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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Crossing the Line From Being Compassionate to Enabling

Compassion for oneself and for others is an admirable quality that many of us strive to cultivate in ourselves.  Learning to be compassionate can help us to experience peace of mind within ourselves and with others.  Unfortunately, there are times when you might think you're being compassionate, but you're actually enabling other people's destructive behavior and creating a self destructive situation for yourself. 

It's not always so easy to distinguish compassion from enabling, especially when the situation involves people that you love.

How Do You Know IfYou're Being Compassionate or If You're Enabling?

Let's take a look at the following vignette, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed:

Ann
When Ann was in her early 30s, her father died unexpectedly from a heart attack.  It was a terrible shock to Ann, her mother, and Ann's siblings.

A couple of months after Ann's father's death, Ann's mother, Laura, asked Ann to have brunch with her to talk about Laura's finances.  It turned out that, even though Ann's father had left the mother well provided for, she was no longer able to live in the manner that she was accustomed to, and she asked Ann if she could help her for a few months until she could sell the house, move into a smaller house, and pare down her expenses.

Ann earned a very good living, and she felt a lot of compassion for her mother, so she agreed immediately to help her--with the understanding that Laura would pare down her extravagant spending and sell the large family home.

Even though Ann earned a very salary, after a while, contributing to her mother's expenses created a financial hardship for her.  So, a few months later, Ann asked Laura if she had any potential buyers for the house.

At first, Laura gave Ann a strange look, as if she didn't know what Ann was talking about.  Then, as if coming to herself, she brushed off Ann's question by changing the subject.

Ann knew that her mother had a strong emotional attachment to the family home, so she didn't press her, especially since she also knew that her mother was grieving.  She allowed a few more months  to go by before she asked about the sale of the home again.  But, by that point, Laura seemed annoyed and she told Ann that she had no intention of selling the family home.  It was as if she and Ann had never had their talk over brunch.

Ann wasn't sure what to do.  On the one hand, she knew that her mother was accustomed to being maintained in a certain way, and Ann felt sad for her mother.  But, on the other hand, she also knew that she couldn't afford to keep giving her money, and she felt very guilty about this.  When she spoke to her siblings, they wanted nothing to do with their mother's finances, and they refused to help.  So, Ann felt the burden completely on her shoulders.

At that point, Ann was having many sleepless nights and she came to therapy to deal with this thorny problem.  She told me that she had always considered herself to be a compassionate person, and she cared about her mother very much.  She felt this problem was such an emotional dilemma for her that she didn't know what to do.

As we explored this issue, Ann began to see how self destructive it was for her to keep supporting her mother, especially since it meant that Ann was making certain financial sacrifices to do it and her mother wasn't willing to curb her spending or change her lifestyle at all.

Over time, Ann realized that her mother was caught in a vicious cycle of overspending, and she was in denial about the changes she needed to make.  These were changes that would still allow her to take a few vacations a year and have most of what she wanted.  But she would have to pare down her extravagant living and sell her expensive home.

Ann also realized that she had crossed the line from being compassionate to enabling, and she wasn't helping her mother.

Gradually, Ann summoned the courage to have a serious talk with her mother and to set boundaries with her.  She gave her a reasonable amount of time to sell the house and to make other changes in her spending habits.  Initially, Laura was angry and hurt.  This made Ann feel guilty at first, but she knew in her gut that the current situation was untenable, and she was doing the right thing for both of them.  Eventually, Laura accepted the situation and began making changes.

Compassion vs Enabling: Ann Summoned the Courage to Talk to Her Mother 

For a while, Laura was cool towards Ann.  But, over time, they reconciled their relationship.  During that time, Ann also allowed herself to see that her mother had a long history of being self centered, which Ann's siblings were able to see before Ann could admit this to herself.

Crossing the Line From Being Compassionate to Enabling is a Common Experience
The fictionalized vignette above, where compassion turned into enabling is a common experience.  Very often, the person, who starts out feeling love and compassion, has his or her heart in the right place, but their judgment becomes skewed.

In the vignette above, the original agreement for Ann to help her mother was reasonable, but Laura didn't abide by her end of the agreement.  At that point, when Ann continued to go along with her mother, Ann crossed the line to enabling.  This is so easy to do, especially when there's a loss or a crisis.

The important thing to remember is that enabling a loved one in destructive behavior is not good for either one of you.  So, even though you might feel like you're helping him or her, your enabling is doing more harm than good, even if your loved one can't see it.

Getting Help
If  this vignette above resonates with you and you find yourself stuck in a similar situation, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed therapist who can help you to untangle all the emotional threads that make you feel stuck.  A therapist, who has expertise in helping therapy clients with this type of issue, can often be more objective and see certain enabling dynamics that you're unable to see and help you to work through them.

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

I have helped many clients to distinguish between being compassionate and enabling so they could make positive changes in their lives.

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




Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Relationships: The Importance of Expressing Gratitude to Your Spouse

As a psychotherapist in NYC who works with individual adults and couples, one of the most common complaints I hear from people in relationships is that they feel unappreciated by their spouses or partners. They talk about how they feel taken for granted because their partners don't express their gratitude for the many big and little things they do. This occurs in many relationships, especially long-term relationships.

It's Easy to Take Your Spouse For Granted Over Time
It's easy to see how this can occur over time. When we're dating, we're on our best behavior. The relationship is new and exciting. We're learning new things all the time about the other person. We're more likely, at that point, to express gratitude and appreciation.

Relationships: The Importance of Expressing Gratitude to Your Spouse: It's Easy to Take Your Spouse For Granted Over Time
But as time goes on and we settle into a long-term relationship and our lives become somewhat more routine, we often forget the kindness and gratitude we expressed early on. Often, it's not even that we don't feel grateful--it's more that we forget to say it.

Don't Assume That Your Spouse Knows How You Feel
During couples counseling, when one of the people in the relationship raises this issue, the other person will usually say, "Of course, I'm grateful for everything she does. But why do I need to say it?  She should know..."

Take the Time to Express and Show Your Gratitude to Your Spouse
And, while it's true that the partner might know on some level, it's important to actually say it. We usually express gratitude to other people in our lives.

