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Monday, June 26, 2017

Are You Waiting For Happiness?

Are you telling yourself that you're waiting for something to happen in your life in order for you to be happy? (see my articles: Redefining Happiness and SuccessHow to Stop Pretending to Feel Happy When You Don'tAre You Afraid to Allow Yourself to be Happy?

Whether this "something" is winning the lottery, accomplishing a long-term goal, meeting your soul mate or having a child, it's usually a mistake to place your happiness in the hands of someone else or in some external event (see my article: Living in the State of "If Only".

Are You Waiting For Happiness?

The problem is that whatever you've told yourself that you need in order to feel that you've finally "arrived" or that you'll finally be happy usually only brings the kind of happiness you're imagining for a short time while it's still a novelty, and then the usual dissatisfaction sinks in again.

Why is Happiness Fleeting?
When you fix your sights on some person or event in the future to make you happy, you're placing your happiness at some point in the future (see my article: What is Happiness and Where Do You Find It?).

Are You Waiting For Happiness?

Not only are you giving away your power, but you're also overlooking so many things that are happening right now that you're not appreciating (see my article: Keeping a Gratitude Journal).

The more you convince yourself that someone or something in the future will make you happy, the more likely it will be that you'll go around with blinders for the great things that are in the present.

It's not that you wouldn't be happy if you entered into a new relationship or accomplished a long-term goal or got a great job.  It's just that these things are external, and you're telling yourself that you're not enough.

It's like you're constantly waiting and, meanwhile, life is passing you by.

Having the mindset that you're waiting for something outside yourself for you to be happy sets up a pattern where you can keep thinking that you're waiting for the next thing and the next thing, and so on.

Also, you can be happy in the moment and still feel that your life lacks meaning, direction and purpose, which can lead to a shallow life.

A Fictionalized Vignette 

Mary lived her life as a very goal oriented person.

She worked a full time job and went to college at night.  Because of her busy schedule, she didn't have a lot of time to socialize with friends.  Although this was lonely for her, she told herself that once she graduated college, she would be happy.

When she graduated college at the top of her class, Mary felt proud of herself for her accomplishment.  But, after a while, she realized that she didn't really feel happy, and the pride she felt wore off after a short time.

Are You Waiting for Happiness?
This was disappointing to her, but then she told herself that she would be happy once she got a good job, so she put all her time and effort into the job search.  Once again, she postponed being social and seeing friends because she thought that her happiness hinged on finding a great job.

After searching for a few months, Mary landed exactly the kind of job that she always dreamed about.  Once again, she was proud of herself for working so hard to get this job.

But after a few months, whatever positive feelings she felt wore off.  She realized that her job, although allowing her to be creative and being a good paying job, didn't really bring her happiness.  In fact, she felt a little empty inside after a while, which was disappointing.

Then, she decided that in order for her to be happy, she needed to be in a relationship with a man that she really loved, so she spent a lot of time on dating sites and she went out more on dates.

Dating was a little discouraging at first, but then she met a man that she really liked.  They dated for several months, realized that they were in love and made a commitment to be monogamous.

Mary was thrilled with her new boyfriend and looked forward to seeing him.  But a couple of years later, when she asked herself if she was really happy, she realized that some of the initial excitement that she felt had worn off.

Although she loved him and she knew that he loved her, she wasn't as happy as she thought she would be, and this was very disappointing to her.  She couldn't understand it--she had all the things that she thought she would need to make her happy, but she still wasn't truly happy. Something was missing.

Mary's awareness that she wasn't feeling as happy as she had anticipated threw her into a tailspin.  She felt that something must really be wrong with her if she didn't feel happy now.

It wasn't that she was unhappy--she just didn't have that feeling that she thought she would have that she "arrived" in her life.

 Soon after that, Mary started therapy to deal with the emotional crisis she was struggling with.

After a few months in therapy where she explore her feelings, Mary realized that she had a narrow definition of happiness and that in most people's lives happiness is fleeting.  She also realized that there isn't any one thing or person that will create the feeling of happiness in her.

"So," she told her therapist, "if happiness is fleeting, what is it that I really want?  What makes a good life?"

Over time, as Mary continued to explore and reflect on her feelings, she realized that what she really wanted was to have a meaningful life, but she wasn't sure what that meant (see my article: A Search For a Meaningful Life).

Mary and her therapist continued to explore what that meant for Mary.  It wasn't a quick or smooth process, but Mary felt like she was finally focusing on what really mattered to her.

Are You Waiting For Happiness?

Gradually, Mary began to define her core values and what she considered to be meaningful.  She also started to see the difference between having a "happy life" and having a "meaningful life."

She realized that it wasn't realistic to expect to feel happy all the time, but she could strive to live a meaningful life by being true to her core values.

She also learned to develop an appreciation for the here-and-now rather than always focusing on the future.  In doing so, she realized that she had a lot to be grateful for and this was a lot more meaningful to her than waiting for an illusive sense of happiness at some point in the future.

In my next article, I'll discuss the difference between happiness and meaningfulness and why it's important to understand the difference for your sense of well-being.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've lived your whole life waiting to be happy, you can find it challenging to understand why the things you thought would bring you lasting happiness don't.  It can also be difficult to change your way of thinking.

Getting Help in Therapy
Working with a skilled psychotherapist can help you to explore your way of thinking, the patterns you have developed over time, and how to make changes to lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

This is a common problem that many people have, which is reinforced by our culture, so it is often deeply ingrained.

Stepping outside your normal way of thinking can be difficult, but with the help of an experienced mental health professional, you can develop a more meaningful life.

