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Monday, July 25, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: Your Family Might Not Be Supportive of the Changes You're Making in Your Life

In the two previous articles, I discussed coping with psychological trauma and finding personal meaning after trauma.  In this article, I'm focusing on the challenges involved when family members might not be supportive of the changes that you're making (see my article: You're Happy About Making Changes in Your Life But, Unfortunately, Your Loved One Might Find It Challenging).

Your Family Might Not Be Supportive of the Changes You're Making in Your Life

In the fictional vignettes in those articles about Jane, a woman who lost her husband after he had a fatal car accident, I showed how psychotherapy can help to cope with the trauma as well as a personal exploration of what is meaningful after a trauma (see my article: Making Changes to Create the Life You Want).

Family members are often accustomed to seeing you in a particular way and might feel uncomfortable about changes that you decide to make in your life.

Part of this might be related to your family history and part of it might be cultural.

There might also be certain family members who are emotionally invested in seeing you in a certain way and take personal satisfaction in your remaining that way.

After experiencing psychological trauma, many people reevaluate their life and realize that they want to make changes that are meaningful to them.

While this might be life affirming for the person who wants to make these changes, it can feel threatening to family members.

Let's continue to explore these issues in the ongoing fictional vignette about Jane.

Jane's Story Continued
Until she started her internship in graduate school, Jane avoided telling her family about the career change that she wanted to make.

She knew that her parents and siblings, especially her mother, wouldn't understand why, from their point of view, she was leaving a lucrative career in business to become a clinical social worker.

Her family had been very supportive after Martin died suddenly in a car accident (see my article: Coping With Grief For a Loved One).

Until then, she had never felt closer to them.  They all loved Martin and it was a loss for them too.  Her parents and siblings called her frequently and spent time with her.  Without their support, along with her therapy and bereavement group, her grief would have been that much more difficult.

But she knew that they wouldn't understand the changes that she was going through which led to her decision about a career change.  She also knew that she couldn't keep this change a secret any more, especially after she took a leave of absence from her job to do a graduate school internship.

Your Family Might Not Be Supportive of the Changes You're Making in Your Life

After talking about her apprehension with her therapist, Jane decided to take the path of least resistance by talking to her sister, Beth, first.

Jane invited Beth over for dinner, and as they were having coffee and dessert, she began telling Beth how after the loss of Martin she knew she wanted to find more personal meaning in her life.  She told her that as part of her psychotherapy, she began exploring what that meant to her and what changes she wanted to make.

Even before Jane mentioned social work school, she could see that Beth was starting to look concerned, as if she was wondering where this was all leading.

Taking a deep breathe, Jane told Beth that, after exploring many options, she decided to enroll in a social work Master's program to become a clinical social worker.

Jane could see that Beth was at a loss for words, so she told her, "Beth, this is important to me.  I know it's a big change and you might not understand why I'm doing it, but I would like your emotional support."

After Beth asked Jane some practical questions, she told Jane, "I can't say that I'm not surprised to hear you say this.  You have a great job that you've worked so hard to get.  You're well compensated.  But I can also understand, in a way, that you're reevaluating your life, and if  you're sure that this is what you want to do, I'm with you 100%."  Then, she gave Jane a big hug.

Of all her siblings, Jane was closest to Beth and she had a feeling that Beth would be supportive.  As they both relaxed more, Jane told her about the program and her internship at a nonprofit counseling center.

Jane's enthusiasm was contagious and Beth said, "This is wonderful.  I haven't seen you this excited about anything in years."

Then, they both had the same thought at the same time, and Jane said, "I know, I know, mom and dad and Bill and Joe won't understand."

Beth responded, "Mom is going to have a fit.  You know how she likes to brag about you and your 'prestigious job' to everyone that she meets.  She won't like the idea of your being a social worker."

As they discussed it, they agreed that it would be easier to talk to Bill and Joe first before speaking with their parents.

A week or so later, Jane invited Bill and Joe over to her apartment.

As she expected, they were both shocked and pleaded with her not to do it.  Joe thought that Jane's decision to change careers was based on her shock of losing Martin.  Bill told her that he thought it was "crazy."

Jane was patient with them and explained how Martin's death forced her to reevaluate her life and she realized that her current career was no longer meaningful to her and how important it is to her now to be doing something meaningful.  She realized that life is short and she didn't want to waste any more time doing something that didn't make her happy.

Although she knew that she didn't need her family's approval, she also cared what they thought and wanted their emotional support.  But if they weren't going to support her, she would still make the change anyway.

By the end of the evening, Bill and Joe's attitude softened. They still didn't agree with Jane's decision, but they respected it.  Bill also added that he thought all was not lost since she took a leave of absence from her job and she could still go back if social work wasn't as fulfilling as she thought it would be.

All of them agreed that their mother would be shocked and disappointed.  Bill said, "Talk to dad first."

A week or so later, Jane asked her father to come over on the pretext of asking him to help her take care of the plants on her terrace. Tending to the plants had been Martin's hobby and, not having a "green thumb," Jane neglected the plants.  Her father, on the other hand, was a gardener and he would love helping her.  She also knew that this was one way where she could speak with him alone.

After they tended to the plants and they were sitting drinking ice tea on the terrace, Jane broached the subject about career change.

After Jane told him about her process of self discovery leading up to her decision to change career to become a social worker, he was silent for a moment and he looked off into the distance.

Then he cleared his throat and told Jane that he had always hoped that she would do better than he did. He told her the story that she had heard many times about how he was lucky to even graduate high school before he was expected to help his family financially.  He began as a gardener's assistant earning very little money.

Over time, he worked his way up until he bought the business from the owner when the owner retired.  Although there were tough times, the business supported their family and put Jane and her siblings through college.

He told her that he was so proud of her when she got her college degree and went on to get her MBA.  Then, he watched her move up the corporate ladder until she became one of the senior executives in the company.  Now, it seemed to him that she was throwing it all away.

Your Family Might Not Be Supportive of the Changes You're Making in Your Life

Her father's disappointment was palpable.  It hung in the air like a lead balloon.

They were both silent for a while and then her father got up to leave, "You're an adult and I know you.  I know that money isn't an issue, but all I ask is that you think about this carefully before you make this major change in your life."

As he was leaving, he told her that he would be supportive of anything that she would do, but he hoped she would think it over carefully.

After each discussion with her family members, Jane spoke with her therapist.  Although she felt sure that she was making the right decision for herself, she didn't like that her family was worried about her.

An inner child part of her felt sad that her father and siblings were disappointed, and she and her therapist worked on this in therapy.

