Ask Fiona: Why am I such a failure in trying to manage my life?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on a woman who feels like a failure and a new starter who's being bullied by her boss

After being brought up in a family with alcohol issues you have proved you are a strong person by making a life for yourself

MY alcoholic mother was abusive to me and my brother for many years. She left us when I was 15 and my father was glad to see the back of her – so was I at the time but, as I got older, I would wonder about her.

When I was 19, I got in touch with her but nothing had changed. She was still the same aggressive, drunken bully she'd always been. I resolved never to see her again but, when I told my father I'd seen her, he was so angry, he kicked me out and I ended up homeless and sofa-surfing for nine months.

I was pretty desperate for money and did things I'm too embarrassed to talk about. And although three years on, I now have a job and a place to live, I still feel hurt and rejected.

I want a normal life like other people, but what chance has a person like me got of pulling this off? I'm such a failure and I think I need some help.


FIONA SAYS: You describe yourself as a failure, but to me, it sounds as if you're making a great success of your life.

You've managed to pull yourself back from abuse and rejection. You're tough enough to have survived homelessness, found a job and a place to live and you're only in your early 20s. There are many people of your age who still can't afford a place to live and who don't have jobs.

You tried to mend bridges with your mother, despite years of abuse, which indicates that you're a kind, forgiving sort of person many people would be proud to have as a friend. You've been through experiences that would have finished many people off, and you're brave enough to admit that it has damaged you and that you need help.

You're very far from being a failure. You've a survivor and I am sure that you've got what it takes to move on from here and achieve whatever you set your mind to.

It sounds like you need to build a social circle of people you like and trust, so develop interests that bring you into contact with others. Take up social opportunities connected with work, too – and if there aren't any, consider organising them yourself, even if it's just a drink after work on a Friday.

You don't mention seeing your brother in recent years – if you're not in contact with him, do try and build bridges there. You might consider contacting your father, too; his rejection of you for seeing your mother is extraordinary, and it may be one he now regrets.

I also think counselling could help you come to terms with your past and move on, so do speak to your GP about this. Talking through your past with someone who can guide you might make you see just how far you've come. In the meantime, if things threaten to overwhelm you again, please contact Samaritans (


I was so excited to be starting my first proper job since leaving college, but six weeks in, I'm feeling thoroughly miserable.

My line manager has totally undermined my confidence; routine is everything for her and, if I don't do things exactly the way she wants, she tears me off a strip. This happens even if my results are good and, in an open-plan office, she's managed to reduce me to tears several times.

I know she's a bully and I know I should stand up to her, but I don't want to lose my job. I don't know how much more of her I can take and I'm afraid I'm going to explode.


FIONA SAYS: Whatever you do, don't lose your temper – you'll make others think she's justified in telling you off and it will undermine your position.

I don't know what job you're doing but, in certain jobs, doing things in a particular way is very important. Things like insurance and health, for example, have systems in place so that nothing is missed, and there can be legal ramifications if anything goes wrong.

I'm not saying this justifies your line manager undermining you, but before you appeal to her manager, be careful there isn't a good reason for the systems she wants you to follow.

I suggest you ask to speak to her in private and tell her that you're struggling to understand why things have to be done in such a particular way. Tell her you're keen to do well but would appreciate her help.

Make a note of the date and time of your meeting and what is said – just in case this doesn't work, but often, asking someone to help you takes the wind out of their sails. If she continues to shout at you, ask to speak to her manager or the HR manager and, hopefully, they will help you resolve things.


Since my husband left me last year, the only constant and loyal friend I've had is my dog.

My two children have grown up and moved away, although they've been good at calling me.

Last week my dog died and I feel wrecked; it's like I've lost a child and I'm struggling to cope.

When my daughter called to see how I was and I told her, she said that perhaps it was a good thing the dog had died as it hadn't been well for a while. I was already on the verge of tears, so when she said that, I was so angry, I shouted at her and said she was heartless.

We haven't spoken for several days now and, although I know I should contact her and apologise, whenever I pick up the phone I just get angry again.

Life seems so unfair.


FIONA SAYS: Whenever we lose someone – a person or an animal – there is grief, and grief comes in many guises, including anger.

Your grief for your dog is also, I suspect, combined with the grief you feel for the death of your marriage, and that could be why it overwhelmed you and you struck out.

I'm sure your daughter didn't intend to hurt you; I suspect she was trying to make you feel a bit better about losing your dog. If the dog was a family pet, then it's possible she is upset too, and may not have been thinking too clearly about how her words would have impacted on you.

So please, pick up the phone and talk about this - you need each other, especially now.


I think my friend's pregnant.

We're both 15 and have always been really close – more like sisters – and she's never had a secret from me, but she's being odd lately.

I'm sure she's trying to hide that she's pregnant and although I asked her what was wrong, she said she was fine. I know her too well though and I know something's up.

She'd hate me talking to her parents – should I talk to one of the teachers?


FIONA SAYS:I suspect she'd hate you talking to anyone. While I can see you're concerned for your friend, think how you'd feel if she went behind your back to someone in authority and said she thought you were pregnant. You'd probably be angry and resentful, and wonder if you could ever trust her again.

If your friend is behaving differently, then something has changed in her life that she's not ready to talk about yet. The chances are, at some point she will, so offer her the chance to speak. But, if she doesn't presently want to, just make sure she knows you'll be there, when she's ready.

Meanwhile, be what she clearly needs right now – a good, genuine friend who cares about her.

If you have a problem and you'd like Fiona's advice, email

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 for the first month to get full access


Today's horoscope


See a different horoscope: