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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Rituals of Spring: A Time For Balance and Renewal

I've always thought of spring as a time for balance and renewal.  Even though the weather is taking a while to warm up in New York, I've noticed the crocuses in the front garden as a sure sign that spring has arrived.  And living close to a large park, I hear the sound of birds calling to each other early in the morning.  I even heard the sound of geese flying over head yesterday.  These are all welcome signs of spring.


Rituals of Spring: A Time For Balance and Renewal

Rituals of Spring:  A Time for Balance and Renewal
I've written in earlier blog posts that I was raised mostly around my father's side of the family, a traditional Italian family with a grandfather who came from Naples and a grandmother whose family came from Calabria.

As a teenager, I rebelled against family traditions that felt stifling to me.  It was only as an adult that I  was able to have enough distance and perspective to appreciate some of the traditions and understand their importance in terms of maintaining  a sense of unity in the family.

Now that I'm an adult, I have options that I didn't have when I was younger.  I can pick and choose the traditions that I like and discard the ones that I don't.  And, if I like, I can create new traditions, new rituals, that are meaningful to me.

Spring is a good time to look at our lives and consider what's meaningful--what to let go of, what to keep, and what we might want that is new.  


Spring is a Good Time to Consider What's Meaningful to Us

This is reflected in our religious holidays during this time of the year.  It's also reflected in the tradition of spring cleaning where we decide what we want to keep, what to throw out, and what new things we want in our lives.

I was very much reminded of the rituals of spring being a time of balance and renewal a couple of days ago when I saw the Good Friday procession in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.  Originally, I came upon this procession a few years ago by accident while having dinner with a friend in Carroll Gardens.  I have since learned that this ritual has been a tradition in this neighborhood for decades.

The procession is quite unique and beautiful, regardless of your beliefs.  Most people have only ever witnessed this type of ritual in Italian movies that try to recapture what it was like in small Italian villages.  This Good Friday procession in Carroll Gardens is the real thing.

Rituals of Spring

The procession, which is a reenactment of what are believed in the Catholic religion to be the final hours of Christ's life, was brought over in the late 1880s by Italians who were originally from a village in Bari, Italy. The procession starts at Sacred Hearts and St. Stephens Church, the oldest Italian church in Brooklyn, and goes throughout the neighborhood.

The statues that represent Jesus and Mary are carried throughout the streets of Carroll Gardens in much the same way as they were in Bari.  There is a traditional Italian funeral band and women singing Italian hymns throughout the procession.

Most people who participate in the procession no longer live in Carroll Gardens. But they return each year, and with great effort, they maintain this tradition, which is sacred to them.  Throughout the crowd, you can see people, who have known each other's families for generations, greeting each other  with warmth and affection.

Finding Balance and Meaning in Our Lives
I believe that finding balance and meaning in our lives is a lifelong process.  We change over time and what's important and meaningful to us changes over time too.  So, it's a constant renegotiation.   It's a natural part of being human.

We can create our own transformative rituals, which can be whatever is meaningful to us.  We don't have to "throw out the baby with the bath water."  We can revisit old traditions and take what we like.   I'm a firm believer in the wise advice of the 12 Step traditions of "take what you like and leave the rest."

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 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com









Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why Being Honest With Your Therapist is the Best Policy in Therapy

One reason why therapy doesn't work out sometimes is that clients don't feel comfortable being completely honest with their therapists about important issues in their lives that are causing problems for them.

When Shame Keeps Clients From Being Completely Honest With Their Therapists
Often, it's not a matter of psychotherapy clients deliberately attempting to deceive their therapists.  Usually, it's more a matter of clients feeling ashamed of their problems and wanting to appear in a more favorable light.

Shame Can Prevent a Client From Being Honest With His Therapist

Shame can be overwhelming.  And, when clients intentionally omit important information about what's going on with them because they feel too embarrassed to reveal their problems to their therapist, they usually end up sabotaging their own treatment because the therapist is missing important information, which doesn't allow her to help the client.

Building a Rapport With Your Therapist
When clients begin therapy, it usually takes a while for the client and therapist to develop a rapport in treatment.  This is normal part of treatment.  So, it's understandable that clients might not reveal things they're ashamed of when they start therapy before they know if they can trust their therapist.  

Withholding Information From Your Therapist Can Result in an "As If" Therapy
When months and years go by and clients don't divulge important information about themselves, the therapy often becomes an "as if" therapy.  The therapist is operating on certain assumptions about the client and offering help related to what she knows, but the secrets that the client is keeping from the therapist have gone underground.   

This might become obvious to the therapist after a while.  She might have an intuitive sense that something is amiss in treatment.  Most experienced and skilled therapists would understand that a client feels too ashamed to discuss certain aspects of himself that he might be too embarrassed to reveal.  

Getting Honest With Your Therapist Can Lead to an Emotional Breakthrough
Once the therapist becomes aware that the client was withholding information, if the therapist approaches this issue with tact and compassion, it can be a real breakthrough for the client and the therapeutic work.  The client usually feels relieved that he no longer has the burden of keeping secrets from his therapist.  

More importantly, he realizes that his therapist still cares about him and wants to work with him.  This is often an emotionally reparative experience, especially if the client came from a family where love was conditional, based on his being a certain way in the family.

Attention-Seeking Behavior: Fictitious Disorder
Another reason why clients aren't honest with therapists is that they might be engaging in attention-seeking behavior.  Attention-seeking behavior could involve either lying to the therapist or exaggerating problems.

For instance, a client might make up a very traumatic family history that is completely false with the intent of getting attention and sympathy.  This type of behavior is called Fictitious Disorder (see my blog article:  Attention-Seeking Behavior in Therapy: Understanding Fictitious Disorder).

A Mismatch Between Therapist and Client Can Result in a Client Withholding Information
Another factor might be that the client and therapist are not a good therapeutic match.

Unfortunately, many clients don't realize how important it is to be with a therapist with whom they have a good rapport.  Of course, as previously mentioned, this is developed over time.  But if months pass and a psychotherapy client still feels he doesn't "click" with his therapist, rather than remaining silent about it or aborting treatment, it would be better for him to speak to the therapist about it.

Ultimately, if this issue cannot be worked out, it would be better for the client to find another therapist. Most experienced therapists understand that every therapist is not for every client, and it's important for the client to feel comfortable.

