Dear Harlan: Without going into too much detail, my parents divorced when I was young because my dad was very violent. I was bullied at school, and for a while in my late teens I would hurt people for money.

I have been to see counselors twice, but nothing really changed. However, I have sorted out most areas of my life. I generally hate people and feel that humans as a species are a nasty and vile race that should be wiped out for the good of the planet. I am starting full-time employment soon, but I feel that my life will be sad, lonely and fairly pointless, as I have hardly any friends.

You might just blame my attitude or outlook for my current situation, but I was wondering if you had advice on how to make friends. I have always had a problem with social situations. — Freak

Dear Freak: Maybe making friends is a problem because you think everyone is vile and should be wiped out.

You make friends by sharing common experiences (school, sports, work, etc.). But to keep friends, there has to be trust. No trust, no friends. And in your world, you only trust that everyone is out to get you (for good reason). But not everyone is vile; most people are good. Get back into counseling. Learn how to trust yourself and learn how to trust the people around you. Until you work to get comfortable with your past, anyone who says anything to you can be construed as hurtful.

If everything and everyone is hurtful, you'll never let down your guard and let people into your life who can become your friends.

Dear Harlan: For the past couple of days, I have felt overwhelmingly stupid, ugly, weak and worthless — and every other bad quality you could possibly think of.

Every attractive, intelligent person I see gives me an inferiority complex. I feel like I am slower than other people. I also feel like I am ugly and awkward-looking, even though most people would say I am slightly above average in appearance. No one respects or likes me. They all either hate me or laugh at me.

I see so many other people my age that are successful, and I know that it is because they have had people in their lives who have encouraged them and given them self-esteem. I never had anyone do that for me. I was emotionally and mentally abused by my teachers, peers and occasionally my family. I feel like a broken human being. I am not depressed, but I can feel myself coming close. It really bothers me, because I associate depression with weakness.

Any advice? — Feeling Bad

Dear Feeling Bad: Before thinking that you're weak and stupid, know that someone weak or stupid would never have had the courage to write this letter. You need help — beyond what I can provide. You need it now. This whole hopelessness thing is a sign of serious trouble.

While there hasn't been anyone in the past to support you, this isn't the past. The world is filled with people who can help (therapists, religious leaders, friends, extended family, etc.). I'll leave you with this — the only perfect people in the world are imperfect people.

Once you can appreciate being an imperfectionist, you can stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking and think about what makes you happy. There is hope; turn to the people who can guide you.


Harlan is the author of "The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College" (Sourcebooks). Write Harlan at harlan@helpmeharlan.com or visit online: www.helpmeharlan.com. All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan! 2506 N. Clark St., Ste. 223, Chicago, IL 60614. © Harlan Cohen 2006

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