The Importance of Expressing Gratitude to Your Spouse: Take the Time to Express and Show Your Gratitude

Why wouldn't we express gratitude to the person we care about most?

It takes so little time and effort to let our loved ones know that who they are to us and the things they do are meaningful to us.

Taking this time to express gratitude can make such a difference to your spouse and to the well-being of your relationship.

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

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

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



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Monday, August 26, 2013

Discovering That You've Developed the Same Traits You Disliked in Your Parents

As a psychotherapist in NYC, I often see clients who realize, much to their chagrin, that they've developed the very traits that they disliked so much in their parents.  This realization usually comes as an unwanted surprise and somewhat of a mystery to them and they often say:  "How is it possible that I developed the same qualities that I disliked so much in your parents?"

To understand and come to terms with this phenomenon, you need to understand how we all internalize  these qualities (and others) on an unconscious level at an early age.

The following vignette, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed, will help to illustrate this common experience:

Nina
When Nina was in her late teens, she couldn't wait to go away to college to get away from her anxious mother.  Having raised Nina as a single mother, Mary always worried about money, even after she obtained a relatively secure, well paying job.

Discovering That You've Developed the Same Traits You Disliked in Your Parents

Mary grew up in a large family where they were always on the edge financially.  They were evicted from one apartment after another because Mary's father was often unemployed.  During those times when they lost their apartment, they would move in with Mary's grandmother until Mary's father could get back on his feet again.  The family was always worried about money and, in their case, they had good reason to be worried.

When Nina was born, Mary was a senior in college.  With help from her parents, who were by now in a better financial position, she was able to finish college while she lived with her parents and her mother took care of Nina.  The first few years out of college were rough.  Nina's father disappeared, so Mary couldn't count on him to provide child support.  But, eventually, she landed a well paying job which allowed her to live on her own with Nina and pay for child care.

But despite the fact that, by all objective standards, Mary and Nina were financially secure, Mary continued to worry about money.  Whenever Nina would try to tell her mother that she had no reason to worry, Mary would acknowledge that they were doing well now, but she would say, "You never know when disaster might strike in the future and everything could be wiped out."

Nina Discovered That She Worried Irrationally About Money--Just Like Her Mother

This bothered Nina a great deal.  It made her feel frustrated and angry with her mother.  She vowed to herself that she would never be like her mother.  And, after she moved away from college and she began working, she moved to NYC and got her own apartment.

Soon after she had her own place, Mary realized, much to her chagrin, that she was worrying about money in much the same way as her mother did.  Objectively, she knew that she had a well-paying job and her career prospects looked bright.  But there was an irrational part of her that kept nagging at her:  What if something happened and it all disappears?

Nina felt even more annoyed and frustrated with herself than she did with her mother.  She was furious that she had taken on the very trait that angered her about her mother.

Nina tried reading self help books about how to develop self confidence and how to stop worrying, but she only experienced short term gains.  After a while, she reverted back to worrying needlessly about her financial security.  That's when she started therapy.

I worked with Nina to try to help her to see that her propensity to worry about money was part of a long history in her family that went back beyond her grandparents' generation.  It was part of a longstanding transgenerational trauma that was transmitted unconsciously from one generation to the next, which is one of the reasons why it defied Nina's efforts to overcome the problem using logic alone.

See my article:  Psychotherapy and Transgenerational Trauma

Using mind-body therapy, like clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, we worked together so that Nina could overcome the transgenerational trauma that caused her to worry needlessly about her financial security.

There Are Many Reasons Why Adult Children Develop the Traits That They Dislike in Their Parents
Transgenerational trauma is one reason why adult children take on the traits they so disliked in one or both parents.  There are many other reasons, usually unconscious, why this occurs.

Getting Help
When you discover that you have developed the traits that you disliked in your parents, you might feel stuck.  But it's important to realize, as I mentioned before, that this is a common phenomenon, you're not alone and, with the help of a licensed therapist who has expertise in this area, you can overcome this problem and lead a meaningful and fulfilling life.

You Can Overcome Your Problem and Lead a Fulfilling Life With the Help of an Experienced Therapist

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

I have helped many clients overcome transgenerational trauma and other emotional experiences so they could lead fulfilling lives.

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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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hooked on Emotional Drama: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster

Life has its inevitable ups and downs which we can't avoid.  This is a natural part of life and learning how to negotiate these inevitable ups and downs is part of becoming a resilient human being.  But when I refer to "getting off the emotional roller coaster," which is the title of this article, I'm referring to an emotional dynamic that goes beyond these common ups and downs.  I'm referring to a dynamic that goes through emotional cycles of exhilarating highs and despairing lows, which makes most people feel off balance after a while.


Hooked on Emotional Drama: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster

But there are many people who are hooked on emotional drama.  They live their lives on an emotional roller coaster and don't realize that this is the dynamic in their life.

They often don't see that they're creating the emotional roller coaster with the decisions they make and the relationships they choose to be in.  Instead, they feel victimized by this dynamic because they don't realize that they can get off the emotional roller coaster.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario based on a composite of many cases (without any identifying information):

Mia:
When Mia started therapy, she was living her life from one crisis to the next.  She experienced emotional highs when she felt she was in a wonderful relationship and her career was going well.  But these emotional highs usually turned to despair when her latest relationship fell apart and she lost almost every job that she ever had.

Mia felt victimized by these experiences--as if they were happening to her and she was powerless to have any effect on her life.

But as we looked closer at these situations, there was a dynamic that became apparent in almost all of them, which was that, to a large degree, Mia had a big part in creating the very situations which she lamented.

Her most recent relationship ended after her boyfriend was incarcerated for insider trading.  Initially, Mia said she had no idea that her boyfriend was involved in anything shady.  But as we looked at the early days of this relationship, there were plenty of "red flags" that Mia chose to ignore, including a long list of her boyfriend's sociopathic behavior.  

During the good times, Mia and her boyfriend lived in his luxury condo.  He lavished her with expensive gifts, and took her on expensive vacations.  But all of this ended when Mia's boyfriend was taken out of his office in handcuffs.  Then, Mia felt the depths of despair.  

