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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mother-Daughter Relationships: Letting Go of Resentments

As I've written in prior blog posts, the mother-daughter relationship is a complex dynamic.   As a psychotherapist in NYC, I hear from many daughters and mothers about longstanding resentments that never get resolved.  Over the course of a lifetime, resentments can build up, especially if they're not resolved when they occur.  It's not unusual for mothers and daughters to continue arguing the same old arguments over and over again, adding more confusion and anger as time goes on.

Mother-Daughter Relationships:  Letting Go of Resentments

Often, mothers and daughters have unrealistic expectations of each other:

Daughters' Idealization of Mothers' Role:
As a society, we tend to idealize the mother's role:  she should always be nurturing, understanding, a good listener and a shoulder to cry on.  When your mother falls short of this idealization, you might feel cheated and deprived and resentment builds up.

Mother-Daughter Relationships:  Letting Go of Resentments

But no one can live up to this standard all the time, especially since mothers in most households now must work as well as being mothers and wives.  As a daughter, assuming that you had a reasonably healthy childhood, you need to let go of this idealization and realize that your mother is human with flaws, like anyone else.

Mothers' Unrealistic Expectations of Daughters:
There are many mother-daughter relationships that are close and happy when the daughter is younger and then become conflictual as the daughter gets older and needs more independence.  It's not easy watching a daughter move away from you during her teenage years, when friends often become more important than mothers.  Sometimes, it seems like it happens over night.

But it's a normal part of your daughter's development as an individual to mature and seek out other relationships.  As a mother, it's best not to get into power struggles with your daughter about this.  You can't be your daughter's best friend.  She needs you to be her mother.  And if you can negotiate this challenging period with your daughter, you're more likely to have a better relationship with your daughter over time.

Mothers and Daughters Arguing the Same Arguments Over and Over Again:
Rather than getting into power struggles, sometimes it's best to just agree to disagree and let go of old arguments and resentments.  Rehashing the same old arguments does nothing but deepen resentment.  Over time, mothers and daughters can become emotionally distant from each other.  The longer this goes on, the harder it is to repair.  It's often better to choose your battles and recognize when you might be arguing to win a power struggle.  No one wins under these circumstances.  Often, both people lose.

Letting Go of Resentments and Forgiving:
I've said this many times to clients, "Forgiving is for the person doing the forgiving."  It doesn't mean that whatever the other person did was okay.  It's not necessarily about reconciliation with the other person.

There are times when relationships can't be reconciled for a variety of reasons.  For instance, there are times when maintaining a relationship is either so emotionally or physically abusive that it would be too damaging to remain in contact.  Self preservation is crucial.

Whether you choose to reconcile directly with your mother or daughter or not, it's important to work through resentments so that they don't remain emotionally toxic within you.  Many clients ask me, "But how do I do this?"  It's a process that can be worked through in therapy with a skilled clinician.

It's Possible to Change an Unhealthy Mother-Daughter Relationship:
Some mothers and daughters are stuck in a rut in their relationships together.  It might be that both of them see the unhealthy dynamic and want to change it, but they don't know how.

For some mothers and daughters, attempts at talking about it only lead to more conflict and arguments.  Sometimes, the best way to change a dynamic is to change yourself rather than waiting for the other person to change.  For instance, if you want your mother or daughter to be a better listener, be a better listener yourself when you talk to her.

Be in the Present  Moment:
When resentments have built up over time, it's often hard to be in the present moment with the other person.  This is especially true when mothers and daughters have longstanding resentments.  

When you're constantly focused on old resentments, you might miss out on moments of closeness when there's no conflict.  It's possible that there can be moments when you enjoy each other's company.

Mother-Daughter Relationships:  Letting Go of Resentments

Part of letting go of old resentments is being open to the possibility that the dynamic in your mother-daughter relationship might change.  For this to happen, both people must be willing and able.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.  I have helped many mothers and daughters to let go of resentments in their relationships.

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.

Also see my articles:
Life Stages in Mother-Daughter Relationships

Healing Mother-Daughter Relationships

Ambivalence and Codependence in Mother-Daughter Relationships


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Developing Intuition to Tap into Your Creative Abilities

When I was in my 20s, I had little exposure or belief in intuitive abilities.  But, one day a chance encounter with a friend caused me to question my skepticism about intuition and to, eventually,  explore how intuitive abilities can be developed in relation to creativity abilities.

My Introduction to Intuition:  Beatrice at Bondini's
I remember the day that I ran into a close friend on my way home.  I had walked from my job at NYU Medical Center to the West Village and I was about to get on the train to go home.  As I was going through the turnstile to get on the train, my friend was, coincidentally, coming through the same turnstile on the other side. We both laughed at the timing of meeting each other this way in a city of eight million people.  When I asked her where she was going, she told me that she had an appointment with someone named Beatrice at Bondini's restaurant on W. 9th Street in the Village.

I knew of Bondini's Italian restaurant from a former boyfriend's mother who would rave about their food.  But I'd never been there and I had never heard of anyone named Beatrice there.   When I asked my friend about this, she hesitated.  Then, she grabbed my arm and told me to come with her to see Beatrice, who was a psychic.  I remember laughing and teasing my friend all the way there because she believed in psychics.  Her only response was, "You'll see..."


Since my curiosity was greater than my skepticism, I went along with her.  I thought I would encounter a woman with a turban on her head looking into a crystal ball, but Beatrice was an average down-to-earth woman who looked and acted nothing like I expected.  She had a room in the back of the restaurant, but she had no mystical props or crystal balls.

Originally, I had no intention of getting a reading from Beatrice but, once again, my curiosity was greater than my skepticism, so when my friend "volunteered" me to go first, I went along with it, not expecting very much.  Beatrice asked if she could hold an item that belonged to me, so I gave her a topaz ring that I wore everyday for the last 10 years or so.

Then, to my great surprise, without my uttering a question or a word or giving her any information, she began telling me, in detail, about the man I was dating.  Not only did she describe his physical appearance, his personality and how he interacted with me, but she also described the strong effect he had on everyone around him--that he charmed both men and women, so much so that he was often able to get away with things that most people couldn't have gotten away with.   I knew this to be absolutely true and had seen it many times.  (Fortunately, he wasn't a sociopath, so he didn't use his charm in any illegal or unethical ways.)

Needless to say, I was stunned.  She told me things about him that even my close friend didn't know.  All the while, I said nothing, so she wasn't pumping me with questions for information, as many so-called "psychics" do.  I didn't understand what was happening, but I was fascinated.  So, unable to resist, I asked her if she had a sense of our future as a couple.   She was very tactful and kind.  There was no drama or offer to sell me love candles or love bath.  She simply said that she didn't see us staying together.  Until then, everything she said rang true, but I thought she really got this wrong.  But sure enough, a few months later, we broke up.