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

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

Overcoming the Insecurity and Jealousy That's Ruining Your Relationship

Adults, who have unresolved childhood trauma, are often insecure and jealous in their adult relationships.  They can make demands on their spouse or partner for constant reassurance, and they often perceive threats to the relationship where none exist (see my article: Overcoming Jealousy).

Overcoming Insecurity and Jealousy That's Ruining Your Relationship
Sadly, these adults may bring about the demise of their relationship by these demands and their emotional reactions to outside threats that don't exist.  These reactions take a toll on the relationship and erode its stability.

So, if the other partner is faithful, why does the partner who is jealous and insecure perceive threats where there are none?

Assuming there has been no history of infidelity, the answer is often found within the unresolved childhood trauma that is still playing out in adulthood (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past).

Even though the trauma might have occurred many years before, it can get triggered again and again in the present, especially if the trauma was never addressed in therapy (see my article: Healing Old Emotional Childhood Wounds).

The psychological effect of the trauma remains within the traumatized brain and comes alive again under certain circumstances.  

An Example of How Unresolved Childhood Trauma Can Create Problems in Adult Relationships:
The following is a fictionalized vignette that demonstrates these dynamics:

Alice and Ted were married for five years when they came to couples therapy at Ted's suggestion.  He told the therapist that he was at his wit's end trying to deal with Alice's jealousy and frantic need for reassurance that he loves her.  

Ted told the therapist, "No matter how many times I try to reassure her, it's never enough.  I just don't know if I can do this much longer.  It's driving me crazy.  I've never cheated on her and there's no else in my life, but Alice becomes obsessed with jealousy and she can't stop crying and yelling at me.  She becomes inconsolable."

Overcoming the Insecurity and Jealousy That's Ruining Your Relationship
Alice agreed that she tends to get emotionally overwrought and she only realizes after the fact there's no reason to be upset.

She said, "I don't know what comes over me.  I feel like these waves of jealousy, fear, sadness and anger take control of me and I can't stop myself.  I really do know that Ted isn't cheating on me, but when these emotions get the best of me, my fear feels real.  Afterwards, I feel so ashamed and guilty and I tell Ted that it won't happen again, but then it happens again, even though I don't want it to.  I don't want to ruin my marriage."

Their childhood histories could not have been more different.  Whereas Ted grew up in a loving, stable home, Alice grew up in a chaotic family where her single mother was in and out of her life.  Her mother would often disappear unexpectedly and leave Alice in the care of a sibling who was only a few years older than Alice.

Making matters worse, Alice was removed from the home by the child welfare bureau and placed in foster care homes where she was physically abused.  This went on until Alice turned 18 and she moved out on her own.

Alice understood that the emotional upheaval that she experienced as a child caused her to feel insecure and it was difficult of her to trust people, especially in close relationships.

When she met Ted, one of the things that attracted her to him is that she knew he would be honest and trustworthy.  She knew he would be a good husband--and yet, five years in, she would regress to feeling like the insecure, scared child that she had been in the past.

The last argument that occurred between Alice and Ted a few days before they came for therapy.  Ted was talking about a project that he was working on with his colleague, Ellen.  In the course of the conversation, Ted mentioned that he had lunch with Ellen to go over a presentation that they were giving to senior management.  

"Right after I said it, I realized that it was a big mistake.  I could see the fear and anger in Alice's face, and I regretted mentioning it.  There's nothing going on between Ellen and I, and I think that deep down Alice knows this.  But in that moment, she started crying and accusing me of being unfaithful.  Then, she kept asking me to reassure her that I only wanted to be with her which, of course, I did.  But it didn't matter.  She kept crying and making accusations.  I got fed up and went to stay with my brother.  Even then, she was calling me and texting me.  She was desperate to talk to me, but I knew we would only continue to argue.  I knew I had to wait until she calmed down.  Then, she kept apologizing to me, but this keeps happening over and over again."

The therapist worked with Alice individually for a while to help her to become aware of her emotional triggers before these triggers overwhelmed her (see my article: Coping With Trauma: Becoming Aware of Emotional Triggers and Working on Emotional Trauma: Separating the Past From the Present).

As a first step, she taught Alice how to use mindfulness to keep herself centered and bring about increased awareness to her emotional reactivity, so Alice could keep herself from overreacting (see my article: Developing Coping Skills).

By using mindfulness and being aware of the triggers that caused her reactivity, over time, Alice gradually learned how to stop herself from going into an emotional tailspin and arguing with Ted.  This was a good first step and it worked for her most of the time, but she was still struggling with her insecurities and it took a lot of effort to stay calm.

Once Alice developed better coping skills and began practicing mindfulness, the therapist helped Alice to work through the unresolved childhood trauma using EMDR Therapy (see my articles: Overcoming Trauma With EMDR Therapy: When the Past is Affecting the Present and EMDR Therapy: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough).

EMDR therapy got to the root of Alice's unresolved childhood trauma so that, gradually, she was no longer triggered.  She worked through the loss, overwhelming fear and sadness that she experienced as a child, and she no longer got triggered with her husband.

Getting Help in Therapy
You might not understand the underlying issues that contribute to your emotions, but a skilled psychotherapist can help you to understand and overcome these problems (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than allowing your insecurity and jealousy to ruin your relationship and erode your self esteem, get help in therapy.  It could make all the difference for you and your partner.

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

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2017

Using Your Anger to Mobilize Yourself to Make Positive Changes

I've written about anger from different perspectives in prior articles: Holding Onto Anger is Like Drinking Poison and Expecting the Other Person to DieOvercoming Your Fear of AngerAnger Management: How to Control Your Anger and Letting Go of Resentment.  In this article, I'm focusing on how to use anger to help mobilize you to make the changes you want in your life.

Using Anger to Mobilize Yourself to Make Positive Changes

Anger Can Mobilize You to Make Changes That Are Difficult For You
Many people see anger as negative.

