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Re: Is it too late for me?

Postby Cantkillme » Sat Jul 20, 2019 1:27 am

Sorry to hear about your illness. I wouldn't say it's too late. At least you now know what's wrong.
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Re: Is it too late for me?

Postby ddreamer » Sat Jul 20, 2019 10:35 pm

OMG, that life story closely resembles mine (including my parents raised during the WW2 in one of the countries the most ravaged by the war), except i'm younger and not very sick yet. i did turn my life around while still middle aged, but it was prompted by major stressful life events.
Philosopher, if you want to talk, i'm all ears.
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Re: Is it too late for me?

Postby WinnieThePooh » Mon Aug 12, 2019 4:09 pm

Thank you for a touching story. I like to read about biographies of people who have struggled with Avoidant or Schizoid Personality Disorder. It is possible to improve symptoms of the disorder over time, or even nearly cure with enough time and effort. If nothing else, I think it would be worth understanding the disorder and how it has affected your life.

Philosopher7 wrote:I have had emotional problems since I was a little boy. I am now 69. Some of the therapists I saw throughout my life helped a little bit, but I didn’t discover the core problem until one year before I was diagnosed with a terminal cancer.

I've had some crises in my life, and entered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with moderate success to deal with it. Now I am not in any immediate crisis, but are still having more psychodynamic therapy to have a more complete understanding of what is causing the challenges in my life. Although I haven't given it any specific label, it is close to having an avoidant personality disorder.

I have had various diagnoses in my life, but the current diagnosis is some kind of personality disorder and the one my therapist seems to think fits best is Avoidant. Although there are elements of Dependent and Borderline as well.

My parents were refugees from World War II and their experiences had left them pretty damaged. They were unable to nurture me as an independent person, but rather saw me as an extension of themselves, whose mission in life was to compensate for all that they suffered. My one sibling — a younger sister — was brought up the same way.

Our parents showed love inconsistently — alternating shows of affection and concern with rage and disapproval. This was particularly pronounced from our mother, who was our primary caregiver. She taught us that the word was a dangerous place in which no one could be trusted. I believe that my problems began with an attachment disorder, probably disorganized attachment. She couldn’t “mirror”, couldn’t help me understand my own emotions, and those of others, and so I grew up being frightened of my own emotions, not knowing how to process them. And finding other people largely unfathomable.

That kind of background could definitely mess people up. My parents seemed normal, but somehow there was also a lack of "mirroring" that put me into a certain direction in life.

My defense mechanism was suppressing virtually all of my true feelings, always being frightened of others, with hyper vigilance about signs of rejection, which was intolerably painful when it was experienced.

I had one nervous breakdown as a sophomore in college, and another in my first year of graduate school. After my mother’s death when I was 24 (my father had died when I was 11), I gradually was able to put my life into some semblance of order and built a career as an engineer, in which I was successful.

But my modus operandi was mistrust in others, hiding behind a false self, and avoiding social engagements. I did enter into a long-term marriage, but my partner and I both had very absorbing careers and intimacy was limited. He was as damaged as me, but in a different way. We had, in effect, a “trauma”-based relationship. I never learned to truly love or care about anyone, including him.

I only began realizing all of this after four years of work with my current therapist. And I am finally able to surface many of these suppressed emotions and understand how their suppression has deprived me of a happy life filled with friends. I did my job well, and that was it. I tended to treat others as objects. I have a very unstable and inchoate sense of self.

And so I am trying to “fix” this while dealing with an illness that will kill me in a few years.

I am sorry about your terminal illness. It is brave to face your suppressed emotions after all this time.
It often seems to me that this is too much to practically deal with and I want often to scale down my therapeutic goals. As I resurface and work through all of the buried emotions and traumas with my therapist, I become overwhelmed by tremendous anxiety, depression, and crippling panic attacks.

I now know that my deficits caused me to miss so much that is good and even essential in life, and I find myself praying to G-d to grant me a “do-over”, as crazy as it sounds, so that I could leave behind a happy, fulfilling life, rather than a sequence of bitter memories and terrible mistakes. I still don’t know who the “real me” is.

So I am faced with the challenge of at last knowing the origin of much of my emotional troubles, and with the help of a great therapist, rebuilding myself.

But is it realistic to have this goal at this very late stage in my life? And is there enough of a stable personality structure within me to support such an effort? I doubt both of these premises.

I would appreciate anyone’s thoughts and observations.

Many thanks!


It is hard for me to tell what is realistic, but it is a courageous effort. I also think people who suffer from AvPD or similar conditions would be interested in your story and experiences. I've read a great biography of someone with AvPD or Schizoid Personality Disorder, namely,
George Eastman, Freeing the Imprisoned Self. It is a story of a brilliant person who eventually became a psychotherapist and learned about his own personality disorder and over time got
better at dealing with it.
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