Prior to this relationship, Mia was involved in a string of relationships that kept her on a continuous emotional roller coaster.  Each time there were "red flags" that she chose to ignore in favor of the emotional drama in the relationships.

Her career followed a similar pattern where Mia started out as a star at her workplace and then, through a series of self sabotaging behavior, eventually got fired.  Just like her lack of insight into the choices she made in her romantic relationships, she didn't see how she was sabotaging herself in her career.  

As we looked at her family history, it became evident that Mia's parents plunged the family into one crisis after another because of the decisions they made.  At various times in their lives, they went from having a fairly high standard of living to being nearly bankrupted.  

As Mia talked about the emotional roller coaster of her early life, she looked exhilarated.  Most people, who were not hooked on emotional trauma, would have talked about this type of family history with a lot of emotional pain.  But it was evident that Mia was hooked on the emotional drama involved in her chaotic early life.  And being hooked on emotional drama from an early age had become a way of life for her.

Although there were times when the drama became too much for her, as when her boyfriend was incarcerated, most of the time, without realizing it, she was hooked on the emotional drama.

It wasn't easy for Mia to see that she had a hand in creating the emotional drama or, at the very least, when she wasn't actively creating the drama, she was in denial about the early warning signs.

Many people, who are hooked on emotional drama, choose to leave therapy before they develop enough insight to change.  Getting off the emotional roller coaster which, in many cases, is all they know, is too threatening.

Hooked on Emotional Drama: Getting Off the Emotional Roller Coaster

These people might blame the therapist or find other reasons for leaving therapy.  They often go from one therapist to another or one type of therapy to another.  But when the therapist tries to help them see their part in creating the chaos in their life, they leave rather than risk change.

Fortunately, Mia stayed.  But work was slow because she had such a blind spot and she was highly ambivalent, at best, about changing.  During that time, she got into another tumultuous relationship and she lost another promising job.

By then, Mia was getting tired of the highs and lows that her life.  At that point, she was more open to seeing her part.  But she was worried that her life would be boring without the emotional drama.  

Mia didn't know how to live her life without being on an emotional roller coaster, so we worked on helping her develop better internal resources and other ways to feel good about herself without resorting to creating crisis in her life or getting involved in chaotic relationships.

We also worked on helping her to mourn her unmet emotional needs as a child.  To begin doing this work, she had to develop the capacity to tolerate the grief without getting back on the emotional roller coaster to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings.

The work was slow and progress was often one step forward and two steps backwards.  But, over time, Mia discovered that she could lead a happy life without creating chaos or going from one emotional crisis to another.

Getting Help
If Mia's story resonates with you, you're not alone.  You can get help from a licensed mental health professional to get off your emotional roller coaster so you can lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life without the drama.

Getting Help

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

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

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



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Monday, August 19, 2013

Is Self Care Selfish?

As a psychotherapist in NYC, I see many psychotherapy clients who were raised to believe that taking care of themselves makes them selfish people.  They were raised to believe that they should always put other people first.  Often, this was part of the family's religious or spiritual beliefs.  

Being raised to feel that taking care of yourself makes you a selfish person can create a lot of problems later on in life, and this can be challenging to overcome.

Is Self Care Selfish?


Let's look at a fictionalized scenario, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed:

Beth
When Beth began therapy, she was in an emotional crisis.  She felt that her life was meaningless and lacked direction.

She was in a long-term relationship with Dan, a man who had a high profile career in the entertainment industry.  Their life together revolved around his work, which involved many social engagements, travel and being in the spotlight much of the time.

When they first met, Beth was a freelance writer who was having a degree of success.  During the first several years, she didn't mind that their lives revolved around his career.  Since she wasn't tied down to a work location and she could work from anywhere, she enjoyed the travel and social activities involved in his work.

As Dan's career took off, Beth discovered that the social aspects were taking over more and more of her  free time, so she had little time to write.  Gradually, she let go of her writing career, with Dan's encouragement.  He told her that he needed her help and support to focus on his success.  He was making a lot of money, and he told her that she didn't need to write any more.  They didn't need her income.

Beth went along with this for while.  But, over time, Beth got tired of "being on" at social engagements to advance Dan's career.  When she tried to tell Dan that, at times, she would prefer to stay home than to go to, yet again, another party where she began to feel that the people boring and the conversations banal, Dan became furious with her.

Is Self Care Selfish?

Dan told Beth that she was being selfish.  After all, he said, she knew all too well that people would wonder why he was showing up by himself.   Why would she want to do anything that would ruin his image?   As far as he was concerned, Beth staying at home wasn't an option.

Beth knew that Dan could be the most kind, generous, charming and warm person when he was happy and got his way.  She also knew that he would become angry and say hurtful, spiteful things when she or anyone else got in the way of what he wanted and felt he deserved. 

So, rather than get into an argument, Beth acceded to Dan's wishes.  She took his arm, smiled and made small talk at the party, as Dan expected her to do, while Dan used his charm to further his career at the party.

All the while, Beth felt she was there in body only.  She felt miserable and her mind was a million miles away.  But, over time, she had attended enough of these social events so that she could fake her way through it.

But this was the start of Beth, who was in her early 30s, feeling that she was just going through the motions and watching her life slip away.  Life felt like a series of meaningless social events where she felt more and more disconnected from her inner world.

If he noticed what was happening to Beth, Dan didn't say anything.  It wasn't until Beth became so depressed that she could barely get out of bed that Dan got angry with Beth again.  He criticized her for being lazy and gaining weight.  He told her to "get a grip" and "get over" feeling sorry for herself.  After all, wasn't he providing her with the kind of life that many people only dream about?

After Dan's tirade, Beth wondered if she was being ungrateful, but she couldn't muster the kind of enthusiasm that Dan felt.  She just wanted to stay home for a change instead of being out all the time with people she didn't know well, didn't care about and who didn't care about her beyond her role as Dan's girlfriend.

It was around that time Beth suspected that Dan was having an affair.  He was staying out unusually late and he was barely paying attention to her when they were at home together.  When they went out to parties, he was attentive to her around other people, but Beth knew it was only an act to impress others.

After a while, Dan stopped insisting that Beth come with him to social events.  She knew that he was probably taking another woman.  She wasn't sure how she felt that her relationship was falling apart or how she felt in general.  