Jane also braced herself for her discussion with her mother.  Even though her mother was very supportive after Martin died, Jane and her mother had somewhat of a conflictual relationship starting in adolescence.

Jane felt that her mother derived narcissistic satisfaction from Jane's accomplishments without really seeing Jane for the person that she is.

When Jane was a child, her mother bragged about Jane's grades and accomplishments.  Her mother couldn't stop talking to anyone who would listen about all of Jane's promotions.

Her siblings would always tease Jane that she was her mother's "favorite,"but throughout it all, Jane felt that her mother only saw her in terms of how she could bask in Jane's accomplishments and not as a person with her own wants and needs.

Although Jane understood that her mother would have liked to go to college and have a career, she knew that her mother didn't have the same opportunities that she did.  So, Jane felt compassionate towards her mother.

At the same time, she felt that her mother mostly cared about her for her accomplishments and that if she didn't succeed, she wouldn't be her mother's "favorite."

Jane decided to invite her mother for lunch at an outdoor cafe rather than seeing her to home.  She hoped that if they were around other people that her mother would be less likely to lose her temper.

After making small talk through lunch, Jane raised the topic over coffee.  As she began telling her mother about being accepted into the social work graduate program, Jane could see the increasing look of alarm on her mother's face.

Before Jane could tell her about taking a leave of absence from work, Jane's mother threw her napkin on the table and said, "This is completely crazy, and I refuse to listen to it anymore."  Then, she walked off in a huff.

Jane continued in her therapy, which was helpful to her in terms of dealing with the clients she was seeing at the counseling center.  Her clinical supervision was excellent, but she used her therapy to talk about personal issues that arose for her in her internship.

Jane also used her therapy to talk about unresolved childhood issues that got triggered by her mother's strong reaction to Jane's career decision (see my article: Overcoming the Effects of Childhood Trauma).

She always felt loved by her father, but she felt that her mother's love was conditional based on Jane's accomplishments.  This was especially hurtful when Jane was a child, and her mother's reaction brought back all those memories (see my article: Role Reversal in Mother-Daughter Relationships).

By the time Jane graduated from the program, her father and siblings were proud of her.  Over time, they were able to see why this was so meaningful to Jane and they respect it.

Her mother continued to be disappointed, but she went to her graduation ceremony and began talking to Jane again.

As a result of her therapy sessions, Jane realized that her mother wasn't nurtured as a child, and she was also valued mostly for her accomplishments by Jane's maternal grandmother.  Although it was disappointing that her mother couldn't be happy for her, Jane reconciled herself to the fact that her mother wasn't going to change.

Creating a Meaningful Life With a Career Change

More importantly, by the time Jane began as a full time clinical social worker at the same nonprofit counseling center, she knew she had found a career that she loved.  Her supervisor recommended that Jane continue her education at a psychotherapy postgraduate center where she could further develop her clinical skills.

People who experience trauma or big losses as adults often go through a reevaluation of their life.

Part of this reevaluation is often a psychological journey to create a more meaningful life.

For a variety of reasons, family members might not be supportive of these changes.

Psychotherapy with a skilled psychotherapist can help to go through the reevaluation and discovery process as well as deal with the lack of support from family.

The lack of support from family often triggers earlier unresolved childhood trauma that can also get worked through in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're reevaluating your life or if you're dealing with family members who are emotionally unsupportive, you could benefit from working with a skilled licensed mental health professional who can help you through your journey.

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 evaluate their life and to deal with unsupportive family members.

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

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

Monday, July 18, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: Finding Personal Meaning in Your Life After Trauma

In my prior article, Coping With Psychological Trauma and Asking "Why Me?"," I discussed how people who are experiencing trauma can go through a stage where they feel that it's unfair that they're experiencing trauma.  In the scenario that I gave, I also discussed how psychotherapy can help people find personal meaning in their emotional pain--even while they're going through it (see my article: A Search For a Meaningful Life).

Finding Personal Meaning in Your Life After Trauma

Finding personal meaning in trauma often comes when time has passed and people have developed some level of acceptance, if not complete acceptance, about the trauma.  This doesn't mean that they're not sad or angry or that they're still not traumatized.

In the fictionalized scenario that I gave in the prior article, Jane began trauma therapy to deal with the loss of her husband, who died in a fatal car accident.

Like many people who start therapy after a traumatic loss, Jane wasn't sure that she would benefit at all from therapy and she couldn't imagine that she could ever feel any better about her husband's death (see my article: The Benefits of Therapy).

However, her trauma therapist introduced her to EMDR therapy, a therapy that is usually effective in helping people to overcome trauma and, gradually, Jane realized that her emotional pain was starting to diminish.

As her pain began to diminish, she began thinking that she would like "something good" to come out of her loss, but she wasn't sure what it could be at that point.

This is a stage that many people go through as they attempt to find meaning in their psychological pain.

Let's continue to look at Jane's experience, which is common to many people trying to find personal meaning in their pain and loss.

Jane's Story Continued:
As Jane felt a strong urge to find personal meaning in her experience of having lost her husband, she and her therapist began to explore what might be meaningful for Jane (see my article: Coping With Grief).

There were still days when Jane felt discouraged, and there was an inner negative voice that told her she wasn't going to find anything meaningful about her loss so it was useless to try (see my article: Making Changes: Overcoming the Inner Voice of Negative Prediction).

But over the weeks and months that followed, she was having more days when she felt she wanted to channel her energy into something positive and life affirming.

When she thought about how she spent most of her days at work, she realized that she no longer liked her work as a corporate executive.  She was well compensated and she liked her colleagues, but she didn't find the work meaningful.

Initially, even thinking about making a change was scary for her.  Her current career was all that she knew.  She had worked her way up from an entry level to an executive position.  She didn't feel qualified to do anything else.

As part of her grief work, Jane was part of a bereavement group.  She liked the group members and she derived a tremendous amount of support.

Several months later, it occurred to Jane that she would like to "give back" by helping others who were going through experiences that were similar to her own.

As Jane and her therapist explored various possibilities, Jane looked into getting a Master's degree in social work.

She looked into the various schools and their requirements and became excited about the possibility of making a career change.

At the same time that she was excited, she was also scared about making such a big change.  A career in social work would be completely different from what she had done for most of her adult life.

She was aware that she would earn a fraction of what she was currently earning, but she was fortunate to be in a financial position to take such a cut.

She was also aware that it would be a complete change in the way that she saw herself.  At the same time, as she took stock of her life, she knew her current career was no longer satisfying to her.

