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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Connection Between Obsessive Love as an Adult and Unmet Childhood Emotional Needs

Most relationships start out with heady, romantic feelings and frequent thoughts about the beloved, as well as eager anticipation about seeing each other.  This is a common experience during the initial stage of a relationship when people fall in love.  Eventually, if all goes well, these heady feelings develop into a more enduring, mature kind of love.  This is a very different experience from the topic of this blog, The Connection Between Obsessive Love as an Adult and Unmet Childhood Emotional Needs, where a person, who experiences painful romantic obsessions, is feeling more than the usual heady feelings.  This person tends to form dependent romantic relationships.

The Connection Between Obsessive Love and Unmet Childhood Emotional Needs

Obsessive Love is also Known Informally as "Love Addiction"
Although there's no formal diagnosis for this condition, obsessive love, also known informally as "love addiction," can be excruciatingly painful.

It's painful enough when the love is reciprocated, but it's even more emotionally painful where there is unrequited love (see my article: Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships: Unrequited Love).

Even when the love is reciprocated, the person who experiences obsessive love puts a heavy burden on  his or her romantic partner.  He or she often has unconscious expectations that his or her partner will fulfill all their longstanding unmet emotional needs.

Obsessive Love Can Affect Both Men and Women

People, who are usually high functioning in most areas of their lives, can regress emotionally to the emotional equivalent of a young child who is starved for love and attention because these core needs, which were unmet in childhood, get triggered in adult romantic relationships.

In many cases, it's as if an emotional chasm, which was sealed off, suddenly opens up and the person feels a bottomless pit of emptiness and an urgent need for love and attention.

The vignette below, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates this phenomenon:

Sally, who was in her late 20s, came to see me in my psychotherapy private practice shortly after she began seeing John.

In her career, she was well respected as a manager who was hard working, highly competent and confident.  She had many close friends, an active social life, and found meaning in her volunteer work.

The Connection Between Obsessive Love as an Adult and Unmet Early Childhood Needs

Generally, she felt relatively happy, self confident and positive about life.  But all of that changed within a few months of developing romantic feelings for John, the first man that she had really fallen in love with since college.

She couldn't understand how she changed, within a short period of time, from being a cheerful, confident woman into what she described as "a needy, obsessive wretch" who needed constant reassurance from John that he loved her.  And no amount of his reassurance would alleviate her obsessiveness about his feelings towards her.

Aside from her obsessive thoughts about John, the worst part for her was that she was afraid that John, who was very loving and attentive, would get fed up with her need for constant reassurance and he would leave her.

This thought only made her feel worse and she was caught in a vicious cycle of obsession, angst, and regret for asking for his constant reassurance.

She described how she feared that she would never be able to break this cycle and, if she couldn't, she was doomed to be alone because no one would be willing to endure her obsessiveness.

When she described her childhood, it became evident that she was emotionally neglected as a child by parents who weren't around for most of her early childhood.

It was also obvious that, as a resilient and resourceful child, she fended for herself a lot and she did well academically and, later on as an adult, in her career.

But her unmet emotional needs were getting triggered, even though John was a loving and attentive romantic partner.

Sally maintained enough objectivity to see that John wasn't the issue--it was her, and she wanted desperately to stop feeling these obsessive emotions.  She felt like she was losing her mind.

I started by helping Sally develop coping strategies to keep her from acting on her obsessiveness.  I helped Sally to learn basic breathing techniques to help her to calm down when her thoughts and emotions felt like they were going to overtake her.  She practiced these techniques every day and felt some relief.

In addition to coming regularly to weekly therapy sessions, I also encouraged Sally to keep a journal to write down her thoughts, instead of pouring out her fears to John over and over again.  And, as Sally wrote in her journal, she experienced some relief in being able to vent and discharge her emotions in her journal, as well as in therapy, instead of having them all come spilling out with John.

Sally continued to feel very judgmental and self critical about her emotional needs.  These feelings developed as a young child when her mother would tell her to stop being "a cry baby" whenever Sally was left alone, lonely and frightened.

Even though, as an adult, Sally knew, on a rational level, that no child should be left overnight by herself, she found it very difficult to stop judging herself for her emotional needs.

After we worked on coping skills, we began the work on dealing with Sally's unresolved emotional trauma from childhood.

Over time, we used a combination of EMDRclinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy), and Somatic Experiencing, which all take into account the mind-body connection and are often more effective than just talk therapy by itself.

The therapeutic work was not easy or quick, but Sally stuck with it.

At the end of each session, we either did the Safe Place Meditation or we used the time for Sally to debrief about what came up, so that she felt calm enough to leave the session without feeling overwhelmed by the work that we did.

Working Through Unresolved Childhood Trauma in Therapy

By the time Sally terminated therapy, she developed a greater sense of self compassion and understanding for how her early unmet needs were at the core of her obsessiveness in her relationship with John.  And, just as important, she no longer felt obsessed and she was able to enjoy the relationship feeling like an adult.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people, who were emotionally neglected or abused as children, don't understand why they become so obsessed in romantic relationship.  Since they don't have psychological training, it's understandable that they don't make the connection between their unmet childhood needs and their current obsessiveness in their relationship.

If the composite vignette above about Sally resonates with you, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who has a mind-body orientation to therapy and who has expertise in working with clients on this issue.

