There was an error in this gadget
power by WikipediaMindmap
There was an error in this gadget

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"? Ask Yourself, "What's Changed?"

Before you consider "starting over" in a troubled relationship, it's a good idea to ask yourself, "What changed?," especially if, as a couple, you haven't reflected on what needs to change and how the two of you are going to bring about that change (see my article: Love: Is It Really Better the Second Time Around?)

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"?  Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Many couples, who have having problems in their relationship, decide that telling themselves they're "starting over" means they've changed their problems.

But without introspection by each individual, an understanding of what went wrong in the past, and a plan to make changes, in most cases, the same problems continue--no matter how many times these couples vow to "start over."

Some couples might say that they've talked about their problems and they've decided not to repeat the same mistakes.  But with complex relationship problems, if you don't understand the underlying issues at the root of these problems, a simple declaration to not repeat your mistakes won't resolve the problems.

Let's look at a fictionalized scenario that illustrates these issues:

Jane and Bob
Bob and Jane were dating for two years when they moved in together.  Both of them were divorced and had not dated in a long time before they met each other.

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"?  Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Initially, things were going well and they were enjoying their time together, but several months later, Jane discovered that Bob secretly engaged in online gambling.

One night, she woke up in the early hours of the morning to find Bob at their computer in the living room playing poker online.

When he heard Jane come into the room, Bob tried to hide what he was doing by switching to another website, but Jane had already seen what he was doing and she confronted him (see my article: Are Toxic Secrets Ruining Your Relationship?)

They stayed up all the night to talk about Bob's gambling.  At first, he told Jane that this was the first time that he had ever gone onto this gambling site.  But when Jane looked at the browser history, she saw that he was regularly on various gambling sites.

At that point, Bob had to admit that he would frequently gamble online, and he had been gambling online for several years, but he didn't want Jane to know about it because he felt ashamed about it.

Although Jane felt compassion for Bob, she was also shocked and angry that Bob hid his problem from her.

Over the next few days, as Jane and Bob continued to discuss his gambling, Jane found out that Bob had withdrew a considerable amount of money from their joint checking account.

When Jane confronted Bob about this, he told her that he had planned to replace the money before Jane found out about it, but he was having a "bad streak of luck."  He admitted that he was also gambling on sports and he had lost a lot of money.

By now, Jane was very upset.  She was beginning to realize that Bob's gambling problem was a lot worse than she had originally suspected.

After thinking it over for a few days, Jane told Bob that she couldn't live with a gambler, especially since her father gambled away her family's savings.  Then, she asked Bob to move out.

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over?" Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Bob pleaded with Jane to give him a chance to overcome his gambling problem.  He knew he would be miserable without Jane and he felt deep remorse for putting their relationship in jeopardy.

Jane wasn't sure what to do at that point, so she asked Bob to move out for a few weeks so she could think about what she wanted to do.

During the weeks that Bob and Jane were apart, they agreed to no contact.  They each missed each other a lot, and Jane wondered if she had made a mistake by asking Bob to move out.

After their separation period was over, they agreed to talk.  Bob told Jane that he wanted more than anything for them to get back together.  He asked her if she would consider "starting over" and he promised he would never gamble again.

Jane told Bob that their weeks apart had been very hard for her, and she missed him a lot.  She made Bob promise that he would never gamble again and, when he did, she agreed that they should "start over."

They both agreed that they wouldn't discuss his gambling or this painful period in their lives again, and they would resume their relationship "as if nothing had ever happened."  They both wanted to "put it behind" them (see my article: Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots)

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"?  Ask Yourself, "What's Changed?"

Initially, they were so glad to be back together again that they went on a romantic vacation together to rekindle their relationship.  They had a wonderful time, and when they got back, they were more resolved than ever to be together.

But a month or so later, Jane couldn't help wondering if Bob was secretly gambling again.  She wanted to trust him, but she began to have doubts.

Whenever she began to have doubts, Jane tried to put these doubts out of her mind, but they kept coming back.

Then, one day, when Bob was out, Jane decided on a whim to look at the browser history, which had been cleared of the previous history, and she saw that Bob had resumed gambling again.  She felt completely betrayed.

When Bob got home, he discovered that Jane had packed his things and put everything by the door.  He realized immediately that Jane had discovered that he started gambling again.

He pleaded with Jane to give him another chance, but she was adamant that he needed to move out.  She didn't want to live her mother's life with a gambler.

A few weeks later, Bob began therapy with a therapist who specialized in addictions.

Over time, he learned about the emotional triggers that triggered his compulsive gambling.  His therapist told him that, in addition to attending therapy, he needed to attend a 12 Step program for gamblers, Gamblers Anonymous and also get a sponsor in that program.

Bob attempted to bargain with his therapist, telling the therapist that he thought he could cut back on his gambling so that it would be less of a problem--rather than abstaining completely from gambling (see my article: Starting Therapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious and Ambivalent).

But his therapist told Bob that he had a serious problem and explained that if Bob gave into his compulsion to gambling, even if it was less frequently than before, he would be reinforcing this habit and wouldn't stop.  He also explained the brain chemistry involved with gambling and other addictions.

Bob decided to leave therapy (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).

He felt he could handle his problems on his own, so he made a promise to himself that he would only gamble once a week and he would set a limit on how much money he would allow himself to lose

For the first month, this appeared to work for Bob and he was proud of himself.  He kept to his promise to himself to only gamble once a week and to stay within certain monetary limits.

Bob felt so good about what he saw as progress that he told himself that he was able to control himself and he could gamble twice a week and increase the limit of what he allowed himself to lose.