Some Discomfort With Revealing Uncomfortable Aspects of Yourself is Understandable
Being open in therapy isn't always easy.  It takes courage to go to therapy and open up about things that you don't feel comfortable about.  But, in the end, if you're not honest with your therapist, you're only hurting yourself.

Often, concerns about what the therapist might think if you reveal what you're ashamed of is actually a projection about how you feel about it yourself.

Adjunctive Treatment Might Be Necessary
Recognize that most experienced therapists have heard just about everything you could think of and more.  

If your problem is outside of the scope of what your therapist is knowledgeable about, she will tell you and might refer you for adjunctive treatment.

So, for instance, if you reveal that you're having a substance abuse problem and your therapist has no experience with substance abuse, she might refer you to a 12 Step program or a structured outpatient chemical dependency program.

Recognize That You're Not Alone
Many, if not most, people in therapy have gone through times when they feel uncomfortable discussing certain aspects of their lives with their therapists.

But I believe that if you were to ask people who overcame their discomfort and were honest with their therapists, they would tell you that getting over the initial discomfort was worth it in terms of the treatment and how they felt about themselves.

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 or email me:  josephineolivia@aol.com















Friday, March 29, 2013

Overcoming the Trauma of Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is when a parent deliberately says or does things to alienate a child from the other parent.  This often happens when the parents are having problems with each other or they're going through a divorce.  It's a form of triangulation and has a negative emotional impact on a child.

Overcoming the Trauma of Parental Alienation


Why Do Parents Engage in Parental Alienation With Children?
Often, parental alienation can take the form of one parent saying negative things about the other parent. So, for instance, a mother might tell a child, "Your father doesn't love you" or a father could tell a child divulge personal things that have gone on between the parents, like the mother having an extramarital affair, that the child is not developmentally ready to hear.

Whether parents are together or they are in the process of getting a divorce, the emotional and physical well-being of their children should be their primary concern.  But many parents, who are consumed with anger and resentment towards each other, often forget this and, intentionally or not, use the child as a pawn to get back at each other.

The Traumatic Impact of Parental Alienation on Children
Young children are particular vulnerable to the trauma involved with parental alienation and suffer the most.  They don't have the emotional defenses that older children often have to ward off the negative impact of parental alienation.

Hearing negative things about one or both parents can be frightened and confusing for them, especially if one of the parents tells them that the other doesn't care about the child.

The Trauma Doesn't End When the Children Become Adults
Children, who grow up in a home where there is parental alienation, usually continue to be affected by this dynamic when they grow up.  It often affects their adult romantic relationships, making if difficult to develop trust or to even enter into a romantic relationship.

As adults, they might continue to feel ambivalent about the parent that was maligned to them, especially if that parent doesn't make an effort to try to repair the relationship.

The following fictionalized vignette, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, illustrates how damaging parental alienation can be as well as how this trauma can be worked through in therapy:

John
When John was a young child, his mother was in and out of drug rehabilitation programs because of her addiction to prescription pills.  John's father and his paternal grandparents took care of John during the times when his mother was away.

Overcoming Parental Alienation

John was never told where his mother was or why she was away.  His mother's drug addiction was the family secret, and he only found out as an adult why she was often gone for long periods of time.  John's father, who felt angry and bitter towards the mother, would often tell John that his mother didn't care about him--that she only cared about herself.

Whenever John's father told him things like this, John would go into his room and cry silently to himself.  His father made sure that John's basic physical needs were taken care of, but he wasn't a warm or nurturing person and neither were his paternal grandparents.  So, he was often left by himself in his room.

When his mother was home, she was the more loving and nurturing one, so this was very confusing for John.  He felt like his mother loved him, but his father always told him that she didn't, so he wasn't sure what to believe.

During those times, when his mother was home, John would cling to her, often falling asleep on her lap.  He feared that if he let her go, she would go away again.

Whenever his parents fought, John would put the pillow over his ears so he wouldn't hear them.  When the shouting died down, John's father would often come into John's room to complain to him about the mother--she was selfish, manipulative, dishonest, a bad wife and a bad mother.  Hearing these things hurt John, but he didn't feel he could say anything because even though his father was speaking to him, John felt that his father was hardly aware that he was there.

Throughout school, John tended to have only one or two friends, usually more outgoing boys that John sought out.  In college, he was lonely most of the time.  Occasionally, he went out with his roommates, but he mostly kept to himself.

By the time John graduated and came to NYC for a career opportunity, he was very lonely, and he didn't know anyone in NY.

His parents lived in the same household, but they barely spoke.  The father lived in the basement and the mother continued to live on the first floor, but they were living separate lives.  When John went home to visit them, his father still complained about the mother being a bad wife and mother.  John was now old enough to see that his mother was high, even though she denied it.  So, he hated going home and tried to avoid it as much as possible.

John started therapy because, even though he was lonely, he had a lot of problems meeting women.  He was painfully shy and afraid of getting hurt, but he didn't want to feel this way for his entire life.

After hearing John's family history, I discussed parental alienation and it resonated with him.  Just knowing that there was a term for what he experienced and that other people had experienced it too helped him to feel a little better.

After we developed a therapeutic rapport, we began using clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing to help John to work through the trauma he experienced as a child and the effect it was having on him as an adult.

John had never thought of himself as being a traumatized child.  He was surprised, but it made sense to him.  Before coming to therapy, he just thought that his experience was how it was. For him, it was "normal."  He didn't realize that not all children experience parental alienation.  He had never thought about it before.

Over time, John gradually began the healing process so he could visit his parents at home without getting pulled into their hostile dynamic. He also began to date.

If you're interested in finding out about clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, I've included websites under the Resource section below.  Both websites have directories for therapists in the both in the US and internationally.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you grew up in a environment where you experienced parental alienation, you might not realize the traumatic effect it had on you and that you might still be experiencing the impact as an adult.  If the vignette above feels familiar, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional who has an expertise in working with parental alienation.

If you can work through the trauma of parental alienation, you could live a more fulfilling life.

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 or send me an email: josephineolivia@aol.com

Resources:
Clinical Hypnosis:  American Society for Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH)

Somatic Experiencing: Somatic Experiencing Training Institute



















Thursday, March 28, 2013

Overcoming Procrastination and the Need for Absolute Certainty in an Uncertain World

Living in an uncertain world, most of us would love to have access to a crystal ball where we could determine with absolute certainty what was going to happen in our lives, especially when we're faced with major decisions.  I'm sure we'd like some happy surprises from time to time just to keep things interesting.  Unfortunately, much of the time we're attempting to make decisions based on whatever information we have at the time so, as adults, we need to be able to tolerate a certain amount of uncertainty.