In addition, Jane knew that her parents and siblings wouldn't understand why she was making such a drastic change in her life.

She knew that her mother, especially, often bragged to her friends that Jane was a successful executive and that she would think that Jane was making a terrible mistake by becoming a social worker.  In her mother's mind, there was no prestige in being a social worker.  So, Jane decided to keep her thoughts about changing careers to herself for the time being.

She took one step at a time by talking to her therapist, who was a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, about it.  She also spoke to other social workers to find out more about the field and the possibilities.

When she was ready, she sent several applications to graduate social work programs in NYC, hoping to get into one of them.  In the meantime, she continued working at her current job.

To her disappointment, she wasn't accepted into any of the graduate programs.  But several of them suggested that she could improve her chances of getting in by doing volunteer work at a social services organization.

Asking around, she discovered that there were volunteer positions open at a different nonprofit organization that held bereavement groups that were lead by trained facilitators.  After training for a few weeks, she observed a seasoned volunteer facilitator lead a group.  Eventually, she was given her own group to facilitate.

Jane enjoyed leading the group and found the experience to be personally meaningful to her.  She also discovered that many of the issues that people raised in the group, not surprisingly, were issues that she was struggling with at the same time.

Fortunately, she was able to talk to her therapist about this in her own individual therapy, so she could listen to group members and not feel flooded by her own feelings.

The following year, when she reapplied to social work graduate programs and wrote about her experiences as a bereavement group facilitator, she was thrilled to be accepted into two programs.

Jane decided to go to the program where she could attend classes part time on Saturday so she could continue to work at her current job.

She loved most of the classes, her professors and her fellow students.  She discovered that many of the students in this part time graduate program were also undergoing a career change.

She and several other students got together after class to talk about the challenges involved with changing careers.  Some of them were in similar careers to Jane's.  After a while, they became a support network for each other.

When it was time for Jane to do her first internship, she knew she would have to talk to her boss about rearranging her work schedule.  Until then, she hadn't told anyone at work or in her family that she was attending social work graduate school.

Initially, her boss was stunned and he laughed.  He thought she was joking, but when he saw that Jane was serious, he told her that there was no way that they could spare her during the day.

Finding Personal Meaning in Your Life After Trauma

He said it was "all well and good" if she wanted to spend her own time on Saturdays to take classes, but they would need her to be present for meetings and conference calls during the day.  He told her that she was a highly valued executive at the firm, but he also hinted that if she wasn't continuing to bring in revenue as she had been until now, it would be reflected in her next bonus.

Jane was disappointed as she walked back to her office.  She knew that her company had made generous contributions to many nonprofit organizations, and she thought her boss might be somewhat open to her rearranging her schedule as long as she continued to meet her goals.  But his response left her feeling cynical about him and the company.

With only a few months to go before she had to start her first internship, Jane talked about it with her therapist.

Money wasn't an issue.  The real issue was:  Could she leave her job after so many years to pursue a career in social work?  She knew that this would have been a decision she would have had to make eventually, but she didn't think she would be facing it so soon.  She had hoped that she would have more time to deal with this.

As she continued to discuss this possible change, she realized how identified she had been for so many years with her career.  It had been fulfilling to her--until now.  At this point, it was increasingly meaningless to her.  At the same time, although it was no longer fulfilling, she felt secure in it.  It was the only career that she knew.

Then, she thought about all the changes that she had made since her husband died, how difficult it had been--and yet, she was doing better.  Her desire to change careers from the corporate world to the social work world was part of those changes.

At one point, she wondered aloud in her therapy, "What would my husband advise me to do?"  Then, she knew instantly that he would tell her to "Go for it!"

Moved to tears by how much she missed him and the memory of his unwavering encouragement, Jane decided that if she had to quit her job in order to do an internship, she would do it.

The following week when she met with her boss again, Jane told him about her decision.  This time her boss, knowing that Jane was completely serious, didn't laugh.  Instead, he tried to persuade her to change her mind, "Think about what you're giving up?  You've worked so hard to get to where you are now.  Why would you throw it all away?  We don't want to lose you.  You're one of the best producers in the company. What can I say to make you stay?"

By the end of their discussion, they compromised.  At her boss's suggestion, she agreed to take a personal leave of absence instead of quitting.  Jane's projects were transferred to a colleague and she was ready to begin her first internship.

After she met the senior clinician who would be supervising her internship at a nonprofit counseling center, Jane knew that she found her niche.

Finding Personal Meaning in Your Life After Trauma

Throughout this time, Jane continued to attend her therapy sessions to help her manage all the changes that she was going through.

The next change, talking to her family about her career change, would be one of the more difficult ones, which I'll discuss in my next article.

Many people who experience trauma have a desire to find personal meaning in their life.

This can begin an exploration, often in therapy, about what would be personally meaningful.

Often, this exploration can lead to personal changes, including changes in how people see themselves, their worldview and what they find meaningful in their lives.

Although it can be challenging, finding personal meaning after trauma can also lead to living life in a deeper, more fulfilling way.

Getting Help in Therapy
Self-exploration is part of psychotherapy.

Finding personal meaning after trauma is a journey, and a skilled psychotherapist can help to facilitate that process.

If you're currently reexamining your life, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who can help you through this process so that 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.

I have helped many clients to discover what is personally meaningful to them and to make the necessary changes to lead a more fulfilling life.

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

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


Monday, July 11, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: Coping with Psychological Trauma and Asking "Why me?"

When traumatic events occur to people who are ethical, good people, it's common for them to ask, "Why me?  Why did this thing happen to me?  I've been a good person.  I didn't deserve this" (see my article: Coping with Hard Times).

Coping with Psychological Trauma and Asking, "Why me?"

Not only is this a common response to psychological trauma, it's an understandable question because most people live under the unconscious assumption of a "just world" where if they are leading a good, ethical life, they expect that life will be fair and just.

This unconscious assumption begins at an early age for most people whether it's part of their religious beliefs or childhood fantasies that Santa Claus rewards children who are good and leaves no gifts for children who have misbehaved.

I'm stressing that the belief is unconscious because, on a conscious level, at some point in their lives, most people know that tragedy can strike anyone at any time.  They've seen it happen to good people that they've known.

But they have a deep and personal experience of trauma, it can feel like they've been forsaken by fate (or higher power or God, depending upon their beliefs).

Initially, many people who have experienced psychological trauma feel angry and resentful about what has happened to them.  This is completely understandable because when tragic events occur, it can upend a person's sense of how they see themselves and how they perceive the world.