While I was in my 20s, I went to see Beatrice a few more times.  I continued to be fascinated by her intuitive abilities and level-headed, no-nonsense approach.  Then, she was written up in New York Magazine, and it became difficult to see her without making a six-month in advance appointment because she became so popular, so I stopped seeing her.

Developing Intuition
Following my experience with Beatrice, I attended a workshop with a woman in NJ, who used her psychic abilities to help the police solve crimes.  She was also very down-to-earth and had a good reputation among law enforcement.  She made the practice of developing intuition for the average person seem like the most natural thing in the world.  I also read books about intuition and became interested in dream work.



As I followed my dreams, I began to have flashes of intuition, both in my dreams and in my waking hours.  I didn't have any earth-shattering intuitive flashes about world events.  These flashes of intuition were mostly about my everyday life and the people in it.

Intuition for Creative Solutions
Over time, I came to trust these flashes of intuition to help me come up with creative solutions to everyday life situations.   I find that the more connected I am to my dreams, the sharper my intuitive abilities are during everyday situations.  I am, by no means, a psychic and my intuitive abilities don't extend beyond the ordinary situations that develop in life, but I've found that using intuition to tap into creative, problem solving abilities has added a richer dimension to my life.

Of course, the ability to use logic is crucial to living our lives.   But rather than being exclusively focused on only living a life based on logic, I encourage people to develop their intuitive side, if this is something that interests them.

Intuition and Dreams
One way to develop intuition is to pay attention to your dreams.  Not all of them will be intuitive dreams, but you might find that, if you write them down and make them a priority, you might get glimpses into your intuitive side.  Then, rather than being skeptical about intuition, as I was initially when I was in my 20s, if you remain open and curious, you might discover that your intuition can be tapped into to enhance your creative abilities.  I've included some resources below if you're interested in developing your intuition to tap into your creative abilities.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic  Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

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

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

Also, read my articles:
Dream Incubation - Planting Seeds
Creative Imagination and Dream Work

Resources:
Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel - by post-Jungian psychoanalyst, Robert Bosnak
Creative Dreaming - by Patricia Garfield
Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming - by Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why Has It Become So Hard to Find a Psychotherapist in NYC?

Many psychotherapy clients who call me tell me that it's becoming increasingly difficult to find a psychotherapist in NYC, especially if they're trying to find someone in their insurance network.    A big part of the problem is that managed care fees haven't kept up with the overhead that private practice therapists must deal with, so fewer and fewer therapists can afford to take managed care clients if they want to stay in business.  

The Burnout Rate Among Therapists Who Take Primarily Managed Care is High
Therapists, whose practices are primarily managed care, often work very long hours, seeing as many as 35-50 psychotherapist clients per week.  They're usually booked up, and the burnout rate among these therapists is high.  Like many doctors who have a high percentage of managed care clients, some of them are going out of business.

This is not to say that you can never find anyone on your managed care panel, but it's becoming increasingly difficult.

Many Mental Health Managed Care Companies Are Intrusive in the Treatment
The other major problem is that many managed care insurance companies tend to be intrusive in the treatment.  Not only do many of them want to dictate the number of sessions, but some of them want a lot of personal information about what's being discussed in the sessions in order for them to authorize more treatment.  Often, the managed care staff who are authorizing treatment have little to no clinical background, and their decisions are driven by financial rather than clinical considerations.

When a client's managed care insurance is intrusive, it's like having the managed care rep in the room with the therapist and the client.  The therapist must often walk a fine line between preserving the client's confidentiality and giving the insurance company enough information so that they authorize more sessions.

A One-Size Fits All Managed Care Approach Doesn't Work in Mental Health
Some managed care companies have "standards" of what they consider to be the right number of sessions for particular diagnoses.  Even for managed care plans where clients supposedly have "unlimited sessions," the insurance company reserves the right to question the number of sessions based on "medical necessity."  The problem with this is that each client is different and a one-size fits all approach doesn't allow for the uniqueness of each client.  While some clients might get better after  10-25 sessions, it might take other clients that long just to develop a rapport with the therapist and feel a sense of trust.

Managed Care Mental Health Lists Are Often Out of Date
The other problem is that many managed care companies don't update their in network lists very often, so that it appears that they have many more psychotherapists on their lists than they actually do.  When clients go online and call therapists whose names appear on the list, they often discover that the lists are out of date, some therapists have dropped off the list, some are retired and some might even be deceased.

Learn to Advocate for Yourself at Your Workplace
Unfortunately, it appears that this situation won't get better any time soon.  If you have no choice but to go in network and you're having difficulty finding available therapists on the in network panel, you  should advocate with your human resource department or benefits administrator who negotiate contracts with the managed care companies and let them know about these problems.  Most organizations pay a lot of money for health benefits, and they might not be aware of the problems. Your mental health benefits aren't worth very much to you if you can't find a therapist on the list.

If you have out of network benefits and you can afford to pay out of pocket and get reimbursed, you stand a better chance of finding a psychotherapist.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work 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.


The Many Meanings of Silence

There are many meanings to silence.  After a very full Christmas day yesterday, at about 10:30 PM, I realized that, at least for a few minutes, there was complete silence.  It was a welcomed silence, the kind that you can relax into, close your eyes and take a deep breath.  

I spent part of Christmas day visiting my 92 year old mother, who has Alzheimer's and lives in a nursing home.  Whenever I've gone there, I've never experienced even a moment of silence in the place.  Nursing homes, like hospitals, are very structured environments where things are constantly going on to take care of the needs of the patients.

When I first began visiting my mother in the nursing home, I felt bombarded by the constant noise and activity:  TV sets blaring in residents' rooms and in the common room, nurses wheeling carts, the conversations among staff and patients, announcements on the public address system.  Combined with all the emotions involved with placing a close relative in a nursing home, even a well run nursing home with caring staff, the experience was an overwhelming blur at times.



Now, when I visit my mother, I have a more nuanced experience.  The noise and constant activity can still be overstimulating, but now that I know the staff and certain residents, the noise and activity are within a certain context that I've come to expect.  It's no longer overwhelming.

Although the nursing home is constantly buzzing with noise, there have been more and more moments recently where my mother is silent.  She always responds warmly initially when she sees me.  Sometimes, she knows I'm her daughter.  Other times, she thinks I'm her sister, a friend, her mother or a friendly nurse or social worker.  Whoever I am to her at the moment, I seem to be a benign presence.

There are times when she is full of questions about what's going on in my life, whoever she imagines I am at the moment, often asking the same questions over and over again.  I've become accustomed to this.  What's more challenging is when she retreats into her own world with a thousand mile stare and she becomes silent.  It's then that I'm most aware that the Alzheimer's is slowly progressing.  At those moments, I wonder where she goes, and there's a part of me that is concerned that she won't come back.    But then, she becomes aware of my presence again and begins asking questions and I'm relieved that she's somewhat more engaged again.



