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Monday, November 20, 2017

Psychotherapy Blog: Developing and Maintaining a Happy Relationship

Developing and maintaining a happy relationship is more challenging these days than ever.  Whereas in former times people had the emotional support of an extended family, people in relationships now tend to rely much more on each other, which often places a strain on the relationship (see my articles: Nurturing Your RelationshipCreating a Safe Haven For Each OtherTelltale Signs That You and Your Spouse Are Growing ApartRelationships: How to Get Closer When You've Grown Apart and Relationships: The Importance of Expressing Gratitude to Your Spouse).

Developing and Maintaining a Happy Relationship

While no relationship is without occasional problems, more relationships these days are failing because of the greater emotional burden placed on the relationship.  Also, people often enter into a relationship with unrealistic expectations of their partners and unaware of the work it takes to develop and maintain a happy relationship.

How to Develop and Maintain a Happy Relationship
Developing a Happy Relationship: Spend Quality Time Together Without Distractions
  • Be Loving and Kind to Each Other:  Many couples are loving and kind to each other at the beginning of the relationship but, as time goes on, they forget to do the things that endeared them to each other (see my articles:  Practicing Tolerance and Compassion in Your Relationship).
  • Develop Realistic Expectations of Your Relationship:  You're partner can't be everything to you.  You need to have friends and other forms of emotional support in order not to put too heavy a burden on the relationship (see my article: Relationships: Your Spouse Can't Meet All Your Expectations).
  • Let Go of the Small Stuff:  When you're in a relationship, you need to know what's most important to you.  Do you really want to argue about the socks that never made it from the floor to the hamper?  If you do, you'll be arguing a lot and this can erode a relationship quickly (see my article: Are You Overreacting to Small Disappointments? and Letting Go of Resentment).
Developing and Maintaining a Happy Relationship:  Be Playful With One Another
Getting Help For Your Relationship in Couples Counseling
There are many couples who have lost their way in their relationship and they're unable to find their way back to the loving relationship that they once had.

A skilled psychotherapist, who works with couples, can help a couple to understand what went wrong and provide them with tools to get back on track (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

If you've tried on your own to work out your relationship, but you keep coming up short, you could benefit from seeing a couples therapist who can help you to have the loving relationship that you once had.

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

What Happens When You Numb Yourself to Your Traumatic Past?

In a prior article, I discussed the effect of growing up in a family where you can't express your emotions (see my article:  Psychotherapy Can Help You to Overcome the Effect of Growing Up in a Family That Doesn't Talk About Their Feelings).  But there are also times when people try to avoid feeling their feelings and numb themselves emotionally because of a traumatic event in their life.

What Happens When You Numb Yourself to Your Traumatic Past?
In The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George, the protagonist, Jean Perdu, numbed himself for 20 years because of the loss of his relationship.  Rather than allowing himself to feel the pain of the breakup, he shuts down emotionally (see my articles:  Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable and Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Feelings in a Healthy Way).

Not only has he numbed his feelings, but he literally locked the room in his apartment that held the the most poignant memories of his relationship from 20 years ago.

Even though Jean has a lot of empathy for others and he knows which books to recommend to heal them emotionally, he numbs himself to his broken heart and, for 20 years, he is unable to heal himself.

The effect of this emotional numbing is that he not only blocks the emotional pain, he also blocks out positive feelings.

What Happens When You Numb Yourself to Your Traumatic Past?
Although he is known and admired by many people, including his neighbors and people who go to his bookstore, he remains alone, lonely, cut off from himself and unwilling to deal with the past.

After he makes a surprising discovery, Jean embarks on a transformational journey to deal with the emotional effects of the past.

I won't provide any spoilers about what happened to Jean during his psychological journey, but I recommend reading the book for anyone who has ever experienced psychological trauma or contemplated dealing with past trauma.  Nina George portrays the effects of unresolved trauma poignantly and accurately.  The characters are also vivid and likable.

