power by WikipediaMindmap

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Relationships: Coping With the Stages of a Breakup

Anyone who has ever gone through a breakup knows that it's hard and that, in most cases, it's a process.  That will mean different things to different couples.  For some couples it might mean that they go back and forth, breaking up and getting back together several times before they completely end it. Other couples might try to change their relationship from being monogamous to opening up the relationship so they can each see other people.  Some couples might want to transition from being lovers to being friends (see my articles: Overcoming the Heartbreak of a BreakupBeing Honest About Your Relationship: Are You Really "Taking Time Apart" or Are You Breaking Up? and Can You and Your Ex Transition From Being Lovers to Being Friends?).

Relationships: Coping With the Stages of a Breakup
The emotional attachment that each person feels for the other usually doesn't end on the day they break up--even if it's a final decision after much going back and forth.  Instead, over time, the feelings usually decrease gradually.  But for many people, if the relationship was significant and there wasn't a major betrayal, feelings of love often remain, and many people say, "My ex will always have a special place in my heart."

No one wants to go through the emotional pain of a breakup, but go through it you must if you're going to remain true to your feelings and not shutdown emotionally.

Even if you're the one who initiated the breakup and know that it's best for both of you, it's still a major loss to contend with and usually brings up emotions about prior significant losses.  Sometimes it's hard to distinguish the emotional pain from the current loss from whatever it's triggering from the past (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past).

Many people remain in a relationship that has, for all intents and purposes, ended on an emotional level because they don't want to go through the pain of the loss or go through the process of trying to meet someone new.  Their attitude is, "The devil I know is better than the devil I don't know."

But there is a price to pay for remaining in a relationship that has already run its course because in order to remain in that kind of relationship, people often need to numb their feelings.  Also, the dissatisfaction of being in the relationship can get displaced in other ways with irritability, anger, feelings of being stuck, and so on.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who are quick to end a relationship because they're obsessed with the idea that there might be "someone better" for them.  This is a particular mindset that some people have that's exacerbated by the many dating apps where there are thousands of choices for a potential "better" partner (whatever "better" means to the particular person).

This can lead to an overall devaluing of an existing partner and the idea that romantic partners are expendable and exchangeable for an "upgrade" at any time.  So, it you're unhappy with something in your relationship, rather than trying to work on it, you can just search for someone new.

Coping With the Stages of a Breakup:
The following stages of a breakup are the some of the same basic stages of any loss.  Although these stages are listed in a particular order, you might experience them in a completely different order.  Also, it's likely that you'll go back and forth between the stages rather than going through each one in a linear manner.
  • Shock:  Even if you're the one who wanted to break up, the reality of the breakup and how it affects you can come as a shock.  Except for the most extreme cases, you might initially feel some ambivalence about breaking up, especially as you go through painful emotions.  If you're not the one who wanted the breakup, you might really be shocked when your partner lets you know that s/he wants to end it.  You can go through a period when the breakup feels unreal or like you're dreaming because you're so shocked.
  • A Need For Answers and "Closure": Whether the breakup is mutually agreed to, you wanted it or your partner wanted it, there are often many unanswered questions about why things didn't work out between the two of you.  Many people mistakenly think that if they could only understand what happened, they would feel better about the breakup.  While it might help somewhat, going through a breakup isn't a cognitive process so much as it's an emotional process.  So, even if you have all the so-called answers to your questions, it still might not make sense to you on an emotional level.  For some people this becomes an obsessive quest for "closure" which often doesn't help because the breakup still doesn't make sense to you emotionally, and a conversation for closure often just leads to other questions: "But why?" "Why don't you love me anymore?" (see my article: Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible and When the Need for Closure Turns Into Harassment).
  • Denial:  If the breakup is very hard for you to deal with, especially if you didn't want it, you might go through a phase of denial where you tell yourself that your ex isn't really leaving you.  You might convince yourself that your ex is going through a phase and s/he'll come back when s/he realizes how awful it is to be without you.  At this point, it's too painful for you to accept that the relationship is over and you would rather believe that there is some mistake than accept the end.
  • Bargaining: If you didn't want the breakup, rather than face the pain of the breakup, you try to bargain with your ex that you'll make everything right in the relationship--whatever it takes.  Things that you weren't willing to do before now seem palatable to you as compared with dealing with the pain of loss.  In most cases, this is a way of delaying acceptance and facing the unknown.  This is especially true for people who don't like to be alone and would rather remain in an unsatisfactory relationship than be alone.
  • Anger:  If you didn't want the breakup, you might feel very angry with your ex because you feel s/he caused you to feel pain.  You might experience the end of the relationship as something that is being "done" to you rather than an acknowledgement that things weren't working out.  Depending upon your temperament, you might take out your anger on your ex, your other loved ones or yourself.  Anger often hides profound sadness, and many people would rather feel anger than sadness.  But anger can also be used to mobilize yourself to make healthy changes for yourself when you're ready to do it (see my article: Anger as a Secondary Emotion).
  • Getting Back Together: If you and your ex are having an especially difficult time with the breakup, one of you might be able to convince the other to get back together again so that you don't have to deal with the pain.  Initially, it might feel like you're "starting over," but if nothing has changed, you will probably end up breaking up again and going through the other stages once again (see my article: Are You Thinking About Getting Back With Your Ex. Think Twice Before You Do and Ask Yourself: What Has Changed?).
  • Acceptance:  Unfortunately, not everyone gets to this stage.  While there is no denying the fact that the relationship is over, on an emotional level, many people remain in a limbo state hoping that they will reunite with their ex--despite significant evidence to the contrary.  These people can neither go back nor move forward and remain stuck.  However, most people go through an initial stage of acceptance.  They might not be happy about the breakup, but after a while, they begin to see new possibilities for themselves.  As time goes on, acceptance takes on new meaning and most people begin to feel hopeful again.
Whether you initiated the breakup, the breakup was mutually agreed to or your partner ended the relationship, breakups can be challenging, especially if they trigger earlier losses.  

The stages of a breakup and the feelings of loss aren't sequential or linear.  Some people go back and forth between the different stages many times before they reach an initial level of acceptance.  

Acceptance doesn't come all at once.  After the shock, denial, anger, bargaining and need for answers and closure stages, acceptance might be paper thin.  It might start with accepting the fact that the breakup is real and you're not getting back together again.  As time goes on, acceptance can take on new meaning and can lead to feeling hopeful again.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with the loss of a breakup, being kind and patient with yourself will help you.  But if you find that after a period of time, you're still struggling, you could benefit from the help of a licensed mental health professional.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to go through the loss so you can accept the end and come out on the other side feeling hopeful (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling on your own, seeking help when you're in an emotional crisis can help you to mourn the breakup so you can move on and lead the fulfilling life that you deserve.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and AEDP therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, which is a well researched, evidence-based therapy that is effective in helping people deal with relationship problems.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players" - Part 2: A Clinical Vignette

In Part 1 of Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players," I described the typical emotional dynamics and behavior of players (also known as pick-up artists), including the their manipulative and emotional abusive behavior towards women.

Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"

I described a behavioral dynamic that is on a continuum and, in some cases, can include sociopathic behavior where there is a lack of empathy for how their behavior affects the women they're attempting to seduce (see my article: What Makes So-Called "Bad Boys" So Irresistible to So Many Women? Brain Chemistry Might Have the Answer).

Also on that continuum are men who eventually find being a player to be unsatisfying, lonely and, despite the conquest of many women, unsatisfying because it feels empty and meaningless.

Often these same men find themselves in an emotional crisis because they can neither remain a player nor can they move forward to a more meaningful life because they don't know any other way to be.

The focus of the this article, including the clinical vignette, will be on this subset of men.

As previously mentioned in the prior article, players can be either men or women, gay, bisexual or heterosexual.  But, generally speaking, the term is usually associated with heterosexual men, which is what this article is about.

Clinical Vignette: The Emotional Crisis of a Man Who is a Player
The following fictional vignette illustrates a typical scenario for a man who learns to develop a persona as a player but who eventually discovers that he wants more than casual hook ups with women--he wants a relationship, but he doesn't know how to be genuinely himself or how to have a committed relationship.

When John was in his teens, he wanted more than anything to date women, but he lacked the necessary self confidence to approach them.  Since he was very good looking, many girls were drawn to him and they approached him, but even when he knew that these girls liked him, he felt awkward and shy.

His first sexual experience was with a teenage girl, Jane, from his class who invited him over to her house while her parents were out.  He was highly anxious before going to her house because he feared that this girl would laugh at him due to sexual inexperience.  But rather than laugh at him, Jane, who had prior sexual encounters, led him into the bedroom and patiently initiated him into his first sexual experience.

Afterwards, realizing how pleasurable sex could be, he wanted to have sex with other girls too.  But throughout high school and even in college, he continued to feel shy and lack self confidence, so the only time he had sex was when girls or young women came onto him.

After college, John was at a total loss about how to meet women.  It was much easier for him when he was surrounded by young women in college who took the lead in initiating sex.  But after he graduated from college, he was no longer around women all the time, and he didn't like using dating apps, so he wasn't sure what to do.

Sometimes, he and his friends would go to singles bars and his friends would meet women and take them home  but, more often than not, he remained standing alone against the wall.  Occasionally, an attractive assertive woman would approach him and take him home, but this wasn't usually the case.

One day, feeling disappointed and discouraged, John turned down his friends' invitation to go out to a singles bar.  Although his best friend, Bill usually laughed at John's awkwardness and lack of confidence, when he realized how miserable John was, he told John that any man could learn to pick up women in a bar--he just needed to learn a few simple techniques and strategies and practice them.

Then, Bill recommended that John attend a three-day pick-up artists' boot camp where part of the training would be to stand side by side with a "dating coach" and observe the "dating coach" pick up women at various venues in New York City, including singles bars.

Bill also explained that John would get classroom instruction and drills that he would practice when John would go out with an experienced "dating coach" to apply what he learned in class while the coach stood nearby to observe John and give him feedback later.

In response to Bill, John laughed, but Bill urged him on, "What do you have to lose, man?  By the end of the training, you'll feel confident meeting and picking up women anywhere.  That's how I learned.  This training is foolproof."

With some reluctance, John signed up for the Attractions Method training, and he was amazed that he was able to develop the persona of a player that allowed him to feel the confidence that he lacked with women.  Soon after that, whenever he went out, he psyched himself up and took on this persona.

The strategies that John learned led to his hooking up with hundreds of women over the next several years.  He became so good at being a pick-up artist that he always had a sexy, beautiful woman on his arm, and his friends expressed envy, "John, where do you meet these women!?!  One is more beautiful then the next!"

But whenever one of the women wanted a more serious relationship, John would panic.  He had mastered taking on the persona of a confident pick-up artist and the techniques for picking up women for casual sex, but he was too afraid of allowing any emotional intimacy to develop between him and any of these women.  So, whenever a woman expressed wanting more from him, he would stop seeing her and focus on the many other women he was seeing simultaneously.

At the same time, John discovered that some of the techniques he learned to pick up women also worked in his sales career.  He was able to charm his female boss into giving him the best sales territory in the company.  He was also able to charm customers into buying the company's services.

With all the money he was earning, he attracted even more beautiful women who admired his success, his new sports car, and the way he generously spent money on them.  They were fascinated by him and they wanted to be around him.  He also enjoyed the admiration of his friends and colleagues who not only admired him--they wanted to be him.

But over time, when John was in his mid-30s, he realized that he no longer derived as much pleasure from sleeping with one beautiful woman after the next.  He found most of these women to be narcissistic and shallow, and he felt bored.  Deep down, he also knew that he was just playing a role and, even though he was convincing in this role, this wasn't really how he felt.

His friends were all getting married, some of them were starting families, and he realized that he felt lonely, especially because the only relationships he had with women were shallow and very short term. He never had a substantial monogamous relationship.

Gradually, John realized that there was something missing in his life.  Other than being with beautiful women, having sex with as many of them as possible, and making a lot of money, his life lacked meaning and substance and this was increasingly worrisome to him.

There was one woman, Sara, that he was dating who wasn't narcissistic or shallow.  He really liked her and thought he might like to be in a relationship with her, but he was afraid to be himself.  He feared that, even if he knew what it meant to be himself, Sara wouldn't like him if she knew the real him (see my article: Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You If They Knew the "Real You").

He realized that he had spent so much time taking on the persona of a player that he wasn't even sure who he was anymore.  Although he would have liked to talk to one of his friends about it, he was afraid that he would lose their admiration for his success with having so many women.

When he attempted to talk to Bill, who was married for several years, Bill just brushed him off, "What do you mean you feel lonely?  You're always with a sexy, beautiful women.  I envy you.  Don't get me wrong--I love my wife, but do you have any idea how boring it is to wake up to the same woman every day?  Enjoy yourself and, whatever you do, don't get married.  It's totally overrated."

After John got a similar response from his other close friends, he felt increasingly depressed and isolated.  He began having problems sleeping and getting up in the morning.  It took a lot more effort for him to take on the confident persona and to charm his customers into buying the company's services.  He also began to isolate and stopped seeing many of the women he had been hooking up with.

Soon his sales performance went from being the highest in the company to being one of the lowest.  His boss called him into her office to find out if there was anything wrong, but John didn't feel comfortable confiding in her, so he made up some excuse and told her that he would do better.