Silence in Psychotherapy Sessions
Silence in a psychotherapy session can have many different meanings, depending upon the particular client, therapist and their relationship.  Usually, I work in a dynamic and collaborative way.  Even so, there are times of meaningful silence in sessions.

A therapist needs to know her client well to understand the meaning that a particular client attributes to silence.  There are some clients who can't tolerate any kind of silence because it puts them in touch with the emotional void that's always there.  For other clients, it feels like a depriving experience that replicates an emotionally depriving childhood experience.

The classical psychoanalytic stance of neutrality, if there is such a thing, would be too depriving for these clients, especially at the beginning of treatment when the therapist and client are still forming a therapeutic relationship and the client is just beginning to develop trust.  For some of these clients, silence represents the stone cold anger they felt from a parent or the times they were left alone to take care of themselves emotionally and maybe even physically.

For those clients, too much silence, at that point in the treatment, is punishing, and a therapist needs to know this so that she can be an emotionally supportive presence in the room in ways that are meaningful to each client.  Over time, many of these clients, who might use constant talk as a way to ward off uncomfortable feelings during the early stages of treatment, learn to become more comfortable with moments of silence because it no longer feels depriving.

For other clients, especially clients who have developed a trusting relationship with the therapist, silence is a welcome respite.  Growing up, their household might have been filled with noise and chatter, no time to day dream or just to be.

Silence in the psychotherapy session for these clients can be a time to reflect or to feel therapeutically and emotionally "contained" by the therapist in ways they never felt  when they were growing up.  When treatment is going well, there is an interactive dynamic between clients and therapists that is especially  palpable in moments of silence.

A therapist needs to be attuned and develop an intuitive sense about the many meanings of silence for each client, which can change from one session to another.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

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

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


photo credit: Easa Shamih (eEko) | P.h.o.t.o.g.r.a.p.h.y via photopin cc




Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Psychotherapy Daily News is Out!

Within the last few months, I've been publishing an online daily newspaper called Psychotherapy Daily News with various stories, including articles from this psychotherapy blog, other newsworthy mental health articles written by other mental health experts in the field, as well as important articles about health, science, the environment, education and leisure.

The Psychotherapy Daily News is free and you can get your free subscription each day by clicking on the link below and subscribing:

Psychotherapy Daily News

I hope you'll enjoy it and send me your comments.

Josephine Ferraro, LCSW
NYC Psychotherapist, Hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing Therapist
(212) 726-1006


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Overcoming Emotional Trauma and Developing Resilience

During the course of a lifetime, everyone goes through hard times.  Unfortunately, emotional suffering is part of life and we can't expect to avoid it.  It's how you respond to these times that can make a big difference in the quality of your life.  Responding with resilience can help you get through difficult times and increase your self confidence.



Overcoming Emotional Trauma and Developing Resilience

Trauma Can Affect Your Ability to be Resilient
Unfortunately, people who have trauma in their lives can find it very difficult to respond with resilience.  Of course, there are always exceptional people that we hear or read about who have gone through a lot of trauma who seem to maintain their resilience.  They can be inspiring, but if you're someone who has been traumatized and you're not as resilient because of your experiences, hearing about these exceptional people can also cause you to feel badly about yourself, feeling like  you don't measure up to them.

Many people who have had multiple experiences with trauma feel hopeless and helpless in the face of new adversity.  This is a common experience for people with multiple traumas.  No amount of telling them to be resilient will change this.  After a while, many of them feel that bad times are all that they can expect, which is unfortunate and, often, a distortion.  

Unresolved Trauma Can be Triggered by New Difficult Experiences
People who have suffered trauma that keeps them feeling beaten down need to work through their trauma in psychotherapy.  If the trauma is not worked through, they are vulnerable to being triggered by new events because new events can trigger old trauma.  

Often, when we think of being triggered, we think of the example of the war veteran who is triggered by a loud noise, which takes him or her back emotionally to the battlefield.  But there are all kinds of triggers, aside from the ones that veterans experience with noise, that can trigger old trauma.  Potential triggers can be loss, including loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of a pet, and so on;  physical or emotional abuse; a medical problem; a car accident; a major life change, etc.


Overcoming Emotional Trauma and Developing Resilience: Coping with Unresolved Trauma

Trauma, by nature, is an emotionally overwhelming experience that hasn't been "metabolized" by the mind.  So, it remains in its "unmetabolized," untreated form just under the surface and it's there to be potentially triggered by new difficult events.

What might be traumatic to one person might not be traumatic to someone else for a variety of reasons, including personal history, environment, learned attitudes, and a person's inherent ability to deal with overwhelming events or experiences.  It's not about being "weak" or "strong."  

Trauma, Compassion and Self Compassion
Recognizing that it's not about "weakness" requires self compassion as well as compassion for others.       I once met someone who was a retired Marine who had gone through a series of traumatic events while in the military and afterwards in civilian life.  He never got treatment, and he berated himself severely whenever he cried about his experiences, saying, "I'm a Marine.  I should be able to handle this."  Possibly, this was part of his training in the Marines, but it was only making matters worse until he got psychological treatment to overcome his trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy:  You Can't "Tough it Out"
This is why it's so important to get psychological help when you experience trauma. Trying to "tough it out" doesn't help.  In fact, it can make things a lot worse because you might "disown" and suppress your traumatic feelings rather than acknowledge them and get help.  Suppressing these feelings, even if you can for a while, doesn't make them go away.  They're still there to be triggered in ways that you might not expect or want.  They can also develop into physical problems, like migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, body aches and other physical manifestations.

Overcoming Emotional Trauma and Developing Resilience: Getting Help in Therapy

I've worked with many clients over the years who have experienced trauma, including PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder).  My experience has been that talk therapy can be helpful, but Somatic Experience, hypnotherapy and EMDR are more effective in overcoming trauma and developing a greater sense of resilience.

There's no magic bullet when it comes to working through trauma, but these treatment modalities take into account the connection between the mind and the body, not just the mind.  I have nothing against psychodynamic psychotherapy.  In fact, my original training is in psychoanalysis and psychodynamic itreatment.  I also use cognitive behavioral therapy for some clients.  But when it comes to trauma, I find the mind-body oriented psychotherapies to be most effective.

If you think you might have PTSD or trauma symptoms, you owe it to yourself to get help.  I will provide websites below so you can find licensed mental health professionals to help you.  My personal recommendation is that you find someone who has a mental health license.  There are many people who do hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing who are not clinicians.  

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.  I've helped many clients to overcome 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: josephineolivia@aol.com.

Resources:
Somatic Experiencing:  Somatic Experiencing Treatment


Learning From Past Romantic Relationships

Looking back on past romantic relationships, do you see particular patterns that were consistent in these relationships?  It's easy to blame your former romantic partners for all the problems in those relationships or to blame it on bad luck.  What's more challenging is to see your own patterns in those relationships that you're continuing to perpetuate with each new relationship.  