Getting Help in Therapy to Overcome Unresolved Psychological Trauma
Many people who suffer with unresolved trauma are hesitant about coming to therapy because they fear that trauma therapy will be too overwhelming (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).

Getting Help in Therapy to Overcome Unresolved Psychological Trauma
A skilled trauma therapist knows how to assess clients' traumatic experiences as well as their internal resources so that the work can be manageable.  This doesn't mean that there is no discomfort when working on unresolved trauma in therapy.  It just means that there is a recognition that the therapy must go at a pace that feels safe for clients (see my article: Developing Internal Resources and Coping Skills in Therapy).

When you numb yourself emotionally, you're not only blocking your traumatic experiences, like Jean Perdu, you're also blocking or muting any positive feelings that you might have, and this is a high price to pay in order to avoid dealing with trauma from the past.

Rather than avoiding the working through process in therapy, you owe it to yourself to get the help that you need.  Once you have worked through past trauma, you will feel more emotionally integrated and have a greater capacity to live a more fulfilling life (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

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

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome psychological trauma.

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.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Consider Thinking Twice Before You Get Back With Your Ex

After a breakup, it's common for one or both people to consider whether they should get back together again.  While there are times when the two of you might have been hasty about breaking up, there are definitely times when you should consider thinking twice before getting back with your ex (see my articles: Toxic RelationshipsRelationships: When Love Doesn't Conquer AllCoping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible, and Overcoming the Heartbreak of a Breakup).

Consider Thinking Twice Before You Get Back With Your Ex

Reasons to Think Twice About Getting Back With Your Ex
  • You're Afraid That You'll Never Be in Another Relationship Again:  Related to fear of being alone, a fear that you'll never enter into another relationship can cause you to make a bad decision.
  • You Only Want to Get Back With Your Ex For Sex:  This consideration by itself isn't a good enough reason for getting back together.  You might miss the sex, but ask yourself if it's worth getting back into a relationship where there were serious problems.
  • You're in Denial About the Problems in Your Former Relationship:  Once fear, loneliness and hopelessness set in, it's very easy to fool yourself into minimizing the problems in your relationship.  Denial can be very powerful, and you would be setting yourself up for more heartbreak (Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship Choices).
  • Nostalgia is Clouding Your Thinking About Your Former Relationship:  This is a form of denial (see above).  When you're nostalgic about a relationship that was unhealthy for you, it usually means that you're only thinking about the good times without considering the bad times.  But the reality is that if your relationship didn't work out because of unhealthy aspects, chances are that you're going to be facing those problems again after the initial stage of getting back together.
  • You've Grown Accustomed to an On-Again-Off-Again Relationship:  You might not have liked the nature of your on-again-off-again relationship, but you might be used to it because the breakups happened so frequently.  These kinds of relationships rarely end well.  Even when you're both willing to get back together again, after a while, the unstable nature of the relationship erodes any good feelings.  After a while, even when you're in a "good phase"in the relationship, you know that a breakup will come again eventually (see my article: The Heartbreak of the On-Again-Off-Again Relationship).
  • You're Jealous Because Your Ex is Dating Someone New:  This is definitely not a good reason to get back with your ex.  When you broke up, you each probably knew that you would both move on to seeing other people.  If you get back together with your ex to stop him or her from seeing other people, you're just going to end up back in the same place again.

Consider Thinking Twice Before You Get Back With Your Ex
There are lots of other reasons why you shouldn't get back together again, including emotional and physical abuse.

I think that deep down most people who end an unhealthy relationship know that they shouldn't get back with their ex, but they might not be admitting it to themselves.

When you know that your relationship was unhealthy for you and you still want to get back with your ex, there are usually other underlying reasons that might be out of your awareness.

Getting Help in Therapy
Most people who come to see me about unhealthy relationships have already talked to their friends so many times about it that their friends are tired of hearing about it.

Hearing your friends tell you to "Just don't call him" or "Just don't call her" and hearing the exasperation and judgment in their voices can make you feel very ashamed.