As time went on, Bob felt bored and he kept bargaining with himself and this resulted in his gambling more often and losing much more money than he had ever lost before (see my article: Overcoming Addiction: Boredom as a Relapse Trigger).

Before he realized it, Bob had gambled away much of his savings and he was tempted to borrow money from his parents.  But at that point, Bob stopped himself.  He knew that he had sunk to a new low and his denial about his problem was only making it worse.

Bob went back to therapy and made a commitment to remain.  He also began attending Gamblers Anonymous (G.A.) and he got a sponsor that he called several times a week, especially when he felt a urge to gamble.

A year later, Bob celebrated his one year anniversary of abstaining from gambling.  He knew his triggers, and he knew he needed to talk about his habit in his individual psychotherapy sessions and in G.A. groups and with his sponsor.  He also knew that he needed to be aware of not becoming complacent.

Throughout this time, Bob continued to miss Jane.  He had thought about calling her many times, but he was afraid that she would hang up on him.

After celebrating his one year anniversary, Bob called Jane and hoped for the best.  He had already discussed this with his therapist and his sponsor, so he was prepared if she rejected him.  But, to his surprise, she sounded glad to hear from him, and they decided to meet for coffee.

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"? Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Coffee led to dinner.  Jane was happy to hear that Bob hadn't gambled in a year.  She sensed his sincerity and commitment to his recovery. He also offered to have her come to a therapy session with his therapist.

After that, they decided to go to couples counseling (see my article: Starting Couples Counseling).

They both knew that simply saying that they would "start over" wasn't the answer, and they needed help from a licensed mental health professional if they were going to get back together again.

A couple's decision to "start over" is usually well intentioned.  But if the couple doesn't address the issues in a meaningful way and with professional help, especially if they have serious problems, it's usually a misguided strategy.

Without realizing it, many couples tell themselves that they will "start over" as a form of denial--a way to avoid dealing with their problems on a deeper level.

In most cases where there are serous problems, it's magical thinking to think that their problems will automatically vanish because they've decided to "put it behind" them.

Many relationships that could be salvaged with professional help end permanently after many efforts to "start over" don't work.

Getting Help in Therapy
While it might be tempting to put aside problems by vowing to "start over," this is usually a doomed strategy.

Acknowledging and understanding the problems on a superficial level is only the first step.

Rooting out the underlying, unconscious issues requires the skill of a licensed mental health professional.

If you and your significant other have been struggling with relationship problems and "starting over" hasn't worked for you, you could benefit by seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist.

It could make the difference between salvaging your relationship or ending it.

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

Monday, February 13, 2017

Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy is "All Talk and No Action"

As I've mentioned in prior articles, there are many common myths about psychotherapy (see my articles: Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy Takes a Long Time and Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're Weak).  In addition to the myths that I mentioned in my prior articles, there's also a myth that therapy is all about talking and not taking action.

Common Myths About Psychotherapy:  Therapy is "All Talk and No Action"

I believe this myth survives because of old stereotypes of psychotherapy where a client comes to therapy for many years and nothing changes.

The type of contemporary psychotherapy that I practice focuses on helping clients to achieve transformation, which includes taking action to change.

There can be many obstacles to transformation, so clients often have to work through those obstacles, including early emotional trauma, including their own ambivalence about change, before they can make changes in their lives (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious and Ambivalent).

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that addresses these issues:

Rick came to therapy because he felt stuck in almost every area of his life.

He was in a marriage where he had been unhappy for many years, and he was also in a career that he had come to dislike intensely.

Rick was in therapy before when his anxiety about these issues was especially acute, but he never remained long enough to make changes (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).

After he turned 45, Rick's fear of remaining stuck became worse than ever.  He was afraid he would complain for the rest of his life about his unhappiness, but he wouldn't make any changes.

When he started therapy again, Rick wasn't very hopeful that it would help him, but he knew that his friends and colleagues were getting tired of hearing him complain, and he and his wife were barely speaking to each other, so he couldn't count on her for emotional support.

Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy is "All Talk and No Action"

Having low expectations of therapy, Rick said he wanted a place to "vent" and to "let off steam" so that his anxiety and dissatisfaction wouldn't overwhelm him.

His therapist addressed these issues in the first session when she asked him what he wanted to accomplish in therapy.

When she heard that he had little expectation of changing, she explained that she worked with clients to help them overcome the obstacles to change and she hoped to be able to help Rick with whatever challenges were getting in his way.

During one of their early sessions, his therapist asked Rick to do a sentence completion exercise in their session through free association, which means to say whatever comes to mind.

Free association is a psychoanalytic technique and using free association in this way is a technique used in Coherence Therapy (see my articles: Discovering the Unconscious Emotions at the Root of Your Problems and Experiential Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

The therapist gave Rick the following sentence stem for Rick to complete:

"If I could make the necessary changes to be happy in a relationship and in a career, then ________."

Initially, like most people, Rick's first few answers for filling in the blank were somewhat superficial (" life would be easier," "...I would feel better about myself," and so on.

But by the time he did it for the tenth time, he was shocked to hear himself say, "...then I would be afraid that something terrible would happen."

It took a few minutes before Rick could reflect on his words because he was so surprised.  But once he could think about it, he said this felt true to him--although he never realized he felt this way before.

As he and his therapist explored this issue, Rick realized that one of his unconscious core beliefs was that if he allowed himself to be happy, fate would intervene to spoil it for him and something terrible would happen (see my article: Are Your Core Beliefs Keeping You Stuck?)

He didn't have any idea what that "something terrible" would be, but it was a strong feeling that he felt in his chest and in his stomach (see my article: Are You Afraid to Allow Yourself to Be Happy?).