Learning From Past Romantic Relationships

Looking at Your Own Recurring Patterns in Past Romantic Relationships
Not all relationships end because of recurring interpersonal patterns.  Many relationships end because  one of both people change in dissimilar ways and they no longer want the  same things.  People grow apart.  Sometimes, one or both people forget that relationships need to be nurtured and that neglect leads to the end of a relationship.

But when you can look back with a degree of objectivity, you might find that you, being the common denominator in all of your relationships, continue to engage in certain patterns that contribute to the demise of these relationships.  And, if this is the case, it's worthwhile for your own personal development, as well as the potential for having a successful relationship in the future, if that's what you want, to look at these patterns.

It's impossible to include all the possible recurring patterns.  The following fictionalized scenario demonstrates how learning from past romantic relationships can be beneficial to you.  As always, this  scenario is a composite of many different cases so that confidentiality is preserved.

Ann:
Ann, who was in her late 30s, came to therapy after a recent breakup.  The man she had been seeing for two years had just ended their relationship, and Ann was heart broken.  This was the latest in a series of breakups over the years in which the man she was dating ended the relationship.

Learning From Past Romantic Relationships

Ann wanted, more than anything, to get married and have a family.  She was very aware of her "biological clock" and that it might be difficult for her to get pregnant, so she was hoping her most recent relationship would lead to marriage and children.  But, instead, just like her prior relationships, it ended in heart break and disappointment.

When she started therapy, she blamed the breakups on a combination of bad luck and poor judgment in choosing the wrong men.  These relationships all started well.  With each one, she saw the potential for long term happiness.  But, gradually, she and her romantic partners began arguing about how much time to spend together and their divergent expectations about the relationship.

What made matters worse is that, whenever Ann entered into a new relationship, she stopping talk to and seeing her friends, so that when she needed emotional support, they expressed resentment towards her that they hadn't heard from her in a while and were annoyed that she called them only when she was having problems.

Ann had a hard time seeing this because she was so immersed in whatever relationship she was in.  She thought her friends "should" be there for her, even if she'd made no effort to be in touch with them for months.

Related to her problem of disengaging from her friends, she expected that her current romantic partner would supply all her emotional, intellectual and physical needs.  Even when she had a lot in common with her current boyfriend, inevitably, there were some interests that she had that he didn't.

When her current boyfriend didn't want to take up one of her particular interests, she became annoyed  and disappointed.  This led to arguments and her expectations and the arguments led to her boyfriends telling her that they felt suffocated by her and that it wasn't reasonable for her to expect to have all of her needs met in the relationship.  But this was contrary to Ann's basic assumptions and expectations in a relationship.

It took a while for Ann to be willing to explore her basic assumptions and expectations of relationships because she held them very tightly.  She wanted her boyfriend to be her "everything" and couldn't understand why anyone who was her boyfriend wouldn't want this too.  She also couldn't understand why her boyfriends wanted to see their friends and go to sports events or other activities with them when she was very willing to take up these interests.  This also created a lot of friction in her relationships.

As we explored her history of relationships, there was no evidence to suggest that she had a string of bad luck or that these men had particular problems that contributed to the breakups.  The problem in all of these relationships was, primarily, that Ann wanted to create an exclusive dependency between her and her boyfriend, and she refused to see that this created recurring problems in her relationships.

Even if she found a boyfriend who wanted the same kind of intense dependency that excluded other people, having  such an insular relationship would have been emotionally unhealthy.  Often, sooner or later, people get bored and the individuals and the relationship becomes stagnant.  One person can't meet all your needs.

It took a while for Ann to be willing to look at herself rather than externalizing her problems in relationships.  Family history played a big part in her views.  Ann needed to learn how to be in a relationship and how to maintain and nurture her friendships.

Learning From Past Romantic Relationships

At that point, she was able to change her usual dynamics and she was a lot happier in a new long-term relationship and in her friendships.

Getting Help in Therapy:  When You're Open to Looking at Your Own Recurring Patterns in Relationships, You Have an Opportunity to Make Changes
As I mentioned previously, this is just one possible example of a recurring pattern that can cause relationships to end.

When you're able to be open and objective about the role that you play in current and prior relationships, you can change recurring dysfunctional patterns.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many individuals and couples to overcome patterns that have created obstacles for them.

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: josephineolivia@aol.com.

Also see my article:  Making Changes Within Yourself to Have the Life You Want


Saturday, December 22, 2012

Is Your Envy of Others Ruining Your Relationships?

Envy is defined as the emotionally painful feeling you have when you perceive that someone has something that you want and don't have, whether it's a possession, an attribute, a relationship, a new baby, a job, and so on.  Envy is a complex emotion.

Is Envy Ruining Your Relationships?
There Are Degrees of Envy
Like any other emotion, there are degrees of envy.  A mild form of envy, for instance, might involve wishing a friend well for getting married, but wondering why she found happiness in a romantic relationship and you haven't.  Why does she get to have a wonderful husband while you're having difficulty meeting someone?  This is a more benign form of envy.  A more malicious form of envy might involve not only wishing that you could meet someone wonderful like your friend did, but also secretly hoping that her relationship fails.  There is a bitter and toxic quality to this form of envy that is corrosive to your sense of self as well as to maintaining relationships.

Your Envy Sets Up a Rivalry Between You and Others
When you feel envious of people close to us, you set up a rivalry between you and them, even if the rivalry remains in your mind and you never express it.  When you're envious, you see the other person as being luckier, better looking, more intelligent (or whatever other attributes you ascribe to the other person) than you.  This may or may not be realistic.  But whether or not it has objective reality often has little to do with envy.  In fact, if you're immersed in envious feelings, you might have already lost any objectivity in the matter because you're so focused on others.

Strong, Pervasive Feelings of Envy
When you experience pervasive feelings of envy, where you're constantly comparing yourself to others in an unfavorable way, you tend to see life most of the time in terms of what others have and you don't.  Your perspective is filtered through the lens of feeling that what you have is inadequate compared to others.  You tend to feel deprived most of the time and this can lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Pervasive Feelings of Envy Are Often Related to Childhood Deprivation
When envy is pervasive in most of your life, it often stems from early childhood deprivation, whether the deprivation was emotional, physical or both.  In these types of situations, you continue to feel the longings you felt when you were a child.  At that time, you deserved to be loved and taken care of but, for whatever reason, you were deprived instead.  Your longing to be nurtured was legitimate and real.

This type of longing usually doesn't disappear when you become an adult.  As an adult, this longing, which is "carried" emotionally by your inner child, usually manifests as envy.  When it's a pervasive feeling of envy, these feelings become distorted.  What is real for the deprived inner child becomes displaced on others in a distorted way when you become an adult.

