DEAR FIONA: I feel uncomfortable about men seeing my body

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Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective for a woman who is experiencing body confidence issues and a daughter struggling to cope with her critical mother.

QUESTION: In the last three years I’ve lost nearly five stone, but I still don’t feel comfortable with the idea of anyone seeing my body.

I certainly don’t feel comfortable with the idea of a sexual relationship and although my last boyfriend understood, he eventually ran out of patience.

I always found ways to avoid having sex with him, even though I really liked him a lot. We had even talked about getting married, so this wasn’t a casual relationship at all. I miss him a lot but he’s gone now and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Will I ever lose enough weight for men to find me attractive and should I continue to diet until someone does?

FIONA SAYS: You ask if you’ll ever lose enough with for men to find you attractive, but you had a man who did and you didn’t believe him.

I think the problem here is not how much weight you do or do not need to lose, but overcoming the mindset that you’ve developed.

Your ex-boyfriend wanted a sexual relationship, so men already find you attractive. The only person not to realise this, is you.

You’re strong enough to overcome this because you’ve already shown you’ve got the willpower to lose weight and keep it off – and not many people can do that.

It’s only a small step from here to being happy with what you have achieved and developing a better self-image. Attractiveness has far more to do with personality than being the ‘right’ body shape, whatever that is.

QUESTION: When my dad died eighteen months ago, my mum sold her house and moved to live near me.

At first, I thought it was a great idea – I could keep an eye on her without having to travel miles to see her. The problem is, she’s practically moved in.

I wouldn’t mind so much if she was easy to get on with, but she isn’t. She’s always criticising me, my home, my family, my cooking, cleaning – everything!

I’m an only child so there’s no one to share the responsibility for her and I’m getting desperate. She moans constantly about being lonely but won’t do anything to try to make new friends. She isn’t even old – she’s only 68, so this could go on for years.

I just wish she was a nicer person to have around, but it’s getting to the point where my husband can’t stand her and I’m worried what this will do to my marriage.

FIONA SAYS: You don’t say if your mother was difficult and critical before your father died or if this behaviour has started afterwards.

As you say, you were initially keen for her to move closer, so I’m going to assume that this is something recent as you would never have encouraged her if you didn’t get on.

I’m almost certain your mother is still grieving, and anger is one of the many phases of grief – she is taking her frustrations out on you because she can’t tell your father how she feels.

Did your mother have any kind of emotional help or counselling? If she didn’t, it’s not to late for her to seek help.

Your GP or a local counselling service might help. She could also contact Cruse Bereavement Care, or at least look through their website to gain a little more understanding about her feelings.

Obviously she can’t be allowed to carry on as she is, because she will disrupt your relationship with your husband, and that’s not acceptable.

Eighteen months isn’t a long time to grieve but it might be time to point out the way she’s behaving. I wouldn’t suggest you lose your temper or shout, but just tell her quietly and firmly that she isn’t being fair to you and that you’re not prepared to listen to her criticism anymore.

If she persists or gets angry, walk away – hopefully, she will soon get the hint. As you say, she’s still young so, at 68, she’s probably not ready to join groups like Age Concern. She’s young enough to be doing something more active.

Encourage her to join a local gym, for example. Perhaps you could join with her? Dance-exercise classes like Zumba would be great exercise for you both and help her out of the rut she’s currently in.

You could also consider more reflective classes like yoga too – ideally choose a gym where people go for a coffee after the class, as this will help her to make new friends.

If you can also encourage her to do things on her own, that will stop her descending on you every day. Your local library might be able to help – groups like U3A would get her out and about, but there are numerous groups all over the country offering hundreds of different ideas.

Unless she’s very unfit then she’s still young enough to be doing something, either a job or some kind of volunteering. It would all help keep her brain active and stop her being quite so dependent on you for her life.

At the end of the day, though, if she won’t help herself you may have to be firm with her and tell her she isn’t welcome, if all she’s going to do is criticise.

She may get hurt and angry with you, but you must protect yourself and your family, however much you love your mother.

QUESTION: Because of some difficult circumstances, I had to terminate a pregnancy late last year. It was a hard decision but at the time, I was quite sure it was the right thing to do.

Since then, though, I can’t get over feeling guilty about it and I’ve often found myself crying for no particular reason. I’ve even started having dreams about the child it could have become.

I’ve no close friends or family I can talk to about this because of their religious beliefs and I feel dreadfully alone and unhappy.

DEAR FIONA: It’s not unusual to have feelings of guilt and regret after an abortion, however clear it was that this was the right thing for you to do.

I’d like to hope you were properly counselled before the treatment took place, but if you were not, it isn’t too late to seek help now.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service offers free counselling to any woman who’s used their service and will often help women who’ve had treatment elsewhere, too.

If you can, I’d encourage you to talk to your doctor because it’s possible that your hormones are still unbalanced after the pregnancy. Your GP could also help with counselling.

Putting on a brave face and coping alone is all very well but, when there’s help and support available, it’s a good idea to make use of it – especially when times get tough.

QUESTION: It’s been three years since I split up with my boyfriend but I still love him.

When he broke up with me he agreed that we’d stay friends, but since then he hasn’t once phoned or written to me.

He doesn’t know I’ve been treated for depression after we split or that my mother died last year. I’ve seen him about but haven’t spoken to him, as he’s usually with a group of friends.

Do you think there is a chance I could ever get him back or should I move on?

FIONA SAYS: Despite what he said, in the past three years this man has made no attempt to maintain even a passing friendship with you.

I’m afraid I see little chance of rescuing this relationship – however strongly you feel, he’s moved on.

To continue to hope for reconciliation when this clearly isn’t on the cards is going to make you feel worse and it’s time to try and move on yourself.

I’m not saying it will be easy, but if you try and get out and about with friends – of both sexes – I’m sure you’ll start seeing life differently.

Given time, you may even start to develop new relationships or, at the very least, stop thinking about this old one.

Write to Fiona Caine c/o Elise Brewerton, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth PO6 3EN or elise.brewerton@thenews.co.uk. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence, nor pass letters on to other readers.