Most of us go through life not expecting tragic events.  This was certainly the case for most spouses and other family members on the morning of 9/11, who expected to see their loved ones come home that night.

Initially, coming to terms with a tragic event can leave one feeling shocked and emotionally devastated.  Soon after, there can be feelings of anger and resentment as well as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

The following fictionalized vignette demonstrates how psychological trauma can upend a life and how psychotherapy can help.

Jane and Martin were happily married for 10  years.  Their relationship was never better and they were both at the peak of their careers when Martin got into a fatal car accident.

Jane struggled for two years on her own to try to make sense of this tragic event (see my article: Coping with Grief: It's Not Unusual to Feel Worse Before Feeling Better).

She couldn't understand why this happened to her and constantly asked herself why Martin was taken from her and "Why me?"

Coping with Psychological Trauma and Asking, "Why me?"

After feeling no relief from her sadness and anger about losing her husband, she decided to try therapy at the recommendation of her doctor.

As she told the therapist about the call she received that day, she recalled it as if it had happened yesterday.

She remembered where she had been standing when she answered the phone.  She remembered looking out the window at the trees in bloom.  She even remembered hearing a bird singing outside her window.

Worst of all, she remembered the feeling--like getting a punch to her gut--when she heard the police officer at the other end of the phone apologizing to have to tell her that her husband died instantly when another driver hit her husband's car head on that day.

She told the therapist that she felt like her vision narrowed and "everything stopped" at that moment.  Everything felt surreal, as if she were in a dream and would soon wake up and see her husband beside her.

But it wasn't a dream.  The events of that day were very real, and every day since that day she wondered, "Why?  Why did this have to happen?  Why me?"

Jane had mixed feelings about therapy.  She couldn't imagine that she would ever feel better about losing her husband.  But she didn't know what else to do, so she sat in the therapist's office that first day and told her story (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious and Ambivalent).

Afterwards, Jane braced herself for what the therapist might say to her.  So many people tried to heal her emotional wound by telling her things like, "He's in a better place now" or "Time heals all wounds."

Jane tried to be outwardly diplomatic when people said these things to her because she knew that they meant well.  But inside she was seething.  She felt they couldn't possibly understand what she was going through and she would rather they said nothing than to make these banal comments.

So, she was expecting the therapist to be like everyone else, but the therapist listened and remained attuned to Jane.  She didn't offer Jane any pat answers or try to placate her with trite sayings.

After Jane spoke, she realized that, for the first time since Martin's fatal accident, she felt she was really heard.  She felt that her words and emotions were being contained in the safety of the therapist's office (see my article: The Therapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative For the Client).

To her surprise, Jane felt a small sense of relief after that therapy session, so she made another appointment for the following week.  She still felt sad, lonely, resentful and angry, but she could feel a tiny sense of relief that was new.  She even slept better that night than she had in a long time.

She continued to go to her therapy sessions and talk about how lost she felt.

After a while, she found herself reminiscing about Martin and telling the therapist about how happy they had been as well as some funny things that Martin said.

Memories: Remembering That There Were More Happy Times Than Sad Times

For the first time, she was able to laugh when she remembered his sense of humor, even though she was still filled with grief. This was a new experience for her and she was surprised and curious about it.

To her amazement, she actually began to look forward to her therapy sessions.  She felt that when she spoke about her memories of Martin, he "came alive" for her internally as well as in the room with the therapist.

Initially, she only thought about the day of the accident.

But, as time went on in therapy, she realized that she had many more moments of joy and happiness in her life with Martin that she was now able to access and talk about because her therapist provided her with a safe space for her to do so (see my article: How a Therapist Creates a Holding Environment in Therapy).

After a few months went by, her therapist asked Jane if she would be willing to process the traumatic memory using EMDR therapy.  Her therapist explained how EMDR therapy works and how it could be helpful to Jane.

By that time, Jane had a good relationship with her therapist and she was willing to try it.  After going through the preparatory phase, Jane began EMDR therapy sessions to work on the trauma related to her loss.

EMDR therapy wasn't a quick fix, but by the time Jane and her therapist completed the EMDR therapy, Jane was feeling like a great weight had been lifted from her.  She still missed her husband and remembered the details of the day she received the phone call, but she no longer felt oppressed by the memory.

Coping with Psychological Trauma and Trying to Find Personal Meaning

Soon after that, Jane began to think that she would like "something good" to come out of her personal pain.

This was a new thought for Jane.  She wasn't sure what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted to find inner meaning, so she and her therapist began to explore what Jane could do to create inner meaning about her experience.

The feeling of "Why me?" is a common experience that many people go through when they experience a deep loss or tragic event.

After the event, life feels unfair.  The world can feel precarious and unsafe.  Some people even have a sense of hopelessness and helplessness to think that something tragic could happen again without warning.

The depth of their sorrow can cause many people to feel that nothing, not even therapy, could help heal  their sorrow.  Some people come to therapy at that point with low expectations, but they don't know what else to do.

The unique experience of being with an attuned psychotherapist is hard to imagine until it is experienced (see my article: Psychotherapy: A Unique Intersubjective Experience).

Therapists who are skilled in creating a holding environment can help to contain even the deepest sorrow to help alleviate the emotional pain.

Experiential therapy, like EMDR, help a client to process psychological trauma so that the experience becomes integrated within the rest of client's life (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Getting Help in Therapy
The shock, sorrow and anger brought on by a traumatic event can be overwhelming without help from a licensed mental health professional.

Therapists, who are trained and skilled in helping clients with psychological trauma, can provide the intersubjective space for healing to begin.

If you are struggling with psychological trauma that you've been unable to cope with on your own, you owe it to yourself to get professional help from a psychotherapist who is a trauma therapist.

Many people are amazed that they can not only heal from a traumatic experience but also find personal meaning and feelings of transcendence.

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 heal from 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.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Fear of getting hurt is often connected to blaming communication (see my article: Fear of Intimacy Can Lead to Fault-Finding, Which Can Destroy Relationships).  Blaming communication occurs  when a person communicates anger or hurt by blaming the other person instead of focusing on his or her own internal experience of what happened (see my article:  Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable).

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Behavior?

Examples of Blaming Statements
  • You made me feel hurt when you forgot my birthday.
  • You made me feel unloved when you ignored me at the party and talked to your friends the whole night.
  • You were so inconsiderate of me when you made reservations without asking me where I wanted to go.
  • You were selfish when you chose to make plans with your family without inviting me.
And so on.

Why Do People Engage in Blaming Communication?
As you can see, what all of these statements have in common is that one person is blaming another person without speaking from his or her experience or taking responsibility for his or her own feelings.

