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Ask the Rock Doc: 
Sound Advice for a Song: 
By psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, aka Dr. BLT 

Details, and, in some cases, the method of communication associated with the following letter may be altered, to protect the confidentiality of the distressed person. 

Dear Dr. BLT: 
You are my last resort.  I've been through so many changes in my life, that I no longer know who the real "me" is.  All my life I've been bent on idea that I have to please everyone.  I was one of two children born to loving, Christian parents.  I had one older sister.  She and I were always competing to gain favor with my parents.  We traveled together as a gospel group that you may or may not be familiar with.  We had a couple of pretty successful gospel albums as a singing family.  Then when I had just turned 11, my father was killed in a car wreck.  That's when my mom began to fall apart.  Dad had handled everything, the gospel act, the bills, you know, everything involving organizational skills.  Mom just couldn't cope with his death and with having to shoulder all of the responsibilities that he used to take on.  She became psychotic, and by the time I was 12, she tried to OD on some pain pills and they ended up committing her to a State Mental Hospital.  

That's when we moved in with my strict, rigid Aunt Tessa.  She was also a widow, but seemed to ward off the problems that befell my mom by becoming a control freak.  Music, which used to be fun and a source of spiritual enrichment, suddenly became a dreaded chore.  Both my sister and I were forced to take piano, violin and voice lessons.  I guess I should consider it a blessing, but Tessa would lock us up in the music room until the pieces we had been assigned were absolutely perfect according to her standards.  I rebelled at the age of 16 by joining this hardcore band called Lips Shtick.  I was with Lips Shtick for 4 years and we were about to get signed, and then I recommitted my life to the Lord after seeing one of those rapture movies they used to scare kids with at church youth groups.  I thought that the only acceptable way of being a Christian and a musician was to sing gospel, so I tried that again.   Making the switch back to gospel from hardcore punk was rough so I eventually settled for country.  After sending out a few demos, big shots from some pretty big record labels started to call me.  I was getting close to signing a major deal, and then it all came crashing down again when I learned that my mom, whom I had neglected since her nervous breakdown, had died of heart failure.  I felt tremendous guilt and just gave up music for about 5 years.  Then in the late 80's I began to pick up my guitar and I began to compose a whole album's worth of some pretty good country songs.  But in 1990, I met Dwight, the man who is now my husband.  He was a classical/jazz composer who hated country and demanded that I stop singing and playing it.  So now we tour together, singing songs that bore me to tears.  The worst part is, we're succeeding at it.  We're building up a huge following singing and playing old fashioned pop standards from the 40s.  Last night I finally worked up the nerve to tell him how I felt about the songs, and he shoved me up against the wall real hard.  Up until that point, I never thought he had it in him to be abusive or violent.  I feel trapped in the relationship, very lonely, and very angry.  I feel like his possession-like he owns me, and he owns my musical identity.  I feel very lost, alone and afraid.  Please help me find myself again.

Miss Who? 

Dear Miss Who?: 

Identity crises have never been so prominent as they have been in this, the first decade of the new millennium.  Yet it is no longer cool to talk about it.  The subject matter is rarely brought up anymore.  In the 70s, you didn't have to go any further than your radio to be bombarded with freely expressed sentiments on the subject matter.  First, there was Diana Ross's classic, Do You Know Where You're Going Too?, Then came one of the corniest, most maudlin tunes to come out of the 70s-- Charlene's I've Never Been to Me.  It was pop psychology at its best.  I don't care whether or not it's cool.  I'm going to broach the topic.   

God really knew what he was doing when He originally placed human beings in the midst of a garden, surrounded by nature.  None of us were meant to live in a concrete jungle.  Industrial civilization is a reality, but it is a really that is accompanied by an inherent psychological toll.   We all face identity struggles simply because of the rate of societal change accompanying industrialized culture.  Technological advances dictate our lifestyles and carve out our ever-changing roles to a large extend.  It's almost reached the point in which it is abnormal for a person not to be confused about their role.  That's one of the reasons the book, The Purpose-driven Life has become so popular.  Many in today's culture have lost their roots, lost their meaning, lost their purpose, and lost the sense of who they are-their identities.  

