Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Online Relationships and Family

Mark J. Kline | 8 Mar 2012 13:00
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If you felt more confident and less ashamed about this legitimate coping strategy, you could discuss it with some members of your family. They might be uncomfortable with it, for many people, the idea of psychologically intimate online relationships is alien and upsetting, though most gamers take this for granted. There's a cultural disconnect between the two views that can be very difficult to bridge. In the best-case scenario, family members love you and understand that this works for you, and they are able to overcome their suspicions. This might become a jumping-off point for sharing your desire to be closer to them.

Obviously, family histories can be complex, so there are probably reasons why you've kept them out of your life. You may have known them to be judgmental, critical, or demanding. It can be hard to overcome these legacies and some people never do it. In my experience, it takes serious determination on both sides to improve family relations that have become sour or distant over time. You need to find out whether your family members share this desire and whether there is some neutral ground where you can meet (online?) to experiment with more communication. Progress in this undertaking can be tremendously satisfying, but you may also have to accept that some relationships simply cannot be repaired.

Part of this has to do with growing up, which, by the way, can take place at any age or not at all. As children, we think of our parents as omnipotent. What they think about things matters a great deal, both consciously and unconsciously. These are formative relationships that have the potential to shape who and how we are. As we grow up, we start to see that parents and other family members are just people with many faults and foibles. This disillusionment can be disheartening, but it can also allow a more equal kind of relationship where you care what your family members think, but you won't necessarily be devastated by their opinions and reactions. A more equal relationship can also give you the satisfaction of influencing them, especially when it comes to the uses and benefits of modern technology.

Your exquisite sensitivity around face-to-face communication and touching is clearly troublesome to you. At the very least, these issues place significant constraints on your social life. It's one thing to choose to dissociate yourself from reality and quite another to be forced into it because the alternative feels so unpleasant. While online relating has become an effective work around, you're clearly troubled about missing out on other ways of connecting. It takes a lot of courage to face these problems and learn strategies to deal with them.

I don't know whether you have Asperger's Syndrome, but I do know that professionals capable of making this diagnosis can be very helpful with the issues you describe. I think your family's suggestion is a good one, and it may prove to be one route to improving your situation.

I always feel more hopeful for people who can see they have a problem and want to try to change. I think the future will bring more satisfying online relationships, closer family ties, and progress on your real-life concerns.

Dr. Mark Kline wonders if teaching a teenager how to drive would make a good video game (Adult Panic Auto?). Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to askdrmark@escapistmag.com. Your identity will remain confidential.

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