Uncertainty and Procrastination
One of the problems with feeling the need for absolute certainty before taking action is that it leads to procrastination for many people.  Constantly weighing the pros and cons, seeking more and more information, and ruminating about the possible outcomes can keep you stuck in your tracks.  So, it's important to realize that if you've stuck obsessively weighing every possible outcome to a decision, you could procrastinate indefinitely and not take much-needed action.

Overcoming Procrastination and the Need for Absolute Certainty


The following fictionalized vignette, which is based on many cases with no identifying information revealed, illustrates how the need for absolute certainty can become problematic and what can be done to overcome this problem:

Nina
Nina was raised by a single mother, who struggled financially to take care of Nina and her three other children.  Every financial decision that Nina's mother made was carefully weighed in the context of their limited household budget and the mother's insecure job as a non-unionized factory employee.

Nina's mother worried a lot about what she would do and how the family would survive if she lost her job.  Even as a young child, Nina was very aware that she and her family lived in the shadow of constant uncertainty.

Nina knew from stories her mother told her that the boss at the factory would fire employees at the drop of a hat.  So, whenever her mother came home looking anxious, which was often, Nina held her breath and her first anxious thought was that her mother had lost her job.  When she realized that her mother was reacting to something else that happened at work and she had not lost her job, Nina would let out a sigh of relief and breathe normally again.

Nina did well in school and she managed to get a scholarship to go to college, which was fortunate because her mother didn't have the money to pay for college and Nina feared the possibility of being in debt with student loans and not being able to pay them back.

After college, Nina had two excellent job offers, but she had a hard time making a choice.  She weighed the pros and cons of both job offers. She researched each company thoroughly.
She sought advice from her college advisors and her friends.  But even with all this information, Nina felt paralyzed to make a decision.

After a few weeks, one of the companies rescinded the offer and gave the job to someone else.  So, fearing she might lose the other offer, Nina quickly accepted the other job.

By the time Nina came to therapy several years later, she had many other similar experiences where she struggled and procrastinated to the point where she felt too paralyzed to move forward.  Even though she earned a very good salary, she was living as if she was still part of a household that was always strapped for cash.  Basically, she was reliving her mother's experience without realizing it.

Our work together involved using clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing to help Nina overcome her childhood trauma of an impoverished family life.

We worked on helping Nina to feel less emotionally enmeshed with her mother's experience and to feel like a separate person.

We also worked to help her "update" her emotional experience to reflect that she was no longer an anxious child worrying about whether the family would survive.  Of course, Nina already knew this on a rational level, but she didn't feel it on an emotional level.

Then, to start, we worked on getting Nina to get comfortable making relatively low-risk decisions, so she could begin to overcome her habitual pattern of procrastination.  Over time, we progressed to more complex decisions.  Rather than just talking about her problem, each week Nina worked on a particular task that we agreed upon in advance and then she came back the following week to talk about her experience.

The work wasn't easy or quick for Nina, but she was motivated to overcome her need for absolute certainty because she was tired of living her life filled with anxiety about personal decisions to the point where she felt paralyzed.  And, gradually, she made progress.  She developed a greater emotional capacity to tolerate uncertainty, a new sense of self confidence, and an ability to take action.

Clinical Hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing Can Help You to Overcome Trauma and the Need for Absolute Certainty That Causes Procrastination
My experience as a psychotherapist, who has worked with many adult clients who are affected by childhood trauma, a fear of change, and habitual procrastination, is that just talking about it in therapy isn't enough.  People often develop insight and an intellectual understanding of their problems when they just talk about it but, often, this doesn't result in change.

Both clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, as I use them, allow psychotherapy clients to have a mind-body connection experience so the therapeutic work isn't just on an intellectual level.  Clients tend to experience it on an emotional and physical as well as intellectual level.  It's a holistic experience that provides an opportunity for an emotional shift to occur so that clients can take action to make changes.

I've included links below under Resources so you can find out more about clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing.

Taking Action
Taking action is an important component in my work with clients.  While talking about the problem is important, it's vital that the client take action to make changes, otherwise, more than likely, the problem isn't going to change, especially when the problem is about procrastination, fear and dealing with uncertainty.

Overcoming Procrastination:  Getting Help in Therapy


Getting Help in Therapy
If you're having problems overcoming habitual procrastination, you owe it to yourself to get help from a skilled, licensed mental heath professional who works with clients on this issue.

Imagine what your life might be like in five or 10 or 20 years if you continue to have this problem.   Then, try to imagine what your life could be like if you were free from this problem and you could be more confident and spontaneous in the world.

Which life would you prefer?

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 or send me an email:  josephineolivia@aol.com

Resources:
Clinical Hypnosis: American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH)

Somatic Experiencing:  Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

APA: Research Reveals Psychotherapy Is Effective But Underutilized

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), research reveals that psychotherapy is an effective treatment for that helps to reduce not only mental health problems but also improves long term health.  

Yet, despite this research, according to the APA, mental health treatment has decreased over the last 10 years or so as more people attempt to rely on psychotropic medication for their emotional problems (see link below for the APA article).

The article cites the findings of 50 peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate psychotherapy's effectiveness across age and racial groups.

According to the APA article, research has shown that a combination of psychotherapy and medication is effective in treating anxiety and medication.

In my experience as a psychotherapist, I've found that many clients who might think, initially, that they might need to be on medication are often helped with psychotherapy alone combined with exercise or yoga.  Of course, each client is different and what works for one client might not work for another.  But this is also true for psychotropic medication.

The APA article also indicates that research has shown that the positive effects of psychotherapy often last longer than psychotropic medication.

Also, psychotherapy is often effective for teaching clients life skills that the clients benefit from long after they have completed psychotherapy.

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 or email me at:  josephineolivia@aol.com

Research Shows Psychotherapy is Effective But Underutilized



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Are Your "Cold Feet" Just Common Pre-Wedding Jitters or a Cause For Concern?

It's not unusual for people who are about to get married to feel a little anxious about taking such a life-changing step in their lives.  We often refer to this as "having cold feet" or "pre-wedding jitters," and most people recognize this as a common experience.  But how do you know if what you're experiencing is just "pre-wedding jitters" or if what you're sensing are "red flags" about the marriage?