Pervasive Envy Can Ruin Relationships
Pervasive envy can ruin relationships, including family relationships, marriages, friendships, and relationships with colleagues.  If you're constantly complaining to others that you feel they have better opportunities, relationships or possessions, it's a big turn off to them.  After a while, they'll feel guarded around you and might not want to be around you.  At best, they'll see you as petty and, at worst, they'll see you as someone who is too self centered to be around.  Chances are good that they won't understand that these pervasive feelings of envy come from earlier experiences.  And, even if they do, they still might not want to deal with your envy.

People who feel pervasive envy are often not aware that this is what they're feeling.  They usually believe that their feelings are objectively true and not a distortion.  In their eyes, other people are luckier, more attractive, and so on, than they are.  Their focus is on others and not on themselves.  It can be very painful to realize that these envious feelings are distortions in their minds.  But once they develop this awareness, there's an opportunity, if they're open to it, to change.

Envy Can Become a Self Perpetuating Pattern
Living with constant feelings of envy can be a self perpetuating pattern.  The more you feel it, the more intense the envy becomes.  There are people who live their entire lives comparing themselves unfavorably to others.  They take no responsibility to change what they don't like in their own lives because they're too immersed in feeling resentful towards others.  This creates an increasingly deep sense of unhappiness and bitterness.

Getting Help to Overcome Envy
If you're someone who is stuck in the rut of feeling envious towards others and you're so focused on what other people have that you don't, you owe it to yourself to get professional help from a licensed mental health professional.  Doing inner child work can help you to overcome envy and feel better about yourself.  In addition to preserving the important relationships in your life, you can also improve your sense of self and the quality of your life.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.  I have helped many clients to lead more fulfilling loves.

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.

Also, see my article:  Is Envy Ruining the Quality of Your Life?


Friday, December 21, 2012

Overcoming Guilt that Affects Family Relationships

Guilt can have a powerful negative effect on your relationships with family members.  Even when people know logically that there is no objective reason for them to feel guilty, knowing this is often not enough to help them overcome guilty feelings.  

Overcoming Guilt that Affects Family Relationships
The following fictionalized scenarios illustrate how damaging guilt can be between family members:

Rose:
Rose felt guilty when she found out that her  younger sister was sexually abused by their father.  Her sister had never told anyone about it when it was happening.  It wasn't until they were both in their 20s that she revealed the sexual abuse.  Rose knew logically that, even if she knew about it when it was happening, she couldn't have prevented it from happening.  Their father was a severe alcoholic, who spiraled down after her mother died when she was 10 and her younger sister was eight.  Apparently, the sexual abuse occurred after the mother's death when the father was drunk.  After Rose found out about the abuse, she felt so guilty that she dreaded seeing her sister.  Even though her sister had no resentment or anger towards her, Rose was consumed with guilt.  Rose's guilt put a strain on her relationship with her sister.

John:
John  moved out of the family home when he was 18 because he and his father had a difficult relationship.  There were a few times when their arguments almost escalated into physical confrontations, so John thought it was best that he leave, even though he felt very conflicted about leaving his younger brother, Sam, at home.  Sam got along well with both of their parents.  But John still felt guilty about not being around for his kid brother.  He knew that Sam looked up to him, and he felt he abandoned Sam by leaving.  When they were in their 20s, John broached the subject with Sam and Sam tried to reassure John that he understood and he had no resentment towards him for moving out--although he missed him after he was gone.  But John couldn't get over his guilt and he left he was "a bad person" for leaving his brother, even though Sam turned out to be a happy, well adjusted young man.

Lynn:
Lynn's elderly mother asked her to drive her to a medical appointment.  Lynn was unable to get the time off from work, so she paid for a car service to take her mother and the mother's attendant to the appointment.  While she was at work, Lynn got a call from the police that her mother and the attendant were in a fender bender.  No one was injured.  Her mother wasn't upset, but Lynn felt guilty.  She blamed herself, berating herself for not taking her mother to the doctor, even though she had taken her many times before.  Lynn felt that if she had driven her mother, there would have been no fender bender.  She couldn't help ruminating about "what if" the accident had been worse--she never would have forgiven herself.

In each of these fictionalized scenarios, we have the objectivity to see that these people aren't culpable in any way.  Yet, it's not unusual for people to engage in this type of self blame. We can also see how damaging guilt can be for the person who blames him or herself as well as for the relationship with the family member.

This type of guilt can erode a person's sense of self, especially when it involves a situation that can't be changed as in the scenarios above.

When clients come to see me about this type of problem in my psychotherapy practice in NYC, I help  them to work through their guilty feelings, often using EMDR or Somatic Experiencing.  If they're able to work through these feelings, most of the time, they experience it as if a burden has been lifted from them.  Once they're free from these guilty feelings, they also feel freer to have a closer relationship with their family member.

Although there was no reason for the people in the above scenarios to feel guilt, there are times when guilt is appropriate.  For instance, in the first scenario, if the father were to feel guilty about sexually abusing his daughter, this could be the first step in recognizing that he traumatized her and also the first step in his taking responsibility for it.  Only sociopaths and psychopaths feel no guilt when they've committed an offense.

There are times when we can see the distortions in our thinking, but seeing it isn't enough to change it.  Often, we require more than logic to change it.  Both EMDR and Somatic Experiencing offer an opportunity to free oneself from misplaced guilt.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

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.

For more information about EMDR and Somatic Experiencing, you can visit the following websites:

EMDR:  http://EMDRIA.org

Somatic Experiencing:  http://traumahealing.com


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Erotic Transference for Group Leaders

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the erotic transference that occurs in psychotherapy treatment where a client develops erotic feelings, often unconscious, for the therapist and vice versa.  This is a common phenomenon in psychotherapy and therapists who have psychoanalytic training are trained to deal with this issue, whether it's the client having erotic feelings for the therapist (more commonly) or the other way around.  Much has been written about the erotic transference in therapy.  But erotic transference can occur in groups as well where group members develop erotic feelings for the group leader.

The Erotic Transference of Group Leaders

Group Leaders Are Often Idealized
Group leaders, including schoolteachers, seminar instructors, college professors, and motivational speakers are often embued with certain idealized qualities by participants.  We're all familiar with the school girl or boy who develops a crush on the teacher.

The Erotic Transference of Group Leaders

These crushes can be very intense at times, consuming a student's thoughts with fantasies of going out on a date, having sex or having a romantic relationship with the teacher.  A teenage student might sit dreamy eyed in a classroom, staring at the teacher and thinkng about how wonderful the teacher is.  Most of the time, these crushes pass as teenagers develop the social skills to meet other students their own age and go on to have attainable relationships with their peers.

Erotic Transference for Rock Bands and Musical Groups
We also know that teenagers and young adults develop erotic transference for band members.  When I was 11 or 12, my friends and I used to debate about who was the handsomest and sexiest Beatle.   Some of us wrote stories about the particular Beatle that we liked (in my case, it was Paul McCartney) and then brought our stories into class to share with each other during lunch time.