As his therapist listened to his family history, she and Rick discovered the roots to this underlying belief.

Rick talked about how unhappy his parents were, especially his father, who had many unresolved early traumatic experiences.

From the time that Rick was a young child, his father told him that Rick had to remain ever vigilant for the "fickle finger of fate," especially if things were going well and he was happy.

His father had many early losses, including the loss of both parents in a car accident, when he was a small boy.

From his father's perspective, the accident (and other family tragedies) occurred because things were going too well in the family, and fate came along to teach them a lesson.

His father saw each loss and downturn as the direct result of "fate" when things were going well, so that, from his perspective, no one could ever let down their guard, especially when they were feeling happy.

Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy is "All Talk and No Action"

His father told Rick from an early age, "If you learn to expect terrible things when you're happy, you'll be prepared and you won't be taken off guard."

Rick's father's belief were so detrimental to Rick that he feared being happy, which was the obstacle in his way to making changes (see my article: Freeing Yourself From Family Beliefs and Expectations That Are Harmful to You).

It was Rick's unconscious belief that as long as he was in an unhappy marriage and in a career that he hated, "fate" wouldn't be tempted to devastate him.

After he said these words out loud, Rick realized how unrealistic it sounded but, deep down, he also knew that he had come to believe this at an early age.

After his therapist helped Rick to discover this unconscious belief, it made sense to both of them why he remained stuck.  Given his belief, why would he want to "tempt fate" to bring him pain?

As he continued to work in therapy, Rick explored the many times when he was happy in the past and when he wasn't "punished by fate" for it, so he started to understand the fallacy in his unconscious belief.

Over time, his therapist encouraged Rick to begin to explore other career options that might interest him.  Initially, he set up informational interviews, and then he talked about his experiences in therapy.

After one of these interviews, Rick got a call from someone, who met with him for an informational interview, telling Rick about an opening in the company.  This manager had been so impressed with Rick's background that he asked Rick to apply for the job.

When Rick told his therapist about it, he was excited about the possibility.  As she listened to him speak, his therapist asked him to check in with himself to see if he was feeling his old fear that if he allowed himself to be happy that "something terrible would happen" to end my happiness.

Rick reflected on this for a moment, and he was surprised that he didn't feel this old feeling.

As Rick took each step in the process towards changing his career, he would check in with himself to see if his old core belief was getting in his way, and each time he was surprised that it wasn't.

As it turned out, Rick didn't get that job, but he now felt free to explore other options and take the necessary steps to make changes.

The other problem, his marriage, was more complicated because Rick wasn't sure how he felt about his wife.

After talking it over with his wife, they went for marriage counseling and, after a few sessions, they mutually agreed that the relationship had been over for several years and that neither of them were happy.

Soon after that, they spoke to their marriage counselor about how they could end their marriage in a way that was amicable and respectful.

Rick got his own apartment nearby and they began the divorce process.

Even though Rick knew that he wasn't happy in his marriage and the divorce was for best for both of them, he still felt sad about the ending of this long relationship, and he dealt with his grief about it in his own individual therapy.

A year later, Rick wondered if he should start dating, but he had not been on a date in many years, and he felt uncomfortable.

As they explored this issue, Rick checked in with himself again to see if his old core belief was lurking in the background and tripping him up.  But he had no sense of this.

After they had talked about dating for a few sessions, Rick's therapist encouraged him to start taking steps, no matter how small, to start dating.

Rick would have preferred to continue talking about dating rather than taking any action, but his therapist told him that he could do both.  He could start taking steps to date and they could continue to talk about each step.

In this way, step by step, Rick began dating and he developed increasing confidence in the dating process, even though he had not met anyone that he really liked yet.

In a therapy session where he and his therapist looked back at where Rick started and where he was at that point, Rick expressed a sense of empowerment that he was able to take steps to overcome the obstacles that were preventing him from making changes in his life.

Old stereotypes contribute to the common myth that therapy is "all talk and no action."

Contemporary psychotherapy is a combination of self discovery which leads to taking meaningful action to change.

In the fictionalized scenario above, there is a particular longstanding core belief from early childhood that got in the way of the client making changes.

There are many other types of obstacles, conscious and unconscious, that get in the way of people making changes.

Once these obstacles are discovered, they can be worked with in therapy so that clients can free themselves of their effect.

It's important for the therapist to encourage clients to take action, no matter how small, and not to just talk about the problem.

This requires a clinician who has the clinical skills to know when to push the limits and when to hold off and, of course, this will be different with every client.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been avoiding therapy because you believe in the old myth that therapy is just about talking and not taking action, you're doing yourself a disservice.

Rather than telling yourself that you've tried to change in the past, but you can't do it, recognize that there are obstacles that you haven't discovered yet but that you can discover with the right therapist.

You might be surprised, as the client in the scenario above, to discover that there are unconscious beliefs that are holding you back.

Very often, once these unconscious beliefs have been exposed to the light of day, they don't hold up.

If you've been feeling stuck, you could benefit from working with a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to bring about the changes that you want.

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

Monday, February 6, 2017

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

In an ideal world, couples would work out the end of their relationship in a mutually respectful way that would allow for closure.  While this is possible for some couples, for many couples this isn't possible, for a variety of reasons, and each person in the former relationship has to find closure in his or her own way (see my article: Overcoming the Heartbreak of a Breakup).

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

In a situation that is volatile or when one or both people feel unable or unwilling to communicate with each other, closure might not be possible for the couple.  But most of the time, people feel a need for closure and it becomes frustrating when this isn't possible.  It can also prolong the grieving process after the breakup.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario which is representative of one of these situations:

Ina and Ted
Ina and Ted were in a relationship for five years.  They lived together for the last three years.