Part of the reason for this is that children are often raised to believe that they're "bad" if they're angry and if they express their anger.  This is especially true for girls.  This is one of the reasons why so many people have problems recognizing, experiencing and expressing their anger in a constructive way.

Children Are Often Told That They're "Bad" If They're Angry
But there's another way to look at anger, which is that anger can help to propel you to make major changes in your life, especially changes that you might be procrastinating about.

Making major changes in your life can be difficult.  It's rare to approach a major change without feelings of ambivalence.  So, part of you might really want to make a major change, but another part might be fearful of taking the necessary steps.

Becoming Aware of Your Anger
Before you can use your anger to propel you to change, you first have to be able to recognize that you're angry.

The fear and shame of being angry can be so great that many people will deny that they're angry even when it's obvious to everyone around them.

Becoming Aware of Your Anger
For people who deny ever feeling angry, their fear of their anger has affected them to the point where they unconsciously numb themselves emotionally.  Even if they're shaking with rage, shouting, red in the face, and their heart is pounding, they're so cut off from their body and their emotions that they really have no awareness that they're angry.

Before they can use their anger in a constructive way, they need to slow everything down in order to become aware of their bodily sensations.  Depending upon how dissociated they are from their body and emotions, it can take a while before they can allow themselves to experience their anger physically and emotionally.

Recognizing There's No Need to Feel Ashamed or Afraid of Being Angry
Part of the reason why people dissociate from their anger is that they associate anger with fear and shame.  After they become aware of their anger, they need to develop the capacity to tolerate the underlying feelings associated with their anger.

Recognizing There's No Need to Feel Ashamed or Afraid of Being Angry
Even when adults know that their fear and shame stem from what they were told as children, this intellectual understanding isn't enough for them to feel comfortable with accepting their anger.

For many people, getting to the point of feeling comfortable with anger is a process that can take a while to accomplish.

Recognizing Anger as a Secondary Emotion
Anger is often a secondary emotion.  It can mask other emotions that are much more uncomfortable for some people than anger.  One of those emotions is sadness.

People who are uncomfortable with allowing themselves to feel their sadness often fear that they will drown in their sadness--that it will be too overwhelming.

But this usually isn't the case.  If anything, the energy that it takes to suppress these underlying feelings is what's overwhelming and tiring.

Using Your Anger to Take Positive Steps to Change
You don't have to work through all your underlying feelings about anger in order to make positive changes in your life.

In order to use anger in a positive way, you need to be able to focus on your own needs rather than the external circumstances are that arouse your anger.

Examples of How to Use Anger to Make Positive Changes By Focusing on Your Needs:
  • Rather than focusing on how your boss, once again, took credit for your ideas, focus on what you need to do for yourself.  Do you need to communicate with your boss?  Do you need to start documenting your ideas? or do you need to start looking for another job?
  • Rather than being focusing on how you can change your spouse, who refuses to change, ask yourself what you need to do for yourself in order to be happy.  
  • Rather than focusing on your friend, who divulged personal information about  you that you asked her not to reveal, ask yourself what you need to do to take care of yourself.
  • Rather than being annoyed with your doctor who just told you that you need to lose weight for health reasons, ask yourself what you can do to get healthy.
These are just a few of many everyday circumstances that come up that often immobilize people.  I'm sure you can think of many more.

The point is that you can shift your focus from the external circumstances and focus on your own emotional, physical or spiritual well-being.

Of course, there are times when external circumstances warrant being addressed directly, as in the case, for example, of social injustice.  Under those circumstances, you can still use your anger to make positive changes for yourself as well as for systemic problems.

Rather than allowing anger to eat away at you, you can use your anger to be creative in coming up with positive solutions to the problem.

Getting Help in Therapy
Everything that I've discussed so far is about non-violent anger.  It's about anger that can be self destructive or even emotionally destructive to others, but it's not about physical violence.

If you or someone that you love has problems where s/he gets physically violent, that's a much more serious problem and requires professional help from a licensed mental health professional.

Working with a licensed psychotherapist can also help you if you have tried to shift your anger to your own needs and you've been unable to do it--for example, when your anger is related to emotional trauma that is overwhelming you.

Getting Help in Therapy
You're not alone.

Help is available.  A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the psychological obstacles that are hindering  you from having the life that 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.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions

In prior articles, I discussed how journal writing is beneficial for coping (see my articles: Journal Writing Can Relieve Stress and Anxiety and Writing to Cope with Grief).  In this article, I'm focusing on the benefits of journal writing between therapy sessions.

The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions

I usually recommend journal writing between therapy sessions to my clients, especially clients where we are doing experiential mind-body oriented therapy like EMDR Therapy, clinical hypnosis or Somatic Experiencing because so much comes up for them in session and between sessions.

What Comes Up Consciously and Unconsciously Between Therapy Sessions
Just because the therapy session has ended doesn't mean that the psychological processing has ended.  Whether you realize it or not, you continue to process in your mind what came up in your therapy session consciously and unconsciously after the session ends.

What you process psychologically on a conscious level is easier to remember--thoughts, memories, reactions to your session, and so on.  Although if you're very busy, you can forget or dismiss whatever comes up.

What you process on an unconscious level usually comes up in dreams, daydreams and in other ways, including songs or "ear worms" that play in your mind.

The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions

At first, you might not be aware of the relevance of what comes up between sessions to what you and your psychotherapist are working on.  You might also forget the unconscious material that comes up before your next session.

But if you write down your thoughts, dreams, daydreams, associations or whatever else comes up, you have access to this material to discuss at your next session and possibly for the next few sessions since a lot can come up between sessions.