She had been pretending for so long to be happy that she wasn't sure anymore what her feelings were.  This is when she decided to start therapy rather than continuing to slip down into depression.

Is Self Care Selfish?

Beth's family history didn't include any major emotional trauma.  The family was close knit with loving parents.  But one thing stood out:  Her family emphasized taking care of others' needs as being much more important than taking care of one's own needs.  They were involved in local charity work and social causes.  

Beth's parents encouraged her to get a good education.  They also encouraged her to write.  But it was always understood that Beth's educational and writing pursuits should be geared towards social causes and helping others.  There was no emphasis on pursuits for the sake of enjoyment or one's own well-being  To them, this would have been selfish.

So, when Dan told Beth that he needed her to focus on his success, this didn't seem unusual to her.  It was in keeping with how she was raised.

The problem was that, over time, it wasn't meaningful enough for Beth, and she felt alienated from her own inner world.  When she tried to explain this to Dan, she knew he had a hard time understanding it.  He was very extroverted, seemingly without a need to nurture his inner world.  He couldn't understand what Beth meant when she tried to explain that she felt like she was losing herself.  

Dan's attitude was that their life together should be enough for her.  And if Beth was unhappy, as far as he was concerned, it was because she was selfish and unappreciative of all his hard work and what he had given to her.

By the time Beth started therapy, she and Dan were coexisting together.  There was no intimacy of any kind.  

Beth worked hard in therapy to reconnect to her inner emotional world.  We used Somatic Experiencing, a mind-body psychotherapy, to help her gain access to her inner world again.  She also resumed writing and submitting her work for publication. 

Over time, Beth began to realize that she lost her sense of self in order to appease Dan.  She had stopped doing the things which made life meaningful to her.  She realized that these were the things that were part of her taking care of herself and when she let them go, she stopped doing what was essential for her well-being.

When Dan told her that he was leaving her for another woman, Beth felt a mixture of relief and sadness.  She was sad for the love that she and Dan experienced at the beginning of their relationship, but she was relieved to leave behind the life that made her feel so unhappy and detached from herself.

Gradually, as we continued to work together, Beth learned to approach self care with balance.   She also realized that, even though Dan told her that she was selfish, he was actually the one who was being selfish and self centered, and he lacked enough empathy to understand her.

Eventually, she fell in love with a man who was emotionally supportive in a genuine way and who cared about her needs as well as his own.

Getting Help
It's easy to slip into a state where you lose sight of the fact that you're not taking care of your own emotional needs--until life seems to lack meaning.

Getting Help

But it's also possible to recover and learn to take care of yourself in meaningful ways with the help of a licensed therapist who specializes in helping clients to live a balanced life.

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

I have helped many therapy clients to learn to live meaningful lives.

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: Self Care - Feeling Entitled to Take Care of Yourself


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Friday, August 16, 2013

Mourning Your Future Dreams in Your Former Relationship

Mourning the future might seem like an odd concept at first.  But, as I'll discuss, mourning often involves not only mourning for the past and present, but also mourning for what will never happen in the future.

Mourning the Death of a Loved One
We usually associate mourning with the death of a loved one.

If the relationship with the loved one was good, we mourn the loss of the loved one as well as the loss of what we don't have now as well as what we won't have in the future.

If the relationship wasn't as good as we would have liked it, in addition to mourning the loss of the loved one, we mourn what we didn't have in that relationship that we would have liked to have had in the past and the present.  We also mourn what can never be in the future.

The Breakup of a Relationship
The breakup and loss of a romantic relationship can feel like a death even when there's no physical death involved.  It's the end (or death) of the relationship.

Mourning Your Future Dreams in Your Former Relationship

If the romantic relationship was good in the past, we might reminisce about the days when it was what we both wanted, but we can no longer have in the present or the future.

All the future plans we had with this person, who we thought we would be as individuals as well as to each other--all of this is part of the mourning process.

Here's an example, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed:

Alice
Alice and Bob, who were in their late 20s, were engaged to be married.  They had been together for three years and, for most of that time, they were happy together.

But then, four months prior to their wedding, Bob told Alice that he wasn't ready to get married--even though all their plans were in motion, they had talked about how they wanted to start a family, where they wanted to live, and how their lives would be in the future.

Bob told Alice that she was his first serious girlfriend and he realized that he wasn't ready to make that kind of commitment.  He thought he should go out with other women to make sure that he wasn't jumping into a marriage with Alice too quickly.

Alice was completely shocked.  Bob had never mentioned this to her before.  She had no idea he felt this way.

Even though Alice realized that Bob was emotionally torn up about his decision, Alice felt overwhelmed by a combination of shock, disbelief, anger and sadness.

A few months after the breakup and the cancellation of their wedding plans, Alice came to therapy to sort out her feelings.

By now, she realized, in hindsight, that there were telltale signs that Bob wasn't ready to get married, but she ignored these warning signs.

Even though she was angry with Bob, she still very much loved him and missed him in her current life and missed the relationship that they had in the past.

As we continued to work together, Alice realized on a deeper emotional level that the future she thought she would have with Bob--all the things she wanted in her life with him--weren't going to be possible now.  And she wasn't going to be who she thought she'd be--at least not in the context of a life with Bob.

So, she mourned for the past, the present as well as the future of her dreams with Bob.

Mourning Before "Moving On"
Our culture places a high value on "moving on" from loss as opposed to giving ourselves the time we need to mourn our losses on multiple levels, including past, present and future.

Mourning Before "Moving On"


But if we force ourselves to push our feelings down without working them through, we risk having an even more protracted form of grief that could manifest itself in other ways, including depression as well as physical illness.

Mourning is a Personal Process
Mourning is different for everyone.  No one can tell you what the mourning process should be for you.  It's best not to rush the process or to try to conform to other people's ideas of the mourning process.

There can be many ups and downs with mourning--whether it's mourning the death of a loved one or mourning the loss of a relationship.

Sadness often comes in waves.  How and when the waves occur is often unknown until they occur.

Getting Help
If you're dealing with a loss and you feel alone, misunderstood by others or you feel confused by the profusion of feelings you're experiencing, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who has experience helping psychotherapy clients to work through the mourning process.