Although they loved each other very much, one of their ongoing problems was that Ted didn't like to talk about his feelings and he became impatient when Ina wanted to talk about her feelings or about the relationship.

Ina felt very frustrated by Ted's refusal to talk about feelings, and he felt annoyed by Ina's need to talk  (see my article:  Are Your Emotional Needs Being Met in Your Relationship?).

Ina was aware that Ted came from a family where the only emotion that was expressed was anger.  Ted's father was especially volatile when he got angry and, although he never hit Ted, Ted was frightened by his father's angry outbursts.

He also grew up being frightened by his own anger or any strong emotions that he experienced.  Whenever he experienced a strong emotion, his first impulse was to push it down.

It took Ted a while to tell Ina that he loved her, and throughout their relationship, it still made him feel uncomfortable.

Since Ted wouldn't allow any strong emotions, after five years, the relationship felt "flat" to Ina.  When she tried to talk to Ted about this, he walked into another room.

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

A few days later, Ina came home and she was shocked to discover that all of Ted's possessions were gone.  At first, she thought they had been robbed.  But when she saw that many valuable items were still in the apartment and all of her things were still there, she realized that he had moved out without a word.  There was no message--not even a note.

Ina tried to call Ted on his cellphone and at his work number, but he didn't pick up and he didn't respond to her messages.

Although she knew that Ted didn't like to deal with strong emotions, she couldn't believe that he would end the relationship this way.  She still loved him, and she hoped that they would be able to work things out.

After a few days, he sent her a text in which he told her that she needed to "move on" with her life because things weren't working out between them.

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

Ina was shocked, angry and hurt that, after five years, this is all he had to say to her and that he was saying it in a text message.

She tried, in vain, to get Ted to speak with her, but he resisted all of her efforts.

Not knowing what else to do, Ina started therapy because she felt overwhelmed by the breakup, how it occurred and that Ted refused to speak with her.  She knew he wasn't communicative about his feelings, but she never would have guessed that he would do something like this.

Ina found herself ruminating about what might have happened that caused Ted to break off their relationship in this way.

She felt a rapport with her therapist and felt safe being vulnerable in therapy.  She realized that she really missed feeling heard and understood in her relationship.

After a few weeks in therapy, Ina admitted that the relationship had been on the rocks for a while and it was bound to end.  But she still felt a need to have closure.  She would have preferred to have closure with Ted, but she knew that this wasn't going to be possible.

In her therapy sessions, her therapist asked Ina to imagine talking to Ted about her feelings and to say out loud what she was feeling.

At first, Ina felt awkward doing this, but as she opened up, she felt how freeing it was to express her feelings "to Ted" (even though he wasn't really there).  She told him how hurt she was and how disappointed she felt that he ended their relationship this way and refused to speak with her.

As she expressed her feelings, she had a realization that, all along, she had been asking Ted to do something that he was incapable of doing--to listen to her express her feelings and for him to express how he felt.

On some level, she always knew this, but when she spoke out loud, as if Ted was in the room with her, she had a deep awareness of it.

In time, this helped Ina to inwardly forgive Ted, even though they never spoke again.  Realizing that he was incapable of doing what she wanted and needed allowed her to let go of her anger.

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

Over the next several months, Ina felt that she was able to have her own sense of closure about the breakup in therapy, and she realized what she needed emotionally in her next relationship (see my article: Learning From Past Romantic Relationships).

There are many reasons why closure isn't possible within a relationship.

The scenario above presents one example, but there are numerous reasons.

Just because you can't have closure within the relationship doesn't mean that you can't have closure within yourself.

Even when two people are able to talk about the end of their relationship, one or both people might still feel that there's no closure.

Sometimes, one person in the relationship can use the idea of closure in order to maintain contact with the other person and this can lead to a form of harassment (see my article:  Breakup: When Closure at the End of a Relationship Leads to Harassment).

Therapy allows for another possibility for closure.

Getting Help in Therapy
Working with a skilled psychotherapist can help you to have closure around the end of a relationship even when you can't have closure with your ex (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

This doesn't mean that all the loose ends are tied up in a neat bow or that it will be quick or easy, but it does mean that you can emotionally heal without being in a protracted state of grief after a breakup.

If you're going through a breakup and you need emotional support, you owe it to yourself to get help in therapy.

Friends and family might be supportive, but they're not trained to help you to work through your sadness, anger and grief (see my article: Talking to a Psychotherapist Is Different From Talking to a Friend).

Getting help in therapy can allow you to heal emotionally.

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

Monday, January 30, 2017

Is Your Fear of Being a "Bad Person" Preventing You From Asserting Yourself

As children, many people are taught that they have to put others before themselves, even when it's to their own detriment.  Growing up with this perspective makes it difficult as an adult to be assertive because to put yourself first feels like you're being a "bad person" (see my articles: Assertiveness: Learning to Say "No").

Is Your Fear of Being a "Bad Person" Preventing You From Asserting Yourself?

No one wants to feel that they are a mean or hurtful person, but there also needs to be a way for people to take care of their own well-being while also considering others.

When there's a pattern of putting other people's feelings and well-being above your own, you often feel conflicted about what to do when a situation arises where there is a conflict between what you need and what the other person needs.

If you are stuck in this pattern, as a way to avoid feeling the conflict, you might numb yourself emotionally so that you tell yourself that you don't know what you want or need (see my article: Changing Coping Strategies That No Longer Work For You: Avoidance).

For many people that feels preferable than to say "no" to someone else.

This often leads to many unhappy consequences and overall avoidance of possible conflictual situations.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that demonstrates these dynamics:

Gina grew up in a home where her parents taught her that it was "always better to give than to receive."