Often when people communicate in this way, it's because they are afraid to make themselves emotionally vulnerable by expressing their own emotional experience.

People who communicate this way in their relationship often have no awareness that they're afraid of getting hurt because the fear can be unconscious.

It's not a surprise that this fear usually originates in early childhood where children feel blamed, criticized, unloved or invalidated by their parents or other significant adults in their lives (see my article:  Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past).

How Can People Learn to Stop Engaging in Blaming Behavior?
This fear is difficult to overcome alone or by reading a self help book.

Even if people who engage in this behavior learn to make "I statements" where they speak from their own internal experience (without blaming the other person), if the fear of getting hurt is strong enough, the fear can be emotionally paralyzing, especially if they grew up in a household where they were invalidated emotionally.

This problem can be overcome by working with a psychotherapist who knows how to gently help clients to get to the underlying issues that are causing the problem (see my article: You Can't Change Your Past, But You Can Change How the Past Affects You Now).

Once clients feel safe enough to get to the underlying issues, they can begin to differentiate between "then" and "now" in terms of being a young child with their family back then and being an adult now (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma: Learning in Therapy How to Separate "Then" From "Now").

They can also learn to distinguish between their family (when they were children) vs. their current relationship.

Psychotherapists who specialize in working with this type of problem often do inner child work to help that aspect of the client to feel safe (see my article: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

Fictionalized Vignette
The following fictionalized vignette demonstrates this dynamic and how therapy can help:

Ida began therapy to deal with the loss of a three year relationship after her boyfriend broke up with her.  She was sad and upset about the loss.

What is the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Initially, Ida said she couldn't understand why her boyfriend left her.  He told me that he was fed up with being blamed for the problems in their relationship.  This was something that he had told her many times before, but that she didn't understand.

From Ida's point of view, "I was only telling him how I felt.  I don't know why he got so upset that he left me."

At that point in her therapy, Ida was unable to see that she used blaming communication with her boyfriend.

Her therapist helped Ida to see the difference between:

"You make me feel hurt and unlovable when you don't call me."


"I feel hurt and unlovable when I don't hear from you."

When her therapist asked Ida to practice saying this, Ida froze.  To her surprised, she was so afraid that she couldn't utter the words.

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Since Ida was too afraid to say the words, her therapist asked Ida about her internal experience, on a physical level.

Ida told her that her chest was tight, her heart was racing, her throat was constricted and her stomach was tight.  She also felt light headed.

Fear: Chest tight, racing heart, throat constricted and stomach tight

Ida's therapist asked Ida to stay with those sensations, if she could, and see what else came up for her.

The first thought that came to Ida was an early memory of telling her mother and grandmother that she felt sad about her grandfather dying (see my article: Looking at Your Childhood Trauma History From an Adult Perspective).

When her grandmother left the room, Ida's mother slapped her and told her that she made her grandmother feel sad by bringing up the grandfather's death.

Ida had many early memories of being scolded and beaten for expressing her feelings, and she was able to see the connection between her current problem and the abuse that she suffered when she was a child when she expressed her feelings.

Her therapist helped Ida by doing inner child work.  She asked Ida, as her adult self, to speak to her younger self in a compassionate and nurturing way.

But when Ida imagined her younger self and began to speak to her compassionately, she felt a great deal of shame.  Then, she got angry and blamed the younger self for causing problems in her family.

Ida and her therapist had to work for a while to gradually help Ida to feel compassion for her younger self.

Ida was someone who loved children and who would have felt compassionate for a young child who was being mistreated.  But she had trouble summoning up self compassion without feeling shame.

So, her therapist had to help her to separate out self compassion and shame before she could truly feel compassionate for herself.

After a while, Ida was able to see that she could express her feelings to her therapist and there were no negative consequences.  She felt safe with her therapist, so she began to believe that it was possible to feel safe with other people if she was discerning with regard to the friends and romantic partners that she picked.

Gradually, Ida felt less and less afraid to express her feelings and she learned to express them without blaming others.  When she knew that she could trust the person, she didn't feel the same emotional vulnerability that she had felt in the past.

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Eventually, she was able to get into another relationship and express herself in a healthy way.

Fear of being emotionally vulnerable often starts at a young age in the family of origin.

This fear can result in your communicating in an unhealthy, blaming way instead of expressing your feelings and taking responsibility for them.

This fear is often unconscious and difficult to see on your own, especially if it has been part of your life for a long time.

Working with a therapist, who can help you to discover the origin and meaning of your fear and who can provide you with a safe place to talk about your feelings, can help you to express your feelings in a healthy way so that you're no longer engaging in blaming communication.

Getting Help in Therapy
Blaming communication can ruin a relationship.

After a while, this type of communication erodes the relationship and can lead to its demise.

If you are in the habit of engaging in blaming communication and you want to learn to express your feelings in a healthy way, get help from a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in this area.

Not only can it save your relationship, but it can also help you to work through unresolved childhood trauma that can be at the root of this and other problems.

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:

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

Many people, especially people who are middle aged, obsess about their first love, the "one who got away."  Even if they're happy in their current relationship, it's not unusual for people to ruminate about an old love and think how much better life would be if they were still with their "first love."

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

In these fantasies about an old love, people tend to think that they would have had the ideal relationship with that former girlfriend or boyfriend.

Before the advent of social media, these fantasies would usually remain just that-fantasies.

Romantic Fantasies About the "One Who Got Away"

But now with so many different ways to reconnect with former friends and lovers, many people, even people who are already relationships, are making an effort to try to find their old love to reconnect with them and start over (see my article: Relationships: Romantic Reconnections).

Even if someone doesn't make an effort to reconnect with an old love, s/he can remain stuck in old memories and fantasies about what "could have been" if the relationship hadn't ended.

If there is an existing relationship, the current spouse or partner usually can't live up to the ideal fantasies about the old love.

Romantic Fantasies About the "One Who Got Away"

These fantasies usually don't include the mundane aspects of life, like taking out the garbage, paying bills or looking at your spouse snoring while asleep.  They're usually romantic fantasies where life is blissful without a care.

Even if the person who is obsessing about an old love isn't in a relationship, these fantasies can keep him or her from finding someone to be with who could be a real partner and not a fantasy.

The following fictionalized vignette is an example of how obsessions about an old love can affect relationship and how therapy can help:

Dan and his wife, Marie, were married for almost 15 years.

As Dan approached his 40th birthday, he started going through his old college pictures and he found pictures of his former girlfriend, Karen.