Once you've been able to work through your childhood trauma, you have an opportunity to have more fulfilling relationships as an adult.

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

I have worked with many clients who have struggled with obsessive love and who were able to work through their emotional issues to live 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:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Sexual Reawakening of an Older Woman With a Younger Man: Movie: Bright Days Ahead

In a prior article, Overcoming Lack of Intimacy: Movie: Hope Springs, I discussed the main characters' (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) long term sexless marriage and the wife's attempts to recharge their sexual life in the context of this issue being a common problem in many long term marriages.

Looking at Misconceptions and Stereotypes About Older Women

Looking at Misconceptions and Stereotypes About Older Women
I recently went to see the movie, Bright Days Ahead (Les Beaux Jours), a French movie starring Frances Ardant (Truffant's The Woman Next Door), Patrick Chesnais (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Laurent Lafitte, and directed by Marion Vernoux.

Bright Days Ahead is about a 60 year old woman, Caroline (Ardant), as she is coming to terms with the unexpected death of a close friend who was close to her age, and a long-term marriage that is loving and comfortable but without passion.

After the shock of her friend's sudden death, Caroline decides to retire from her dental practice to reassess her life.  Her well-meaning daughter gives her a gift in the form of a membership to a senior center, which is called Bright Days Ahead, to help Caroline fill her time.

Initially, Caroline is put off by the condescending instructors and the activities for seniors at Bright Days Ahead which have no meaning for her.  She feels above it and she is ready to dismiss the idea of attending the center.  But when she meets the computer instructor,  Julien  (Lafitte), who is a handsome, sexy man in his late 30s, she has second thoughts.

After Julien comes on to her, Caroline begins a May-December sexual affair with him as part of her  sexual and emotional reawakening.

I won't give away the rest of the plot.

Although Bright Days Ahead and Ardant's character are not without their flaws, it's rare to find a movie about an attractive, poised, confident woman in her early 60s, who rediscovers her sexual passion and who has no illusions about this younger man or about the sexual affair.

I think there will be some cultural issues for American audiences, who will probably be more judgmental about the infidelity and how it affects Caroline's husband and their relationship.  I admit that I felt myself bristle at how Caroline carried on this affair, even going to places where she risked running into friends of hers and her husband's, and potentially hurting her husband and her marriage.

But, if you're able to put these issues aside for a moment (no easy task, I know), I think the movie has a lot to say to counter the stereotypes of older woman being unattractive, sexless beings who are destined to be "put out to pasture" when they reach their 60s (see my article: Making Peace with the Aging Process).

Of course, you don't have to have a sexual affair to reawaken the passion in your life, whether it's sexual passion or a passion for life in general.

When I was a child, I thought 60 was very old.  Part of this was based on seeing the way my grandmother aged.  At the time, I didn't know how sick she was and how this affected the aging process for her.  But, even so, in my grandmother's day, people thought of themselves as being old by the time they were in their 60s.  And it wasn't unusual for men, who retired at 65, to only live a few years after their retirement.

These days, people who are in relatively good health, are living past their 80s and 90s.  Many people retire now and start new careers.  Often, they decide to take a new career path in a field that they find more meaningful than their original careers.  Or, they take up a new hobby that they didn't have time for before.

As Americans, we're obsessed with youth and staying young.  I think Bright Days Ahead challenges many ideas about aging, relationships, what's "appropriate" when it comes to younger and older lovers and for this alone, I think it's worth seeing this movie.

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

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

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

Also see: Indiewire interview with Fanny Ardant about Bright Days Ahead

Monday, April 21, 2014

Are You Allowing Your Fears to Dictate Your Choices in Life?

Most people come to therapy because they're unhappy with their lives.  In many cases, their unhappiness stems from allowing their fears to dictate their choices in their lives.  Over time, as their lives become narrower and less fulfilling, they feel increasingly unhappy.  It's as if they're in hiding.

Are You Allowing Your Fears to Dictate Your Choices in Life?

Many people who have this problem have no awareness that their fears have dominated their decision- making process.  Their fears have become so entrenched that they no longer question them.  They don't even realize that they're making choices based on fear and so they've come to accept the "logic" of their decisions.

Gradually, these fears can generalize to such an extent that they can affect major areas in a person's life.

Let's take a look at a vignette, which is a composite of many different people, to understand this phenomenon:

Amy began therapy because she felt unfulfilled in her life.  She watched the friends that she went to college with develop satisfying relationships, and she couldn't understand why she wasn't in a relationship.

While she was happy for her friends, she couldn't help questioning herself and wondering, "Is there something wrong with me?"

As we worked together in therapy, Amy came to realize that her main problem was that although she wanted to be in a relationship, she also was afraid to allow men to get close to her (see my article:  An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

This fear had become a major obstacles for her.

Amy also realized that she had been allowing her fears to dictate the choices that she made in her life and that this, in turn, kept her out of social situations where she could meet men.

Allowing Your Fears to Dictate Your Choices:  Amy Was Isolated

In order to deal with this fear, we had to deal with longstanding issues related to her family of origin where her emotional needs were unmet as a child.  Without realizing it, due to her fear, she broke off relationships before emotional intimacy developed.

As we continued to explore the origin of her fear of intimacy, we discovered that Amy had fears of being abandoned in the same way that she was abandoned as a child when her parents moved to Europe for her father's job and left her for several months with an aunt who was cold and emotionally withholding.