Your friends are probably not going to understand the underlying reasons that are causing you to want to get back into an unhealthy relationship, so it's important to get help in therapy before you make a mistake and get hurt again.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to understand the underlying reasons and provide you with tools to take care of yourself so you can make better decisions for yourself (see my articles: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than having conversations with your friends that go in circles or suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional.

Getting help from a licensed psychotherapist will help you to making healthier choices and feel better about yourself.

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

I have helped many clients to develop insight into their problems, make healthier relationship choices, and develop healthier self esteem.

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

Are You in a Toxic Relationship?

You usually don't get to really know someone that you're seeing until you've been with them for a while.  During the initial "honeymoon" stage of the relationship, everything might seem like it's going well.  But with increased emotional intimacy, core emotional issues begin to come up, and that's when there might be signs that you're in a toxic relationship (see my article: Are Your Fears of Being Alone and Lonely Keeping You in an Unhealthy Relationship?,  Letting Go of an Unhealthy Relationship,  Falling In Love With Mr. Wrong Over and Over Again and Choosing Healthier Romantic Relationships).

Are You in a Toxic Relationship?

Signs of a Toxic Relationship
  • Controlling Behavior: What might appear to be concern at first might actually be controlling behavior.  If you're romantic partner needs to always know where you are, whom you're with or makes attempts to control your behavior in other ways, this is a red flag for a toxic relationship.
  • Excessive Jealousy:  This often goes along with controlling behavior.  Initially, it might come across as your partner being so in love with you, but excessive jealousy has nothing to do with love--it has all to do with your partner's insecurity.
  • Excessive Judgment and Criticism: Your partner might mask signs of excessive judgment and criticism as "suggestions," but if these so-called suggestions undermine your sense of self worth, it's another red flag that you're in a toxic relationship.  This often goes along with controlling behavior and excessive jealousy (see my article: Is Your Relationship Damaging Your Self Esteem?).
  • Emotional Abuse: Excessive judgment, criticism, name calling, efforts to undermine your self esteem are forms of emotional abuse.  If your partner exhibits these behaviors, you're being emotionally abused.  Needless to say, physical abuse is dangerous and if your partner is physically abusing you, you should get out of that relationship as soon as possible (see my article: Relationships: Why Emotional Abuse Might Seem "Normal" to You).

Are You in a Toxic Relationship?

  • Lack of Emotional Support:  If your partner tends to be unable to be there for you emotionally when you're going through a hard time, this is a sign that you're not getting the emotional support that you need and you're probably in a toxic relationship.
  • Taking and No Giving: Related to lack of emotional support is the romantic partner who tends to want to take emotional support from you but who is unwilling to give you emotional support.  If you're in this situation, your relationship is one-sided and toxic.
  • Constant Drama: Constant drama can be emotionally and physically draining.  There are often other underlying issues going on that you might never figure out.  In any case, emotional drama requires a lot of effort and attention and it often accomplishes nothing.  This is a sign that you're in an unhealthy, toxic relationship (see my article: Hooked on Emotional Drama: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster).
  • Constant Disappointment: If your romantic partner is unable to keep promises and commitments, you're going to be constantly disappointed.  This is a sign that your partner isn't emotionally reliable, and it's a bad sign for a relationship (see my article: Keeping or Breaking Your Promises).
These are some of the major red flags for a toxic relationship.

As I mentioned earlier, these signs usually don't show up until the relationship has become more emotionally intimate because intimacy tends to bring up core issues for people.

Getting Help in Therapy
Recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship is the first step.  Knowing what to do after you recognize these signs is another matter.

It's possible that, even though you recognize these signs, you're ambivalent about getting out of the relationship--even though you know it's unhealthy for you.

You might even be engaged in wishful thinking that your relationship isn't so bad or that you'll change your partner (see my article: Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship ChoicesThe Problem With Trying to Change or "Improve" Your Romantic Partner and Relationships: I'll Change Him/Her After We Get Married).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to understand what keeps you stuck in an unhealthy relationship and how to take care of yourself (see my articles:  The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Struggling on your own can make you feel worse about yourself.