Although he managed to fake his way through that meeting with his boss, he knew that all his pretending was sapping him of energy and he felt a big disconnect between how he felt inside and the persona he was trying to project on the outside.  He wasn't even sure why he was doing it anymore--except that he didn't know what else to do.

As he became increasingly depressed, John knew he needed to seek help from a licensed mental health professional.  Admitting this to himself was hard, but he knew it would be much harder if he descended deeper into depression.

During his first session with a female psychotherapist, John was tempted to take on the same persona he used to charm so many women.  It was hard for him to let down his guard to show the therapist just how bad he felt about himself.  At the same time, he knew that, if he was going to overcome his problems, he would need to be honest (see my article: The Importance of Being Honest With Your Therapist).

Gradually, over time, John opened up to his psychotherapist and told her about his history of being a shy, awkward young man and how he learned to be a player with women.  He explained that for a long time he felt like he was on a "high" when he slept with hundreds of beautiful, sexy women and all his friends envied him.

Then, he described the slow descent into his current emotional crisis, his feelings of being a fraud, his loneliness, his yearning to be himself (although he didn't know anymore what that meant), his guilt for the emotional pain he had caused the many women he manipulated, and his fear of developing a relationship with Sara.

Over time, John realized that the more he opened up to his therapist, the more genuine he felt.  Often, he would have realizations about himself in the therapy that he never had before.

As he became more comfortable with his psychotherapist, John allowed her to see more of the frightened, emotionally vulnerable side of himself.  To his surprise, he revealed his shame, which  was a big part of his lack of confidence of awkwardness (see my article: Healing Shame in Psychotherapy).

As he continued to talk in therapy, he also realized that he felt like he was basically an unlovable person who didn't really deserve to be happy with anyone.  It was only when he took on the persona of being a player that he felt confident, but he realized now that this wasn't genuine confidence--it was all a sham (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

His therapist used a technique in clinical hypnosis called the affect bridge so that John could go back to the earliest time when he felt unlovable.  In a relaxed hypnotic state, where John had the dual awareness of being in the here-and-now in the therapist's office as well as being in his earliest memory of feeling unlovable, John recounted how he was constantly and severely criticized and belittled by both of his parents who told him that he would never amount to anything and he would fail at everything.

As he recalled these early memories, John felt a wave of tremendous grief and anger for the way his parents treated him.  He knew that his parents thought they were trying to make him "tough" to face a difficult world, but he also realized how misguided they were.

Having gotten to his earliest memory of feeling unlovable using the affect bridge, his therapist recommended that they use EMDR therapy  to help him overcome the traumatic effect of his early childhood history (see my articles: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Gradually, John began to feel better about himself.  The work with EMDR therapy wasn't the quick fix he hoped that it would be, but he discovered that he was slowly overcoming the trauma that had been an obstacle for him for so many years.

As John felt more confident and more genuinely himself without relying on a persona, over time he developed a relationship with Sara and discovered that she actually liked him for who he was and not for the person he was pretending to be when they first met.

Overall, he was happier in his relationship with Sara and in his career once he was able to overcome his traumatic history and allow himself to be genuine.

Men, who are players, are on a continuum.  With the exception of the most narcissistic or sociopathic male players, many men who engage in this deceptive, manipulative behavior with women eventually find this lifestyle to be hollow and meaningless.

Over time, they long for deeper, more substantial relationships, but they're so caught up in acting the part of a player that they don't know anymore (if they ever did) who they really are.  Giving up the persona would also mean giving up a way that they have come to successfully rely on to have attractive women as well as giving up the admiration they receive from their male peers.  It would also involve showing a more vulnerable part of themselves which they are ashamed of.

This often precipitates an emotional crisis for them, which is difficult to overcome on their own or with the people in their lives.  So, when the pain of being in an emotional crisis becomes greater than their shame, they often seek help in psychotherapy.

In an experiential therapy where the therapist knows how to help clients to trace back the origins of these men's problems, there is an opportunity for them to work through the current issues as well as the underlying issues that caused them to feel inadequate in the first place (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Getting Help in Therapy
If this article resonates with you, you could benefit from getting help from a skilled psychotherapist.

An emotional crisis is painful, but it can also be an opportunity to resolve emotional problems that you might not otherwise feel motivated to address.

Once you have freed yourself from the burden of these emotional issues, you can lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, which is an evidence based therapy which research has shown to be effective for relationship issues.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"

In my recent articles, I focused on "breadcrumbing," a form of manipulation that is used by one person to string along, control and dominate another in a relationship in order to take advantage of them (see my articles:  Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You? - Part 1Breadcrumbing - Part 2: A Clinical Vignette, and Breadcrumbing - Part 3: Getting Help in Therapy).

Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"
In those articles, I focused on the person who is being manipulated.  In this article, I'm focusing on the person who is normally called the "player" (or pickup artist) to get beyond surface appearances and to take a deeper look at the underlying emotional issues involved.

Although this is a nonjudgmental look at men who are players, it should in no way be construed as condoning manipulative and deceptive behavior at someone else's expense.  Nor should it be interpreted as encouragement for anyone who is involved with a player to remain in a situation where you are being emotionally abused.

What is a "Player"?
A player can be either a man or a woman, heterosexual, gay or bisexual.  But, generally speaking, the term refers to a heterosexual man, who is unlikely to be faithful, honest or respectful in a relationship.    

He usually presents himself as someone who is the opposite of a player--a man who is kind, thoughtful, and interested in being in a monogamous relationship with a woman.  But his outward presentation hides a more seductive and manipulative person who only pretends to be interested in a relationship so he can fool women into having sex with him.   Usually, his main goal is to sleep with as many women as possible in short term hook ups.

Someone who is a "successful player" has mastered the pickup lines, demeanor, and strategies for deceiving a woman into thinking he is serious about a potential relationship with her.  He is often able to quickly assess her emotional vulnerabilities in order to get what he wants (see a fictional vignette from a prior article).

If a player has chosen a woman who is especially vulnerable, he can continue to manipulate her even after she realizes that she is being manipulated.  As in the case of the fictional vignette in my prior article, there are often unconscious issues involved for the woman who becomes aware that she is being manipulated and who remains with a player--even though she realizes that she's being played.

There are numerous books, manuals, workshops and boot camps for men who want to learn to be players.  These sources usually promise men that they will develop the necessary skills to seduce and sleep with as many women as possible.

Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"
Needless to say, these men are often young and there is usually a level of emotional immaturity and arrested development for men who engage in this behavior.

Just like any other dynamic, the underlying personality dynamics for a player are on a continuum.  This often includes a fair amount of narcissism that vacillates between grandiosity and shame (see my article: Narcissism: An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame).