Getting Help


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

I have helped many people to work through the mourning process so that, in time, when it was right for them, they did eventually move on in a meaningful way.

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 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com.




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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable

One of the most common experiences for adults who sustained early childhood trauma, especially early abuse or emotional neglect in their family, is that they often grow up feeling unlovable.

Feeling unlovable can be at the root of many personal problems, including problematic relationships, as well as career problems.

Often people don't realize that feeling unlovable is at the root of their problem.  Instead, they might attribute their problem to having low self esteem or depression.  And, while these issues might be part of the problem, working to boost self esteem or elevate mood often isn't enough when the root cause is that, deep down inside, they feel unlovable.



Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable

The following scenario which is, as always a composite of many different cases, is an example of how early childhood trauma can develop into feelings of being unlovable and how these feelings can be overcome with trauma therapy:

Ted
When Ted began therapy, he was in despair about ever being able to have a happy romantic relationship.  In his mid-30s, his fiancee of two years just broke up with him.  This was the third serious where his girlfriend broke up with him.

There was a particular pattern to all three relationships:  Initially, he was happy in his relationship with his girlfriend.  Everything seemed to go well up to about the second year.

Then, after a while, similar problems began to crop up in each relationship:  Ted began to feel that his emotional needs weren't being met, and each of his girlfriends felt that he wasn't the man she thought he was.

Recognizing that his emotional needs weren't being met any more and hearing that each girlfriend was disappointed in him after a while was emotionally devastating for Ted.  By the end of the third relationship, he felt like there must be "something wrong" with him.  He felt defective in some vague way.

After hearing Ted's family history, I could see parallels between his romantic relationships and his relationship with his mother.  Of course, this isn't unusual.  We often replicate our early childhood relationships in our adult romantic relationships--many times without even realizing it.

In Ted's case, based on what he heard from his older siblings, his mother was very attentive to Ted while he was an infant.  She liked being close to her children when they were infants.  But when they got a little older, she no longer found them to be as emotionally gratifying.  So, just as she did with Ted's older siblings, she relegated Ted's care to a series of nannies who left after a short time because Ted's mother was difficult.

Babies need consistency in their physical and emotional world.  So, having his mother, who was his primary attachment figure, withdraw from him and then having other caregivers come and go, created a great deal of emotional insecurity in Ted from an early age, even though he learned to hide it as he got older.

As Ted and I explored the dynamics in all three romantic relationships, it became apparent that certain interpersonal dynamics developed after a period of time.  As is true for most relationships, both Ted and his girlfriend at the time were on their "best behavior" during the initial stage of the relationship.

But after a while, Ted's emotional insecurities were more evident.  Until that point, Ted appeared to be more emotionally independent.  But this appearance was really a pseudo emotional independence that many children, who are left to fend for themselves, learn to exhibit on the surface.  Just below the surface, there are often strong dependency needs that become more apparent later on in the relationship.

This is why, at first, Ted's girlfriends experienced him as being confident and emotionally secure.  Ted learned to project confidence and an emotionally secure self to the world in order to survive.  It wasn't that he was trying to manipulate or deceive anyone.

Exhibiting a confident and secure persona is the way many people with early attachment problems come across in order to protect themselves from getting hurt.  Many people don't even realize that this what they're doing.  Often, they really believe that they are the persona that they've adapted to show the world.

But as a romantic relationship develops and matures, people can't maintain what amounts to a facade of pseudo emotional independence.  With increased emotional intimacy, emotional vulnerabilities become more apparent.  And this is what happened in Ted's relationships as each of his girlfriends realized that he was really a lot more emotionally dependent.  And this is why they felt that he wasn't the man they initially thought he was.

So, in the end, both Ted and each of his girlfriends were disappointed.

Since, on an unconscious level, Ted chose women who had narcissistic traits, unconsciously replicating his childhood experience with his mother, when his true dependency needs surfaced, they weren't capable of offering him the empathy that he needed.

As Ted and I worked on clarifying his feelings about himself, he started with a vague sense that he "wasn't good enough."

As we continued to refine how he felt about himself, he had an "Aha!" moment when he realized that it wasn't just that he felt "not good enough," he actually felt unlovable.


Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable: Ted Realized He Felt Unlovable

This feeling of being unlovable really resonated with him.  And, along with the feeling of being unlovable came a lot of shame, as if he felt he was to blame for being unlovable.

Logically, Ted understood that these feelings were distortions, but he felt them deeply nonetheless.  No matter how many times he told himself that his feelings were distorted, he continued to feel he was unlovable. So, just knowing wasn't enough to change it because, on an emotional level, this was how he felt.

Using a combination of clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, we worked on Ted having a different felt sense of himself as being a lovable person which, of course, he was.  Most people who knew him experienced him as being a very lovable person.  But he needed to have his own felt sense of this before he could really believe it at the core of his being.

Mind-Body Psychotherapy: Somatic Experiencing Combined With Clinical Hypnosis
People who feel deep down inside that they're unlovable often don't realize just how common an experience this is because it's not something that people usually talk openly about.

It's not unusual for people to go through their whole lives feeling unlovable without realizing the emotional impact this has on their inner world as well as their relationships with others.

If you've been going through life feeling unlovable, help is available for you.

My experience, as a licensed psychotherapist who has a lot of experience working with emotional trauma, has been that regular talk therapy, where psychotherapy clients talk about their problems, often doesn't help clients to overcome this problem.  They might develop intellectual insight about it, but they often don't have the felt sense of change.

My experience has been that clients who have this problem are more likely to have this felt sense of change through a combination of a mind-body psychotherapy, like Somatic Experiencing, and clinical hypnosis, which helps clients to get to unconscious feelings more readily.  The combination also allows clients to have a felt sense experience of change rather than an experience of talking about changing.

Getting Help
If this article about the emotional pain of feeling unlovable resonants with your personal experience of yourself, you could benefit from working with a licensed therapist who is trained in a mind-body psychotherapy, like Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis.

Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable: Getting Help


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

I have helped many clients to overcome emotional obstacles so they could lead more fulfilling lives.

