Dear Amy: I am in a terrible relationship of two tumultuous years' duration.

I met him after recovering from an operation.

I had been alone for years, as my life was consumed by raising my children, pulling a boy out of a war zone and teaching music.

Unfortunately, my boyfriend is a liar. He's had another girlfriend, he is an alcoholic, has a prison record, has a kid in jail, grandchildren out of wedlock, no car, no license, fines, debt, is abusive, is not intellectual, and has no education.

All he has is a funny sense of humor, a great body and some carpentry skills.

I want to get out of this nightmare. I'm angry that I fell for all his lies.

He is very abusive and not at my level of intellect.

I don't know how with two master's degrees, material success and happy and successful children, I could have picked such a narcissistic jerk.

What is wrong with me?

I'm in therapy and my therapist says it's because I had an abusive family of alcoholics and ragers, and have all the classic characteristics of adult children of alcoholics.

I'm afraid to kick him out because I never meet anyone. I've been alone most of my life. Any advice?

Amy says: As long as you consider being alone a worse fate than being in an abusive relationship with a lying, narcissistic jerk, then keep doing what you're doing. But in the immortal words of "Dr. Phil": "How's that working for you?" It is obviously not working for you at all.

I'm not a therapist, but, for what it's worth, I agree with their assessment.

People who grew up in chaotic, neglectful, abusive and alcoholic households often internalize the idea that they are somehow "not enough." I assume this is because, despite their heroic efforts as children, they cannot fix, heal or even alter the dynamic of their family of origin.

Intelligence, education and success in other realms will not offset this deep void, but you can change your current mind-set and your behavior.

Ask your therapist to talk to you about codependency. And connect with an Adult Children of Alcoholics group (adultchildren.org).

Turn to books in tough times

Dear Amy: I know you are a wealth of knowledge for resources.

Are there any good books on dealing with all of the pain, death and suffering in the world?

I am not a spiritual person.

Amy says: What a thoughtful question. My answer is: ALL the books.

I turn to poetry during tough times: Whitman, Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop ("Time to plant tears, says the almanac"), Billy Collins, Jericho Brown and Emily Dickinson. Poets write the lyrics to the music of life.

E-mail questions to Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com.