When he saw her pictures, he remembered how beautiful she was and how in love with her he had been.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

They had dated for three years in college and they were almost always together.  Everyone, including Dan, assumed that they would get married after college.

Then, as graduation approached, Karen decided that, rather than taking an apartment with Dan in NYC, as they had planned, she wanted to go back home to California for a while.

Dan remembered being shocked and heart broken, and he was even more heart broken when Karen told him that she wanted to be free to date other men.

On their last day at college, they stayed up all night and watched the sun rise.  They were both crying, knowing that they would miss each other.

Dan tried to convince Karen to change her mind, but she told him that she needed to be sure about him, and she wanted to date other  people before she made a lifetime commitment to be with him.

She told him that she doubted that she would meet anyone that she would care about as much as him, and she would probably call him after a while and tell him that she regretted ever moving away from him.  But, she said, for now she needed to be free.

Seeing Karen's pictures after all of these years brought back all those memories.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

He remembered that after college graduation, at first, they talked on the phone everyday and told each other how much they missed each other.

Dan told Karen that it was crazy for them to be separated and she should just come live with him in New York.  No matter how she explained it to him, he couldn't understand why she wasn't with him.

Then, after a while, Karen wasn't calling him or returning his calls as often.

At first, when he questioned her about it, she denied that she met anyone new.  But, as he persisted to question her, she admitted that she was dating someone that she really liked, and Dan was devastated.

At that point, Karen told him that she thought it would better for them not to talk on the phone anymore.  She told him that she would write to him and let him know what she decided.  She also encouraged Dan to date other women, which he had not done until then.  No amount of pleading with her would change her mind.

Dan heard from Karen a couple of months later that she was in a serious relationship with this other man and she didn't think it would be right for her to keep communicating with Dan.  She told him in her letter how much she had loved him in the past, but she knew that there was something missing from their relationship and she found it with this other man.

In a fit of rage, Dan tore up her letter and everything that he found of hers.  But, somehow, he never found these pictures, until now.

He never heard from Karen again, but he heard from mutual friends that she got married a year later to the man she was dating when she last communicated with Dan.  Then, he lost contact with their mutual friends and he didn't hear about her anymore.

Dan wasn't unhappy in his marriage, but sometimes he felt bored.

By the time he met Marie, he and Karen had been broken up for a few years.  The first couple of years, his relationship with Marie was loving and passionate.  But after several years, their life settled down into a predictable routine.

One of things that he loved about Karen was that she was so adventurous and open to new experiences.    When they were together, they would talk about all the places that they would travel to after college graduation and what their dream house would be like.  He always felt happy around her.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

Even though he had not thought about Karen for several years before he found her picture, he was obsessing about her now.

He would go to sleep wondering what her life was like and if she ever thought about him.  He would have dreams about their days together in college.  He had a dream that he called her after all these years, and she told him that she regretted ever breaking up with him.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away" 

In one of his dreams, he flew to California, reconnected with Karen and left Marie.  When he woke up, he felt disoriented.  When he saw Marie lying next to him, he felt partly relieved and partly disappointed.

Although Dan told Marie early on about his relationship with Karen, Dan didn't tell Marie now about finding Karen's picture.  But Marie sensed that something was wrong because Dan seemed so distracted when he was around her.  When she asked him about it, he made up an excuse and went out for a walk.

Dan felt that his obsessive thoughts were becoming overwhelming, especially since he was thinking more and more about trying to contact Karen.

The thought of contacting her made him feel excited and scared at the same time.  He didn't know what he would say to her or if she would even talk to him.

In his fantasies, she would be thrilled to hear from him, but he also knew that she might think it was very strange to hear from him all these years later.

Relationships: Obsessing About the "One Who Got Away"

Dan looked Karen up online one day and found her address in San Francisco.  He tried to see if she had a Facebook page, but he couldn't find one.  He told himself that he was just curious but, on some level, Dan knew that he was becoming more and more obsessed.

One night over dinner, when Marie was talking to him, he realized that he hadn't heard a word that she had said.  At first, he felt embarrassed, but then when he saw the hurt look on his face, he felt sad and guilty.

Marie asked him if he was having an affair.  When he told her no, he felt like he was lying, and she looked suspicious and hurt.  She asked him why he had been looking so distracted lately, and he lied to her and told her that he didn't know.

That night when they were in bed and Marie approached him, he knew that he wasn't in the mood to make love to her, but he didn't dare say no.  The only way that he was able to make love to her was by thinking about how passionately he used to make love to Karen.

Afterwards, Marie looked happy, cuddled in his arms and told him how much she loved him.  But Dan felt guilty and like a fraud.  He knew he needed help before he ruined his marriage.

He found a psychotherapist through his doctor and made an appointment for that week.

After he explained his situation and his therapist told him that his experience was common, he felt relieved.

Then, he and his therapist began exploring the underlying reasons why Dan was obsessing about Karen.  He knew, logically, that he had not thought about her in several years, but his feelings were so strong now.

His therapist helped him to understand that his feelings were based on memories and he was reliving his experiences with Karen in his mind.  Even though the emotions felt were very powerful now, they were related to memories and fantasies.  In reality, Dan didn't know what being with Karen would be like now.

He also knew that he loved Marie and he didn't want to leave her.

Then, he and his therapist talked about how he felt about his upcoming 40th birthday, and Dan slumped in his chair.  He soon realized that his fantasies about his time with Karen were mostly about being young and in love during an earlier time in his life that was carefree and exciting.

Instead of obsessing about Karen, Dan decided to work on his marriage.

He and Marie began traveling and doing some of the things that they had always wanted to do and were always putting them off.  He was thrilled to discover that Marie was open to new experiences, and he felt closer to her than he had felt in a long time.

Working on Your Relationship

Dan continued to work in therapy on his fears about getting old and all that this entailed.

In the meantime, he and Marie rekindled their relationship and his thoughts about Karen faded back into his memory.

Getting Help
Having fantasies about an old love isn't unusual, but if these thoughts are getting in the way of your current life and you can't put them into perspective for yourself, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to discover the underlying reasons for your fantasies so you can take steps to get your life back.

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, June 20, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: Writing to Cope With Grief

Coping with grief can be challenging.  Many people find that writing is helpful during times of grief and loss.

Coping With Grief

I've written about grief and loss in prior articles, including:

Coping With the Loss of a Loved One
Coping With Complicated Grief
Grief in Waiting After the Death of a Parent
Allowing Room For Grief
Holding Onto Grief as a Way to Stay Emotionally Connected to a Deceased Loved One
Inconsolable Grief After a Mother's Death

There are many ways to cope with grief.  In this article, I'm focusing on one particular way to cope with grief, which is to write.