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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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Working Through Emotional Trauma in Psychotherapy: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now"

One of the most challenging aspects for people considering through emotional trauma in therapy is their fear that they'll be as emotionally overwhelmed in therapy as they were originally when they experienced the trauma.  Many clients have this fear even when the trauma occurred a long time ago.  So, when a therapist does trauma work, it's important to help the client to distinguish between what happened "then" from what's happening "now."


Working Through Trauma: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now" in Therapy

The Dual Experience in Trauma Work
To help clients work through trauma, as a trauma therapist, I help clients to keep "one foot" (so to speak) in the here-and-now of the therapy room with me and "one foot" in the memory of the trauma.

Having this dual experience is crucial for the client to feel safe enough emotionally to do the trauma work and not fearful that s/he will be emotionally overwhelmed.


Working Through Emotional Trauma: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now" in Therapy

Clients Need to Have the Emotional Capacity to Do the Trauma Work
As a trauma therapist, I assess if the client has the emotional capacity to do the work.  If I assess that the client lacks the capacity at the beginning of therapy, I help the client to develop this emotional capacity before the actual work on the trauma begins.

Creating a Therapeutic "Holding Environment" for Doing Trauma Work
A therapeutic "holding environment" is important in any kind of therapy work, but especially when the client comes to do work on trauma.

It's not enough for the client and therapist to have a rapport.  The client must feel emotionally "contained" in order to feel safe enough to do the work.

See my article:  The Creation of the "Holding Environment" in Psychotherapy for more details about this.

Somatic Experiencing and Trauma Work
I have found that Somatic Experiencing is a gentle and effective form of therapy that helps clients work through trauma.

Somatic Experiencing also helps clients to differentiate "then" from "now" so they are less likely to feel emotionally overwhelmed.

When clients come to see me and they're considering Somatic Experiencing, I usually recommend that they read Peter Levine's book, Waking the Tiger, which explains Somatic Experiencing.  I also recommend his more recent book, In an Unspoken Voice.

Getting Help
If you have emotional trauma that has not been worked through, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in trauma work so you can lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

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 web site:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

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
























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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Self Blame and the Internal Critic: Overcoming the Tyranny of "Shoulds" You Impose on Yourself

Many people have such a strong internal critic that they feel overwhelmed by that self blaming part of themselves.  The internal critic imposes so many "shoulds" that it becomes emotionally and physically exhausting.

Self Blame and the Internal Critic: Overcoming the Tyranny of "Shoulds" You Impose on Yourself
For many people, this internal critic is so strong that it stops them from even starting a new endeavor because they know in advance that they'll be overwhelmed by self criticism.  It feels safer to just stick with what's familiar than risk the tyranny of "shoulds" they impose on themselves.

The Internal Critic Can Show Up in Any Area of Your Life
For some people, the internal critic comes up in specific areas, like their physical appearance.

Self Blame and Internal Critic: Overcoming the Tyranny of "Shoulds" You Impose on Yourself

For those people, just looking in the mirror can be emotionally painful as the internal critic criticizes their physical appearance, often in very distorting ways.

For other people, the internal critic comes up, not just in specific areas, but in most areas of their life, no matter what they're doing.

Parts Work Combined with the Mind-Body Connection in Therapy to Overcome the Internal Critic
Parts work in therapy has many different names, including ego state therapy, internal family systems, and so on.

Parts work combined with the mind-body connection can be a very effective way to overcome the internal critic.

Using parts work and mind-body therapy, like Somatic Experiencing, the therapist can help facilitate the identification of the different internal aspects of self (or parts) that are affecting the client, including the internal critic.

Parts work is non-pathologizing, so that all the parts are recognized as having a good intention of wanting to preserve the self, but the parts might be going about it in a skewed way.

Here's an example of a client struggling with a strong internal critic and how a combination of parts work and mind-body therapy helped.  As always, this is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed:

Nina
When Nina came to therapy, she was nearly paralyzed by self blame.  In almost every situation in her life, she had self blaming thoughts like, "You should have done it this way instead of that way" or "You shouldn't try that--you're just going to fail."

Before she could embark on any new endeavor, like a new job or a new project, she had to do battle with all her negative thoughts.  It was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting.

Nina was aware that she grew up in a home where both of her parents were highly critical of her and of themselves. So, she knew she internalized this critical part of herself from an early age.  But just knowing this wasn't enough to change it, which is often the case with problems like this.

Helping Nina to get into a relaxed state, I asked her to recall a memory when she felt the internal critic as being especially strong.

Nina remembered how she felt when she moved to NYC from her small hometown in the Midwest to attend college in NY.

She remembered being plagued with negative thoughts about how she would never make it in NY, including the thought, "You should stay home and go to the local college.  You'll never measure up to the other students in NYC."

We continued to work with this self blaming part to try to understand what its intention was.

Before I go on, I should explain that looking at the internal critic this way is a symbolic way of making it come alive in an accessible way.

Rather than just thinking about the thoughts, we explored the internal critic almost as if it was a person.  After a while, Nina was also able to identify where she sensed the internal critic in her body, including a tightening in her throat and in her stomach.

Using parts work and the mind-body connection (i.e., identifying where the feeling is sensed in the body) helped Nina to continue to explore the feeling more deeply.

After a while, what she discovered was that the internal critic really did have a good intention, which was to keep her from getting hurt.  So, for instance, when it told her that she should stay home instead of moving to NYC to attend college, this part held a lot of fear and its intention was to keep Nina safe.

The problem was that, even though the internal critic's intention was good, the way it expressed itself was critical and damaging.  So, we worked towards helping that part to be more balanced in its expression.

With practice, instead of being critical, Nina learned to soften this part's expression so that it could evaluate in a more balanced way instead of being critical.

Of course, this takes a lot of work because the internal critic doesn't develop overnight and it takes a while to change.

As Nina became more aware when the internal critic was operating, she asked herself, "What's the intention of this part?  What is it trying to do?"

By looking at the internal critic in this way, Nina learned that there were times when the internal critic had something of value to express but, as mentioned before, it was expressing it in a skewed way.  Nina could stand back and look at her negative thoughts (the internal critic) and use her judgment to assess when to pay attention and when to gently put the thought aside.