Over time, we used EMDR, clinical hypnosis, and Somatic Experiencing to work through these memories of her unmet childhood needs.

Amy Worked Through Her Fears in Therapy So She Was No Longer Afraid

The work wasn't easy or fast, but after Amy had worked through these emotional issues, she was no longer afraid and she began to feel ready to open up to the possibility of meeting someone new for a serious relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
Your fears can make your life small and narrow.  Over time, your fears can keep you stuck and feeling frustrated.

Rather than allowing your fears to keep you from having the life that you want, you owe it to yourself to get help in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy

If you're unable to overcome your fears on your own, you're not alone.  This is a phenomenon that many people experience.  With help from a licensed mental health professional, you can develop insight into how your fears are holding you back, work through the issues related to these fears, and take steps to have the life you want.

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

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

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What Can Employers Do to Prevent Workplace Burnout?

In my prior articles, including Managing Your Stress: The Consequences of Workplace BurnoutWhat Are the Telltale Signs of Workplace Burnout? and What to Do If You're Experiencing Workplace Burnout, I focused on what employees can do to avoid burnout.  In this article, my focus is on what employers can do to help prevent burnout at work.

What Can Employers Can Do to Prevent Workplace Burnout?

What Employers Can Do to Prevent Workplace Burnout:
  • Set the Tone for the Workplace Environment:  Managers who are able to stay calm during stressful times at work become models for employees on how to handle stress and prevent burnout.  Employees will feel more confident in their managers during stressful times and they are more likely to follow the manager's lead if s/he demonstrates good stress management skills.  So, managers need to learn good stress management skills and be aware of how they are coming across.  This is in everyone's best interest in terms of developing a healthy work environment, meeting company goals, retaining good employees, and satisfying shareholders and other stakeholders.
  • Improve Communication With Your Employees:  It is especially important during stressful times, when there might be uncertainty at workplace, to share information in a clear and effective manner.  One of the worst things that can happen during uncertain times is for the rumor mill to escalate with false information due to a lack of information and clear communication.  Be clear about employees' jobs and their roles, and avoid being mean spirited and petty.  It's best to maintain an open-door policy, which is more than just words, in a collegial atmosphere so that employees feel comfortable coming to you and will know that their manager will listen with an open mind.  Be generous with praise and provide constructive criticism in a balanced way within the context of overall work performance, not just related to negative isolated incidents.  Harassment should never be tolerated.
Improve Communication With Your Employees
  • Provide Opportunities For Employees to Share in the Decision-making Process:  Wherever possible, especially in instances where decisions will affect employees' jobs, allow employees to participate in the decision-making process.  A collaborative process might take longer than if a manager just dictates what s/he wants but, in the long run, it will make it more likely that employees will buy into changes and also increase the likelihood of a smoother transition during stressful times of change.  It will also help to demonstrate that employees are valued.
  • Make Sure that the Workload is Realistic:  Due to years of downsizing, many employees are doing the work of two or more people.  This often leads to burnout.  Managers need to ensure that the workload is realistic and that each employee is given tasks that are in keeping with his or her skills, abilities and experience.  
  • Provide Opportunities for Career Development:  Good employees are more likely to stay if there are opportunities to learn and grow as well as being compensated fairly for their work.  Having to replace employees, who feel like they're stagnating, usually costs more than finding opportunities for career development.
Provide Opportunities for Career Development 
  • Encourage Employees to Balance Their Work and Personal Lives:  To avoid burnout, it's important for employees to take vacation time to relax and recharge and to spend time with their families.  When managers model this behavior for employees, they will be more likely to strive for this balance (see my article: Balancing Your Career and Personal Life).
  • Work Through Your Own Personal Problems That Are Affecting You at Work:  Managers who aren't dealing with their own personal issues and who allow these issues to negatively impact their ability to manage at work should get help.  Without even realizing it, managers, whose personal problems are spilling over into the workplace, can displace their unhappiness and anger on the employees that they manage.  Not only does this create a negative work environment and increase the likelihood of burnout for employees, it also reflects poorly on these managers.  In two prior articles,  Careers: Are You a Bully at Work? and Dealing With a Difficult Boss, I discuss workplace bullies, who often displace their own feelings about problems  in their personal life on their employees.  This is just one of many ways that managers who aren't working on their personal problems can contribute to workplace burnout.

Getting Help in Therapy
Being a manager can be very challenging, especially if your manager is difficult to deal with or you feel caught between wanting to treat your employees fairly and a disregard for employees from top management.

Often managers, who might be open to their employees, have nowhere to go with their own stressors and concerns at the workplace.

Getting Help in Therapy

Also, as mentioned earlier, if you're aware that problems in your personal life are having a negative impact on your employees and your overall work performance, you owe it to yourself, your loved ones and your employees to get help to work through those issues with a licensed mental health practitioner who has expertise in this area.

By getting help in therapy, not only will it help you to be a better manager, it will also help you personally to lead a more fulfilling life.

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

Prior to becoming a licensed therapist, I was a human resources manager, so one of my specialties is helping clients with workplace issues.

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

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Early Stage of Recovery: What to Do If 12 Step Meetings Are Too Overwhelming For You

Generally speaking, as a psychotherapist, I recommend 12 Step meetings, especially during the early stage of recovery.  But I also know that for many people, especially people who have a history of emotional trauma, going to 12 Step meetings can be too overwhelming during the initial stage of recovery.