Rather than struggling on your own or relying on friends who tell you unhelpful things like, "Just get out!," get help from an experienced psychotherapist who has helped other clients to overcome this issue.  Not only will you resolve your problem, but you'll feel better about yourself.

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.

Overcoming Obstacles to Making Changes in Your Life

In prior articles, I've discussed the challenges of making changes in your life--even changes that you really want (see my articles: Fear of Change, Standing at the Crossroad: Fear of Making Major Life Decisions,  Overcoming Resistance to Change,  Making Changes: One Step at a Time, Preparing Emotionally For Major Changes in Your Life, and Developing the Courage to Change).  In this article, I'm focusing on overcoming emotional obstacles that get in the way of making the changes that you want.

Overcoming Obstacles to Making Changes in Your Life

Change is inevitable in life--both wanted and unwanted change.  While it may be logical to you why you resist making changes that you don't want, it might not be so obvious why you're struggling to make changes that you do want.

Let's take a look at some of the most common obstacles to making changes:

Obstacles to Making Changes in Your Life
  • Unresolved Emotional Issues:  Unresolved emotional issues from childhood often get in the way of making changes.  If you have a longstanding belief that you're undeserving or incapable of having good things in your life, you're going to be in conflict with yourself about making changes that you want.  Similarly, if you feel powerless because of unresolved trauma, you will probably struggle to take the initiative to bring about change (see my articles: Understanding Why You're Affected By Trauma From a Long Time Ago and Overcoming Trauma: When the Past is in the Present,  ).
  • Negative Habits:  Unresolved emotional issues often develop into negative habits like: negative self talk, procrastination, disorganization and other similar habits.  These negative habits become so ingrained that it's often difficult for you to see them.  Even when you see them and want to change them, it can very challenging.  For example, if you grew up feeling that you don't deserve positive things in your life, one of your habits might be an internal critic that continues to reinforce these thoughts and feelings.  After a while, these thoughts and emotions can become beliefs that are hard to challenge (see my article:  Overcoming Habitual Negative Thinking and Making Changes: Overcoming the Inner Voice of Negative Prediction).
So, if these are the main obstacles to making changes, how do you overcome these obstacles?  Let's take a look:

Overcoming Obstacles to Making Changes in Your Life
  • Step Back From Your Unresolved Problems and Become Aware of Their Effect on You:  If you've grown up with certain negative beliefs about yourself, you might not even question whether they're true or not.  That's why it's so important to step back so you can become aware of how unresolved problems, especially longstanding problems, are affecting you.  Awareness and acknowledgement are the first steps.  This isn't about blaming your parents or yourself--it's about trying to be more objective.  And, once you've become aware of your problems and acknowledge them, consider whether there are things you can do now to try to resolve them (see my articles: Getting to Know the Only Person You Can Change: Yourself and Looking at Your Childhood Trauma From an Adult Perspective).
  • Be Honest With Yourself About Negative Habits:  Once you've gained some insight into your problems, be honest with yourself about the negative habits that you've developed due to your unresolved problems.  For instance, do you tend to procrastinate when you're fearful of undertaking a certain task or goal?  Does the negative voice inside your head convince you that it's not worth making the effort because you're only going to fail, so why even try?  Once again, this isn't about blame--its about acknowledging what is and trying to find a way to change it.  Maybe you can choose one negative habit that you would like to change and work on that rather than trying to change all your negative habits at once (see my articles: Overcoming ProcrastinationOvercoming the "I'm Too Old To Change" Mindset and Changing Coping Strategies That No Longer Work For You: Passive Behavior).
  • Re-evaluate the Negative People in Your Life:  When you think about who you let into your inner circle, do you have a lot of people who are reinforcing your already negative views about yourself?  In some ways, maybe you feel comfortable with these negative people because they reinforce your already negative views and also reinforce your propensity not to take risks.  But making changes often involves taking certain risks, so be honest with yourself as to how these people are affecting you.  This doesn't mean that you have to get rid of these people from your life (although you might decide to do that).  It could also mean that maybe they're not in the inner circle, and you include supportive people in your inner circle instead.
But you might take these steps and still feel like you're stuck in a rut (see my articles: Getting Out of a Rut - Part 1 and Getting Out of a Rut - Part 2: Taking Steps).  Then what?