During the Christmas holidays, Gina's parents encouraged her to give whatever gifts she received to the local children's donation center.  After a while, Gina unconsciously taught herself to stop wanting toys because she knew that she wouldn't be able to keep them.

Her parents also taught her that she should always put other people's needs first before her own.

Later on as an adult, Gina had a hard time saying "no" when she really didn't want to do something. People who knew her knew that she would always say "yes" and they made many demands on her.

As a result, she often felt bombarded by the many requests that she received from others and exhausted by her own internal conflicts about it.

She felt guilty and like a "bad person" for even having internal conflicts about not wanting to agree to her friends and family's demands.  She felt that a good person would gladly do for others without feeling conflicted.

The result was that, even though she tried to avoid feeling like a "bad person" by complying with others' demands, she still felt like a "bad person" for even having negative thoughts about it (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

Gina's internal turmoil developed into medical problems, including frequent headaches and stomach problems.  Being sick was the only time that Gina felt it was alright to turn down other people's requests.

Is Your Fear of Being a "Bad Person" Preventing You From Asserting Yourself?

At the time, Gina didn't understand the mind-body connection and how her body was telling her that there was a problem with the way she was sacrificing herself for other people (see my article:

When her doctor eliminated any physical reasons or why Gina was having headaches and stomach problems, she recommended that Gina seek help in therapy to understand if there were emotional issue that were contributing to her medical problems (see my article: Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

Although the connection between the mind and the body was a new concept for Gina at the time, she listened to her doctor and sought help in therapy.

In therapy, Gina began to make connections between what she was taught as a child and her current problems as an adult.

This was the first time that she was able to say out loud that she was tired of acceding to others' demands all the time, but she felt it was the "right thing" to do.  She was in such anguish about this conflict that she didn't know what to do.

Her therapist helped her to look at her dynamic as if she was someone else.  In other words, would Gina feel this way if her best friend told her about this same problem.

Being able to externalize the problem was helpful to Gina, and she agreed that she would not think her best friend was a "bad person" if she said "no" to someone in order to take care of herself.

Even though Gina was able to see the distortion in her thinking, her childhood upbringing still had a powerful hold on her.

Over time, Gina was able to see that how self destructive this distortion was for her health and overall well-being.  She also saw that she was unconsciously somatizing her problems (getting sick) in order to avoid doing things she really didn't want to do, and this wasn't a good solution to her problems.

Gradually, Gina practiced saying "no" in situations with people who weren't close to her for small issues.  At first, this was very uncomfortable, but Gina knew that she needed to do this for herself.

Gina and her therapist also did trauma work for the unmet needs of her younger self, the child who learned to sacrifice at too young an age.

Gina understood that her parents were well meaning, but their beliefs were harmful to her, and she needed to develop her own beliefs as an adult.

As Gina continued to practice asserting herself, over time, she got more comfortable with it and she no longer felt like a "bad person."

She also felt more alive emotionally and physically and more aware of what she really wanted and didn't want.

Is Your Fear of Being a "Bad Person" Preventing You From Asserting Yourself?

When she did do things for other people willingly and without undue sacrifice to herself, she did these things with more joy.

Underlying many people's inability to assert themselves is a fear of being a "bad person."

This belief is often internalized at a young age and hard to overcome on your own.

The conflict between not wanting to acceded to someone else's wishes and feeling like a "bad person" is often very difficult to bear and many people unconsciously numb themselves to their own desires as a way to not dealing with the conflict.

Due to the mind-body connection, unresolved emotional problems can develop into medical problems, like headaches, high blood pressure, and other medical issues.

Getting Help in Therapy
Getting to the root of the problem is the first step in overcome a problem with being assertive.

Working on the underlying emotional trauma is usually necessary so that it doesn't keep getting in the way of your making healthy changes.

When you're ready, taking action is the next step to learn how to be assertive in a healthy way.

If you have trouble asserting yourself, rather than continuing to struggle on your own, you could benefit from working with a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to overcome the underlying issues so you can begin to take care of yourself and lead a happier life.

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

Empowering Yourself When You Feel Disempowered

Life presents many challenges that can lead to your feeling discouraged and disempowered.  Often, the key to feeling empowered is to take action, even if it's a small step, because, as the saying goes, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step" (see my article: What's Holding You Back From Achieving Your Goals?).

Empowering Yourself When You Feel Discouraged

When you feel disempowered, you might feel that whatever step you take will be inconsequential compared to the larger goal.  It's easy to talk yourself out of taking action if you try to imagine what your steps should be from beginning to end.

This can leave you feeling discouraged and stuck.  But it's important to remember that, along the way, life will present opportunities that you can't know about right now.

That's why it's so important to maintain a sense of hope, which will help you to get from one step to another and help you to feel empowered enough to maintain your course.