Early Stage of Recovery: What to Do If 12 Step Meetings Are Too Overwhelming For You

12 Steps Meetings Have Saved Many Lives
The 12 Steps, which are principals for living life, provide a structured step-by-step philosophy that many people describe as having been life saving for them.

Many of these people struggled in isolation and shame with their addiction before they began attending 12 Step meetings. But when they began going to meetings, they discovered that they were not alone.  This provides many people with a sense of comfort and safety.

12 Step Meetings Have Saved Many Lives

In most 12 Step meetings, many people in early recovery can find mutual support among other people who are also struggling with addiction.  There is also an opportunity to find a sponsor who can help with working through the 12 Steps.

For Many People With Emotional Trauma, 12 Step Meetings Are Too Overwhelming
But there are many other people, who have a history of emotional trauma, who find the meetings to be too overwhelming, especially when they hear stories in the meetings that triggers their trauma.

When people feel triggered during the early stage of recovery by hearing stories that are overwhelming, they can feel like drinking or drugging (or gambling, overeating and so on, depending upon their addiction).

Many people, who get emotionally overwhelmed override their own sense that they are making themselves too emotionally vulnerable to relapse because they feel that there's something wrong with them if they can't tolerate being at the meetings.

After all, they think to themselves, many people have told them that going to 12 Step meetings is good for them.  So they continue to force themselves to go and continue to get triggered and retraumatized because they're not ready to hear other people's traumatic stories in the meeting.

Of course, there are also a multitude of success stories in the meetings about how people have achieved years of sobriety and many stories about hope and transcendence.

But, for many people with a history of emotional trauma, it only takes one difficult story to overwhelm them and then they relapse.  They're just not ready, at that point, to attend 12 Step meetings.

Getting Triggered is a Common Experience For People Who Have Been Traumatized
There is no reason to feel ashamed about this.

Getting Triggered is a Common Experience For People Who Have Been Traumatized

Getting emotionally triggered is a common experience for people who experienced trauma.

Just like a veteran who returns from war can get triggered when he or she hears the backfiring of a car which sounds similar to an war time explosive, anyone who has trauma can get triggered when they're in particular situations.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you are in the early stage of recovery and you're finding it too difficult to attend 12 Step meetings, you can get help by working with a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in working with clients in early recovery who have a history of emotional trauma.

An experienced therapist can help you to develop the necessary coping skills to deal with early recovery issues as well as relapse prevention.

Many people who are in the early stage of recovery want to rush into dealing with their trauma before they're ready.  They feel that they've wasted too much time and they want to make up for lost time by rushing into things.

But usually this isn't a good idea during the early stage.  You need to learn coping skills and develop internal and external resources before you begin to deal with trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy

Once you have developed coping skills and the therapist assesses that you're ready, then you can begin to work on the underlying emotional trauma.

Being safe, both physically and emotionally, is the first priority.

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

I am a certified Substance Abuse Professional, and I have worked with many clients who are in recovery.

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

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

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Managing Your Stress: What to Do If You Are Experiencing Workplace Burnout?

In my two prior articles,  Managing Your Stress: The Consequences of Workplace Burnout and What Are the Telltale Signs of Workplace Burnout?, I began addressing workplace burnout in terms of the consequences to both employees and employers as well as some telltale signs to watch out for to recognize burnout in yourself.  In this article, I'll begin to address what you can do if you're experiencing workplace burnout.

Managing Your Stress:  What to Do If You Are Experiencing Workplace Burnout

Of course, everyone and every situation is different, so no list of suggestions will work for everyone.

Generally, in my opinion, as a psychotherapist who has worked with many clients who have experienced burnout, the following suggestions are usually helpful (in no particular order):

  • Develop an Increased Awareness About Yourself:  The ancient Greek aphorism, "Know thyself" is an important concept when it comes to avoiding burnout as well as in other aspects of life.   Many people develop full-fledged burnout because they have little to no awareness of themselves on a physical and emotional level, so burnout, which takes a while to develop, can seem to sneak up on them.   So, it's important to recognize the signs of workplace burnout in yourself.  Also, even for many people, who actually do recognize the signs of burnout, they're so accustomed to plowing ahead that they override their own good judgment about when to stop working and take a break.
  • Take Breaks at Work:  For many people, it might seem counter-intuitive, but the old saying "less is more" is fitting when it comes to workplace burnout.  Rather than pushing yourself to work through lunch and forgo taking breaks during the day, you can actually be more productive as well as avoid burnout if you take breaks during the day at work.  Taking a much-needed break during the day, going for a walk at lunch or even taking a few minutes to stretch and breathe can help you to relax and regroup.
Avoiding Workplace Burnout:  Take Breaks at Work

  • Take Time Off From Work to Go on Vacation:  Many people choose to give up vacation days to remain at work.  As a nation, Americans actually give up millions of vacation days a year, which is a big mistake, especially if you're hoping to avoid burnout.  If you treat yourself like you're a machine, you're going to break down.  And even machines break down without proper care.  Not only will going on vacation help you to relax and regroup, it often gives you an new perspective about work and life in general, which can make you more creative and productive.
Avoiding Workplace Burnout: Take Vacations