It's possible that you might have unconscious thoughts and feelings that are getting in your way.  Since these thoughts and feelings are unconscious, it's hard to detect them on your own.  You might get glimpses of them in your dreams or even in your daydreams, but most of the time they will elude you (see my article: What Unconscious Decisions Have You Made That Are Impacting Your Life?An Unconscious Identification With a Loved One Can Create an Obstacle to ChangeUnderstanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are and Psychotherapy: Making the Unconscious Conscious).

Getting Help in Therapy
When you're trying to overcome obstacles to making changes in your life and you're unable to do it on your own, you could benefit from working with a skilled psychotherapist who has experience helping people to overcome these obstacles, especially ones that you're not aware of because they're unconscious (see my articles: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Overcoming Obstacles to Making Changes in Your Life: Getting Help in Therapy

A skilled therapist can help you to identify these obstacles and provide you with the tools to overcome them.

Rather than struggling on your own, getting help in therapy can help you to make positive changes in your life so that you can lead a happier and more meaningful 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 clients to overcome the obstacles that are keeping them from maximizing their potential.

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.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Becoming Your True Self

Discovering who you are can be a lifelong process, especially since everyone changes over time.  In prior articles, I wrote about the false self from Donald Winnicott's perspective and about living a meaningful life (see my articles: Understanding Your False Self - Part 1,  Understanding Your False Self - Part 2, A Search For a Meaningful LifeA Happy Life vs A Meaningful Life and Becoming the Person You Want to Be).  In this article, I'm focusing on how to become your true self.

Becoming Your True Self
There is so much pressure these days to conform to social norms that you might not feel comfortable with, and by conforming to these social norms, you can develop a false or inauthentic self.

What is the True Self?
Donald Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst, identified the true self as being spontaneous, creative and alive (see my article: Recapturing Your Sense of Aliveness).

Developing a true self is a journey and that you develop over time.  There's no such thing as having "arrived" at developing a true self because, as I mentioned before, it can be a lifelong process.

By discovering who you are and living authentically and consistently with your values, you will have more of a sense of well-being.

There's no one way to achieve authenticity (see my article: Living Authentically - Aligned With Your Values), but here are some suggestions that might be helpful to you:

Suggestions For Developing Your True Self
  • Talk to Loved Ones Who Are Also Developing a More Authentic Self: When you talk to others who are also trying to live more authentically, you develop insights into your own struggles.  You can also feel supported and cared about by people who are going through a similar stage.
  • Read Inspirational Literature About Authenticity: By reading stories about people who have learned to develop a true self or who have struggled with issues around authenticity, you can feel inspired in your own journey.  This includes both fiction and nonfiction (see my article: Reading Literature and the Positive Effects on the Brain).
  • Ask Yourself: What is My Purpose in Life?  This is another area that changes over time as you change.  Asking yourself what your purpose in life is helps you to live in a purposeful way rather than just drifting from one day to the next.  When you live your life with intention, your goals will most likely fall into place because you have an overarching purpose and all major decisions will be made to serve that purpose (see my article: Starting the Day With an Intention).
It's not easy to know if you're living as your true self.  It takes time and effort to think about what's important to you and how you will achieve authenticity.  

Even after you identify your core values, you might feel conflicted and ambivalent about your values.

You might be afraid of disappointing people in your life who might have a different vision for you.  It takes courage to stand up for what feels true and right for you.

How Psychotherapy Can Help You Discover Your True Self
We all have certain unconscious blind spots and it's usually very challenging to discover your authentic self on your own.  