Journal Writing to Keep the Therapeutic Dialogue Going
Aside from helping you to remember what comes up for you between sessions, journal writing can act like an internal dialogue that you have with yourself or with the various aspects of yourself that might be in conflict about a particular problem (see my article: Understanding the Many Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions

It's also a good way to continue an internal dialogue with your therapist, even if you bring up the material to her during your next session.

If you've been working with your therapist for a while, you have probably internalized your sense of your therapist and you can imagine how she would respond to whatever comes up.

This is a great way to extend whatever you were working on in therapy.  It's similar to a continuation of the session and helps you to integrate and deepen your insights and emotions.

Journal Writing Between Sessions Can Lead to Emotional Breakthroughs
It can also lead to a breakthrough in your work because it can lead to your making new connections between the past and the present or to various other parts of your life.

Allow Your Writing to Flow Without Judgment
For this kind of journal writing, I find that it's best just to allow yourself to get into a flow with your writing.  Just allow what comes up to come up without judging or analyzing it before or after you write it down.

By writing in this free form way, without judgment or analysis, you're more likely to be able to turn off the internal critic in your mind so that your thoughts and emotions flow (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

This allows you to get to thoughts and emotions that you probably wouldn't get to if you were judging yourself or judging your writing.

Self Care: Take Time For Yourself
To be able to do this type of writing, you need some quiet time to yourself--even 10 or 15 minutes would be beneficial, possibly before other family members wake up or after they go to sleep to ensure that you have quiet and privacy (see my article: Reconnecting With Your Inner World Without Distractions).

Becoming Aware of Your Progress in Therapy
Another advantage of journal writing between sessions is that, over time, you get to see the progress you've made in your therapy.  It's easy to forget how you were feeling when you first came to therapy, so if you have a journal to look back on, you can see your progress as compared to when you first started.

It's also important not to be a perfectionist about your journal.  Write it for yourself and decide afterwards if you want to share it with your therapist.

Getting Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help at some point in his or her life (see my article: The Benefits of Therapy).

Supportive friends and family members are important, but sometimes you need the help of a skilled psychotherapist to help you overcome your problems (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than suffering on your own, seek out an experienced psychotherapist who can help you to overcome your problems and 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.

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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Overcoming Worry: Rewriting the Story You've Been Telling Yourself

I've written prior articles about worry, including: How to Stop Worrying: What is Chronic Worrying and Steps You Can Take to Stop Worrying.  Today I'm focusing on the stories you might be telling yourself that are causing you to worry, and how you can stop worrying by rewriting these stories.

Rewriting the Story You've Been Telling Yourself

People who tend to worry often tell themselves negative stories about what could happen in the future.  Sometimes, this is based on prior experiences and other times it's based on the imagination.

Worrying is often habitual--the more you do it, the more you're likely to continue to do it, so it's important to have some tools to overcome this habit.

One way to overcome habitual worrying is to become aware that you're telling yourself a particular story, and this story often has no basis in fact.

Once you've become aware that you've developed a habit of telling yourself negative stories that cause you to worry, you need to replace this pattern with something else, and one possibility is to rewrite your story with a different ending or several other possible endings that represent how you'd like things to turn out.

Rewriting the story isn't just a way to soothe yourself, it also makes you more aware of all the different possibilities that you're not considering when you only focus on negative possibilities.

It also opens up your mind to other creative solutions to your problem that you might not have considered before.

Here's an example:
Mary worried that she would never advance in her career.

Overcoming Worry: Rewriting the Story You're Telling Yourself

Her negative thoughts about herself kept her from proposing the kind of work projects to her boss where she could stand out and, at the same time, make a positive contribution to her organization.

Although she had many creative ideas, she worried that her ideas would be rejected, so she never mentioned them to her boss.

But she also realized that her colleagues often proposed ideas that were similar to the ones she kept to herself and they were often rewarded for them with career advancement and more money.

This was frustrating for Mary because she knew that she was talking herself out of putting her ideas forward by worrying that they would be rejected.

So, on the advice of her psychotherapist, Mary wrote out a story based on her worries and read it to herself out loud.

As soon as she heard herself read these words out loud, she knew that her worries were unfounded, but she still continued to worry.

Then, she began rewriting her story, which was a struggle for her because her habitual worrying about putting herself out there and her fear of a negative outcome had become so ingrained that it was hard for her to come up with a different ending other than the one that always played out in her head.

Since it was so hard for Mary to see anything but a negative outcome and reasons to worry, her therapist suggested that Mary write the story as if it was about someone else.

So, Mary wrote about a close friend, Susan, who had a similar problem, and it was much easier.

As Mary began to envision other ways for Susan to overcome her habitual worry and negative thoughts, she could see how Susan could be successful if she just stopped listening to the stories she was telling herself and persisted in her efforts.

After Mary rewrote her own story with Susan as the protagonist and she allowed Susan to have a successful ending to story, Mary was able to see that there was no reason why she couldn't take these steps herself.

As soon as she reread the story with a positive ending, something opened up in Mary and she had a flow of creative ideas about what she could do to write up her proposals for her boss and the what steps she could take.

Being able to see herself and her ideas in a new way was liberating for Mary, and she felt a renewed sense of creativity.

She also told herself, "What's the worst that can happen?" and she answered herself by telling herself that her ideas might be rejected, but she could live with that.  What she felt she could no longer live with was stifling herself and watching other people get rewarded for ideas that were similar to hers.

Within a short time, she gave her boss her proposal for a project to improve the organization and why she thought she would be the right person to head up this project. Her boss really liked her ideas and gave her the green light to go ahead.

Overcome Worry: Rewriting the Story You're Telling Yourself

A few months later, Mary succeeded with her  project and when a senior position opened up in the organization, her boss promoted her and gave her a substantial increase.