If someone's narcissism is on a sociopathic level, he will usually be completely self serving without any real shame or regret because he lacks the ability to be empathic towards the women he is deceiving and manipulating.

At the same time, there are many men who gravitate towards being players because they lack the necessary social skills and genuine confidence (as opposed to faked confidence) to be real with women.

They think that being a player or a "bad boy" will get them more women.  To an extent they're right about being fascinating towards certain women (see my article: What Makes So-Called "Bad Boys" So Irresistible to So Many Women? Brain Chemistry Might Have the Answer).

Another aspect that makes becoming a player attractive to some men is they believe they will gain the admiration of other men.  They believe that when other men see them with a beautiful, sexy woman on their arm, these men will see them as masculine and desirable to women and buy into the image the player is trying to project.  The fact that this often actually does happen among men only reinforces players' dynamics.

These men often grew up in homes where they didn't see loving relationships modeled for them in their household.  They might have grown up in homes where the father dominated a subservient mother and ruled the family, so these men get a distorted view of masculinity and what it means to be a man.  Also, many of them feel constrained by societal stereotypes of masculinity that are neither realistic nor attainable.

Many of these men, who project an air of confidence and charm, are really emotionally insecure.  They think they've found quick-fix techniques for attracting and manipulating women.  Underneath  their show of confidence is a fear that the women they're meeting will see how insecure and inferior they really feel (see my article: Looking Happy on the Outside But Feeling Broken on the Inside and     How to Stop Pretending to Feel Happy When You Don't).

While players, who succeed in obsessively seducing and sleeping with many women, might appear to be happy with their conquests, there are certain men for whom these mind games become old. As they age, the novelty and dopamine rush of conquering one woman after another becomes empty and makes them feel lonely.  And the thought of aging and becoming an old player, who is alone, begins to feel pathetic.

These men often face an emotional crisis because they really don't feel genuinely confident in being themselves and they haven't developed the necessary skills to pursue a more substantial relationship with a woman.  So, they can't go back to their old strategies, but they don't know how to move forward either.

The emotional crisis, while being painful, can be the first step for these men to seek help so they can change.

More about these issues in my next article (see Part 2: Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players" - A Clinical Vignette).

Players or pickup artists are usually heterosexual men who engage in manipulative and deceptive strategies to hook up or have sex with as many women as possible.  Their behavior can be emotionally devastating for a woman who is vulnerable to being manipulated.

Underneath the confident and charming facade of a player usually lies a fearful, emotionally immature man who hasn't developed psychologically and interpersonally.  Instead, he has learned various techniques and strategies through books and workshops that promise him success with women.

Over time, some men, who consider themselves to be players and who aren't sociopathic, realize that they're tired of these mind games and want a more substantial relationship with a woman.  But they haven't developed the necessary skills to form a mature relationship.

This often leads to an emotional crisis with feelings of emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness. At that point, they usually feel that they can neither go back to their usual ways of being a player nor can they go forward to form stable, monogamous relationships.

Many men, who are in this emotional crisis, find their way forward by seeking help in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with feelings of emptiness, loneliness, insecurity and lack of self confidence, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

When you feel stuck in a dynamic that no longer works for you and you can't find your way forward, a skilled psychotherapist can help you to get through this emotional crisis so you can discover a more authentic part of yourself to form a stable relationship.

Rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and AEDP therapist who works with individuals and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

For couple therapy, I use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), which research has shown to be an evidence-based therapy for helping couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You? Part 3: Getting Help in Therapy

In my prior articles about "breadcrumbing," I discussed this concept in terms of it being a deceptive strategy used by a person in a relationship to string along and dominate their partner for selfish purposes.  In Part 2 of this topic, I also provided a fictional vignette to illustrate how this happens (see my articles: Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You? - Part 1 and Part 2).  In this article, I'm continuing with that same fictional vignette to show how psychotherapy can help someone who is caught in this web of deception.

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing You?" Part 3: Getting Help in Therapy

A Clinical Vignette: How Psychotherapy Can Help Someone Who is Being Manipulated in a Relationship

To recap from Part 2 of this topic:
Soon after Tania ended her relationship with Ed, she began dating John, a handsome, charming, intelligent and gregarious man she met at a party.  Initially, she was happy to meet John.  She couldn't believe she could feel so excited about meeting someone new.

But her excitement quickly turned into a roller coaster of emotions from excitement to disappointment and sadness.  Eventually, it turned into feelings of low self worth as it became evident that John was stringing her along for his own selfish purposes.  Specifically, Tania really liked John and she wanted to date him, but he was only interested in hooking up.

Tania confided in her friend,  Alicia, who had been unaware that Tania was dating John.  She told her about all the disappointments, cancelled plans, invitations to his apartment only to have sex, and so on.  Alicia listened patiently and then she told Tania that John had a reputation for being a player who would string women along with just enough attention to keep them interested and contacting him, but without giving of anything in the way of real substance.

Even though Tania could see John's pattern of behavior in hindsight, she still felt drawn to him, so she was reluctant to cut him off.  But as she realized that being around him was making her increasingly unhappy and she was feeling bad about herself, she took steps to stop contact with him.

At Alicia's suggestion, Tania contacted a psychotherapist that Alicia recommended, and Tania set up a consultation with the therapist.

During the initial consultation, Tania talked about how sad she had been after she broke up with Ed because, even though she loved him, she could see that there would be no future with him given how afraid he was to fully commit to their relationship and take it to the next step.

Tania told the therapist that, in hindsight, she could see that she was emotionally vulnerable when she met John because she had not fully grieved the end of her relationship with Ed.  Even though she liked John when she first met him, she also realized now that he was somewhat of a distraction for her to keep her from feeling the sadness related to the end of her relationship with Ed.

When Tania talked about how John manipulated her by stringing her along, she told the therapist that not only did she feel disappointed--she also felt foolish and ashamed for allowing him to manipulate her time after time.  She realized that she had been lonely after her breakup, and this contributed to her allowing a bad situation with John to go on for as long as it did.  She said she kept hoping that he would realize how much he liked her and treat her better.

Her psychotherapist felt empathetic towards Tania.  She realized that Tania was being very hard on herself, and she normalized the situation by telling Tania that people who use breadcrumbing as a manipulative strategy are usually very good at it and they sense the other person's emotional vulnerability, which they take advantage of for their own selfish purposes.

They also discussed Tania's family background and early childhood.  Tania revealed that she was closer to her father than her mother.  When she was five, her parents divorced and she hardly saw him after that because he moved out of state.  She told the therapist that she grew up yearning to be around her father.  In hindsight, Tania said she felt her father was narcissistic and he didn't take into account how much she missed him and how disappointing it was when he was hours late without an explanation to pick her up.