Usually, people come up against the same blocks over and over again and they only get so far on their own.  

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles, both conscious and unconscious, that are getting in the way of becoming your true self (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

While we're all human and none of us can always be our true self, when you live aligned with your values and what's most important to you, you will feel more fulfilled in your life.

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

I have helped many clients to live more authentically.

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, November 16, 2017

Preparing Emotionally For Major Changes in Your Life

Nothing ever stays the same indefinitely in life.  If you think back on your life over time, you realize how many changes you went through.  Change is inevitable and it can be hard, so preparing emotionally for major changes makes sense (see my articles Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your LifeMidlife Transitions - Part 2: Living the Life You Want to LiveMaking Changes: Overcoming Ambivalence, Fear of Change and Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone).

Preparing Emotionally For Major Changes in Your Life

There are some changes that happen so suddenly that you might not get a chance to prepare for them emotionally:  A sudden job loss, an unexpected medical problem or the unexpected betrayal of a friend.  But there are many expected changes, like going to college, starting your first job, getting married or retiring that you can prepare for emotionally.

Basic Steps to Preparing For Major Changes in Your Life:
  • Acknowledge to yourself that change can be difficult and that you might be emotionally challenged in unexpected ways.
  • Know that it's normal to feel some anxiety about change.
  • Assess your situation and get as much information as you can before you make the change.
  • Get input and support from trusted friends, family members and people who have gone through this type of change before.
  • Weigh your options.
  • Make a decision and come up with a plan.
  • Take responsibility for making a decision and seeing it through.
  • Take extra care of yourself and expect that the decision making process and the change might take more of a toll on you than you expect, even when it's a change that you consider to be positive.
  • After the change has taken place, reassess your plan and make any necessary changes.
  • Maintain contact with your emotional support system.
  • Get help in therapy if the change is overwhelming or brings up unresolved issues from the past.

Fictionalized Vignette About Preparing Emotionally For a Major Change

Tom and his wife, Helen, had been talking about retirement for several years.

When they first started talking about it five years before, it seemed like it was a long way off.  But now that they were a year away from retirement, it suddenly seemed to loom large for Tom.

They had already decided that they would remain in New York City because they loved the city, especially the cultural events.  They also had most of their family and friends in New York, so they didn't want to leave.

Helen decided that she would get more involved in a charity where she already volunteered.  After retirement, she could spend more time doing what she loved.

Preparing Emotionally For Major Changes in Your Life

But Tom wasn't sure what he wanted to do.  He knew that he would enjoy the first few weeks of being able to relax, but he also knew that he would get bored after a while if he just hung around the apartment.

He had already gone to his financial advisor, so he was clear on what their financial situation would be.  He had also looked into their health benefits plan and social security benefits, so that was taken care of already.

He just wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his time, and the more he thought about it, the more worried he got.

His other worry was that he associated retirement with death because his father died shortly after he retired.

Even though he was in good health and younger than his father when he retired, Tom still couldn't get this fear out of his mind.

He talked to his friends and family members, who were either retired or close to retirement.  After talking to them, he felt better for a short time, but then his fear would creep up on him again and cause him to lose sleep.

In the past, Tom had a good experience with psychotherapy, so he decided to return to his former therapist to deal with his anxiety and indecision.

As soon as he sat in his therapist's office, he remembered how comforted he felt in the past during their prior sessions, so he was glad that he returned to her rather than seeking out another therapist.  But he wondered if she would be able to help him with his current fear.

As they talked about how he associated retirement with death, Tom remembered how worn out and tired his father was by the time he retired.  Working a physically taxing job, his father looked at least 10 years older than his actual age.  The job had taken a toll on his health and he died less than a year later, which was devastating for Tom.

When he was last in therapy, Tom came for overcome a specific phobia he had about flying, so he had never talked much about his relationship with his father during his prior therapy sessions.

As he talked about his father's physically demanding job and his subsequent death soon after retirement, Tom broke down in tears unexpectedly.  He was upset about the loss and the fact that his father didn't get a chance to enjoy his retirement.