Psychological Trauma Can Get in the Way of Overcoming Habitual Worrying
For people who have experienced psychological trauma, it can be very difficult to let go of worrying because one of the symptoms of trauma is often hypervigiliance.

This means that the person is constantly worrying and anticipating what could go wrong, so they are constantly worrying.

For people who have experienced trauma, the suggestions that I've given in this article are often not enough.  They need help to overcome the trauma from a skilled psychotherapist.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have difficulty stopping yourself from worrying, you could benefit from seeing a skilled licensed mental health professional.

Rather than suffering on your own, recognize that you're not alone.

With help from a licensed psychotherapist, you can stop worrying 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.

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, May 22, 2017

A Relationship with a Narcissistic Partner: Where Did the Love Go?

I've written prior articles about being in a relationship with a narcissistic romantic partner or spouse, including: A Relationship with a Narcissistic Person Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Self Esteem,  Coping Strategies For Being in a Relationship with a Narcissistic PartnerHow Narcissism Begins at an Early Age, and Narcissism: An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame
In this article, I'm addressing a particular aspect of being in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic traits, which is how a relationship can start as a whirlwind romance and end with a thud.

A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner: Where Did the Love Go?

As I've mentioned before in other articles, I usually don't think of people in terms of diagnosis (see my article: Psychotherapy: You're Not Defined By Your Diagnosis).  So, although I do believe that everyone is an individual, there are certain general recurring patterns that tend to occur when you get involved with someone who has strong narcissistic traits.

The Whirlwind Romance
Many people who have narcissistic traits can be very romantic at the outset of the relationship.  They might wine and dine you and sweep you off your feet before you even realize what's happening.

A Relationship with a Narcissistic Partner: Where Did the Love Go?

This is a very heady, romantic time for both people involved.  They will put you on a pedestal.  Often, they will treat you like you're the most special person that they've ever been in a relationship with--they've never felt this way before about anyone else.

The relationship is very exciting at this stage and the sex is usually passionate.

Taking the Relationship to the Next Level
Soon after that, they might tell you that the two of you should move in together or plan a wedding.  You might be surprised, but since every seems to be going so well, you might think, "This was meant to be!"

A Relationship with a Narcissistic Partner: Fantasizing About a Wedding

You might find yourself looking at wedding dresses and looking at wedding venues online.

After a While, They Become Less Available
In most relationships where things are going well, some of the passion might wear off, as is normal, but the emotional intimacy grows deeper and the relationship becomes more meaningful.

But when you're involved with someone who has narcissistic traits, this is when things start to go south:  Your partner is less available.  S/he might start cancelling dates because of other pressing matters at work.

At this point, you definitely get the sense that something has changed and you are right.  What has changed is that your partner has started to get to know you better.

You're no longer that idealized person in his or her imagination--you're a real person that has flaws as well as strengths, as does everyone.

But to the person with narcissistic traits, you're no longer as attractive as s/he imagined you to be.  S/he wants the idealized person that was in his or her imagination--not the real person.  And therein lies the problem.

The person who has strong narcissistic traits is often incapable of having a mature relationship once the heady romantic time is over and reality hits.

Generally speaking, people with narcissistic traits often don't understand this about themselves, so rather than taking responsibility for their own shortcomings in this area, they often blame you:  "You're not the person that you led me to believe that you were" or you will probably blamed in some other way.

Soon after that, the relationship fizzles out because they are looking for someone new in order to recreate that idealistic, romantic relationship again and you're "old news."

It's very difficult to have closure with your former romantic partner because he or she is already thinking about how to meet the next person or is already infatuated with someone else.

What's Real?
You might be shocked to discover how soon your partner gets involved again.  This can cause you to question what's real.  Did you ex really care about you?

A Relationship with a Narcissistic Partner:  Asking Yourself, "What's real?"

The answer to that question is difficult.

First, people who are highly narcissistic usually lack the capacity to love deeply in a mature way.

As I mentioned earlier, they often get wrapped up in the idea of the romantic relationship and idealize you in a way that makes you seem "perfect."

Since you're perfect in their eyes, this is also indirectly a reflection on them, so they must be "perfect" too, and together you're "perfect couple"--until you're not.

Once you begin to show normal human flaws, you're no longer "perfect" and whatever self-imposed spell your partner was under is gone.

You're no longer desirable or fun or whatever other qualities s/he thought you had before you showed yourself to be a normal human being.

Breakup Anxiety
It can be very disorienting to know that while you're heartbroken and riddled with anxiety about what happened to the relationship, your ex is already out and about looking for the next romantic partner.

Many people who have experienced this question their own sense of reality about what happened and how the relationship went from being so loving to nothing.

Having to deal with this on your own (since your ex probably isn't going to be helpful) creates breakup anxiety, and you can feel very alone with it.

Some people even question their self worth, which can devolve into a depressive episode without professional help.

Getting Help in Therapy
A skilled psychotherapist who is knowledgeable about the patterns involved with this type of relationship can help you to understand what happened, process your feelings, get closure and regain a sense of self confidence again.

So, you're not alone, and rather than struggling on your own, you can seek help from an experienced psychotherapist who has worked with this issue in a way that you can't on your own.

Once you have worked through the emotional pain of this type of breakup, you can lead a more fulfilling life with someone who is emotionally mature and ready for a full relationship and not just a fantasy.

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, May 13, 2017

Becoming the Mother You Wish You Had

Donald Winnicott, a well-respected British psychoanalyst and pediatrician, introduced the idea of the "good enough mother" (see my article: Books: Tea With Winnicott at 87 Chester Square).