  • Develop Stress Management Strategies:  Whether you choose to go to the gym, yoga class, meditation class or whatever activities you enjoy, it's important to develop effective stress management strategies, especially if you have a stressful job and you hope to avoid burnout.  When clients come to see me in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC, I often work with them to help them develop healthy coping and stress management strategies, including learning to meditate and engage in stress-reducing breathing techniques.
  • Cultivate and Maintain Close Personal Relationships:  As human beings, we are born to bond and attach with significant others.  Initially, we bond with our primary caregivers, which in most cases is our mother, and later on, we learn to develop significant friendships and relationships outside the family.  When people spend too much time on work-related activities, one of the first things to go is the time they spend with significant others, including spouses, children and friends.  Aside from the enjoyable aspects of close relationships, we need the love and support from those relationships and they need us, so it's important to develop and maintain these relationships in order to maintain a sense of well-being.
  • Develop and Engage in Self Care Strategies  Self care is made up of many different aspects, including:  getting enough rest, eating properly, getting exercise, and other things that are particularly meaningful and nurturing for you (see my article:  Self Care: Feeling Entitled to Take Care of Yourself).
  • Develop Realistic Expectations of What You Can and Can't Accomplish at Work:  Having unrealistic expectations about what you can and can't accomplish at work is a sure sign that you might be heading for workplace burnout if you're not already there.  This is a particular problem for ambitious high achievers experienced in the workplace as well as college graduates who are beginning their first job.  College grads, who were accustomed to being in an intellectually and emotionally stimulating environment in college, are often surprised to discover that even the most interesting job can have certain required mind-numbing aspects to it.  This often leads to disappointment and, at times, to burnout.
Avoiding Workplace Burnout: Be Realistic About What You Can and Cannot Do

  • Be Assertive:  Depending upon your work environment, you might need to learn to tactfully say "no" every so often when you know that accepting an assignment or participating in an extra project will lead to burnout.  Of course, this assumes that you have enough of an awareness of yourself and you place a high level of importance on self care.  If it's not possible to say "no" because doing so would lead to losing your job, then you might want to consider the next category below, re-evaluating your career.
  • Re-Evaluate Your Career:  Before you begin a particular career, you might assume that you know what's involved, but it's usually only when you might start to realize that what you expected and what it turned out to be are two very different things.  I had a friend who became a nurse years ago because she wanted to "help people."  She had a wonderful experience in nursing school.  But when she became a hospital nurse, she discovered that what she wanted and what it turned out to be were completely different.  After trying different work environments, she realized that it wasn't any particular environment--the problem was that nursing, while being a wonderful profession, just wasn't for her.  So, she left nursing and became a licensed massage therapist, and she discovered that she loved it and she was better suited for this profession.  So many people think that they have to stick it out in a profession where they've unhappy.  They feel ashamed, as if it's their fault.  But life is short and if you have the option of doing what you would like, it's better to re-evaluate your career and take steps to do what makes you happy.
Avoiding Workplace Burnout: Re-Evaluate Your Career

  • Recognize Your Profession Might Have Changed and It's Not What You Want Anymore:  Another reason why people often re-evaluate their careers is that their field might have changed over time.  Many medical doctors, under the strain of significant changes in the health care field, have re-evaluated their career choices and choose a different career or, depending upon their particular situation, have opted to retire.

Future Articles Related to Workplace Burnout
Workplace burnout is a huge topic and a significant problem for many employees.  Since many of the issues I've raised in this article are broad, I'll be addressing some of them in future articles.

Getting Help in Therapy
We all need help sometimes when going it alone is too difficult.

Getting Help in Therapy

If you're concerned that you might be burning out at work or you've already developed full-fledged burnout, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional who has experience in helping clients to overcome this problem.

Working with a licensed therapist with expertise in this area, you can learn to take care of yourself and lead a happier life.

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

I have helped many clients in my psychotherapy practice to avoid or overcome both personal and professional burnout.

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:

Managing Your Stress: What Are the Telltale Signs of Workplace Burnout?

In a prior article, Managing Your Stress: The Consequences of Workplace Burnout, I discussed the consequences for workplace burnout for both employees and employers.  In this article, I'm focusing on how you, as an employee, can recognize the telltale signs of workplace burnout.

Managing Your Stress:  What Are the Telltale Signs of Workplace Burnout?