Paul McCartney
We would fantasize about meeting our favorite Beatle and what that might be like.  It never once occurred to us that we really didn't know them and that they might be very different than our fantasies about them.

Other teens (and some adults) had an erotic transference for Tom Jones.  Few people of my generation would forget how young girls and women would throw their panties at him while he was on stage singng.  In prior generations, teenagers developed erotic transference for Elvis or Frank Sinatra.

Erotic Transference for Political Leaders
In politics, many women idealized and developed an erotic transference for President Kennedy, who was perceived as a young, handsome leader who would lead the nation into a new era.  He was compared to the legend of King Arthur of Camelot.

President John F. Kennedy
Similarly, many people have an erotic transference for President Obama, especially in 2008.  He was compared to President Kennedy and very idealized.

President Obama
I remember going into a store in Manhattan at the time called East West Books and seeing a picture of President Obama up in the sky with an aura around him, as if he was a saint or a god.  I don't think anyone could live up to so much idealization, and we know that when those who idealized him were disappointed, many of them became disillusioned.  Politics aside, I believe that part of the problem was that, for many people, there was an illusion that he would be the nation's savior.  And who could blame anyone feeling that way given the problems in the country?  But whenever you put someone on a pedestal, whether it's a political leader or your romantic partner, there's no way to go but down.

Erotic Transference in Professional Small Groups
Erotic transference can occur in small group settings as well, even among psychotherapists.  As a psychotherapist, to keep up my skills and develop new skills, I attend professional trainings.  I find it very interesting to observe how therapists, who know about erotic transference, develop their own erotic transferential feelings for professional group leaders, in much the same way that young women develop crushes on rock stars.

For many people, even therapists, the erotic transference is like being  under a magic spell.   A group leader, who appeared to most people as being average looking before the workshop begins, is perceived as being very attractive, intelligent, sexy, and so on, once the workshop starts.  He or she is embued with all kinds of idealized qualities within the fantasies of the participants.  The participants often vie for the workshop leader's attention or want to sit next to him or her.

I remember one colleague telling me that she was in love with one of the workshop leaders, even though, in reality, neither she nor I knew him personally.  When I tactfully brought up the possibility that this could be an erotic transference, or at the very least an idealized transference, she rejected this  as being out of hand.  She was convinced that she loved him.  Inevitably, the spell was broken when he said something that disappointed her .

Erotic transference for group leaders is a common phenomenon.  Group leaders who are ethical don't take advantage of this because they know that this idealization is mostly fantasy, and it would be unethical for them to use it to manipulate or take advantage of the person (or people) with the erotic transference.

Erotic Transference in Group Therapy
Erotic transference also comes up in group therapy.  If a group therapist is properly trained, he or she, at the very least, won't engage in boundary violations.

Erotic Transference in Group Therapy
At best, the erotic transference can be used to explore the inner emotional world of a group member.  This needs to be handled with tact and respect  for all involved, especially the client with the erotic transference for the group therapist, and only if the client is ready and open to exploring it within the group or one-on-one with the therapist in a treatment environment that is safe for everyone involved.

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.

Also see my articles:
Psychotherapy and Erotic Transference
Boundary Violations and Sexual Exploitation in Psychotherapy


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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

When Someone You Love Rejects Your Help

One of the hardest things to endure is to experience someone you love, who is suffering, turn down your help.  You know that you all you want to do is help, but your loved one, for whatever reason, rejects your offer.  This can create a lot of conflicting feelings in you, including sadness, confusion, helplessness, frustration and anger.  It's very hard to watch your loved one in pain and not be able to do anything about it.  

Assuming that your loved one is an adult who is not seriously mentally or physically ill, the best thing you can do under ordinary circumstances is to back off and realize that your loved one isn't necessarily rejecting you personally.

For whatever reason, he doesn't want your help, and nagging and pleading with him isn't going to help.  Assuming that he is an adult, the problem isn't an emergency, and he's not in danger of harming himself or anyone else, you can assure your loved that if and when he wants your help, you're ready to help him.  Then, you really need to step back and take care of yourself in whatever positive ways you can to deal with this difficult situation.

When Someone You Love Rejects Your Help, You Might Have to Take a Step Back
The following scenario, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates how to deal with a situation when someone you love rejects your help:

Karen:
When Karen came to see me, she was very worried about her 28 year old son, Michael, who had just lost his job through no fault of his own.  His company laid off half the workforce due to a financial downturn, and Michael was among the employees let go.

Karen was aware that Michael had large student loan debts and he had little in the way of savings.  When he told her about the lay off, she offered to give him money so he could get by until he found another job.  She also urged him to move back home so he wouldn't have to pay rent.  But Michael rejected her help, telling her that he could take care of himself.

Over the next few months, Karen watched as Michael struggled to find another job.  With each new rejection, Michael seemed more and more disappointed.  When she renewed her offer to help him, Michael lost his temper with her and lashed out, accusing her of not having any faith in him.  Karen was hurt and confused by Michael's response.

Karen tried to explain that she only wanted to help him, but he told her to back off.  She had never seen Michael like this before, and she was worried.  When she began having problems with insomnia, her husband, who was respecting Michael's wishes, recommended that she seek help, and this is when she called me.

We worked on helping Karen to contain her difficult emotions, to focus on herself, and to engage in better self care with regard to her eating and sleep habits.  She also began spending more time engaging in activities that she enjoyed.  She had to learn to accept that Michael was an adult who was responsible for himself, and if he didn't want her help, she had to accept it.  She also had to learn not to personalize his rejection of her help, and recognize that loved ones often turn down help.  She also learned to stop nagging him with her offers, which was having a negative impact on their relationship.  Michael interpreted these offers to mean that she had no confidence in him, even though this isn't what she meant.

Several more months went by, with Michael working whatever part time jobs he could find, until he finally found a job that was similar in responsibilities and salary to his prior job.  When Michael told Karen that he found a great new job, Karen heard the happiness and pride in his voice.   At that point, she understood why it was so important for him to reject her help so he could feel that he could take care of himself on his own.

If Your Loved One is a Harm to Himself or to Others, You'll Need to Take Action
Fortunately, this particular scenario has a happy ending, but not all situations end this happily.  As I mentioned before, if you feel that a loved one is in serious danger of hurting himself or someone else (either suicidal or homicidal or there is an imminent threat of danger), you need to take action by contacting local mental health professionals or, under the most serious and immediate circumstances, calling 911.

Under Ordinary Circumstances, If Your Loved One Rejects Your Help, Be Reassuring But Not Interfering
Under the more usual circumstances that we normally experience with loved ones, if they don't want our help, we often have to step back and back off.

I know this can be very hard to do, but continuing to insist on helping will only make your loved one dig in his or her heels even more.  Assure your loved one of your love and that, if he changes his mind, you're ready to help.  Until then, be as tactful and gracious as you can, and recognize that we can't spare our loved ones the hurt and pain that are a normal part of life.