Are Your "Cold Feet" Just Common Pre-Wedding Jitters of a Cause For Concern

Many couples find it helpful to go to pre-marital counseling to talk about their hopes and expectations about their upcoming marriage.

Pre-marital counseling provides an opportunity to discuss important issues like, for example, your views about: 
  • what it means to be married
  • how you feel about sex
  • whether you want to have children or not
  • if your religious or spiritual beliefs are in synch with each other
  • how you want to conduct your financial affairs

Pre-marital counseling is also usually the place where people raise any concerns they might have about the other person or about how well suited they are as a couple to get married.  

Are You Experiencing Common Pre-Wedding Jitters or Sensing Red Flags?
Attending pre-marital counseling can help you to determine if what you're experiencing is just common pre-wedding jitters (so-called "cold feet") or if your anxiety is a signal that something might be wrong in your relationship that could cause problems in a marriage.

Don't ignore or override your concerns.  It's better to express your concerns before you get married than to go through with the wedding and have regrets later.

Pre-Wedding Jitters: If You're Concerned Whether You're Making the Right Decision, Talk It Over

If you're just experiencing the kind of "cold feet" that people often feel before getting married, you can set your mind at ease before the wedding.

But if there are real concerns, you also have an opportunity to try to work these issues out, if they can be worked out, before you get married.

If you're trying to determine if your anxiety is normal pre-wedding jitters or if you're sensing "red flags" about getting married, it's best to seek a counselor who is a licensed mental health professional who can be objective and who has experience working with couples.

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  consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com


photo credit: sergcot via photopin cc

photo credit: mk is Watoo via photopin cc












Monday, March 25, 2013

Are Toxic Secrets Ruining Your Relationship?

The ability to maintain privacy and healthy boundaries is a part of normal development.  As part of normal development, you don't divulge very personal details about yourself indiscriminately to people you're not close to in your life.  But when you keep secrets, especially toxic secrets, from your spouse, you can ruin your relationship.


Toxic Secrets Can Ruin Your Relationship


What Is a Toxic Secret?
The following list are examples of toxic secrets:
  • You're having an extramarital affair
  • You're drinking excessively or using drugs when the rest of the household is asleep
  • You're overextended on credit cards and you haven't told your spouse
  • You have a bank account that you've never told your spouse about
  • You're being audited by the IRS and you haven't told your spouse
  • You have a child from another relationship that you've never told you're spouse about
  • You've lost your job, but you haven't revealed it to your spouse yet
I'm sure you can think of many more examples of toxic secrets, but this gives you an idea of what I'm referring to in this blog article.

How Can a Toxic Secret Ruin Your Relationship?
People who maintain toxic secrets from their spouse are often in denial about the effect on their relationship of maintaining these secrets.  They often think they can keep secrets indefinitely and it won't have any affect, especially if their spouse never finds out.

But even if your spouse never finds out about your secret, it can still have a detrimental effect on your relationship.

For one thing, it creates a lot of tension and makes the secret keeper guarded and defensive with the spouse.

If you're leery about your spouse finding out about a secret, you're going to be very cautious to do everything you can to maintain that secret.  This means you're must be careful about everything you say and do so that you don't reveal the secret, which can create a lot of anxiety and guilt for you.

You might also misunderstand simple things that your spouse says and even an innocent question like, "Where are you?" might cause you a great deal of distress if you think your spouse is questioning your whereabouts because he or she is trying to find out your secret.  This could make you irritable and jumpy which, in itself, can cause problems in your relationship.
Even If Your Spouse Never Finds Out Your Secret, It Can Still Be Harmful to Your Relationship

Keeping toxic secrets can also cause health problems.  The guilt and stress involved with keeping a toxic secret can take a physical toll of the secret keeper.  Over time, this can cause stress-related illnesses.

On the other hand, if your spouse finds out about your toxic secret and s/he doesn't find out about it from you, at the very least, it will probably cause a great deal of emotional pain, anger and mistrust.

Many couples don't survive the kind of blow to their relationship involved with a spouse discovering a toxic secret.  Often, the spouse who feels betrayed doesn't regain the trust needed to remain in the relationship.

Getting Help
Of course, no one can tell you what to do with regard to keeping secrets from your spouse.  But if you think that keeping secrets from your spouse is eroding the emotional intimacy in your relationship or if your spouse has discovered your secret and this has become a major obstacle to the stability of your relationship, you owe it to yourself to get help.

Don't wait until it's too late.  The negative impact of toxic secrets has a way of getting worse over time.

A skilled mental health professional who has experience working with this type of issue can help you and your spouse to work through this problem if both of you want to salvage your relationship.

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 or send me an email:  josephineolivia@aol.com



photo credit: .Andi. via photopin cc

photo credit: benthecube via photopin cc





Sunday, March 24, 2013

Overcoming the Fear of Falling In Love and Getting Hurt Again

I see many clients who have had their hearts broken in prior relationships and who fear falling in love and getting hurt again.


Overcoming the Fear of Falling In Love and Getting Hurt Again

An article that I read in the New York Times Modern Love section called:  "Fear of Surrendering Again: Ready In Case the Other Shoe Drops" by Julia Anne Miller is a good example of how people often fear getting hurt again in a new relationship (see link below).

Even when people really yearn to love and be loved again, an overwhelming fear of being retraumatized in a new relationship can keep them from getting involved with someone new.

The following fictionalized vignette, which is a composite of many cases with no identifying information revealed, is an example of how someone can yearn to be in a relationship again but needs help to overcome the fear of getting hurt again:

Lee
When Lee first came to see me, she had been dating Bob, a man she met at a friend, Beth's wedding, for several months.  It had been several years since she had been in a serious relationship. She was in her early 40s, and after getting hurt in her marriage and a subsequent long term relationship, she was sure she was through with dating and relationships.

And then she met Bob.

Lee smiled to herself as she thought about Beth, even on her wedding day, orchestrating this meeting by placing Lee next to Bob at the singles' table.  Beth was forever trying to set up introductions for Lee to eligible men and Lee was forever rejecting Beth's efforts.  Now, at last, knowing that Lee was coming on her own to the wedding, Beth had a chance to use her match making skills.