Coping With Grief

Coping with grief is personal.  What works for one person might not work for someone else.  One way to cope with grief is to write.

Journal Writing
In a prior article, I wrote about journal writing to cope with stress and anxiety (Journal Writing Can Relieve Stress and Anxiety) and how journal writing can help to cultivate a sense of gratitude (Keeping a Gratitude Journal).

Writing to Cope With Grief

Keeping a journal during times of grief can help you to explore and release all the emotions that can come up when you've lost someone close to you.

At different times, you might feel sad, angry, confused, anxious or all of these feelings combined together.

Writing down your feelings in a journal helps to clarify what you're feeling, especially when you're caught up in a storm of confusing feelings.

The flow of writing can help to release feelings that you might not even know that you were having.

It can help you to get to some of the underlying emotions that are under the surface.

For instance, you might feel angry at the person who died, but you might not realize that underneath the anger might be sadness (see my article: Discovering That Sadness is Often Underneath Anger).

Writing Letters to a Deceased Loved One
Often, after a loved one dies, surviving family members realize that there are so many things they want to say that they went unsaid.

Writing to Cope With Grief

Many people find it helpful to write letters to a loved one that they keep.  These letters can be written in a stream of consciousness, writing whatever comes to mind. As a alternative,  each letter can be about particular emotions or subjects.

When you write stream of consciousness, you write whatever comes to mind without censoring yourself.

Many writers, who feel blocked, write stream of consciousness to get ideas and emotions flowing.

In the same way, if you're struggling with your emotions about someone close to you who died, you can use this method to allow your emotions to flow.

Writing Down the Milestones of a Deceased Loved One's Life
In an earlier article, Writing the Milestones of Your Life, I wrote about how making a list of the big events in your life can help to give you a perspective about your life.

Writing to Cope With Grief

In the same way, writing down the milestones of a deceased loved one can also give you a different perspective.

For instance, if you thought that your loved one had only sad times in his or her life, you might remember certain big events in his or her life that brought joy and happiness or was meaningful in a certain way.

Usually, after someone who was close to us dies, we tend to remember only the final days, which are usually sad, challenging and, possibly, traumatic.  But to put everything into perspective, in most cases, there were usually many more days in a full life that weren't sad, challenging or traumatic.

Even if it's not a milestone, like birth or marriage, there might be an event that you remember that you know was meaningful to your loved one.  Write it down and it will help to put your loved one's life in context and, hopefully, provide you with some relief in your time of grief.

Writing a "Memoir"or Story
The word "memoir" sounds so formal.

When we think of memoirs, we think of famous people, like presidents, actors or other important people in history.

But anyone can write a memoir or story about him or herself or about someone else.

Writing to Cope With Grief

The type of memoir that I'm suggesting is more personal and informal and not for publication (unless after you write it, you want to do so).

After you write down the milestones in your loved one's life, you might want to write a page or so about one or more of those milestones in order to expand upon it.

There's no pressure about doing this because it's only for you.

In the same way that you might speak about a deceased loved one at a memorial service, writing a memoir or story is essentially a dialogue that you have with yourself.

There might be parts of your loved one's life that you don't know about when you're writing.  Maybe you'll choose one particular day to write about instead of trying to write about more than one event.

Since this is only writing that you're doing for yourself, you can do your best to guess what might have happened during that period.

The purpose of writing a memoir or story is not to get all the facts right.  The purpose is to help you during your time of grief by seeing the totality of your loved one's life, the good times, the hard times, etc.

Having a Dialogue in Writing
Aside from journal writing, letter writing and writing a memoir or story, you can use your imagination to write down a conversation that you would like to have with a deceased loved one.

Similar to writing a letter, you might have things you would have liked to have said but you didn't get a chance before s/he died.

By writing a dialogue, you have an imaginary conversation with your loved one.  If s/he was close to you, you can imagine how s/he might have responded to you.

Another way to use having a dialogue in writing is to use your imagination to rewrite an actual conversation that you wish had gone differently.

For instance, maybe you have regrets about something you said or maybe you wish your loved one would have responded differently during an actual conversation.

You can't undo what has already happened in the past, but you can experience some relief by using your imagination to write down the conversation that you wish you would have had.

Very often, people are amazed at how healing this can be.

Writing can be a healing when you're struggling with grief.

People often say that they're not sure how to begin or what to write.  If you feel stuck, use the stream of consciousness method where you just write the first thing that comes to your mind without censoring yourself.

These writing exercises can be done at any time, whether your loved one passed away today or 50 or more years ago.

Allowing yourself to express your feelings in writing can be a great relief and help you in your healing process.

Getting Help in Therapy
Psychotherapy with a licensed psychotherapist can also help you through the grieving process.

Having a place that is private and comfortable for you to talk can be a gift that you give yourself.

A licensed mental health professional, who has expertise with grief and mourning, can help you to heal your sadness and grief.

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

My specialties, among other areas, include trauma and grief, and I have helped many clients through the grieving process.

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, June 13, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" Keeps the Primary Relationship Together

In a prior article, Leading a Double Life in an Affair as the "Other Woman" or "Other Man", I discussed what it is like being the "other woman" or the "other man" with someone who is already in a primary relationship with someone else.  In this article, I'm focusing on how an affair often keeps the couple in the primary relationship together (see my article: Infidelity: Acting In Instead of Acting Out).

How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" Keeps the Primary Relationship Together

Although it might seem that extramarital affairs always break up a marriage, this is often not the case.  After the initial shock, anger and sadness, many couples decide to remain together and try to work things out (see my article: The Allure of the Extramarital Affair).

Often, affairs don't start with the "other man" or "other women" making demands, especially if s/he is aware that there is a spouse or committed partner.  But as the affair continues, it's not usual for the person who is the "other" to make demands for the partner to leave the primary relationship.

Over time, this can involve threats to let the spouse know about the affair if the partner doesn't leave on his or her own accord.

From the point of view of the two people in the committed relationship, before the unsuspecting spouse finds out about the affair, the situation between them often improves because the cheating spouse is now getting whatever s/he felt was missing from the primary relationship.

The "other woman" or "other man," who might be hoping that the partner will leave the primary relationship, is often surprised to discover that partner is now happier with the arrangement and that each person, the spouse and the other partner in combination, meet his or her needs.

While it's true that not everyone who has an affair does so because s/he feels something is missing in the primary relationship, this is often true for a large percentage of people who cheat.