Telltale Signs of Burnout
As I mentioned in my prior article, burnout doesn't occur overnight.  It usually occurs over a span of time, often without a person even realizing it, so it's important to recognize the telltale signs of burnout (outlined below) to avoid experiencing full-fledged burnout:
  • Exhaustion:  Feeling emotionally and physically tired all or most of the time.  You feel like you have little or no energy even after you've rested or slept
  • Problems Paying Attention or Concentrating:  Prolonged stress that leads to burnout can create cognitive problems related to paying attention or concentration.  When relentless stress that causes burnout takes hold and you don't realize what's happening, it can be frightening, especially if you didn't have these cognitive problems before.
  • Lack of Motivation :  Burnout can lead to your feeling that nothing you do will make a difference.  If burnout is severe, you might feel helpless and hopeless to effect change in your work or in yourself.
  • Frustration and Cynicism:  Over time, burnout can cause you to feel frustrated and cynical about your work and life in general, which also affects your motivation.
  • Not Taking Care of Yourself:  Burnout can lead to your not getting enough rest, poor sleep, poor eating habits, poor health, and overall poor self care.  Rather than maintaining a healthy and nurturing social life with people who are important to you in your personal life, you might be so focused on work that you forget to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
  • Obsession With Work:  When you're not maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life and not taking care of yourself, chances are good that you're obsessed about work even when you're not at work so that you don't get a break from work stressors, which is so important to recharging.
  • Problems With Work Performance:  When you're obsessed with work and you're not getting enough downtime, your work performance can suffer.  There have been many studies that show that employees' work performance is better when they take breaks.
  • Health Problems:  When you don't take care of yourself and you're experiencing burnout, you can develop stress-related health problems, including high blood pressure, heart problems, digestive problems and other related health problems.
Managing Your Stress:  Telltale Signs of Workplace Burnout: Health Problems
  • Mental Health Problems:  Anxiety and depression are common problems as you become overwhelmed by burnout.  Anxiety and depression (or both) can make coping with workplace burnout all the more difficult, especially if these mental health problems remain untreated in therapy.
  • Interpersonal Problems at Work: It's easy to see that if you're having problems with the issues listed above, you might become impatient and irritable with your boss or with coworkers, especially if you're suffering with the symptoms of burnout. 
  • Interpersonal Problems at Home:  Likewise, when you're burnt out, it's very hard to leave work stressors at work, so when you get home, you could be snappy with your spouse or your children.  You might feel too exhausted to interact with them, which can create problems in your family relationships (see my article:  Workplace Stressors:  Are Your Workplace Stressors Affecting Your Family?)
In a future article about workplace burnout, I'll discuss some things you can do if you recognize that you have some or all of telltale signs listed above.

Getting Help in Therapy
As I discussed in my prior article, people often wait until they're experiencing full-fledged burnout (all or most of the symptoms listed above) before they seek help.

Getting Help in Therapy

Getting help from a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping clients with career or work-related issues can make all the difference between avoiding or overcoming workplace burnout.

If you identify with many of the telltale signs of burnout, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to get help so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

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

One of my specialities is helping clients with career issues, and I have helped many clients to learn how to manage stress and develop healthy stress management strategies to avoid or overcome workplace burnout.

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:

Managing Your Stress: The Consequences of Workplace Burnout

People often come to see me in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC about career and work-related issues.  One of the biggest issues that many people are struggling with today is how to cope with the ever increasing demands at the workplace without burning out.

Managing Your Stress: The Consequences of Workplace Burnout

What is Burnout?
Burnout is a chronic state of stress that can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion.

Burnout isn't something that happens overnight.  It usually occurs over time.

Unfortunately, especially among high achievers who are ambitious and driven, people often don't realize that they're suffering from the effects of burnout until they experience serious negative consequences.

When someone is experiencing full-fledged burnout, he or she has difficulty functioning personally as well as professionally.  In the most severe cases, they might not be able to function at all.

Whether you work in finance, healthcare, social services, education or any other field, burnout has become a serious problem which has negative consequences for employees as well as employers.

Negative Consequences for Employers:
  • increased absenteeism
  • increased staff turnover
  • increased inefficiency
  • increased costs (in the billions)
  • increased Workers Compensation claims
  • decreased productivity
  • decreased morale
  • decreased quality of service
  • decreased customer satisfaction and increased complaints
  • decreased creativity and innovation

Negative Consequences for Employees:
  • increased stress
  • increased health problems, including sleep problems
  • increased mental health problems, including anxiety and/or depression
  • increased sense of autonomy and a sense of helplessness
  • increased alcohol and substance abuse problems as well as other addictive behavior
  • increased marital problems as work stressors spill over into home life
  • decreased work satisfaction
  • decreased camaraderie among staff

Employers Have a Responsibility to Help Employees Avoid or Overcome Workplace Burnout
Since the consequences of burnout has such a significant impact for employees and employers, it's important for organizations to create a healthy work environment to avoid burnout or, if burnout is already an issue, to find creative ways to address it (more about this in future articles).

Managing Your Stress: The Consequences of Workplace Burnout

Employees Can Develop Stress Management Strategies to Deal With Workplace Burnout
Since it's important for employees to learn ways to manage their stress to avoid burnout, I often address this issue in therapy sessions with clients, who are either suffering from the consequences of burnout or are on the verge of burning out, by teaching them tools for managing their stress including, among other things, learning to balance their work and home life and learning breathing and meditation techniques.

In future articles, I'll address what employers and employees can do to deal with workplace burnout.

Getting Help in Therapy
People often wait until they're mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted before they get help for burnout.

Getting Help in Therapy

At that point, they might already be feeling the effects of poor health and mental health due to prolonged stress and exhaustion.

Often, by the time people begin therapy, their relationships with family members are suffering due to bringing their work stressors home (see my article:  Workplace: Are Your Work Stressors Affecting Your Family?)

Rather than wait, it's better to get help early on to learn how to manage your stress as well as addressing any work issues that could be triggering personal issues or vice versa.

Getting help early can help you to avoid burnout and thrive both personally and professionally.

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients with career issues.

I have worked with many clients to help them avoid or overcome workplace burnout.