Normally, Lee would be annoyed by Beth's efforts to match her up with a man, but not this time.

Lee wasn't sure what there was about Bob that made her want to reconsider remaining single.  Sure, he was good looking, intelligent, kind, funny and successful.  But there was something else.

When she looked in his eyes, she felt that she just might be able to trust him.  But what if she was wrong?

After her last breakup, which was particularly painful, she preferred to bury herself in her work during the week and see friends or stay home alone on the weekends.  She had resigned herself to remaining single for the rest of her life.  She considered getting a cat, but that was the extent of willingness to make another commitment to a living being.

After 10 years of marriage, her husband (now ex), who everyone agreed seemed like the most caring and trustworthy man alive, ended up leaving her for a woman he met at work.  Her last boyfriend, who also seemed sweet and kind, decided, after six years, he wanted to be free to date other women.  Lee felt she would never get over the pain of that breakup.

Having experienced such excruciating emotional pain in our prior relationships, how could she know if she could trust Bob?

Then, there was her father, who was in and out of the household, constantly cheating on Lee's mother and then coming back to ask for forgiveness whenever things didn't work out with his last girlfriend.  Although Lee understood that her mother was financially dependent upon the father, she still felt anger and resentment towards her mother for taking him back again and again.  She spent most of her childhood and adolescence hating her father, and she only reconciled with him after he was diagnosed with advanced cancer, just before he died--the ultimate abandonment.

We spent much of our early work together helping Lee to rebuild her sense of resilience.  She understood that there were no guarantees in relationships.  Her biggest fear was that if her relationship with Bob didn't work out, she would spiral down into a deep depression and she wouldn't be able to function.

Lee had witnessed her mother become incapacitated by depression after Lee's father left the household for the third time.  Lee bore the brunt of taking care of her three younger siblings.  She vowed to herself that she would never allow a man to make her feel so depressed.  Even in her darkest moments after her marriage, as devastated as she felt, she was still able to go to work, take care of her apartment and function in life.

But after her last relationship, she wasn't sure she could bounce back again from another disappointment if Bob hurt her.

On the one hand, when she became especially fearful, she was tempted at times to call it off with Bob.  On the other hand, most of the time, she knew she wanted to be with him and see where their relationship would go.

We also worked on helping Lee heal from her prior childhood trauma as well as the losses she experienced in her marriage and last relationship.  This was hard work for Lee, but it enabled her to experience her relationship with Bob as separate from those other disappointments, so she could experience it as new and not as being part of a string of disappointments.

Lee also learned to trust her judgment again.  Over time, she was able to open up more with Bob and allow their relationship to grow without feeling the oppressive fear she felt before.

Getting Help
There are so many people who close themselves off to the possibility of falling in love again because they fear they'll get hurt.  Even though they might be lonely, their fear overwhelms any possibility of finding happiness with someone new.

If you're someone who would like to have someone special in your life, but you're overwhelmed by fear based on your experiences from the past, you owe it to yourself to get help.

Getting Help to Overcome Fear of Falling In Love

A skilled mental health professional can help you heal from your losses and develop a greater sense of resilience and self confidence.

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 or send me an email: josephineolivia@aol.com

Modern Love: Fear of Surrendering Again: Ready In Case the Other Shoe Drops


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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Reconceptualizing the So-Called "Help Rejecting" Client

One of the most unhelpful labels that a therapist can pin on a client is the so-called "help rejecting client" or, worse still, "the help rejecting complainer."  

No matter how a therapist tries to qualify these labels by saying that he or she understands that the client isn't intentionally rejecting the therapist's recommendations or that the client is responding this way out of fear, there's no way around it, these labels are pejorative and damaging to the therapeutic work.  And I can't help feeling that using these labels is a way of blaming the client, making him "wrong" and making the therapist "right."

Generally speaking, clients who are referred to as "help rejecting" are often seen as finding reasons why interventions the therapist attempts in treatment won't work or responding to the therapist's treatment recommendations with, "Yes, but..."

No doubt, when this happens, it's frustrating for the therapist and the client.

Reconceptualizing the So-Called "Help Rejecting Client"
I think it's time that mental health professionals reconceptualize these outmoded labels and begin to "think outside the box."

Better yet, I think we should "retire" the terms "help rejecting client" and "help rejecting complainer" in much the same way we retire certain baseball uniform numbers.  Let's agree to stop using these labels.

I'm not saying that therapists are actually calling clients "help rejecting" to their faces.  It's more of a term used in psychotherapy literature, although I've also seen it written about in certain therapy blogs for the lay public.

Therapists Need to Be Creative and Think "Outside the Box"

Many people might disagree with me, but I think that even if a therapist never utters the words "He's a help rejecting client,"just thinking about the client in this way has the potential to sabotage the therapy.  After all, if the client is "help rejecting" and the therapist's job is to help, what's left to do?

The Client's Fear and Ambivalence
There are clients who are ambivalent about treatment and about making changes.

If you've lived your entire life relating in a certain way and engaging in certain behavior, even if behaving in these ways has caused a lot of emotional pain, it's scary to venture into unknown territory to change.

If a client is afraid to make a change, it's up to the therapist to help the client to feel safe.  The old maxim of "starting where the client is" comes to mind.

This could mean that the therapist might need to get out of his or her "comfort zone" to try something different.  It could mean working in a different way from how he or she would.  This is why it's important to have many different ways of working because therapy can't be a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

It could also mean seeking a consultation with a more seasoned therapist.

In some cases, the therapy might take longer than the therapist and client anticipated.  At times, it might be frustrating for both the therapist and the client.  But the therapist can't go any faster than the client is willing to go.

Engaging the Motivated Part of the Client That Wants Help
Most people understand that, as human beings, we're complex.  Even when we say we want to change, there's often a part of us that doesn't want to change at all.

It's up to the therapist to understand the part of the client that fears change and to engage the part of the client that came in wanting help.

At the start of therapy, the more dominant aspect of the client might be rejecting what the therapist has to offer.  But, usually, underneath the fear and ambivalence there's an aspect of the client that wants to change but doesn't know how.

After all, if a client spends the time and money to come to therapy every week, there must be some aspect of him or herself that wants to change or s/he wouldn't be there.

Therapists Need to Be Creative
Gone are the days when the therapist can take a "neutral stance" with the client.  Good riddance to the days when the therapist sat back and just said, "Uh huh," retraumatizing the client as he poured out his problems!