As previously mentioned, even after the unsuspecting spouse finds out, s/he and the spouse might decide, ultimately, that they've invested too much in their marriage to split up.  At that point, they might enter into couples therapy.

The following fictionalized scenario demonstrates how this dynamic often plays out.

Alice, Jim, and Ellen
Alice met Jim at the hotel bar when each of them were on a business trip.

Although he was flirtatious with Alice, he also let her know from the start that he was married.  Alice wasn't looking for a committed relationship at that point, so it didn't matter to her that Jim was married.

How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" Keeps the Primary Relationship Together

Alice thought Jim was sexy and intelligent, and she never thought that anything would evolve beyond a one-night stand with him.

But after that initial encounter, Alice moved to NYC to take a new job.  Discovering that they worked near each other, they carried on an affair during lunch hours and after work.

Jim made it very clear that he would never leave his wife, Ellen, whom he loved.  But he liked being with Alice because she was more sexually adventurous than Ellen.  He was a little bored in his marriage, and the secrecy of the affair excited him.

Several months into the affair, Alice was a restaurant with friends.  As she was about to leave, she saw Jim and Ellen together.  She was surprised and hurt to see how loving they were with each other.  Alice watched them together, but Jim didn't see her.

How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" Keeps the Primary Relationship Together

After that, she realized that she was jealous and she had developed deeper feelings for Jim without realizing it.  So, when she saw him again, she told him that she loved him, hoping he would leave his marriage to be with her.

He was initially surprised.  Then, he told Alice that although he was fond of her, he didn't want to leave his marriage.  In fact, he said, he was happier in his marriage now than he had ever been since he started the affair with Alice.  He explained to her that while he liked her and had fun with her, he wanted to stay with Ellen.  Ellen fulfilled other important emotional needs, and he had no intention of leaving her.

Alice became enraged at Jim's self centeredness.  Before she saw Jim and Ellen together, Alice thought he was bored with his marriage to Ellen and he would soon realize that he really wanted end the marriage to be with her.

After hearing what Jim had to say, she realized that, by having the affair with Jim, she was actually helping to keep Jim and Ellen together.  This infuriated her.

Alice gave Jim an ultimatum: Either leave Ellen to be with her or she would contact Ellen and tell her about the affair.  She gave him two months to do this.

Jim warned her against ever calling Ellen.  He felt that Ellen was "the innocent party" in all of this and she didn't deserve to be hurt.  He also reminded Alice that he told her from the beginning that he had no intention of ending his marriage.  If he were not married, he said, he would want to be in a relationship with Alice, but he was, so he couldn't be with her.

Before she could say anything more, Jim kissed her and used his seductive charm to placate her.  He also comforted himself by telling himself that Alice would never reveal their affair to Ellen.  She was just trying to manipulate him, he thought, and nothing would come of it.

But as time passed, Alice became more determined.  After spending the holidays by herself while Jim was with his wife, she decided that, once the two month deadline was up, she would make good on her threat.  Then, she thought, Ellen would leave Jim and he would be free to be with her.

After a month and a half went by, Alice asked Jim if he had told his wife about the affair.  When he laughed and said "Of course not, and you're not going to do it either."

Alice remained quiet, but she was seething inside.  She became obsessed with how and when she would contact Ellen and what she would say.

Alice decided to call Ellen at home when she knew that Jim was away.

When she heard Ellen's voice on the phone, Alice got anxious and nearly hung up.  But she decided that she had already made up her mind and she wasn't going to back down.

How the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" Keeps the Primary Relationship Together

Summoning her courage, she told Ellen that she was having an affair with Jim for the past year and she had pictures and text messages to prove it.

Initially, Ellen was silent and then she told Alice that she had suspected this for several months, but she couldn't bring herself to confront him.  But now that she knew, she was going to fight for her marriage.  Then, she hung up.

The next day, Jim called Alice in a rage.  Ellen told him about the call and he was furious with Alice for hurting Ellen.  Alice wanted to say, "Are you going to take any responsibility for hurting her?"  But before she could say anything else, he told her that he and Ellen decided to work on their marriage and he never wanted to see Alice again.  Then he hung up.

Alice was stunned.  She never thought it would end this way.  She was sure that Ellen would be angry and leave Jim.  She didn't realize that the marriage was that important to both Ellen and Jim and that they would try to work things out, even though Ellen was very hurt about the affair.

After that, Alice plunged into a depression and she began therapy to try to understand what happened and why she allowed herself to be the "other woman"with a married man.

In therapy, she discovered that the triangulation that went on in her childhood home was, unconsciously,  at the core of her decision to get into a love triangle with Jim (see my article:  How Triangulation in the Childhood Home Can Lead to Love Triangles as an Adult).

She felt deeply ashamed of her role as the "other woman" and angry because she felt "used" by Jim.

Gradually, she was able to work through the current issues as well as the earlier childhood trauma so that, eventually, she was able to enter into a healthy relationship.

Jim and Ellen went to couples therapy to work on the rift in their marriage.  The couples therapist also recommended that Jim enter into his own individual therapy to understand the underlying issues that lead to his infidelity.

The couples therapist also recommended that Ellen enter into her own individual therapy to understand what the underlying issues were for her in terms of suspecting an affair but not confronting Jim.

Even though Ellen was very angry and hurt, she and Jim were both committed to saving their marriage.  Ellen realized that she often found Jim to be too sexually demanding and, on some level, she was relieved that he might be seeing someone else to meet his sexual needs.  She explored this further in her own individual therapy.

Jim realized how selfish he had been to have the affair.  He also realized that the affair was compartmentalized in his mind and that this compartmentalization was what kept him from feeling guilty about it.

In addition, Jim came to see how insecure he was and that having an attractive, sexy woman like Alice was an boost to his ego.

In his individual therapy, he worked on the earlier childhood issues that contributed to his feelings of insecurity about himself, so that he wouldn't act out again by having another affair.

Although many people breakup after one or both find out about an extramarital affair, there are also many couples who remain together.

Contrary to what might seem logical, affairs often stabilize the primary relationship in ways that the "other woman" or "other man" might not foresee.

Each person who is involved in the triangle plays a particular role, which will be different in each love triangle.

Often the core problems that lead to love triangles are rooted in earlier unresolved childhood issues.

Getting Help in Therapy
Whether you're the person who is cheating, the other spouse or the the other woman or man, psychotherapy with a licensed mental health professional can be helpful in working through these issues.

Working through the earlier issues that are often at the core, as well as working on present day problems, can help you to work through these issues and move on with your life, no matter which role you play in the triangle.

If you identify with the problems presented in this article, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional.

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.