Becoming the Mother You Wish You Had

Thousands of British mothers listened to his BBC broadcasts from 1943-1962 during which he spoke about motherhood and infant development in ordinary terms without using psychoanalytic jargon.

He dispelled the idea that mothers had to be perfect--they only needed to be good enough, which was a relief to most mothers (see my article: Perfect vs. Good Enough).

Winnicott's message is as true and valuable today as it was back then because many new mothers fear that they're going to be inadequate, especially women who had mothers who were abusive or neglectful.  This is also true for women who didn't grow up with a mother.

Their fears are that they will make the same mistakes that their mothers made with emotionally damaging effects to their new babies (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes).

The following fictional vignette illustrates these points:

When Agnes found out that she was pregnant, after trying to conceive for a few years, she and her husband were elated.

Becoming the Mother You Wish You Had

Although Agnes was thrilled beyond words, she also developed an overwhelming fear that she would become like her mother--cold, emotionally withholding and critical.

Even though her husband attempted to alleviate Agnes' concerns, telling her that she was nothing like her mother, her fears became more intense over time.

She was flooded with memories of frequently being left alone and lonely (see my article: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated).

Whenever, as a child, Agnes attempted to get her mother's attention, her mother treated her like she was a nuisance.

Her father was frequently away on business trips, and when he was home, he secluded himself in his study, so Agnes spent most of her time alone.

As an only child, Agnes was left on her own to play and keep herself entertained.  She would often pretend that she had a kind guardian angel, who loved her, watched over her and kept her safe.

After a while, as the pregnancy progressed, Agnes realized that she needed to get help because her fear of being like her mother began to overwhelm her, so she sought a recommendation from her doctor, who referred Agnes to therapy.

Initially, Agnes had many worries about being in therapy.  She worried that she "wouldn't do it right" or that she would be a disappointment to her therapist (see my article: Fear of Being a Disappointment to Your Therapist).

Her therapist explained the concept of transference in therapy and that many psychotherapy clients,  especially clients who had emotionally withholding and critical parents, had similar fears (see my article: Psychotherapy and the Effects of Parental Transference).

Over time, Agnes began to distinguish her childhood fears from her current relationship with her therapist, who was warm and nonjudgmental (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now."

Agnes never realized that the emotional neglect that she experienced as a child was traumatic (see my article:  What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?).

She always thought of childhood trauma as being related to physical abuse (see my article: Psychotherapy to Overcome Past Childhood Trauma).

However, as she and her therapist worked together, Agnes understood how damaging it was not feel loved when she was growing up and how much she longed for that as a child (see my article: What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Problems Later on as an Adult?)

Agnes was also able to work through much of the childhood trauma in therapy.  She mourned for what she wanted from her parents and didn't get.  As part of working through these issues, Agnes learned to nurture and appreciate the child part of herself (as known as inner child).

She also realized that she could be the mother that she wished she had had as a child.  She made distinctions between herself and her mother, and she felt deep down that she was very different from her mother.

As her husband had told her all along, Agnes realized that she was a warm, nurturing person and she wouldn't be cold, withholding or critical.  The difference between her husband telling her and Agnes working it through for herself in therapy was that Agnes actually felt it in therapy.

Over time, Agnes also realized that, even though she would make mistakes because no one is perfect, she didn't have to be a perfect mother--she just needed to be good enough.

Getting Help in Therapy
For many women, who were not fortunate enough to have nurturing, loving mothers, their fear that they will become their mothers is strong.

Although family members and friends can be emotionally supportive and try to convince these women that they're nothing like their mothers, often these are experienced as only words.

Working in therapy to overcome unresolved childhood trauma and work through these fears can make all the difference between being an anxious, self doubting mother and being more self assured.

If the vignette in this article resonates with you, whether you're a mother-to-be or a father-to-be with the same fears, you're not alone.

Getting help from a skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome these fears so that you and your family can have a more fulfilling lives.

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

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

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

NYC Psychotherapy Blog: Are You Setting Boundaries That Are Too Rigid?

In a prior article,  Setting Healthy Boundaries, I discussed how to set healthy boundaries.  In this article, I'm focusing on how to overcome setting boundaries that are too rigid.

Are You Setting Boundaries That Are Too Rigid?
Most of the time when we think of setting boundaries, we think about boundaries that are too loose.

But there are some people who set boundaries that are too rigid and they end up having problems in their interpersonal relationships.

Signs That Your Boundaries Might Be Too Rigid
  • You spend most of your time alone.
  • Your plans don't include other people.
  • You feel lonely, disconnected and alienated from others (see my article: Overcoming Loneliness and Social Isolation).
  • You don't get to know other people because you don't open up to them or allow them to open up to you.
  • You're unhappy because you feel that others don't know the real you, but you also fear allowing them to get to know the real you (see my article:  Overcoming the Fear That Others Won't Like You If They Knew the Real You).
  • You've alienated others because you keep them at a distance.
  • Family or friends complain that you keep them shut out emotionally because you've built a wall around yourself.
  • Other people seem to dislike you, misunderstand you or feel put off by you because you're emotionally cold towards them.
And so on.

What Are Some of the Reasons Why You Might Be Setting Rigid Boundaries?
Generally, people who set rigid boundaries have often experienced prior emotional trauma that makes them fearful of allowing people to get close to them.

This can include an early history of physical abuse or neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and other forms of abuse (see my article: Adults Who Were Traumatized as Children Are Often Afraid to Experience All Their Feelings).

Are You Setting Boundaries That Are Too Rigid?

If you're setting rigid boundaries, you probably don't feel safe allowing others to get to know you beyond the surface, so you might use maladaptive coping strategies or defense mechanisms that include keeping yourself walled off and shutting others out (see my article: How Therapy Can Help You to Gradually Take Down the "Wall" You've Built Around Yourself).