Helpful Tips:
  • Take Action: The action doesn't have to be big.  You can start by writing down your goal and then defining what steps you need to take to get there.  Then, break down those steps into smaller, more manageable steps and take some step every week to get closer to your goal.  You can also start by talking to someone who has already accomplished what you want to do.  Ask questions about what worked and what didn't work.  Talk to supportive friends and family members who will encourage you.
  • Appreciate the Journey:  Often, people who have worked on long term goals, have remarked that the journey to accomplishing their goals turned out to be more valuable than the end goal.  Along the way, they met interesting people and learned new things.  The journey itself helped to them to broaden and grow (see my article: Being Open to New Experiences).
  • Keep Things in Perspective: Although things might seem bleak at the moment, change your focus to the long view.  Rather than telling yourself all the reasons why you can't accomplish what you want, imagine yourself in a few years time and what it would feel like once you have accomplished your goals (see my article: Experiencing Happiness as Part of Your Future Self).  Hold onto that good feeling and sense of accomplishment to get you through.  Most things that are worth accomplishing take a while to accomplish.  Also, remember other times when you have felt discouraged and things worked out for you (see my article: Staying Positive and Focused on Your Goals). 
  • Spend Time With Others Who Are Positive and Working Towards Their Goals:  Naysayers can give you many reasons why you can't accomplish what you want.  They will reinforce your own self doubts.  But people who are persevering in their goals, even when there are challenges, are inspiring to be around and can help to motivate you to work on your goals even during challenging times (see my article: Finding Inspiration and Motivation to Accomplish Your Goals).
  • Cultivate a Mentor in Your Life:  Having the support of a mentor can make all the difference in terms of your accomplishing your goals, especially when you feel discouraged.  A mentor can see qualities in you that you might not see or appreciate.  
  • Stop Comparing Yourself Unfavorably to Other People:  Being around positive people, who are persevering in their goals, despite obstacles, is inspiring.  But some people, who don't feel good about themselves, compare themselves unfavorably to these people.  Remember:  It's not a competition.  When you find yourself comparing yourself unfavorable to others, notice it, recognize it as self defeating and switch your attention back to yourself (see my article: How to Stop Comparing Yourself Unfavorably to Others).
  • Don't Get Discouraged If You Stumble:  Thomas Edison had to work out almost 3,000 theories about electric light and only two of his experiments worked.  He said, "Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up" (see my articles: When Self Doubt Keeps You Stuck and Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes).
  • Acknowledge Yourself For Each Step Towards Your Goal:  Some people don't feel that they deserve any recognition as they take steps towards their goal.  But this can be discouraging, especially if it's a goal that will take years.  So, it's important to give yourself credit for each step that brings you closer to your goal.  Celebrate each milestone (see my article: Achieving Your Goals: Learn to Celebrate Small Successes Along the Way to Your Final Goal).

Getting Help in Therapy:
People who have experienced emotional trauma, especially early childhood trauma, or who suffer from depression or anxiety can find it too overwhelming to empower themselves, so the tips outlined above might not be helpful.

Empowering Yourself When You Feel Disempowered: Getting Help in Therapy

These tips might even have the effect of making them feel ashamed that they can't use these tips to overcome their obstacles.

If you're struggling and feeling disempowered and stuck, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist who can help you to develop the capacity to overcome your history and to take positive steps for the future (see my article: Therapists Who Empower Clients in Therapy).

Everyone needs help at some point in his or her life.  Sometimes, you need a specialist who has skills that your friends and family don't have to help you overcome your problems (see my article: Learning to Feel Hopeful in Therapy: Developing a Stronger Sense of Self).

Rather than struggling on your own, get help to overcome your personal history so you can accomplish your goals and lead a more fulfilling life.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships

While it might be common knowledge that people are affected by their early childhood experiences, many people don't realize that their relationship choices are affected by their parents' relationship (see my articles:  Looking at Childhood Trauma From an Adult PerspectiveAre You Living Your Life Feeling Trapped By Your Childhood History?, and Letting Go of Childhood Trauma That Affects Your Adult Relationship).

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships

Most of the time, this occurs on an unconscious level so that it remains out of awareness.

Many people don't realize how affected they are by their parents' relationship until they're in therapy and a skilled psychotherapist helps them to start making these connections.

Let's take a look at a typical example in the form of a fictionalized scenario:

Emma started therapy because she was deeply unhappy in her marriage.

After five years of marriage, she questioned whether she wanted to remain in the relationship or if she wanted to get a divorce.

Two years into her marriage, Emma discovered that her husband, Carl, was cheating on her when she found emails from another woman (see my article: Coping With Betrayal in Your Relationship).

As she continued to delve into Carl's old emails, she found emails from other women that dated to the beginning of her marriage to Carl.

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships

When she confronted Carl about it, he apologized to her and promised her that it would never happen again.  He told her that he would never want to do anything that would jeopardize their marriage.  He said these other women made him feel attractive, and he realized he was being selfish (see my article:  The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Attractive).

At that point, with some misgivings, Emma told him that she forgave him, and they decided to put the matter behind them.  But Carl's infidelity was never far from Emma's mind.  Even though she wanted to forgive him, she didn't trust him.

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships

Shortly before Emma began therapy, she received a text message from a woman who claimed to be having an affair with Carl.  She told Emma that she was determined to have Carl to herself and Emma should divorce him.

Initially, when Emma confronted Carl about the text message, he denied even knowing this other woman.  But Emma didn't believe him and as she continued to press him for an answer, he admitted that he had been seeing this other woman for several months (see my article: Infidelity and Broken Promises).

After that, Emma told Carl that he had to sleep in the guest room until she figured out what she wanted to do, and that's when she started therapy.

Emma felt highly ambivalent about her relationship with Carl.

On the one hand, she still loved him and she didn't want to give up the marriage.  But, on the other hand, she felt hopeless that he would ever stop cheating and she felt there was no future to their relationship (see my article: Your Relationship: Should You Stay or Should You Go?)

At one point, Emma told her therapist, "All men are dogs," which she used as a rationalization for remaining in the relationship.   She felt that no man would ever be faithful in his marriage, so even if she left Carl, she would only find another man who would also cheat on her.  She said, "Maybe it's better to stay with the devil I know than with the devil I don't know."

As Emma's therapist listened to Emma's family history, she began to see why Emma felt this way.

As the oldest of five children, Emma helped her mother, who was overwhelmed, to take care of the younger children.