Then, he verbalized a thought that he had never been consciously aware of before:  If his father didn't get to enjoy his retirement, why should he deserve to enjoy his upcoming retirement?

The overwhelming feelings of guilt and sadness surprised Tom.  Now, he was beginning to understand why he was having difficulty planning what he might want to do with his free time:  Not only was he afraid of death, which was related to his father's death, but he also didn't feel that he deserved to enjoy his retirement because of his father's experience.

Tom thought he had grieved the loss of his father a long time ago, but he felt the loss again as if it happened yesterday.

He had taken care of the practical aspects of his retirement, but he couldn't overcome the feeling that he was undeserving.  And he only realized that he felt this way once he began talking to his therapist.

Tom's therapist helped him to understand that major life changes could bring up issues from the past.  She also explained that Tom was experiencing his grief for his father on another level where Tom had an unconscious identification with his father (see my article: An Unconscious Identification With a Loved One Can Create an Obstacle to Change).

Over time, Tom expressed how he wished he could have done something to spare his father from death.  Until now, Tom had blocked out these feelings about his father's death.  Now, he realized that these feelings that he blocked out for so long were coming up and creating obstacles for him.

Tom also felt guilty that his father worked so hard to put him through college, and maybe if he didn't work so hard, he might have lived longer.  But he also knew that his father was so proud when Tom graduated college, especially since Tom's father never had an opportunity to go to college.

Tom's therapist encouraged Tom to keep a journal between psychotherapy sessions to capture any thoughts, feelings or dreams that might come up (see my article:  The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions).

He found writing in the journal especially useful because it deepened his understanding of his problems, and he was able to bring in his journal to the next session to talk to his therapist.

During his therapy sessions, Tom realized that he was only remembering the hard times that his father had and not the good time that he had with Tom and Tom's mother.

When he realized that he was mostly focused on his father's hardships to the exclusion of the happy times, Tom decided to write about his father's life.  So, between sessions he wrote short stories about his father, and he shared his writing with his therapist during each session.

As Tom wrote about his father, he realized that his father had many happy times in his life.  He also felt closer to his father than he had felt in a long time.

As he worked through the loss of his father on this deeper level, Tom began to feel lighter.  He no longer felt afraid of dying after he retired because he was able to separate his upcoming experience from his father's.

Preparing Emotionally For Major Changes in Your Life

Tom allowed himself to start thinking about what he would want to do after he retired.  He knew that he didn't want to spend his time playing golf or going to the casino, as some of his friends did.  He wanted something much more meaningful.

As he was considering the possibilities, he received a notice in the mail that the local elementary school was looking for volunteers for their reading program and a light went off in his head:  He loved little children and he loved reading, so this would be perfect for him.

As Tom talked about volunteering for the reading program in his therapy session, he felt a new sense of energy and enthusiasm.  He also realized that he no longer felt guilty about his father.  In fact, he knew his father would be proud of him for working with children.

Whenever you're facing a major change in your life, there are usually practical considerations to address.  But there also emotional issues to address as well.

No matter what type of change you're planning for, the practical considerations might be straightforward or, at least, there might be logical steps to follow.  But preparing emotionally can be more challenging, especially if there are issues that might be unconscious, as they were for Tom in the fictionalized vignette.

These unconscious emotional issues, which can be challenging, are often difficult to resolve on your own.

Getting Help in Therapy
When faced with a major change, whether it's one your chose or one that has been suddenly placed before you, you might be challenged in unexpected ways.

Even when you recognize that some of your fears are irrational, that's often not enough to banish those fears.

Sometimes the support of loved ones isn't enough or you might not feel comfortable talking to them about the emotional obstacles that are in your way.

Rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a skilled psychotherapist, who can help you to overcome those fears.

Being able to face your fears and deal with them in the light of day can be a freeing and transformational experience, so don't hesitate to get help in therapy.

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 clients to prepare emotionally for major changes and to overcome emotional obstacles.

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.