Doing Parts Work and Mind-Body Psychotherapy
Parts work combined with mind-body psychotherapy is a gentle process.  We're never trying to squelch or get rid of a part.  Instead, we're recognizing that the part usually has a good intention, but there's a distortion involved and the part needs to be modified in a way so that it's more balanced.

Parts work helps with many different aspects of yourself.  It can be an angry part, a sad part, a fearful part, and so on.

Parts work combined with mind-body psychotherapy helps you to recognize how many different aspects of yourself are involved in you, and how the different parts can manifest at various times and in different ways.

It also helps to explain why you might feel many different feelings at the same time.  Before you recognize that you have many different aspects of self, this can be confusing.

Mind-body psychotherapy and parts work work well together in combination in dealing with difficult parts.

Getting Help
If you feel overwhelmed by self blame that comes from a harsh internal critic, you could benefit from working with a therapist who does parts work and mind-body psychotherapy, like Somatic Experiencing.

If you work through the issues involved with your internal critic, it's possible to feel a heavy burden being lifted from you and you'll feel freer to live your life.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapy, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works 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 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com



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Discovering That Sadness is Often Hidden Underneath Your Anger

People are often surprised to discover that when they deal with their anger in therapy, underneath their anger is sadness.

While this phenomenon might not be true for everyone, as a psychotherapist in NYC, I've seen that underlying sadness or grief is often the underlying emotion for many people who experience a lot of anger.


Discovering That Sadness is Often Hidden Underneath Your Anger
Anger Feels Easier To Deal For Many People Compared to Feeling Sadness
Many people find it easier to be angry than to be sad.  Feeling angry makes them feel more empowered as compared to feeling sad, which feels disempowering.

So, anger often becomes a cover up for sadness when people feel uncomfortable dealing with their sadness.

Let's look at the following example, which, as always, is a composite of many cases to protect confidentiality:

Mark:
Mark's wife urged him to come to therapy because he was snapping at her and their children.

Mark recognized that he had a problem with anger, but he wasn't sure what to do about it.  He came to therapy reluctantly at first.

Mark, who was in his mid-30s, had never been to therapy before.  Prior to coming to therapy, he thought that only people who had serious mental illness came to therapy, so I provided Mark with psychoeducation about therapy, which included common reasons why people came to therapy.  He was surprised that many people came to therapy for problems that were similar to his problems.

When we went over his family history, he realized that his parents didn't deal with their emotions.  Not only did no one at home talk about how they felt, but talking about emotions was actually discouraged.  So, Mark never learned how to deal with his emotions.  Instead, he stuffed his feelings, and he was hardly aware, at any given time, what he was feeling.

Identifying Emotions
The first step in our work together was helping Mark identify his emotions.  At first, he was able to only identify in a very general way uncomfortable and comfortable feelings, but nothing specific.  This was a good start.

The Mind-Body Connection in Therapy
I worked with Mark to identify where in his body he was feeling his comfortable and uncomfortable feelings.  This was completely new to Mark because he was somewhat cut off from what he felt in his body.

Just learning to sense into his body was a big step.  This took time because Mark felt like he was going against an unspoken family rule that they shouldn't acknowledge their feelings--let alone intentionally sense them.

The Mind-Body Connection in Therapy

Gradually, he discovered that he generally felt his comfortable feelings in his chest and his uncomfortable feelings in his gut (this is a very individual pattern, and it will be different for each person).

Then, we worked towards helping Mark to differentiate his feelings.  Over time, he learned to distinguish anger and happiness.

Since Mark was struggling not to lose his temper with his family, we spent more time on his feelings of anger.

After a while, Mark was more adept at identifying his anger and where he sensed it in his body, so I encouraged Mark to talk about an incident where he became angry at home and to stay with these feelings as long as his feelings remained tolerable.

It took a while for Mark to build the emotional capacity to tolerate staying with his feelings.  At first, his inclination was to either distract himself with other feelings or to shut down emotionally.

Just like building a muscle takes time, building the capacity to stay with uncomfortable emotions can also take time.

On an intellectual level, Mark knew that he learned unhealthy patterns in his family about dealing (or not dealing) with his feelings, but knowing this alone wasn't enough to change it.  So, we worked towards increasing his capacity a little at a time.

When he got to the point where he could stay with his angry feelings, he was able to go deeper, and that's when he discovered the sadness underneath his anger.

To say that Mark was surprised would be an understatement.  Until then, he had no idea of just how much sadness he was carrying inside of him.

Working with the mind-body connection, Mark began to identify the early memories of loss that were connected to his sadness so we could work through those feelings.

Getting Help
As I mentioned earlier, anger often masks sadness.  This is usually an unconscious process.  Until you can work through the sadness in therapy, more than likely, you'll continue to have problems with anger.

Working with clients who mask sadness with anger, I've found that working with mind-body psychotherapy like Somatic Experiencing is often much more helpful than just using regular talk therapy alone.

The body is also a window into the unconscious (see my article: Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious).

Mind-body psychotherapy helps people to orient themselves to the physical cues that are in their bodies.

If you think your anger could be a mask for underlying sadness or trauma, you could benefit from working with a therapist who has expertise with this problem and works with the mind-body connection.

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

I have helped many therapy clients to lead more fulfilling lives.

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 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com

Also, see my article:  Mind-Body Connection: Responding Instead of Reacting to Stress


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Monday, August 12, 2013

Learn to Stop Overspending as a Way to Deal With Uncomfortable Feelings

Overspending as a way to ward off uncomfortable feelings, like anxiety or depression, can quickly lead to being over your head in debt, which can result in increased anxiety and depression.  

Learn to Stop Overspending as a Way to Deal With Uncomfortable Feelings

Overspending Can Become a Vicious Cycle With No End in Sight
Many people get caught in a vicious cycle of increased depressive or anxiety-related symptoms and increased overspending and debt, and they don't know how to get out.

Overspending and the Dopamine Rush
It's not just a matter of avoiding uncomfortable emotions. There's also a dopamine rush.  And the dopamine rush from indulging in overspending can be similar to the rush that people get with other impulse control disorder experiences, including drug abuse, sex addiction and gambling.  The dopamine rush itself is a powerful reinforcer for this cycle.