On those rare occasions that she saw him when he came to visit New York, she said she missed him so much that she overlooked that he came very late or he would sometimes cancel at the last minute.  Looking back on it, Tania said, she thought she didn't want to make waves by complaining to her father because she was afraid that he would get angry and she would see him even less.

As Tania was talking about this, she realized for the first time that she had similar feelings with John as she did with her father.  She and her therapist talked about the similarities between John and Tania's father. They also discussed the connection between how she was with her father and how she interacted with John, and Tania felt a strong connection.

During the next several months, Tania worked in therapy to deal with the loss of her relationship with Ed.  She and her therapist also worked on the earlier trauma of yearning for a father who lacked empathy for her feelings when she was a child and the connection to her dating relationship with John.

To overcome these issues, her therapist used a combination of Somatic Experiencing and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy (see my article: Integrating EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychotherapy).

Both EMDR therapy and Somatic Experiencing are experiential types of therapy that get to the underlying issues more effectively than regular talk therapy (see my articles: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

They worked on helping Tania to overcome her early childhood trauma.  Then, they worked on Tania's current problems and her anticipation about the future.

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You?  Part 3: Getting Help in Therapy

Over time, Tania gradually felt better.  As a result of her trauma therapy work, Tania no longer felt drawn to men like John.  In addition, when she met someone who attempted to manipulate her in a similar way, she saw it immediately and she took care of herself by ending contact with him because she felt she deserved better.

Breadcrumbing is a form of manipulation that is used by both men and women to dominate and control the other person in a romantic situation.

People who are susceptible to being manipulated like this usually have earlier underlying issues that are getting replayed in the current situation--similar to the fictional vignette about Tania.  This is why these people are particularly vulnerable to these type of mind games.

Aside from stirring up old issues that s/he might be unaware of until they are unearthed in therapy, this type of manipulation often has a negative impact on the person's self esteem, especially if this person remains in the situation with the hope of getting a commitment from the person who is manipulating him or her.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been hurt by someone who manipulated you in a relationship, you owe it to yourself to get professional help from a licensed mental health professional.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to work through the underlying issues that make you vulnerable to this type of manipulation so that you're no longer susceptible to these mind games.

Once you have freed yourself from the emotional abuse of breadcrumbing, you can make better romantic choices and lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: Choosing Healthier Romantic Relationships).

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and uses Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You - Part 2: A Clinical Vignette

In my prior article, Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You?, I discussed the dynamics involved with breadcrumbing.  As I discussed in that article, this is usually an intentional form of manipulation whereby the person who engages in breadcrumbing through intermittent text messages (and other forms of messaging) lures people in to get them interested for the sole purpose of boosting their own ego, manipulating, dominating them, and getting attention.  The person who engages in breadcrumbing is usually only interested in casual encounters like hooking up--not serious relationships.

Relationships: The Manipulation of Breadcrumbing
A Clinical Vignette About the Dynamics of Breadcrumbing:

While attending her friend's party, Tania met John, a handsome, charismatic and intelligent man who approached Tania soon after she arrived.

Tania was immediately captivated by John's good looks, charm, gregariousness, intelligence and sense of humor.  She was also struck by how well he listened to her and how interested he was in getting to know her.

Two months before, Tania broke up with Ed, someone she had been in a relationship with for several years.  Until she met John, she had been hesitant about getting involved with another man because she was still very upset that the relationship with Ed had not worked out.  Although they loved each other and they talked about moving in together, Ed was too afraid of taking their relationship to the next level.  Since Tania was in her early 30s, she decided, reluctantly, to end her relationship with Ed because she wanted to get married and have children before it was too late.  She understood Ed’s fears and she had a lot of empathy, but she also had a strong feeling that Ed would never get over his fears and she would end up alone.

By the end of the evening at her friend's party, Tania agreed to give John her phone number so they could get together.  And she was pleasantly surprised to hear from him late that evening after she got home.  He sent her a text message telling her that he enjoyed talking to her and hoped to see her soon.

Tania responded that she really enjoyed talking to him too, and she also hoped they could get together for a drink within the next week or so.  Then, she waited to hear from John--and she waited and waited, but she didn't hear from him, so she sent him a text to see if he wanted to get together.

Within a few hours later, at around 10 PM, she heard from John.  She felt herself light up as soon as she saw his text.  He apologized for not getting in touch with her sooner.  He said he had been very busy at work.  Then, he texted her that he would really like to see her and asked her if she wanted to go out for drinks that night.

Tania hesitated because she was about to take a shower and have an early night, but she really liked John and she thought there was no harm in meeting him for a drink that night.  So, she texted him that she could meet him for about an hour or so that night and asked him where he would like to go.

John responded that there was a great bar near his apartment and he asked her if she would feel comfortable meeting him at his place so they could go together.  Once again, Tania was hesitant.  She wondered why, if the bar was so close to his apartment, they didn't just meet at the bar, but then she thought she was being silly.  So, she agreed to meet him at his place so they could go together.

When she arrived at John's place, he seemed really happy to see her.  He told her that he had had a long day and he was mixing himself a drink.  Then, he made her favorite drink and suggested that they relax for a few minutes before they went to the bar.

As they sat on the couch, John leaned over and kissed Tania.  For the first time since she broke up with Ed, Tania felt sexually aroused by the kiss, and she was thrilled that she could enjoy being with a man again.

Then, John asked Tania if she would mind a lot if they stayed in because he was really tired and he would rather spend time with her in his place.  Tania could see that John sensed her hesitation and he quickly apologized, "I'm sorry, Tania.  I don't want you to think that I lured you here to jump on your bones.  I like you and I don't want to move too fast."

Tania told him that she really liked him too, but she could only stay an hour or so because she needed to get up early the next morning.  She sensed his disappointment, but he said he understood and they chatted about their lives until Tania said it was time for her to leave.  Then, John walked her home, kissed her good night and told her that he would contact her within the next few days.

During the next three days, Tania thought a lot about John.  She knew she should slow herself down because she was already head over heels about him, and she didn't want to get involved too fast, especially since she had just ended her prior relationship. But she felt she couldn't help herself.

By Day 4, Tania was getting concerned that she might not hear from John.  Although she was concerned, she decided to wait to hear from him rather than contacting him.

By Day 5 at around 11 PM, John sent Tania a text, "What's up?" Tania was happy to hear from John and sent him a long text updating him on what had been going on with her during the last several days.  She waited to hear from him, but she heard nothing more that night.  She was disappointed, but she thought he might have fallen asleep.

By Day 7, Tania felt like she was really missing John.  She told herself that she hardly knew him and she was probably reacting to his lack of communication out of her own loneliness.  She checked her phone numerous times during the day, but there were no text messages from John.

Ten days after she had last seen John, Tania received another late night text from John, "Hey.  What's up?  I miss you.  I know it's late, but do you want to come over?"

