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Toxic family leaves a mark
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ASK AMY

Toxic family leaves a mark

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Amy Dickinson

Amy Dickinson

Dear Readers: Because of syndication scheduling, I write and submit my columns two weeks in advance of publication. Due to this time lag, the Q&A’s will not reflect the latest information about the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic we are currently facing.

Dear Amy: I have abandonment issues. My biological mother left me when I was a baby. Due to the extreme parental neglect in my infancy, the courts awarded custody to my paternal grandmother. My father moved in with her as well.

In my mind, my father “saved” me from a world I could’ve died in, but the truth is, he was just as responsible for my neglect.

My father remarried, and my grandmother allowed me to live with my dad in his new home with his new wife. I called her “Mom” until she passed away.

Mom was not affectionate toward me. She was very strict.

Fast-forward to now. I am 50 years old. My biological mother and stepmother are both dead. My father remarried again and moved hundreds of miles away.

My issue is a new resentment toward my father. Having learned that he wasn’t the saint I always thought him to be, I find I don’t want to speak to him much.

I love him very much, but I’m hurt that every woman in his life has had such an influence on him to the neglect of not just me, but also my two half-sisters.

I don’t really want to go down this path. My bitterness toward my biological mother, and lack of love from the woman that raised me has made me a cold person toward family. I feel more empathy toward strangers than my own relations (sometimes, even my own children, which I am acutely ashamed of).

Therapy is not easily accessible in my rural area, so I’m left to my own devices.

What advice can you provide that may warm my heart toward the very few that have loved me?

— Heart Two Sizes Too Small

Dear Heart: You already seem to have a lot of insight about your challenging past. You have made the connection between the neglect you suffered as a child and your own hesitance (or inability) to express affection toward family members. Insight is a positive start, and you can definitely continue to grow and change.

As a child, your emotional needs weren’t met. Your mother abandoned you and then the other adults in your life didn’t provide an emotionally safe and nurturing environment.

To love others fully, you have to learn to fully love yourself. Loving yourself doesn’t mean you are arrogantly declaring how great you are, but that you are learning to accept and embrace your own vulnerability, owning your own mistakes, and leaning into your determination to do better. Your very efforts toward healing and self-love should be considered your first triumph.

One way to love others is to physically be there for them. Be present, especially for your children. Show up for them. Express an interest in their lives and be bravely expressive toward them. You should tell them your own story, share your insight, express the desire to be better, and tell them you are in their corner — through good times and bad. You are trying to break a generational chain of neglect, so understand that your kids may be bewildered, hurting and affection-starved, too.

You would benefit from reading “Healing Your Emotional Self,” by Beverly Engel.

Dear Amy: I am an average-attractive single woman who lives in a big city.

I am frequently approached by men of other races that flirt with me and try to get my phone number.

How do I tell them I am not interested without offending them? I stick to my own kind.

— No Thanks

Dear No Thanks: It is fairly easy to say, “No thank you.” But if you truly want to repel these interested men, you could tell them the truth: “No offense, but I’m a racist.”

They should leave you alone after that.

Dear Amy: Thank you for your response to “Shy in Boston,” the shy guy who was wondering how to possibly meet a nice woman in the supermarket.

It may sound like a cliché, but this is how I met my husband! He somewhat shyly asked me for advice about produce.

The rest is history. We’re celebrating 15 years of marriage this year.

— Happily Together

Dear Together: “I need a price check for happily-ever-after on Aisle One!”

Coronavirus update Northeast Iowa

Latest local coverage of the coronavirus  COVID-19 pandemic.

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During a phone conversation with a nurse, a MercyOne patient revealed she was in jeopardy of running out of her medications. Normally the patient would pick up her medications from a local pharmacy, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed that.

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As Black Hawk County's confirmed coronavirus case count has risen dramatically in the past week, workers at Tyson Fresh Meats -- many afraid of losing their jobs -- are sounding the alarm about working conditions and alleging their employer isn't providing information, allowing workers to come in with respiratory symptoms and otherwise covering up the presence of the deadly virus.

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With just 12 positive cases, Black Hawk County continued to have a low rate of coronavirus infection relative to other counties in the state so far, but health officials warned that residents needed to continue following social distancing guidelines.

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School-age children may still feel overwhelmed, anxious and frightened by what’s happening in the world right now. Parents can help by talking to their kids and being calm, patient and reassuring. 

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Martin Culpepper, a Waterloo East High School graduate, is now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working with a team that developed a rapid manufacturing process for face shields needed in the fight against coronavirus.

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"People ... have contacted us and said, 'You know what? I never thought I'd be in this situation, but I am.' And I said, 'That's what the Food Bank is here for.'"

Contact Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribpub.com. Follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook.

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