The problem with the dopamine rush is that it's short lived, so you have to spend again to get the next "hit."  This can fuel an endless cycle of overspending to ward off uncomfortable feelings, increased uncomfortable feelings and then increased overspending, and so on.

You Don't Have to Be in Serious Debt to Have a Problem With Overspending
You don't have to be thousands of dollars in debt to have a problem.  Just like the person who has a problem with alcohol, problems with overspending usually starts small and then become increasingly worse.

Ask yourself:
"Do I tend to go shopping or engage in other excessive spending when I'm anxious, depressed, angry or experiencing other uncomfortable feelings?

If you're honest with yourself and you detect a pattern, you'll admit to yourself that you have a problem and take steps to overcome this problem.

What Can You Do to Stop Overspending?

Acknowledge You Have a Problem
The first step to overcoming the problem of overspending, like any impulse control problem, is to admit that you have a problem.

Until you admit you have a problem, you're not going to be motivated to change.

Be Aware That Denial Can Be a Powerful Defense Against Admitting You Have a Problem
Denial can be very powerful, even when people are in serious debt.  Even after people realize they have a problem, they will often bargain with themselves by telling themselves things like, "This will be the last time I'll go on a spending spree."

Increase Your Awareness of Your Overspending Habits: What's Your Pattern of Overspending?
Admitting that you have a problem is the first step.  The next step is to increase your awareness of your particular pattern.

Everyone has a particular pattern of overspending, so you'll need to pay extra close attention to discover  your pattern.

Keep a Journal
I recommend keeping a journal.

Initially, until you can stop overspending, you might be writing about your spending habits after you've engaged in overspending.  The goal is to, eventually, get the point where you've become so aware of your overspending habits that you catch yourself before you give into the impulse to overspend.

You can set up your journal in whatever way works best for you.  One way that I recommend is to track what uncomfortable emotions came up and under what circumstances so that you can see what triggers the overspending (see details given below in the scenario about Ann):

Keep a Budget
People who overspend often have little to no awareness on how they spend their money.  Part of this lack of awareness is that the overspending is compartmentalized in their mind to keep themselves from feeling the discomfort of how serious their problem really is, which is a form of denial.

When you keep a budget by writing down how much to spend on each category and then track and write down what you actually spent, it can be a real eye opener.   And this can be the beginning of getting out of denial.

Attend Debtors Anonymous
Debtors Anonymous is a 12 Step program that helps people who have problems with overspending.  People who attend Debtors Anonymous meetings provide each other with mutual support.  If you go to the link above, you can find more information about this program and a meeting that is located near you.

The following scenario, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, is an example of how someone who was able to get help for her overspending problem:

Ann
When Ann first came to see me, she was in serious debt.  She came in because she and her husband were having marital problems because of her overspending.

Initially, Ann didn't think she had a problem with overspending.  She came because she was afraid that all the arguing between her and her husband would lead to a divorce, and she didn't want to lose her husband.  But she made no connection between their arguments and her spending habits.  She felt her husband was overreacting.

Learn to Stop Overspending as a Way to Deal With Uncomfortable Feelings:  Denial Was Powerful for Ann

Denial was very powerful for Ann.  And, initially, when I asked Ann about her debt, her thinking became fuzzy so she couldn't remember how much in debt she was or the specific information about who she owed money to, etc.

So, I asked Ann to bring in her bills and credit card statements.  This was emotionally painful for Ann because, without realizing it, she was doing everything possible to avoid allowing herself to see how big a problem she had.  She also felt very ashamed.

With the information in hand, we were able to see that she was close to $100,000 in debt, which was shocking to Ann.  It's not that she didn't know this on some level but, until now, she kept herself from allowing this information from really sinking in emotionally.  And, as you would expect, the anxiety of allowing the information to sink made her feel like she wanted to go out and make an impulsive purchase to ward off her anxiety.

So, we worked on helping Ann to develop better coping skills because she was using the rush of overspending to ward off anxiety.  A big part of her developing coping skills, aside from getting more physical exercise and learning to meditate, was keeping a journal to track the triggers to her overspending.

Based on my recommendation on how to set up her journal to understand her pattern of overspending, Ann set up her journal with the following four columns:
  • Date and Time
  • The Trigger (or Precipitating Event):  What Was Going on at the Time?
  • What Emotion Goes With the Trigger?
  • How Did I Overspend?
Then, she wrote a narrative about how she felt about this incident of overspending.

When she first began writing in her journal, Ann was writing about the event after the fact most of the time because she was still struggling with her impulse to overspend.

Developing an awareness before she gave into her impulse was very challenging at first.

But even after she was more aware and she realized that she was about to give into the impulse, she would bargain with herself by telling herself that "this would be the last time."  Unfortunately, there were many so-called "last times" before she could get to the point where she could catch herself before she gave into the impulse.

Eventually, Ann was able to write in her journal when she got the urge to overspend and she learned not to give in most of the time.

The challenge after that was for Ann to deal with the uncomfortable feelings that were at the start of her impulsive cycles of overspending, and we did this in her therapy.

Learning to Cope: Developing the Capacity to Tolerate Uncomfortable Feelings
Since the impulse to ward off uncomfortable feelings is usually at the beginning of the cycle of overspending, developing an ability to identify them and the capacity to tolerate uncomfortable feelings is an important part of the work in therapy.

During the course of a lifetime, everyone experiences loss, small trauma and, for many people, big trauma.  If, for whatever reason, you never developed the capacity to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, you can be at risk for engaging in impulsive behavior.  And if you're already engaging in impulsive behavior, it's harder to stop until you develop this capacity.

Getting Help
Along with attending Debtors Anonymous, many people have been helped by working with a licensed psychotherapist who has an expertise in helping people who have problems with overspending, especially when they're attempting to deal with their emotional triggers.



Learn to Stop Overspending as a Way to Deal With Uncomfortable Feelings

If you have problems with overspending, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get help.  Avoiding the problem will only result in the problem getting worse since, like most impulse control problems, problems with overspending is progressive and gets worse over time.

Getting help from a licensed therapist can help you to lead a more satisfying and meaningful life.

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

I have helped many people to overcome their impulsive habits, including overspending, so they can lead more fulfilling lives.

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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