Tania was very tempted to accept John's invitation, but she didn't feel good about just going his apartment, especially since she hadn't heard from him in several days, so she suggested that they make plans to see each other on another day.

John responded by text, "I'll get in touch with you soon."  Then, there were no more texts from John for another week, and Tania was beginning to wonder if she had said or done something to cause John to distance himself from her.  She wondered: Had she been prudish for not accepting his invitation to come over to his place?  But she decided that she had felt uncomfortable going over there, and she shouldn't do anything that made her uncomfortable.

Two weeks after she had seen John, she received another late night text from John, "Sorry I haven't gotten in touch with you.  I've been very busy at work.  I hope you're not angry with me."  Then, he ended the text message with a little emoji hug and a flower.

Tania responded back that she was glad to hear from him and she wasn't angry.  She suggested, once again, that they make plans to get together.  But she didn't hear anything back from John.

A week later, Tania was feeling disappointed that John had not contacted her again, and she also felt sad and lonely.  She thought about her ex, Ed, and wondered briefly if she had made a mistake by breaking up with him.  She wondered if Ed would be interested in going with her to couples therapy, but then she pushed that thought out of her head and she went to bed.  She was restless all night and tossed and turned.

By the next day, Tania realized that she needed to distance herself from John.  She saw the pattern of her getting excited whenever she heard from him and then feeling sad and dejected when he didn't text her for a while.  She really didn't feel up to dealing with this back and forth on his part, so she decided that she should forget about him.

But by the next day, Tania received a text from John, "Hey.  I'm thinking about you."  Initially, she felt excited, but then she reminded herself that nothing ever seemed to come of these texts and she decided to ignore it.  A few minutes later, she received another text, "What are you doing?  Are you there?"

After a few minutes, Tania responded that she was tired and she was about to go to sleep.  John texted her that he would like to see her and he would text her in the morning.  Once again, Tania felt an initial burst of excitement, but then she reminded herself that John didn't follow through in the past, and she should forget about him.

When she woke up the next morning, she saw that John was calling her and she picked up the phone to hear him say, "Tania, I'm so glad I reached you.  I hope I'm not calling you too early.  I apologize for not getting in touch with you sooner.  I would really like to see you.  Are you free tonight?"

Tania hesitated, but she felt excited about hearing from John and she wanted to see him, so she accepted his invitation to go for dinner at a local restaurant near her apartment.

For the next several hours, Tania happily daydreamed about John, what she would wear, and what she would talk to him about when they got together.

By 2 PM, he texted her letting her know that he was really looking forward to seeing her, and she felt giddy with excitement.  She told him that she was also looking forward to seeing him too.

But by 5 PM, John sent her a text that he had to work late, and he would need to take a rain check on dinner.  He was apologetic, but Tania felt very disappointed.  She went home, made herself a bowl of cereal, and decided to go to bed early.

By 11:30 PM, Tania received a text from John, "I just got home.  I know we said we would go out to dinner and I'm so sorry I couldn't make it.  I'd really like to see you.  Would you want to come over?"

Against her better judgment, Tania agreed to go over to his place.  All the way there, she felt conflicted about her decision, but she felt lonely and she really wanted to see John.

A half hour later, Tania was in bed with John having the best sex she had ever had in her life.  She couldn't remember when she had felt so happy.  They stayed up for a few minutes to talk and then Tania put her head on John's chest to sleep.  But she felt him tense up and she asked him if there was anything wrong.

"Tania, I hope you don't mind, "he said softly, "But I have a hard time sleeping with someone else in my bed, and I have to get up early tomorrow...I'm really sorry."

"Do you want me to leave?" she asked feeling the tears welling up in her eyes and throat.

John hesitated, "I don't really want you to leave.  I want you to stay close to me, but I know I won't sleep at all tonight if you're next to me.  You don't have to go home--you can sleep on the couch."

Tania held her breath so she wouldn't cry in front of John.  She felt sad and humiliated.  She didn't want to sleep on his couch, so she told him that she would catch a cab home.  He offered half heartedly to go downstairs to help her get a cab, but she told him that she could manage on her own.  Then, he kissed her on the forehead and rolled over to go to sleep.

She cried all the way home in the cab, and she couldn't sleep that night.  She felt sad, angry, humiliated and used.  She vowed to herself that she wasn't going to ever see John again.  Then, she tossed and turned the whole night.

Even though she vowed not to see John again, part of her hoped that he would call or text her the next day, and sure enough, she heard from him, "I really like you, Tania.  I'm sorry you had to leave last night.  I hope we can get together again soon" and he ended the next with a bunch of hearts and flowers.

In spite of herself, Tania felt elated, but she also felt wary.  By Noon, she got another text from John, "What are you doing tonight?  Do you want to come over?

Tania paced back and forth in her office before she responded to John.  Then, she decided to call her friend, Alicia, to get her advice because she felt like she was in the grip of something that was beyond her.  She knew that Alicia didn't know John well, but she knew him as an acquaintance from their circle of friends, and she hoped that Alicia could shed some light on what was going on with John.

After she told Alicia everything that was going on, Alicia was silent for a few seconds before she said, "Tania, I'm sorry to hear you've been involved with John.  I had no idea--or I would have told you that he's a player and he's breadcrumbing you just like he has done to so many other women.  You're much better off without him, especially since you're so vulnerable after the breakup with Ed."

Despite Alicia's advice and her own conflictual feelings, Tania continued to be involved with John for a few more months.  His pattern of contacting her, ignoring her and then contacting her again continued as did her indecision about whether or not to continue to see him.  Throughout it all, she felt like she was on an emotional roller coaster.

They got together at his apartment a few more times, and each time Tania knew that she would be going home alone.  John was apologetic, but less so each time.  When she asked him how he felt about her, he told her that he really liked her, but "I'm not into labels.  Can't we just have fun together and enjoy each other's company without defining it?"

When Tania spoke with Alicia again, she was feeling depressed, and Alicia suggested that Tania stop seeing John (on those rare occasions when he wanted to see her) and block John from her phone.

Alicia also suggested that Tania seek help in therapy.  She told her that she thought John took advantage of her because he knew that she had just gotten out of a relationship and she was emotionally vulnerable and easy to manipulate.

Reluctantly, Tania blocked John from her phone.  Then, she left a message for a psychotherapist that Alicia had seen a few years before and recommended to Tania.

The vignette above is a typical example of how someone like John senses the emotional vulnerability in a woman like Tania, how he targets her and manipulates her through breadcrumbing.

Even though the vignette focuses on how a man uses breadcrumbing to manipulate a woman, women also engage in breadcrumbing and this occurs in all types of relationships, including heterosexual and gay relationships.