What Are Some of the Problems You Might Be Having As a Result of Rigid Boundaries?
We are all hard wired for emotional attachment.

Everyone has a basic need for emotional connection, even people who deny to themselves and others that this is what they need.

As I mentioned earlier, if you're setting rigid boundaries with others, you probably feel lonely a lot of the time.

You might not make the connection between your loneliness and the rigid boundaries that you set with others.  You might not even realize that you're setting rigid boundaries because it might be unconscious on your part.

You might feel like others don't like you or they're the ones who are avoiding you--when, in fact, what's really happening is that others sense you want them to remain at a distance.

This isn't always something that is clearly defined--it might be a vague sense that others have to keep away from you.

Rigid Boundaries: Others Sense You Want Them to Keep Their Distance

Due to this dynamic, there is a spiraling effect:  You signal to others, either consciously or  unconsciously, that you don't want others to get too close to you.  Then, others respond by keeping their distance from you.

But just like everyone else, you need emotional connection, so you end up feeling lonely and then wonder why others are keeping their distance.  This, in turn, can lead to you're feeling annoyed or resentful, which further signals to others to stay away.

Overcoming the Need to Set Rigid Boundaries With Others
The first step in overcoming this problem is self awareness.

Without self awareness, you won't know that you're creating this dynamic with others and there will be little to no chance of changing it.

The next step is getting help in therapy to overcome the original problem that created the need for you to keep people at a distance.

Getting Help in Therapy
Often, people with rigid boundaries come into therapy because they feel lonely, misunderstood or alienated from others.

Even if they're missing having close connections with others, they might not know how to make those connections.

The underlying problems that lead to forming rigid boundaries often starts at a young age.

It's hard to change from having rigid boundaries to having healthy, flexible boundaries without professional help.

Getting Help in Therapy to Overcome Unresolved Trauma That Results in Rigid Boundaries

A skilled psychotherapist, who is trained in trauma therapy, can help you with unresolved trauma to work through these problems so you can learn to trust and form healthy relationships.

This isn't easy or quick, but trauma therapy has helped many people with rigid boundaries and other similar problems.

I'll be writing more about this in my next article.

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

One of my specialties is helping adults to overcome psychological trauma, and I have helped many people to overcome their trauma history so they could go on to 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.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship Choices

When unrealistic wishful thinking gets in the way of your using good judgment about a relationship, chances are you're setting yourself up to make poor choices and to experience a big disappointment (see my articles:  Emotionally Unhealthy Relationships: Bad Luck or Poor Choices?,  Falling in Love With "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again  and  Relationships: Learning to Make Better Choices).

Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship Choices

Wishful thinking about a relationship, as I'm defining it in this article, is a form of denial and self deception based on what you would like to believe as opposed to reality.

Let's look at a fictionalized scenario that illustrates these points.

Before Ginny met Ron at Cindy's party, she was lonely and unhappy because she had not been in a relationship for several years.  She feared that she would never get married and have children, which she really wanted more than anything.

From the moment she met Ron, she was swept off her feet.  She realized that she never laughed so much or had so much fun with anyone else.  Not only was he a lot of fun, he was handsome, charming and witty.

The first time they made love, Ginny's experience was beyond what she had ever experienced in any other relationship.

Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship Choices 

And when Ron told Ginny that he loved her that first night they made love, she felt like she was so happy that she would burst.  She told him that she loved him too, and they remained in each other's arms for the rest of the night.

Soon after that, Ginny told her friend, Cindy, that she was sure Ron would be the man that she would marry.  She knew she had never felt this way before and she was sure that Ron felt the same way about her.

Cindy listened to Ginny gush about Ron, and she hesitated before she responded because she didn't want to disappoint Ginny, "Ginny, I'm glad you're having a great time with Ron.  I feel badly saying this, but I've known Ron for a long time, and I think you should know that he has a reputation as a womanizer.  He doesn't remain with anyone for long.  I don't want to see you get hurt" (see my article: Could It Be That Your Friends See Things About Your Lover That You Don't See?).

Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship Choices

Ginny felt like ice water had been thrown in her face.  Initially, she was shocked and then she felt hurt and angry.  She thought that Cindy was jealous and wanted to ruin things between her and Ron, "I can't believe you're saying this to me!  He told me that he loves me and I believe him.  What we have is real, and I'm not going to let you spoil it."

Ginny continued to see Ron several times a week for the next few months.  Even when she wasn't with him, she spent nearly all of her time thinking about him and what their future together might be like.

When Ginny suggested to him that they go away for a long weekend, Ron told her that he loved the idea, but he would need to check his schedule because he knew he had a business trip coming up.

Ginny hoped that they could go away for his birthday, which was coming up in a couple of weeks.  But when Ron got back to her, he told her that, unfortunately, that was the weekend that he had to go to a business convention in California, and he couldn't get out of it.

He also didn't know when he could get away from work.  He assured her that he really wanted to spend a long weekend with her, but he suggested that they wait to plan it.

At first, Ginny was disappointed that she wouldn't be with Ron on his birthday. But then she had an idea--she would surprise him by showing up at his hotel.  Then, they could, at least, spend some time together on his birthday.

So, Ginny found out the name of the hotel, and she made her plane reservations for the night of his birthday.

Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship Choices

She felt giddy with how happy he would be when he opened his door and saw her standing there.  She was sure it would be the best night they had ever had together.

A week before Ron left, Ginny bought him an expensive watch that he had been eyeing while they were window shopping.  It cost a lot more than Ginny could afford, but she wanted Ron to know how much she loved him.  Besides, it would be worth it to see the look of joy on his face when she gave it to him on his birthday.