Emma's father was hardly around.  He worked two jobs and on the weekends he went out by himself.

Her parents argued in front of her about her father cheating with other women. Her mother would cry and plead with him to end his affairs, and he would argue that, as a man, he had a right to his freedom.

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs in Relationships

Her mother often told Emma, "All men are dogs."

Emma felt very sad for her mother because she knew that her mother was very unhappy.  So, she tried to be as helpful as she could in an effort to try to make up for her mother's unhappiness (see my article:  How to Stop Being the "Rescuer" in Your Family).

But no matter how much she did for her mother, Emma could never make her mother feel happy.  She continued to hear her parents arguing late at night about other women, and this situation never changed until her father died when Emma was away at college.

Emma's father's death, due to a sudden heart attack, was all the more troubling because he was with another woman when he died.

Soon after he died, Emma's mother found out that he had other children from his numerous affairs that she never knew about while he was alive.

One of the other mothers contested his will in an effort to get money for their children, so Emma's mother was drawn into a long, protracted legal battle, which she eventually won, but it left her broken hearted.

A few years after that, Emma's mother died, and Emma felt that her mother died of a broken heart.

As Emma and her psychotherapist talked about the possible connection between her feelings about men and her parents' marriage, initially, Emma denied that there was a connection.  She was so convinced that all men were unfaithful that she wasn't open to looking at the possibility that there could be other men who don't cheat on their wives.

But, over time, as they continued their discussions and Emma's therapist asked her if she knew of married couples where the husband didn't cheat, Emma suddenly realized that she had numerous friends and family members where the husbands were faithful.

This was something that Emma had always known, but if was as if this information and her attitude towards men never connected--like these two factors remained separate in her mind.

Gradually, Emma came to realize that her views about men were very ingrained from an early age based on her parents' relationship and her mother's warnings about men and that she had never questioned her views.

Emma also realized that she was exposed to her parents' problems at too young an age to fully understand.  She came to see that, as a child, she took on a parental, protective role with her mother instead of being the one who was mothered and protected (see my article: Having Compassion For the Child That You Were).

Emma and her therapist did a lot of work to help Emma grieve for the younger part of herself who took on an adult role before her time.

As they continued to explore her feelings about her marriage, Emma realized that she had taken the same long-suffering role that her mother took with Emma's father.  Emma's therapist told Emma that this might be her unconscious way of holding onto her mother, and this resonated with Emma (see my article: Holding Onto Grief as a Way of Staying Connected With a Deceased Loved One and An Unconscious Identification With a Deceased Love One Can Be an Obstacle to Change).

Several months later, Emma had a stronger sense of self and she decided that she no longer wanted to be with a man who was cheating on her, so she filed for divorce (see my article: Letting Go of an Unhealthy Relationship).

Your Parents' Relationship Can Affect Your Beliefs About Relationships

Two years after the divorce, Emma met a man who eventually became her second husband.  At that point, she no longer believed "all men are dogs," and she and her husband were happy and faithful together.

There are many ways that your parents' relationship can affect your relationship choices and how you see romantic partners.

Most of the time, the effect is unconscious.

You might experience your views not just as your personal views but as "the truth," especially if your beliefs are deeply ingrained from a young age.

Psychotherapy provides an opportunity to look at long-held views, discover the origin of those views and gain a different perspective.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you realize that you are caught in negative beliefs and recurring negative patterns in your relationship, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist who has the skills and knowledge to help you discover the origin of your recurring patterns so you can begin to make changes.

Psychotherapy can help to free you from the effects of your early childhood history, so rather than continuing to be enslaved by your history, you can lead a more fulfilling life.

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

Monday, January 9, 2017

How to Stop Getting Caught Up In Other People's Emotional Drama

If emotional drama is a way of life for you, it's easy to keep caught up in other people's drama (see my article:  Hooked On Emotional Drama: Getting Off the Emotional Seesaw).

How to Stop Getting Caught Up in Other People's Emotional Drama

Why Do People Get Caught Up in Other People's Emotional Drama?
Not everyone gets involved in other people's drama.  Many people run the other way when they detect the chaos of emotional drama.  They find it stressful and annoying, and they want nothing to do with it.

But there are also many people who become fascinated by the drama.  For them, emotional drama has been part of their life since childhood and so it feels "normal" and even exciting.

Recognizing and understanding the root of the problem--that it usually begins early in life--is the start to resolving it, but it's not the entire solution because having an intellectual understanding often doesn't change anything.

It's often a way to take the focus away from oneself by focusing on other people's problems.

What Are the Consequences of Continually Getting Caught Up in Other People's Drama?
For people who habitually get involved in other people's drama (when they're not creating their own), it can feel exciting and addictive.

How to Stop Getting Caught Up in Other People's Emotional Drama

It might start with gossip about an argument between two friends.  It might begin with a rivalry between two family members or some other similar event.

The problem is that, besides usually being a waste of time, the person who habitually gets involved with drama usually gets pulled into the negative vortex of the situation.

Even though it might have started as "juicy gossip," the drama has a way of spiraling out of control and having negative consequences for everyone involved as the problem snowballs beyond anyone's expectations.

So, while it might start with a shot of dopamine and bring excitement, it usually degenerates into a bad situation.  Everyone involved usually loses in the end.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that illustrates the problem:

Anna liked to say that there was "too much drama" going on among her friends.  But even though she expressed disdain for emotional drama, she found herself getting continually pulled in whenever there was a situation among family or friends.

On a certain level, Anna knew that whenever she got involved with a brouhaha that was going on with other people, she eventually felt exhausted, depleted, annoyed and regretful.