Hopefully, your loved one will resolve the problem and resume his or her usual life, and your relationship will remain strong.

Hopefully, Your Loved One Can Resolve His Problem and Your Relationship Will Remain Strong

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work 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.

Also, see my article:  Learning to Let Go and Stop Interfering in Your Adult Child's Relationship


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Risky Business: Having a Sexual Affair with Your Boss

Having a sexual affair with your boss is engaging in risky business with your career and your emotions. What might start out as seductive and exciting could end up a disaster for you and  your boss.  

Risky Business:  Having a Sexual Affair with Your Boss
Office Affairs
Before I went to college, I spent a few years working as a secretary in the corporate world.  Having graduated high school at 17, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so I became a secretary while I did some soul searching about my life.  At the time, secretarial jobs were plentiful and it was the way that many women entered the workforce.  Being young and naive, I had a lot to learn about the world of work and the complicated relationships that people had with each other, and I certainly knew nothing about sexual affairs between bosses and their subordinates.

On Day One, I was escorted to my desk by the vice president's executive secretary, a tall, beautiful Argentinian woman, Alicia (not her real name) who dressed impeccably and left a faint seductive trail of her perfume as she walked by.  She carried herself like a queen, and I soon learned that she wielded a lot of power in the office over everyone who reported to her boss.  Although she was very charming, her manner was also intimidating.  I sensed immediately that people were afraid of her.  They also hinted salaciously that Alicia was having a longstanding sexual affair with her boss, the vice president, who was a married man with children.

Having a Sexual Affair with Your Boss Can Jeopardize Your Emotional Health and Your Career
Soon after I arrived, I was warned by the other secretaries that I shouldn't do anything to cross Alicia because one word from her to her boss and people were fired.  By the second week, I observed Alicia berating my boss in front of other managers.  She eviscerated him in her imperial manner and then she walked away.  When she left, he stood by his desk speechless and looking ashamed and powerless.  I turned away and pretended not to see what had just happened to help him save face.

On the surface, the secretaries and the managers went out of their way to ingratiate themselves with Alicia.  But, behind her back, they engaged in revenge fantasies about her downfall.  Being so young and inexperienced about the work world, I tried to steer clear of the vicious gossip.  But I couldn't help observing how Alicia and her boss barely concealed their sexual affair.  They were openly flirtatious with each other in front of everyone, and they took long lunches together, coming back all smiles.

If this sounds like something out of the TV program, "Mad Men," it's because, at the time, this wasn't unusual behavior at the office.  This was before companies instituted sexual harassment policies and bosses were warned about the dire consequences to the company and themselves if a sexual affair went south and a subordinate filed a complaint against the boss.

One day, I came in and I was surprised to see Alicia sitting at her desk with puffy red eyes, looking nervous and ill at ease.  It was obvious that she had been crying.  When her boss came out to give her work, rather than lingering around her seductively as he usually did, he was stone faced.  He handed her the work, barely looking at her, and went back in his office closing the door.  Soon, the office rumor mill was gleefully buzzing:  The vice president broke it off with Alicia, telling her that he had no intention of leaving his wife and children.  This was the day people were waiting for and they couldn't be more elated than if they had won the lottery.

Sitting alone at my desk, I pretended to be engrossed in my work.  I didn't dare make eye contact with Alicia.  Although, like everyone else, by then, I had experienced her tongue lashings on more than one occasion, I couldn't help feeling sorry for her.  I could feel the waves of sadness coming from her direction.  She sat silently typing at her desk, wiping away tears, and looking shrunken and humiliated in her grief.  Somehow, she even looked older.  She was an intelligent woman with excellent administrative skills.  If this had been 20 years later, she could have run the place as a vice president herself, but there were fewer opportunities for women then.

A few weeks later, I was offered another job and I left.  Many years went by and I didn't know what had become of Alicia or her boss--until I ran into her on the street near Saks Fifth Avenue.  She called out to me and, at first, I didn't recognize her.  When she told me who she was, of course, I remembered her.  At that point, she was easily in her mid-60s.  She was statuesque and beautiful, but I sensed that something was missing.   Her face told the whole story--she looked lost and sad.

Over coffee, she told me that she had never married and lived with her older sister.  She was retired now and spent most of her time at home.  She alluded to being pushed out of her job by the vice president and how the staff was openly hostile to her before she left.  Since Alicia and I had never talked about her affair with her boss before, I was surprised at how candid she was with me now.  I didn't know quite what to say, so I just listened.  I sensed that she didn't have many friends that she could talk to and her older sister was very straight laced.

After the Affair Was Over, Her Boss Pushed Her Out and the Staff Was Openly Hostile to Her
Apparently, the breakup had been disastrous for her.  She really loved her boss and hoped that he would leave his wife.  She felt she wasted many precious years having an affair with him, taking work home, and helping him to rise in the company.  And in the end, when he got tired of her, she was, unceremoniously, shown the door and she never got over it.

Putting Your Emotional Health and Career at Risk
Not every office affair ends so dramatically or with such long lasting consequences.  This isn't the late 1960s with anything-goes sex at the office. Women and men have a lot more opportunities than they did before.  We also have Federal laws and corporate policies that help to protect people like Alicia who get fired after their bosses get tired of the affair.

But allowing yourself to become involved in an office affair can be disastrous for you emotionally and financially.  Even during the time when the sexual affair is going on, if you're the "other woman" or the "other man" in  your boss's life and you're hoping to transform the affair into a relationship, chances are that you'll be hurt and disappointed, especially if your boss is married.  Although there are exceptions, most people don't leave their spouses to be with the "other woman" or "other man."

As alluring as a sexual affair at the office might seem at first, it's best to steer clear of these situations.  The emotional pain and potential damage to a career isn't worth it.

A Sexual Affair With Your Boss Might Seem Exciting...At First 
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.

Also see my blog article:  Leading a Double Life as the "Other Woman" or "Other Man" in an Affair


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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Managing Your Emotions During Stressful Times

Managing our emotions during stressful times can be challenging.

Family Stressors Can Challenge Our Ability to Manage Our Emotions
Family-related stress can also challenge our ability to contain our emotions.  For instance, a friend, Lisa (not her real name) was recently telling me how she was dreading an upcoming visit from her moter-in-law.  According to Lisa, her mother-in-law is constantly giving unsolicited advice to Lisa on just about everything--cooking, childrearing, bargain hunting, you name it.

Lisa is afraid she won't be able to manage her anger about what she feels is subtle criticism from her mother-in-law.  It doesn't matter what topic they're discussing, according to Lisa, her mother-in-law is a self-proclaimed expert.  Lisa says she has tried in subtle and tactful ways to tell her mother-in-law that they each seem to have their own ways of doing things.  But Lisa says her mother-in-law still insists that she knows the "right way" and she doesn't let up.  Lisa says that whenever this happens, her husband suddenly has "selective hearing" and tunes his mother out, leaving Lisa to deal with her on her own.