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:

Also see my article:  Managing Your Stress: What Are the Signs of Workplace Burnout?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Do You Remember What It Was Like to Have Fun in Your Relationship? Try a Little Playfulness

When you're in a long term relationship, it's easy to become bogged down with routines and responsibilities.  You can both get to the point where you feel so weighed down and bored that you forget the love and joy that brought the two of you together in the first place.  But you don't have to remain mired in old routines and boredom.  You can recapture some of the joy you felt in the early days of your relationship by bringing back fun and playfulness into your relationship.

Remember What It Was Like to have Fun in Your Relationship?  Try a Little Playfulness

A relationship that's serious all the time isn't enjoyable.  Over time, irritability, anxiety and a sense of being overwhelmed can erode an otherwise good relationship.

If the mood between you and your spouse tends to be heavy and serious all of the time, you're bound to become annoyed and impatient with each other.  This can lead to boredom, arguments and a feeling of estrangement between the two of you.

If this is what's happening to you and your spouse, you need to put some fun back into your relationship.

Remember "Fun?"
Do you remember what it was like to have fun with your spouse?  No?  Think back to what the two of you enjoyed doing in the past.

Over time, have you stopped doing the activities that were fun and nurturing in your relationship?

If so, maybe now is the time to talk to your spouse and choose a few activities that you used to like to do in the past and make plans to do them again.

Did you used to like to go dancing, biking or ice skating?  Have you given up these activities over time because you let all of your routines crowd them out of your schedule?

Why not make time for at least one of those activities and bring some light hearted fun back into your relationship?

Mary and Bob (a composite vignette of many cases):
Bob and Mary were married for over 25 years when they came to my psychotherapy private practice in NYC.

Their only son, Bill, moved out of state the year before to take a full time job after he graduated college.

Even though they loved their son dearly, prior to his moving out, they had been looking forward to the day when he would be on his own.  But when that day came, they both felt unprepared for the changes that it brought.

They felt a little awkward around each other without Bill at the dinner table every night talking excitedly about his plans for the future.  Neither of them realized, until he was gone, how much their lives centered around their son's life.  And now that he was gone, they each felt a void (see my article: Coping With the Empty Nest Syndrome).

At first, they each filled their spare time with individual projects around the house.  But, after a while, they realized that they were avoiding each other.  Neither of them felt any animosity towards the other.  They just felt that, aside from Bill being gone, "something was missing" from their relationship.

After a few sessions, it became evident that both of them were bored and they felt they didn't have much to look forward to in their relationship.

It was clear that, basically, they had a solid relationship--they just needed to learn to bring some fun and playfulness back into their relationship.  But when I mentioned this to them, they both looked at me as if I had lost my mind!  Bob turned away, and Mary said in a sarcastic tone, "Fun?  What's that?"

Undaunted, I persisted to recite back to them what they told me their average week was like:  Go to work, come home, have dinner, do chores, zone out in front of the TV, and go to bed.  Weekends were loaded with more chores and more mindless TV.  And neither of them could even remember the last time they had sex.

After they heard me reflect back their routines, they both agreed that it was no wonder that they each felt cranky and bored.

So, we began exploring what they each liked to do when they first got together.  We started with the ground rule that they each had to be respectful of what the other person brought up.  No groans or eye rolls.

After a few false starts where neither of them could remember what they liked to do in the early days, Mary said, somewhat sheepishly with a nervous laugh, "We used to have a lot of sex."  Bob looked away in embarrassment, so I told him that it's important to be able to talk about sex in couples counseling (see my article:  The Importance of Talking About Sexual Problems in Your Psychotherapy Sessions).

I often use humor, when appropriate, in therapy sessions (see my article: Humor Can Be An Effective Tool in Therapy).  Humor helped Bob and Mary to open up more and come up with suggestions of things they used to like to do as well as some new activities they wanted to try.

Do You Remember What It Was Like to Have Fun in Your Relationship? Try a Little Playfulness

They even began to make some tentative attempts to flirt with each other, awkwardly at first, and then with more ease.

Flirtation, which is a form of playfulness, helped them to rekindle their sex life, which was emotionally and physically gratifying for both of them.

After a few months, they looked like a different couple--more gregarious and even younger looking.  They were worrying less about their chores (Mary even joked about not worrying about the "dust bunnies" under the couch as she normally would before) and having more fun.

Putting Fun and Playfulness Back in Your Relationship

Not only were they having more fun, but they felt closer to each other than they had in many years.

Tips For Bringing Back Fun and Playfulness Into Your Relationship
Have you and your spouse forgotten how to have fun?

Here are some suggestions:

Bring humor back into your relationship:
  • Watch funny movies
  • Go to a comedy club
  • Play games
  • Tell jokes
  • Change your perspective and try to see the humorous side to life's small challenges
  • Learn to laugh more
  • Allow yourself to be "silly" without judging yourself or your spouse
Choose activities that you both enjoy:
  • Dust off those dancing shoes and hit the dance floor
  • Go for a walk out in nature
  • Take cooking lessons
  • Learn yoga
  • Sign up for art classes
Lighten Up:
  • Don't get into arguments over petty issues
  • Do role plays where you pretend to be different people
  • Use your imagination and get creative

Getting Help in Couples Therapy
Some couples need help to get out of their own way in order to bring back fun and playfulness into their relationship.

Sometimes, there are certain issues that need to get worked out in the relationship before each person can feel comfortable with letting go to have fun.