In my next article, I'll continue with the same vignette to show how psychotherapy can be helpful to someone like Tania who has fallen prey to a player like John.

Getting Help in Therapy
If the vignette above resonates with you, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional.

This type of manipulation can really make you  question your judgment and it takes its toll on your sense of self worth.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to heal and overcome the effects of breadcrumbing so you can make better choices in your relationships.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

In my couples work, I use Emotionally Focused Therapy to help couples to overcome the problems in their relationship.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You? - Part 1

In the world of dating, there have always been people who like to play mind games with their dates and potential partners.  This isn't anything new. But there's a particular form of game playing that's usually especially manipulative and sadistic, and it's called "breadcrumbing."

Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You?

What is Breadcrumbing?
Many people who have been hurt in relationships complain about being "ghosted" when the person they're involved with loses interest in them.

Ghosting occurs when someone ends a relationship abruptly with no explanation or communication.  The person who has been abandoned is left to wonder what happened and to pick up the emotional pieces after the ex has left.

Some people, who engage in ghosting in their relationships, even ghost their psychotherapist by disappearing from therapy without an explanation and being unresponsive to their therapist's efforts to find out what happened (see my article: Why Ghosting Your Psychotherapist is Harmful to You).

Breadcrumbing is worse than ghosting.  Breadcrumbing is usually the intentional act of leading a person on just to experience an ego boost and to control and dominate the other person and their situation.  There's no intention to explore a relationship.  

Breadcrumbing involves leading someone on with flattery, flirtatious behavior or sexual innuendos to keep the other person interested and to get attention.  

How Do You Know If Someone is Breadcrumbing You?
People who engage in breadcrumbing (this includes both men and women) are usually adept at intermittently drawing someone in, getting that person interested, getting attention from them, and then pulling back.

If someone pulls away, the person who engages in breadcrumbing initiates the cycle again, and it usually looks like this:
  • They Send You Intermittent, Meaningless, Vague Messages:  Are you receiving casual messages that mostly lack substance and that occur inconsistently, like "What's up?" or "What's going on?" Occasionally, there might be messages that have some substance, but most of the messages are vague. These messages often come late at night. The purpose of these messages is to hook you in, especially if you're not showing interest or you have pulled away, and get you interested again to boost their ego.  In other words, this person is giving you "breadcrumbs"(or very little) to try to spark your interest--usually sexual interest.  They're also very good at knowing when your interest is beginning to wane, which is when they give you more breadcrumbs to try to get you interested again.
  • They Just Want to Hook Up Without Any Commitment:  There's no intention to have a real relationship with you.  When you get together with him or her, s/he moves quickly to sexualize the encounter.  If this is what you want, there's no problem, but if you're looking for something more, you're going to be disappointed because it's not going to happen. 
  • They're Noncommittal and Don't Like "Labels": When someone is breadcrumbing you for a superficial relationship or just to hook up, it's nearly impossible to pin them down.  There might be a lot of "checking in" via message or text, but it's hard to get a commitment from them as to when the two of you will get together--unless it's a spontaneous hook up.  Often, they'll tell you, conveniently, that they're "not into labels," which gives them a lot of wiggle room to make their encounters with you whatever they want at the time.
  • You Might Doubt Yourself: After a few cycles of this moving towards you and then pulling back, you might begin to doubt yourself and what's going on between the two of you: Are they really interested in you or not?  Sometimes it seems that they are and other times it seems they're not.  Unless you know that you're dealing with a "player," you can really begin to lose confidence in yourself and your ability to figure out what's going on.
  • You Don't Feel Good About Yourself:  After a while, all this push-pull behavior on their part can have a negative impact on your self esteem, especially if you like them.  If you're unaware of what's happening, you might think there's something wrong with you or that you did something wrong.  But, in fact, there's nothing wrong with you--this is all part of their game.
  • They Get Defensive When You Call Them on Their Behavior:  Needless to say, people who engage in this behavior don't want to be called out on it.  If you confront them, they get defensive and, possibly, passive aggressive towards you.  They might try to blame you by telling you that you're imagining things or that you're making a "big thing out of nothing."
What to Do About Breadcrumbing
Breadcrumbing is usually intentional behavior, as previously mentioned.  But there are times when people who engage in this behavior do it unconsciously.  They might genuinely be interested in you, but their fear of being emotionally vulnerable or making a commitment keeps them from taking the relationship to the next level. When this happens they might unconsciously try to reengage you because they don't want to let you go.  But after a while, you begin to feel all the same negative feelings that people do when they're dealing with a player who is doing it intentionally.  At that point, you would have to decide if you want to continue to get hurt or if you want and deserve something better.

Even though they don't like to be called out on their behavior, if you recognize that you're being manipulated, it's important for your own sense of self worth to either call them out or stop engaging with them altogether.

If you recognize that they are playing games with you and you try to get them interested, you're playing right into their hands.  This is what they want because, more than anything, even though they're not really interested in you, they want your attention.  So, if you disengage from them, remain consistent in your withdrawal from them, and don't allow them to prey upon you, they will usually move onto the next unsuspecting person.

In my next article, I'll provide a clinical vignette to illustrate the dynamics of breadcrumbing.

Getting Help in Therapy
People who engage in breadcrumbing are usually very skilled at choosing people who are emotionally vulnerable.  After all, if you're vulnerable, you're more likely to fall for their manipulation.

If you really get caught up in these games and if you're already emotionally vulnerable, you could get very hurt.  

A skilled psychotherapist, who has seen this behavior many times before, can help you to disentangle yourself from a player and help you to regain your sense of self worth.

Rather than remaining caught in a web of manipulation and game playing, you could develop a stronger sense of self and focus on being with someone who really cares about you.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I also use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples to help resolve relationship issues.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Overcoming Your Guilt and Shame About "Thought Crimes"

Committing an act and having a thought about it are two very different things.  But for some people even having the thought is enough to make them feel guilty and ashamed--as if they're "bad."  They might know, logically, that thoughts can't harm anyone but, on an emotional level, they still feel bad (see my article: Understanding the Difference Between Guilt and Shame).

Overcoming Your Guilt and Shame About "Thought Crimes"

What is a "Thought Crime"?
Before we go any further, let's define what we mean by a thought crime.

A thought crime is considered an unacceptable or controversial thought that goes against conventional thinking.

The term thought crime (also known as "thoughtcrime") is derived from the novel, 1984, by George Orwell.  In the novel, a thought crime was a thought that went against the orthodoxy of the government and it was illegal.

As the term is used today by people who consider thoughts to be potentially toxic, a thought crime is anything that they believe goes against their own morals or the conventional morals of the community or society they live in.

As a result, different people will have different definitions of what constitutes unacceptable thoughts. For some people, the idea that there are unacceptable thoughts originates in their past or present religion.  For other people, the idea of unacceptable thoughts is derived from their family of origin.