Therapists Need to Be Creative in Their Work

Therapists need to learn to be creative in their work to help the work come alive.  They need to be a presence in the therapy room rather than being neutral.

Clinical Hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing
There are many creative ways to overcome therapeutic impasses with clients who are ambivalent and/or fearful about change.

I often find clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing to very useful in helping clients to soothe the part of themselves that fears change and connect with the aspect of themselves that wants to change.

Talking about these aspects of self without helping clients to connect to where they're feeling these emotions in the body is very limited.  Talking about it often becomes an intellectual exercise that doesn't lead to actual change.

Helping the client to have a "felt sense" of these conflicting aspects of him or herself makes the therapy come alive in a way that regular talk therapy often doesn't.

Helping Clients to Use Their Imagination
Helping the client to use his or her imagination in an embodied way can open the door for the client to have a "felt sense" of internal and external resources to invoke.

Helping Clients to Use Their Imagination

Over time, clients can learn to use these resources to have a corrective emotional experience that wasn't available to them before.  At that point, the client has access to more of him or herself to do the work to make changes.

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 or send me an email: josephineolivia@aol.com



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Friday, March 22, 2013

Overcoming the Insecurities That Are Ruining Your Relationship

I've seen many clients in my psychotherapy office in NYC, both individuals and couples, where personal insecurities were having a negative effect on their relationship.  Often, this takes the form of one or both people needing constant reassurance that they are loved by their partner.

When Needing Constant Reassurance in Your Relationship Becomes a Negative Habit
Needing constant reassurance about your relationship can become a negative habit.  This dynamic can ruin a relationship fast.  It can be exhausting, especially when the person doing the reassuring realizes that no amount of reassurance will alleviate his or her partner's insecurities.

Are Your Insecurities Ruining Your Relationship?

The following fictionalized vignette is an example of where one person's insecurities in a relationship can have a negative impact:

Jane and Bob:
After Jane and Bob were dating for three months, they realized that they had fallen in love and decided to become exclusive with each other.

As soon as Jane realized that she was in love with Bob, she started feeling insecure:  Did he really love her or was he just telling her this?  Would he meet another woman at work, where there were so many attractive women, and leave her?

When they were together, Jane was vigilant as to whether Bob was looking at other women.  If she thought she saw him looking at another woman, she would panic and ask him for assurances that he loved her.  At first, Bob was flattered and reassured Jane.

But when it kept happening nearly every time that they went out, he began to feel irritated and he told her she had nothing to worry about, and it was annoying for him to feel pressured to constantly reassure her.  This only made Jane feel worse.

Jane's insecurities got worse over time.  If Bob didn't call her back immediately, she wondered if he was with someone else.  When she mentioned this to Bob, he got angry.  He asked her if he had given her any reason to think this.

When Jane calmed down, she knew, in reality, that Bob wouldn't cheat on her.  But once doubt crept into her mind, she had a hard time containing her worries and keeping it to herself. She felt compelled to ask him about it.

After a while, Bob got frustrated and told Jane that she should go to therapy to deal with this.  Jane knew that Bob was right--she was having a problem and if she didn't overcome these insecurities, their relationship wouldn't last.  So, she sought the help of a licensed mental health professional.

During her therapy, Jane realized that a lot of her insecurities stemmed from feelings of abandonment from childhood.  Jane's mother was in and out of her life from the time Jane was born.  So, Jane needed to work through this early loss and her fears of abandonment so she wouldn't displace her fears on Bob.

Jane also developed better coping skills in therapy.  As she was working on her earlier trauma, she learned how to contain her fears and insecurities so she no longer blurted them out to Bob.  Soon, they were getting along much better and talking about moving in together.

Getting Help
Assuming that your romantic partner doesn't give you any objective reasons to feel insecure about your relationship, your insecurities might be linked to unresolved childhood issues.  It's hard to see this on your own because your fears and insecurities often feel so real in the current situation, even though they're really part of an earlier trauma.

You could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional who can assist you to work through your fears and insecurities.

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

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me:  josephineolivia@aol.com


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Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Allure of the Extramarital Affair

For many people who are unhappy or having problems in their marriage, the possibility of an extramarital affair is very tempting.  In many cases, it's a way of distracting themselves and finding a new and exciting sex partner to take their minds off their marital problems.  

An extramarital affair can be alluring.  But, ultimately, extramarital affairs often lead to even more problems and heartbreak.  Rather than trying to escape the problems in the relationship, it would be better to either try to work out the marital problems or, if the problems are irreconcilable, to end the marriage in a way that respects both you and your spouse and the love you once felt for each other.

Unfortunately, lots of people, who are unhappy in their marriage, find the possibility of an affair to be too irresistible and find out after it's too late just what a mistake it was to get involved with someone else.

The Allure of the Extramarital Affair


The following fictionalized scenario is an example of how the allure of an extramarital affair created even worse problems:

Ted:
Ted and his wife, Mary, were married for 20 years when he met Betty at a conference.  Ted never had an extramarital affair in all  the years that he and Mary were married.  But, at the point when he met Betty, he and Mary had been having problems in their marriage for several years.

They were arguing about money and what they should do after they retired.  Mary tended to be a saver, and Ted was more of a spender.  Mary wanted to move out of state after she and Ted retired to be closer to her elderly mother, and Ted wanted to remain in NY.

Ted hated any kind of confrontation, so that whenever Mary tried to discuss these issues with Ted, he would get annoyed.  As their arguments got worse, Ted began spending more and more time at work so that by the time he got home, Mary was asleep.  He also went to the office on weekends to avoid the arguments.  So, they spent little time together, which only annoyed Mary more.

The tension between Ted and Mary had also taken a toll on their sex life.  Even when they were together at home, neither of them was in the mood to have sex.  There was too much anger and resentment between them.

Prior to their problems, Ted preferred not to go to conferences, but when his boss told him that there was a conference in L.A. and he offered to send Ted, Ted jumped at the opportunity.  On the last evening of the conference, Ted had too much to drink during the hotel happy hour. Normally, Ted wasn't a big drinker, so he didn't have a high tolerance of alcohol. That's when he met Betty.

Ted wasn't so drunk that he didn't know what he was doing.  He realized that Betty, who worked at his company in another department, was flirting with him.  He told himself that it was harmless to flirt back with her, and he told himself it wouldn't go any further.