Getting Help in Couples Therapy

If this is the case in your relationship, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who works with couples and who has experience with helping couples to learn to have a loving and fulfilling relationship again.

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

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

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

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Overcoming Fear of Success Linked Unconsciously to Fear of Being Disloyal to Your Family

Many clients come to therapy because they struggle with achieving successful completions.  This difficulty can involve almost anything from a writer's struggles to complete a story to a student's struggles to complete high school or college.

Fear of Success Linked Unconsciously to Fear of Being Disloyal to Your Family
Regardless of the particular issue involved, people with this fear often experience unconscious internal conflict about achieving a successful completion.  In this article, I'll address a particular type of fear which involves fear of success linked unconsciously to fear of being disloyal to the family.

Unconscious Fear of Being Disloyal to the Family
People who have this problem often blame themselves by calling themselves "lazy" or "stupid" because they don't understand the unconscious root of their problem.

There can be many reasons why a person struggles with internal conflict about successful completions. One common reason is an unconscious fear of being disloyal to the family.

Let's take a look at a vignette, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, to see how this problem can play out in a person's life:

Ted came to therapy because he was having problems completing an article for a professional journal  that had a deadline which was looming over his head.

Overcoming Fear of Success Linked Unconsciously to Fear of Being Disloyal to the Family

When Ted first came to therapy, he couldn't understand why he was having such a problem completing the the project.  He was an experienced writer who had written many articles before.  But the difference  with this particular article was that his publisher told Ted that he had a chance to get significant recognition in his field, including lucrative speaking engagements, by publishing this article, and Ted felt more "blocked" than he had ever felt before.

It didn't make sense to him why he was struggling so much.

It was obvious that we weren't going to get anywhere in therapy by just talking about it, and there was no quick fix for Ted's problem.

So, I educated Ted about the mind-body connection and how the body can provide information about what's happening on an unconscious level (see my article:  The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Provides a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

I asked Ted to focus on where he sensed the emotional discomfort in his body when he thought about writing the article, and he was able to say he felt tension in his upper stomach.

As we stayed with the feeling and where he felt it in his body, I asked Ted to just see what images, thoughts or feelings came to mind.

As Ted continued to sense into what he was experiencing, he began having thoughts about his mother, who died several years ago.

At first, Ted didn't think his thoughts about his mother were relevant, but I asked him to stay with it and see what else came up.

As he stayed with it, he identified feelings of anxiety, guilt and sadness, but he didn't know why he was feeling this way.

Over time, in subsequent sessions, we continued to work in this way, and Ted began having memories of his mother struggling to make ends meet by cleaning other people's houses after Ted's father left the household.

As the sole supporter of Ted and his younger brother, his mother would often come home exhausted.  As a child, Ted had a very strong wish that he could do something to make his mother's life easier, but he was only 10 years old, so there was nothing he could do.

There were times his mother's employers, who had significant financial means, were inconsiderate of her and didn't pay her on time.  Sometimes, weeks would go by before they paid her, and she was too afraid of being fired to ask for the money.  This usually meant that she was late with the rent.

During one session, as Ted was focusing on his emotions and physical sensations, he remembered how, as a child, he felt such hatred for these people.  He was surprised because he had not thought about this in many years.

Then, Ted felt overwhelmed with sadness as he realized that he was "blocked" in his work because he now had a chance to get significant recognition, and possibly make a lot of money, and he feared being in the same league as his mother's former employers, the people who mistreated his mother.

Unconscious Fear that Success Would Mean Disloyalty to His Mother

Ted remembered that, as a child, he hated people who had a of money.  But, as an adult, Ted he knew better than to lump all people with financial means together as one group.

He also knew that he would never behave the way that his mother's employers did.  But, on an emotional level, he felt his old childhood feelings, which were that his allegiance to his mother's memory would be broken if he became financially successful.

As we continued to work together over time, I helped Ted to work through his conflict and to begin to distinguish himself on an emotionally level (as opposed to only a cognitive level) from "them."

We worked with this younger self using clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy) to soothe and calm the part of himself that became the repository of these old feelings.

We also worked to help Ted to "update" his emotional reaction to his dilemma to reflect what he now understood as an adult--namely, that being successfully would not be a form of disloyalty to his mother (see my article:  Working Through Emotional Trauma: Separating "Then" From "Now").

We also worked through the grief Ted was holding onto for the loss of both his mother and father.

Over time, as we worked through his conflict, Ted became calmer and his ideas began to flow.    He was no longer blocked.

Ted became more confident.  He no longer felt that becoming successful would make him disloyal to his mother.

As Ted Worked Through His Emotional Conflict, He Became More Confident 

As he became more confident, he felt good about his writing again, and he began sharing his draft with his wife, who was emotionally supportive of Ted throughout the process.

Ted was able to complete the article on time, and he was able to enjoy the success that came with it without feeling guilty.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many clients come to therapy because they can't understand why they have problems with completions, whether it's completing a college degree or completing a particular project.

Often, by the time they come to therapy, their difficulty with completions has had a significant impact on their lives.

There can be many reasons why people struggle with completing projects or tasks.  The struggle often involves unresolved unconscious psychological issues tied to family history.

If you 're struggling with this issue, you don't need to struggle alone.  You owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who has expertise helping clients with this problem.

Working through this issue can free you from an emotional burden that's holding you back.

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

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

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