Learning to Contain and Manage Our Emotions is a Skill
Learning to contain and manage our emotions is a skill.  We learn this skill over time from the time we're children.  Infants want what they want and they want it now.  They haven't developed the skills to manage their emotions.  Under favorable circumstances, parents are attuned to their child and respond in optimal ways so that the child gets what s/he needs and learns, over time, that they're not always going to get what they want, like a new toy or being allowed to stay up late on a school night.  Children often test the limits with their parents and parents need to learn to set limits in a reasonable way.  Over time, under optimal circumstances, children learn how to tolerate reasonable amounts of frustration, so that when they're adults, they're not reacting emotionally whenever they get upset.

In successful therapy, psychotherapy clients learn to develop a greater capacity for emotional containment so that they can manage their emotions with a degree of self control.  Containment is different from stifling our feelings.  When you stifle your feelings, you're suppressing your emotions.  Rather than acknowledging and containing your emotions, you're pushing them down.  If this is your usual pattern, you risk developing a psychophysiological disorder (e.g., migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, body aches, etc) because the emotions remain stored in the body and can create physical problems.

When you contain your emotions, you're not disavowing them.  On the contrary, your acknowledging and observing your emotions in a mindful way, but you're able to manage them.  Hopefully, if you frequently find yourself in situations where you have to contain your emotions (like, dealing with a difficult boss), you have other outlets, whether this is going to the gym, doing yoga, journaling, or talking to supportive friends.

But none of us are perfect, and even the most tolerant, emotionally mature and flexible person can lose it during stressful times.  If this isn't a usual pattern, all we can do during those rare occasions is forgive ourselves and make amends with whoever was affected by our inability to manage our emotions.  Needless to say, I'm not talking about extreme behaviors like physical violence.

There was a time when people were encouraged to express their anger and other unpleasant feelings as a form of catharsis.  Now we know that allowing ourselves to yell, scream and carry on, as a way to let go of our negative emotions, is actually unhealthy.  It might feel good at the moment (for you, but not for those around you), but it does nothing in terms of teaching you how to manage your emotions and develop emotional maturity.  On the contrary, it's more like allowing yourself to have a temper tantrum similar to a two year old.

Stressful times, whether it's the stress of the holidays or the stress of difficult in-laws, tests our ability to   be emotionally mature in terms of how we handle ourselves.  Rather than letting lose with a temper tantrum, it's much more healthy for you and those around you to take a deep breath, go for a walk, tell yourself "this too shall pass" or whatever works to help you manage and contain difficult emotions.

In the long run, you build greater resilience if you learn to develop the important skill of emotional containment.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Exeriencng 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

A Mother Lives in Fear that Her Son Will Become Like Adam Lanza

In the wake of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, CT, where innocent children and adults were shot to death in an elementary school, most of the talk, including my recent blog post, has been on gun control.  While  this is a very important discussion, we also need to focus on the inadequacies of the mental health system where people with mental illness are not being adequately served.  

We Need to Do More to Help People with Mental Illness 
A Mother's Worst Fear:  "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" 
I recently read an excellent  article by writer, Liza Long in the Huff Post Parents column called, "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother - A Mom's Perspective on the Mental Illness Conversation in America"  http://buff.ly/TnPDlM (originally published in the Blue Review:  The Blue Review).

Ms. Long, who describes herself as a single mom who lives in Boise, Idaho, discusses her struggles with her 13 year old son, Michael (not his real name) and a mental health system that is woefully inadequate for children and adults suffering with mental illness.  According to Ms. Long, Michael, who is an intelligent and often sweet boy, also exhibits odd and threatening behavior at times.  She says that his threatening behavior, which includes threats to harm her and himself, has resulted in a slew of mental health diagnoses, including Autism Spectrum, ADHD, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, and many different psychotropic medications.  It appears that he has been difficult to diagnose.  When he gets out of control, according to Ms. Long, he has been psychiatrically hospitalized and stabilized for a while--until his next episode.

When he becomes violent, Ms. Long says, she's still strong enough to hold him close so he can't harm her or her other children, but she lives in fear for the day when she is no longer stronger than him.  What will happen when he can over power her?   She also lives in fear that Michael will turn out to be like Adam Lanza when he gets older, and her cries for help are not being addressed by a mental health system that is often inadequate to meet the needs of children and adults with mental illness and their families.

As of this writing, there's still a lot we don't know about Adam Lanza, who allegedly shot the children and staff in CT.  It's easy to demonize him as "crazy" or dismiss him as "some nut" that became violent.  This is a common reaction to tragic events like the Newtown tragedy.  All of us want to try to make sense of this senseless act, and it's easier to dismiss Adam Lanza as being "a nut" rather than seeing him as a complex individual.

It's also hard to come to grips with the fact that there are other people who are emotionally unstable who aren't getting the help that they need, creating the possibility for future incidents like the one in Newtown, CT.  We don't want to think about it because it's too scary.

Before I go on, it's important to emphasize that the vast majority of people who have a mental illness aren't violent or dangerous.  This is a common misperception.
   
At this point, most of us are focused on the victims of the Newtown tragedy, including their families, and rightfully so.  It's hard to imagine how these families are coping with their profound loss.  They deserve our empathy and emotional support.

Focusing on Children and Adults Falling Through the Cracks of Mental Health System
At some point soon, we also need to focus on children and adults with emotional problems who are falling through the cracks of our mental health system.  This isn't anything new.  It's been a problem for a very long time.  In her blog post, Ms. Long says she has been asking for help for her son for a long time, but the mental health system that's available to her son, who vacillates from being a kind, loving and intelligent boy to a violent, scary child, isn't addressing his and her needs.  She fears that due to the inadequacy of the mental health system, the only option for her son, if he continues on this path, will be prison.  This isn't what any loving parent wants for his or her child.

As heart breaking as it is to hear the stories of the families who lost children in Newtown, it's just as heart breaking to hear Ms. Long's story.  She writes that she took a job with a college in order to get health benefits because individual health plans, which are prohibitively expensive, won't cover the kind of care that Michael needs.  This is a problem for many individuals and families, and Obama Care, although a step in the right direction, won't help everyone.  There will still be many people who will fall between the cracks of the new system.  This is a systemic problem that isn't being addressed with the potential for tragic consequences.

We Need to Do a Better Job of Providing Mental Health Treatment to Individuals and Families
As a society, we need to do a better job of providing mental health care for individuals and families.  Yes, it will be expensive and challenging to accomplish. I don't have the answers to this problem, but I'm concerned that we've become a society too focused on dollars and cents rather than prioritizing the health care needs of our citizens.  There are children, adults and their families who have special needs and if we can't provide for those needs, what does this say about us as individuals and as a country?

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work 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.

Also see my blog article:  Trying to Understand a Senseless Tragedy

Photo credit: Mitya Kuznetsov via photopin cc