When she invited him to her room, he told himself that he would only stay for a few minutes and then he would go back to his own room.  And so he continued to in this way, bargaining with himself that he would only kiss her and he wouldn't go any further.  But the temptation was just too great when she got undressed.  So, this is how the affair began.

When he returned to NY, he told himself that he would meet Betty for a drink and tell her that what happened in L.A. couldn't continue.  He felt guilty about cheating on his wife, but he blamed the alcohol.

Six months into the affair, Ted was still bargaining with himself--he would only see Betty one more time and then he would break it off.  But he continued to see her.  Seeing her made him feel special and the sex was the most passionate it had ever been.  Betty knew he was married and, from what Ted could see, she didn't seem to mind.

One night he came home late, and found Mary waiting up for him.  When she asked him to sit down, he was surprised to see that she looked like she had been crying.  He feared that her mother or one of her elderly relatives had died.  But after he sat down, Mary got straight to the point, "I got a call from a woman named Betty.  Is it true?"

Ted felt the blood drain from his face and he felt a mixture of shock, sadness and anger towards Betty.  Ted and Mary had a long talk about their marriage and the affair.  Ted realized, for the first time in a long time, that he still really loved his wife a lot and he didn't want to lose her.  He begged her to forgive him and promised that he would end it with Betty and never cheat on Mary again.

Mary was very upset, but she told Ted that she didn't want to throw away their 20 year marriage.  She said she wanted them to try to salvage their marriage, and she suggested they attend marriage counseling.

Ted ended his affair with Betty and asked his boss for a transfer to a different site.  His boss told him that people in the department had been gossiping about Ted's affair with Betty, and he also thought it was best for Ted to move to another department.  Ted didn't realize that people at work knew about the affair, and he felt especially ashamed that his boss knew.

Betty was angry that Ted was ending the affair.  She had hoped by calling Mary, Mary would leave Ted and then Betty could have him to herself.  She didn't realize that Ted still loved his wife and wanted to salvage their marriage.  Betty made threats to call Mary again, but she didn't.  Eventually, she stopped calling and texting him.

Mary and Ted had a lot to work on in marriage counseling, including Mary regaining trust in Ted.  Ted also had to learn to develop the ability to deal with their problems instead of running away from them.  It was hard work, and there were times when each of them wanted to stop marriage counseling.  But they both knew that if there was any chance of working out their problems, they needed to stick with it, so they did.

Getting Help
If you and your spouse are having problems that you're unable to work out on your own, you could benefit from couples counseling.  Even if you have already decided that you want to end the relationship, a skilled couples counselor can help you to do it amicably.

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 or email: josephineolivia@aol.com

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A "Happy Family" Doesn't Have to Be a "Perfect" Family

In my blog article yesterday, I wrote about family narratives, based on an article by Bruce Feiler, and how these narratives can help build resilience and cohesiveness (see link below).  Today, I would like to address the misperception that a "happy family" is problem free. 

A Happy Family Doesn't Have to Be a "Perfect" Family

There's No Such Thing as a "Perfect Family"
Most people would agree that there's no such thing as a "perfect family" that is without its ups and downs and moments of crises.  But, as I mentioned yesterday, the idea that most families are dysfunctional is so prevalent in our culture that many people think that in order for a family to be considered happy and stable, there shouldn't be any problems.

A "Happy Family" Doesn't Have to Be a "Perfect" Family

That's like saying that in order for people to see themselves as having a happy life, they shouldn't have any sadness or any difficult times.  Once again, when we look at it this way, we can see the fallacy in this reasoning because we know it's impossible to live a long, full life without there being hard times.

Happy Families Often Share a Sense of Meaningfulness 
Part of the problem is with the word happiness.  What does it mean to be happy?  I believe, and I think many people might agree, that having a happy life doesn't mean being happy all of the time.   For me, in a nutshell, it means having a life that is meaningful, which includes having people that you care about and who care about you.

A Family Spending Time Together

Similarly, there will be sadness, loss and crises in most families sooner or later.  There will also be struggles.   This is true for every family.  What matters is how a family responds to these losses, crises and struggles and how well they bounce back from these events.  An attitude of "we're in this together and together we'll get through it" helps families to weather the inevitable difficult times.

A Sense of Family History:  Standing on the Shoulders of Previous Generations
It's also helpful when a family has a sense of history that the current family members and previous generations have overcome difficult times together and have been resilient enough to bounce back.

A Sense of Family History

It's like saying, "We stand on the shoulders of previous generations who made it through difficult times and  remained united."

In most families that consider themselves to be happy families, there are often shared values and traditions.  Of course, there isn't an absolute.  There are happy families where family members respect each other's right to have differing opinions.

I believe the most important aspect of a happy family is a loving, nurturing environment.  Once again, this doesn't mean perfection.  There can be times of discord and conflict.  But, usually, in families that consider themselves to be happy, even when there's conflict, there's a foundation of love and trust.

If there are periods of discord in the family, a happy family is more likely to allow for there to be a way to make amends rather than holding grudges.

When I see clients who describe themselves as coming from happy families, they often have a sense that whatever they're going through, ultimately, they will be all right.  They have a sense that, somehow, they'll get through their problems, even if they currently need the help of a therapist and supportive family and friends.  They usually have much more of a sense of hope about life than people who don't come from happy, stable families.

Having grown up in a family where there was a foundation of love and trust, often gives these individuals a sense that they are rooted in something much larger than themselves.

It's often a matter of perspective.  I once met a man at a dinner party who told me he came from a happy family and he considered himself to have had a great childhood.

Then, he proceeded to describe a childhood filled with many personal and family struggles.  It was very far from a carefree, easy childhood.  But he told me that he knew he was loved by his parents, siblings, and grandparents.  He also knew he came from a long line of survivors and strivers.

So, as far as he was concerned, he came from a happy family with meaningful family relationships, and he considered himself to be fortunate.

So, my point in yesterday's and today's blog posts is that, far from all families being dysfunctional, as I often hear people say, there are happy families, and we can learn a lot from these families about what makes for a happy, meaningful family life.

About Me
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 or email me at: josephineolivia@aol.com

Happy Families: A Strong Family Narrative Can Help Build Resilience and Cohesiveness

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Happy Families: A Strong Family Narrative Can Help Build Resilience and Cohesiveness

Many psychotherapy clients who come to see me in my private practice in NYC assume that all families are dysfunctional.  In fact, I've heard many people say this.  But, the fact is that there are many families that are happy functional families.  