But try as she might, each time a similar situation arose, she felt compelled to jump in and get involved, no matter how many times she vowed to herself not to do it again.

The situation that brought her into therapy involved a problem between two close friends who had a bitter argument about one of the friend's husbands.

Rita called Anna in tears after she found out that their mutual friend, Lisa, was having an affair with Rita's husband, Carlos.  Although her husband and Lisa both denied it, Rita found text messages and nude pictures that confirmed her suspicions.

Rita told Anna that she threw her husband out after she found out about the infidelity, but she wanted him back.  She had thrown Carlos out many times before because of his affairs with other women.  But she feared that there was something more than sex between Carlos and Lisa, and she was afraid she would lose him to Lisa if she didn't take him back.

But before she took him back, Rita wanted Lisa to know that she had to stay away from Carlos because she didn't want to take him back if they were going to continue the affair.  The problem was that Lisa wasn't taking her calls, so she wanted Anna to speak with Lisa.

When Anna heard what happened, she couldn't believe it.  She and all of Rita's friends knew that Carlos was a philanderer.  He had even tried to hit on Anna.  But Anna couldn't believe that Lisa, who was a close friend to both Anna and Rita, would have an affair with Carlos.

How to Stop Getting Up in Other People's Emotional Drama

Anna stayed on the phone with Rita for hours.  Although she felt compassion for Rita, she also realized that she also felt excited.  Her heart was racing, her breathing was heavier and she felt energized.  

By the time she agreed to call Lisa, Anna was completely immersed in Rita's problems.  When Anna put down the phone, she felt pumped as if she had run a race.  

A few minutes later, she got a call from her friend, Paula, who had been friends with Anna and Lisa for more than 20 years.

"Can you believe what's going on with Rita and Carlos!?!," Paula said.  

Then, without even waiting for an answer from Anna, Paula launched into her own interpretation of the events and they remained on the phone for two hours.

By the time Anna got off the phone, she realized that she forgot to go to the store for tonight's dinner, which the store was now closed.

She hurried to something throw something together for dinner.  Then, she thought about how she would approach Lisa.

By the next day, she called Lisa and broached the topic with her.  Before Anna could get too far, Lisa got angry and interrupted her and told her that she was the third person who called her about the "so-called affair" that she was having with Carlos.

Not only did Lisa deny that she had anything to do with Carlos, but she was offended and hurt that anyone would think this, "Whatever pictures Rita thinks she had--they're not me!"  

The conversation devolved into a big argument where Anna told her that she didn't want to be Lisa's friend anymore and Lisa told Anna that she didn't want anything to do with her as well.  Then, they both hung up in anger.

Anna was sad, angry and exhausted.  She realized that she had only made the situation worse and she wanted nothing to do with Rita's problems.  

A few days later, Rita called her sounding sheepish.  She and Carlos were back together again.  She realized that the messages and pictures that she found on Carlos' phone were from a few years ago and they didn't involve Lisa.

Rita was annoyed that Carlos kept these pictures and messages on his phone, but she forgave him and they were planning to take a romantic vacation together soon.  She also apologized to Lisa and told her that she didn't want to lose their 10 year friendship over a mistake that Rita had made.

Then, Rita said, "Lisa is very angry with you and I don't know if she will ever have anything to do with you again."

Anna's mind was spinning by the time Rita got back to talking about her reconciliation with Carlos and how passionate they had been the last few days, Anna wasn't even listening.

All Anna could think was, "I allowed myself to get pulled into someone else's drama and now I may have lost a good friend.  I'm too old for this."

After their conversation, Anna sat quietly for a while.  She felt that there was something old and familiar about all of this, but she wasn't sure what it was.

She tried to reach Lisa to apologize, but Lisa didn't return her calls.

When Anna talked to her husband about it, he told her that this was just like her feuding family and all their emotional drama.  He suggested that she talk to a therapist.

During Anna's therapy sessions, she began to see the similarity between the situation with her friends and old pattern of triangulation in her family.  

How to Stop Getting Caught Up in Other People's Emotional Drama

Anna's mother was constantly getting into arguments and disputes with her siblings and then Anna and her sisters wouldn't see these relatives for months because of the feuding.

Anna realized that she had unconsciously developed the same pattern in her relationships.  Even though she was in her mid-30s, she was still getting in the middle of these feuds with friends as if they were teenagers.

After she overcame the shame and guilt, she was able to come to terms with the underlying issues and why it was so familiar, exciting and compelling to her.

Gradually, Anna worked through her family issues in therapy, and she learned to be more involved in her own life and not get pulled into these dramas.  

The initial excitement and compulsion to get involved in other people's emotional drama is often unconscious and based on early personal history.

When it comes to getting involved in drama, age often has little to do with it.  

An objective outsider might look at the situation and think that the people involved are acting like teenagers, but the people involved in the situation often have little awareness of this.

We each carry around our younger selves, including the infant, young child and the teenage selves.  Any one of them can get activated in a particular situation.

You might recognize the pattern in hindsight, but this is often not enough to disengage the next time because of the unconscious nature of the problem.

Boredom or depression can also be a factor in wanting the temporary "rush" involved with the drama.

Getting Help in Therapy
Since this problem is usually difficult to overcome alone, getting help in therapy is often the solution.

A skilled therapist can help you to understand the roots of this problem and why it feels so compelling whenever it occurs, despite the fact that it hasn't ended well in the past. 

Rather than suffering alone and continuing to make the same mistakes, freeing yourself from the effects of your history in therapy can help you to lead a more fulfilling life.

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

I have helped many people to overcome a habitual pattern of getting involved in other people's emotional drama and to stop creating their own.

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.