Due to personal situations such as the ones you've described, some of us have to face further challenges which impact the development of a consistent sense of self. Anyone who has had to face a seemingly constant series of personal changes understands that holding together a consistent self concept in the midst of such changes is often a difficult challenge at best.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, I moved a lot as a child.  This afforded me with unique experiences and opportunities that I would otherwise have missed out on, but it also proved to be a challenge in terms of my ability to hold together a strong sense of identity.  

You faced some of the greatest challenges to your sense of identity when you were in the midst of a developmental struggle Eric Erikson described as Identity cohesion vs. Role confusion. Erikson believed that this struggle was most profound during the adolescent years.  You apparently never achieved role cohesion, so you were left with role confusion.  

Many adolescents overly eager to become sexually active end up regretting the premature loss of their virginity.  Though some may argue that virginity can be restored in the spiritual sense, basically, when someone has lost his/her virginity, there is no getting it back.  The same cannot be said for identity.  Since identity is never developed in a vacuum, but rather, always in relation to others, reminding ourselves of who we are in relationship to others can be powerful in terms of restoring identity.  I am a husband to my wife, a son to my parents, a father to my newly born daughter.  I am an employee in relations to my employers.  In relation to my fans, few though they may be, I am a singer/songwriter.  Sometimes, with so many roles to play and with so many people to please, I get lost in the complexity and begin to lose my sense of self, and with it, my perspective.  As odd as it may seem, one day I Found Myself at a Yard Sale.  That's right, my wife, Roxie and I were having a yard sale on Saturday morning in Sacramento California where we resided at the time.  Well, business was slow, so I grabbed my guitar and began strumming and singing old familiar songs that I grew up with.  Slowly God began to reveal to me who I was in Christ, as a child of the king, and what my purpose on earth was.  Of course it is to glorify God, but for me, that means revealing the nature of God by compassionately listening to the stories of others, helping them to find a happy ending to their stories, and then sharing my own personal stories through original songs, and through written literary works such as these letters and other articles that I write for Phantom Tollbooth.  I would like to share my story and my song with you at this time.  This is called I Found Myself at a Yard Sale.  

I Found Myself at a Yard Sale: words and music by Dr. BLT (c) 2005 

Now a yard sale may not be the place you rediscover yourself, but I'd encourage you to sit down with your guitar in a quiet place, open your heart up to what God may be telling you, and then allowing his revelation to flow through your music.  Stop trying so hard to please everybody else and begin to please God by using music, his gift, to glorify Him and to celebrate the identity that comes with being a child of the King.    

This may not be enough to restore your identity, but it is a good place to start.  It sounds like you and your husband need couples therapy.  You may need your own individual therapy.  If you'd like to be referred to someone in your area, just e-mail me again and I'll try to connect you to some good, preferably Christian therapists.  You may need to get more involved in your church so that your identity can be strengthened in the context of a supportive community.  Once you start to surround yourself with God's presence, and once you begin to surround yourself with the love and support of others who love the Lord, your identity will be rediscovered.  Once you start singing from your heart, you won't have to worry so much about satisfying the musical tastes of others.  There are many critics of my music.  As long as my songs touch a few lives, entertain a few souls and offer something to someone to enhance his/her life, it really doesn't matter.  What matters is whether or not I am sharing from my heart.  I hope you find yourself, if not at a yard sale, then at the foot of the cross.  

Dr. BLT  

If you are a musician or a music-lover in distress (or a parent of either) contact Dr. BLT, the Rock Doc at  

Dr. BLT, aka Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, is a Christ-centered licensed clinical psychologist and university instructor who specializes in the psychology of modern music.  He uses his original songs as well as those of other artists to address the problems of his patients, including his biggest, sickest, most challenging patient--society.

His face and name recognition, particularly with teens, comes from his short part on a long Cake music video--the Cake video for “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” that earned the band a nomination for Ground Breaking Music Video of the Year on the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards. 



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