Bruce Feiler and "The Stories that Bind Us"
In the Sunday, 3/17/13 New York Times, best selling author, Bruce Feiler, writes in his article called "The Stories that Bind Us" that happy families often have a family narrative that is passed on from one generation to the next (see link below for the article).

According to Mr. Feiler, having a strong family narrative can help children to become more resilient.  He cites research from the time after 9/11 that found that children who were part of families that had a strong family narrative tended to bounce back faster than children that didn't.


A Strong Family Narrative Can Help Children to Develop Resilience and an "Intergenerational Self"

What Do We Mean By "A Family Narrative"?
Family narratives, the stories about the family that are passed down from one generation to the next,  could be about how the children's grandparents or great grandparents came to this country, struggled to provide for their children, and overcame adversity to make a better life for the next generation.

Family Narratives Are Stories About the Family Passed on From One Generation to the Next

Helping Children to Develop Resilience and  an "Intergenerational Self"
A family narrative helps children to feel rooted in the family history.  Mr. Feiler called this sense of rootedness an "intergenerational self."  If they know the history, including the many stories that go with that history, children often have a sense of belonging to a much larger extended family.

According to Mr. Feiler, when children hear stories about previous generations, especially where those family members overcame challenges, they often feel more hopeful that they too can overcome adversity.

Hearing about the "ups and downs" of prior generations leading up to the current generation often gives children a sense of resilience, especially if these stories are framed in the context that whatever might come in the future, "we'll face it together."

The Importance of Family Traditions
Family traditions that are passed on from one generation to the next often give children a sense of being part of something much larger than themselves.  Whether it's an Easter egg hunt or having the family come together for the Seder dinner, knowing that there were prior generations who honored the same traditions often helps children to feel that they have an important place in the family history.

I think that even taking out the family album from time to time and telling your children stories about previous generations in the photos can help children to understand the family history and how and why certain things occurred in the family, whether they were setbacks or gains or both.

If you haven't read it already, I encourage you to read the article, "The Stories That Bind Us" to learn some simple steps that you can take to help build cohesiveness in your family.  Many of the suggestions aren't new, but they are good reminders.

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 or send me an email: josephineolivia@aol.com

The Stories That Bind Us - Bruce Feiler - NY Times: 3/17/13


Monday, March 18, 2013

Overcoming "All or Nothing" Thinking

When you engage in all or nothing thinking, you're limiting your possibilities and, possibly, the possibilities of those around you.  Sometimes, referred to as "black and white" thinking, when you engage in all of nothing thinking, you leave out a lot of the "grey" area.  And, let's face it, most of life falls in that "grey" zone.


Overcoming "All or Nothing" Thinking

All or nothing thinking is known as a cognitive distortion because it represents a distortion in the way you think either about yourself, someone else or a situation.

Developing Awareness About How You Think and Approach Life
In order to make any changes, first, you need to be aware of your particular pattern of thinking.

How can you recognize if you're engaging in all or nothing thinking?

Here are some examples:
"Nothing ever goes right for me."
"I'm a total loser."
"I'm always wrong."
"What's the use of even trying?  Life is always so hard."
"You never listen to me."

How Does All or Nothing Thinking Affect You?
As I mentioned earlier, engaging in all or nothing thinking limits your options to either "yes" or "no" or "always" and "never."  While there are times in life when you're clear that your response is an absolute like "yes," "no," "always," or "never," if this is your pattern most of the time, then you're dealing with a cognitive distortion in your views.

The following vignette is a fictionalized scenario where a person engages in nothing thinking:

Ed:
Ed, who was in his late 20s, had low self confidence.  It was hard for him to try anything new because he had so many self doubts.  It took a lot for him to take risks, whether they were  risks in his personal life or in his career.  He had to work hard to push aside his negative thoughts about himself in order for him to make a move.

When he met Karen at a party, he really wanted to get to know her.  He hesitated to ask her for her telephone number because he assumed that she would reject him.  He thought: "She'd never be interested in me" and "I'm such a loser."  He had to really summon his courage to ask her for her telephone number so he could ask her out on a date.  Ed was shocked when Karen smiled and gave him her number.

A couple of days later, Ed began dialing Karen's number, but he kept hanging up before the phone rang.  His fear of rejection escalated as his negative thoughts almost got the best of him: "She probably gave me the number because she felt too uncomfortable to say no, but she'll never go out with me."

Once again, Ed pushed aside his negative thoughts and redialed.  When he got Karen's voicemail, he almost hung up but, despite his fear, he left a message.

When a day passed and Karen didn't call back, Ed berated himself, telling himself, "You see?  She's not interested.  You're a loser."

Overcoming All or Nothing Thinking

Then, Karen called Ed the following day, telling him that she was having problems with her phone and she just got his message.  She also told him that she would love to go out with him, which surprised and delighted Ed.

Overcoming All or Nothing Thinking
 
He felt good for a few minutes, and then his self doubt crept in again and he felt sure that Karen wasn't going to enjoy being with him.

Overcoming All or Nothing Thinking
If you recognize yourself as engaging in all or nothing thinking, you can practice trying to reframe situations for yourself.

For instance, in the vignette above, Ed was certain that Karen didn't call back on the same day because she wasn't interested in him.  He never considered other possibilities, including that there were problems with Karen's phone.

If you see yourself as having a similar pattern, you can begin by challenging yourself in every day situations by coming up with other possibilities.

At first, you might not believe that there could be any other possibilities, except for the negative thoughts you're having.  But just practice.  If nothing else, it will help you to develop a greater awareness of how often you engage in all or nothing thinking.

In the above vignette, even if Karen didn't return Ed's phone call, there could be lots of other reasons:  Maybe she was sick.  Maybe she liked Ed, but she was too shy to call him back.  And so on.

Often, it's easier to see other people's distorted thinking.  If you happen to notice other people engaging in all or nothing thinking, you could challenge their assumptions in your own mind and come up with different options.

Getting Help in Therapy
Often, people who are depressed or anxious engage in all or nothing thinking, feeling they have few options.  

If you think you're anxious or depressed, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional so you can live a more fulfilling life.

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 or email me:  josephineolivia@aol.com

Also, see my article:  Making Changes: Overcoming the Voice of Negative Prediction