For some people it's part of their obsessional style of thinking where they get caught up in a cycle of unacceptable thoughts, guilt and shame, and more unacceptable thoughts and so on.

A longstanding unresolved childhood traumatic history can also contribute to feeling guilty and ashamed about unacceptable thoughts (see my article: Are You Living Your Life Feeling Trapped By Childhood Trauma?).

Fictional Clinical Vignette: Overcoming Your Guilt and Shame About "Thought Crimes":
The following fictional vignette provides a typical example of how someone suffers with his unacceptable thoughts and how trauma therapy can help:

John was in his early 20s when he contacted a psychotherapist for a consultation.  He told her that he had chronic problems with falling and staying asleep.  He said that, over time, his primary care doctor prescribed different types of medication, but he continued to suffer with insomnia.

During the consultation, he revealed that his past and current medical doctors all ruled out any physiological problems and concluded that the problem was psychological.  However, John indicated that he didn't know of any particular incident that might have caused his insomnia.

When they talked about his family history, John revealed that he was an only child raised by a single mother, who was very strict.  She forced John to go with her to church from the time he was a young child until he moved out and went to college.

He said that his mother was fervent believer in the church's teachings and she imposed strict prohibitions based on those teachings, including the prohibition against premarital sex.  This included not only sexual intercourse but kissing, petting, masturbation and even having sexual thoughts.

John told his therapist that, as a child, he tried to follow his mother's rules, in part, because he was aware that his mother was very unhappy and he didn't want to add to her unhappiness.  He also wanted to avoid punished by her for breaking her rules.

But he admitted to his therapist that there were times when he was alone in his room that he would masturbate, and afterwards he would feel very ashamed and guilty about it.

He indicated that one night when he was 14 and he was alone in his room, he felt sexually aroused under his bed sheets while he fantasized about a girl in his classroom that he liked.  Just as he was achieved an erection, his mother walked in on him and saw it.

Even before his mother began yelling at him, John said, he felt extremely ashamed and guilty.  As his mother yelled and threatened him with eternal damnation, a part of him dissociated so that he no longer felt present in the room.

To add to his humiliation, by the next day, his mother forced him to see their pastor to confess his "sin" and to get help.  For the next six months, John was forced to have weekly sessions with his pastor and he was given relevant homework assignments to read the Bible.

He said that getting caught by his mother and having to see the pastor about his sexual thoughts was a chapter in his life that he never forgot.

From then on, whenever he had any sexual thoughts, he would try to force himself to shift his thoughts to something else.  But there were times when it was too challenging to shift his thoughts and he would pray for hours long into the night to let go of these thoughts.  By the next day, he was exhausted from his lack of sleep.

At those times, he described the guilt and shame as being almost unbearable, and there were times when he contemplated suicide.  But he never made any suicide attempts because he feared that his mother would be devastated and the suicide attempt would be an even bigger sin in his religion than having sexual thoughts.

He said he was further humiliated in his high school when other boys were talking about their sexual exploits and he remained silent.  They laughed at him, teased him, and called him "cherry boy" when he admitted that he had never been sexual.

By the time he went college, he was relieved to leave his mother's home.  Since he was born out of wedlock, John felt angry with his mother for her hypocrisy.  Following his birth, she became very religious.  Although he never confronted his mother about this, he saw her religiosity as being part of her own guilt and shame about engaging in premarital sex.

Throughout his first three years of college, John remained socially isolated and celibate.  By his fourth year, he felt so depressed and anxious that he sought help in the student counseling unit.  He found the counseling to be somewhat helpful in terms of allowing him to recognize his sexual arousal was normal.  This helped to soften his guilt and shame somewhat.

A few months after he started counseling at his college, John felt comfortable enough to masturbate when he was alone, and he had his first sexual encounter with a girl on a date.  Although he no longer felt as guilty and ashamed as he did before, he still felt some discomfort that he was a "bad person."  To make matters worse, he ejaculated prematurely, which made the experience unsatisfying for him and his date and deeply embarrassing for him.

As he and his therapist explored these issues, the therapist asked John if he began having insomnia when his mother caught him being sexually aroused at age 14.  In response, John thought about it for a moment and he was surprised to realize that the insomnia had, indeed, started at that age after his mother caught him.

His therapist helped John to understand the connection the trauma of his mother discovering his sexual arousal, the guilt and shame, and the consequent insomnia which continued through the years.

She also suggested that they process the memory of his mother walking in on him using a form of trauma therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy to see if his insomnia would resolve (see my articles: How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Although it was difficult for John to go back into that memory, during EMDR therapy, he was able to tell his therapist that he still felt somewhat guilty and ashamed about it--even though he knew logically that having sexual thoughts is normal.  He could still remember the horrified look on his mother's face and how angry and disappointed she had been.

As John and his therapist continued to use EMDR, he began to feel better, and his sleep problem started to abate.

Over time, he was able to process his guilt and shame for his sexual thoughts as a 14 year and also for disappointing his mother.  He also felt on a visceral level (not just on rational level) that having sexual thoughts wasn't wrong, and he no longer felt like a "bad person" (see my article: What's the Difference Between Toxic and Healthy Shame?).

Overcoming Your Guilt and Shame About "Thought Crimes"

On the contrary, he could feel that he was actually a very good and decent person and he had nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about.

Over time, as John let go of his negative emotions about sexual thoughts, he also began socializing more easily. Eventually, he entered into a stable relationship with a woman he met at a party, and they were able to have a satisfying sexual relationship.

Feeling guilty and ashamed about having particular thoughts is a common experience for many people.

In the vignette above, the guilt and shame were about sexual thoughts, but any thought can be experienced as taboo.

Guilt and shame can manifest in physical symptoms like insomnia, headaches, stomachaches, backaches and other bodily symptoms.

Making these connections on your own is often difficult, but a skilled trauma therapist can help you to make the connections and also help you to resolve the underlying issues through a form of trauma therapy, like EMDR therapy.

Getting Help in Trauma Therapy
If you've been feeling guilty and ashamed about your thoughts, you might know, on a rational level, that thoughts are harmless.  But on an emotional level, you can continue to feel these negative emotions because intellectual insight isn't enough to help you to change.

Unlike regular talk therapy, which can help you to develop intellectual insight, trauma therapy, like EMDR, gets to the deeper places in your brain where the unresolved trauma resides and helps you to process the trauma to the point of resolution.

Trauma therapy can free from your traumatic history so you can lead a fuller and happier life, so rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help from a skilled trauma therapist.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapists who works with individual adults (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy). 

As a trauma therapist, I have helped many clients to overcome longstanding trauma so they could lead happier lives.

I also use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to help couples with relationship problems.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.