All the way on her flight from New York City to California, Ginny closed her eyes and imagined seeing Ron.  She imagined him taking her in his arms and kissing her, being so happy that she surprised him on his special day.

She also imagined that Ron would realize this weekend that they were perfect for each other, and he would propose to her.  Just the thought of his marriage proposal made her smile to herself.  Only a few months ago, she was worried that she was in her mid-30s and that she would never get married and have children.  Now, she was happier than she had ever been in her life.

When Ginny got to the hotel, she could feel her heart pounding as she became increasingly excited about seeing how surprised and happy Ron would be.

When she got to the door, she hesitated for a second and then she knocked.  When Ron opened the door, Ginny leaped into his arms, "Surprise!  Happy birthday!"

But when she looked at Ron's face, she was shocked to see that he looked confused and annoyed. Then, from the corner of her eye, she could see there was a woman in his bed.

Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship Choices

At first, Ginny froze and she barely heard Ron say, "Ginny, what are you doing here!?!  You shouldn't have come without telling me."

Then, he closed the door in her face, saying, "We'll talk about this when I get back to New York."

Then, as she stood there frozen holding the gift bag with his watch, Ginny heard Ron and the woman in his room laughing, and she felt like she was having a nightmare (see my article: Relationships: Falling For Charisma Instead of Character).

When she was finally able to move, Ginny ran out of the hotel, took a taxi to the airport and got herself on the next flight back to New York.

All the way back to New York, she couldn't believe this was happening.  She couldn't get the image of that woman out of her head.  She cried quietly to herself throughout the entire flight.

When she got home, she tried to reach Ron on his cellphone several times, but the calls went straight to voicemail.  And by the next day, he had not responded to any of her messages, so she kept trying him, but she couldn't reach him.

She felt desperate to speak to him and get some explanation, so she called the hotel and tried to reach him through the hotel operator, but the calls went to voicemail.

Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship Choices

Then, she thought she might be able to reach him on the convention floor, so she asked the hotel operator to put her through to the convention floor, but the operator told her that there was no convention at the hotel this weekend.

Stunned, Ginny hung up the phone and sat still for a long time.  All she could think was: There must be some explanation for this.  Maybe he was drunk and he made a mistake that night.  I could forgive him if he apologized and made a mistake.

But then, she thought:  If he made a mistake, why did he look annoyed to see me?  Why didn't he just tell the other woman to leave when he saw me standing there?  Did I really see a woman in his bed or was it my imagination?  Why did he tell me that he was attending a convention?

The next few days were agonizing for Ginny.  She didn't hear back from Ron and he wasn't taking her calls.  She knew that he was back at work, so she tried him there, but she kept getting his voicemail.

She debated back and forth in her mind if she should go to his apartment and confront him there.  She started walking to his apartment and turned around and walked back home several times before she decided that she just had to see him and talk to him.

As she rang his buzzer, she feared that she might see him again with another woman, but when Ron opened the door, he was alone and let her in.

As she sat down on his couch, he stood peering at her with his arms folded across his chest.  She had never seen him look so angry before.

After an awkward silence he told her, "You shouldn't have come without telling me.  What happened was your own fault."

While Ginny tried to get an explanation from him, Ron talked over her and said he didn't want to see her anymore and she should leave.

Then, he turned his back on her, walked into his bedroom and closed the the bedroom door, leaving Ginny standing there alone.  She had no choice to leave but to leave (see my article: A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner Can Ruin Your Self Esteem).

During the next few weeks, against her pride and better judgment, Ginny pleaded with Ron to talk to her, but he ignored her messages.

Soon after that, Ginny started therapy to deal with her hurt and anger.  She also began to feel despair again that she would ever meet anyone else, and she was sure that she would never get married and, at her age, she might never have children.

Without the possibility of having closure with Ron, Ginny talked to her therapist to try to understand what happened (see my article: Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible).

Over time, she realized that her friend, Cindy, was right--Ron was a womanizer and couldn't be trusted.

Worse than that, Ginny allowed herself to get caught up in wishful thinking, which prevented her from using the good judgment that she usually had in most situations.

She realized that her doubts about ever meeting someone who would love her and would marry her blinded her from taking it slowly with Ron.  She allowed herself to be swept off her feet from the start before she even knew him well (see my article: Dating vs Being in a Relationship: Taking the Time to Get to Know Each Other).

In hindsight, she realized that there were other times when Ron made excuses and he was probably seeing other women all along.

Getting Help in Therapy to Choose Healthier Relationships

Ginny and her therapist worked on her low sense of self to build her confidence so that she felt worthy of being treated well and she wouldn't fall into that trap again.

Gradually, she felt more confident that she would meet another man who would treat her well.

It's very easy to fall into a trap where wishful thinking leads to denial about a relationship.

This is especially true when you're not feeling good about yourself and you have doubts about whether you will ever be in a serious relationship again.  When you feel this way, you're more likely to allow yourself to get swept up by someone new.

When you're lonely and unhappy, you're more susceptible to fooling yourself.

There might be obvious signs that others might see where you're turning a blind eye.

Getting Help in Therapy
There's nothing wrong with wanting to love and be loved, but when you develop a blind spot about someone you've just met, you're setting yourself up (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

If this has happened to you, rather than being hard on yourself, be as compassionate and forgiving towards yourself as you would be to your best friend (see my article: Psychotherapy and Compassionate Self Acceptance).

If you haven't been able to work through your sadness about a relationship that hasn't worked out, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

You're not alone.  A licensed psychotherapist can help you to overcome the emotional pain that you're going through and also help you to overcome the self defeating patterns that resulted in the pain.

With help in therapy, you can become more confident and learn have healthier romantic relationships.

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.