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Monday, July 17, 2017

Your Unresolved Trauma Can Affect Your Children

In a previous article, Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots, I began a discussion about how your unresolved trauma can affect your loved ones, including your children.  In this article, I'm exploring this further by delving deeper into the affect of parents' unresolved trauma on their children (see my article: Untreated Emotional Trauma is a Serious Issue With Negative Consequences and Overcoming Childhood Trauma That Affects Adult Relationships).

Your Unresolved Trauma Can Affect Your Child
Most parents want the best for their children and would never intentionally overlook a problem that their children are having.  But having an emotional blind spot usually means that the problem is out of your awareness so that you don't see it.  And if you don't see it for yourself, you often won't see it when it involves your children.

When the blind spot involves unresolved trauma, there's an even greater chance that the problem will go undetected.

A Fictionalized Vignette About How a Parent's Unresolved Trauma Can Affect a Child
The following fictionalized vignette is based on a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed:

Jane
After years of enduring a chaotic family environment, Jane was relieved to move out of her parents' home when she went away to college.  Her family home was a tense, volatile place where Jane never knew when one of her parents would explode.

Your Unresolved Trauma Can Affect Your Child
Jane was dimly aware that her parents had narrowly escaped from a repressive regime in their native country, but she didn't know what really happened because they refused to talk about it.  Their attitude was that, unlike many of their relatives, they were fortunate enough to leave their country and  they wanted to leave behind everything that happened to them.

Even though her parents' traumatic experiences were never spoken about or even acknowledged, Jane sensed that her parents' emotional volatility was related to their unspoken experiences, but she didn't know how or why.  And since her parents' attitude was that they "left it behind" them and they refused to talk about it, there was no way for Jane to bring this up.

Instead of discussing it, without their realizing it, her parents' earlier experiences came out in other unintended ways, including their constant warnings that the "world isn't a safe place."

Not only were they overly protective of her, from an objective point of view, but they would become hysterical with worry over minor issues, including Jane coming home a little late when she saw her friends.  They were highly anxious people and assumed that she had been kidnapped or murdered.

Aside from their anxiety and volatility, Jane's father would often drink too much.  This exacerbated the volatile situation at home because he would become loud and even angrier than usual.  He and Jane's mother would argue more when he was drunk (see my article: People Who Have Alcohol Problems Often Don't Get the Help They Need).

But whenever Jane tried to talk to her mother about the father's alcoholism, Jane's mother made excuses for him and told Jane that Jane couldn't possibly understand what she and Jane's father had been through in their native country, and the father drank to "take the edge off."

After trying to talk to her mother about it several times, Jane gave up.  She realized that, even though her mother didn't like the father's drinking, her mother felt too conflicted about it to address it with him.   She knew it was  futile to try to talk to her mother about it, so she began to "tune out" whenever her father was drunk, and it didn't bother her as much (see my article: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated).

Jane felt compassionate towards her parents, even if she wasn't really aware of what happened to them.  But after she graduated college, she moved in with her college roommates, and she only saw her parents occasionally because it was too hard for her to be around them.

When Jane got married and had a baby, she was determined to be different than her parents.  She loved her daughter a lot, and she made conscious decisions that were completely different from what her parents did with her, and she felt proud of herself.

Your Unresolved Trauma Can Affect Your Child

When her marriage began to fall apart, Jane was determined that her daughter, Alice, would not experience the kind of volatility at home that Jane experienced as a child.  She refused to argue with her husband in front of her daughter.

And when she and her husband decided to get a divorce, they spoke to their daughter, who was in her mid-teens by then, together.  They assured her that they both loved her and would always remain in her life.  But Alice took the divorce hard, she began acting out at home, and her grades plummeted at school.

At the recommendation of Alice's guidance counselor, Jane brought Alice to therapy so Alice could work out her anger and sadness about her parents' divorce.

Initially, Alice was uncooperative in therapy, but as she developed more of a rapport with her therapist, she opened up more and began to like going to therapy.

As part of Alice's therapy, both Jane and her ex-husband met with the therapist and Alice once a month.  They were pleased with the progress that Alice was making in therapy and they both wanted the best for their daughter.

During the sixth month of therapy, Alice's therapist requested Jane to come to one of Alice's therapy sessions without her ex-husband.  This surprised Jane, and she wondered about it.  But she decided to wait to ask questions until after she had heard what this was about.

As soon as Jane entered the therapist's office, where Alice was already waiting for her, she sensed that Alice was very tense and uncomfortable.  She avoided making eye contact with Jane when Jane came into the room, which concerned Jane.

There was an awkward silence initially, and then Alice began to speak with an anxious voice.  At first, Jane couldn't understand what Alice was trying to tell her.  It was as if she heard Alice saying words, but she couldn't understand what she was trying to say.

Jane could see that Alice looked very frustrated by Jane's confusion, and Alice turned to her therapist in exasperation.  Then, Alice's therapist told Jane, "Jane, your daughter is telling you that she has a drinking problem."

Jane was stunned and speechless.  Her eyes darted from the therapist to Alice and then back to the therapist (see my article: Dynamics of Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families).

Alice began to cry and then she yelled at Jane, "Mom, I've been trying to tell you for the last year that I have a drinking problem, but it's like you just tune out!  You're not hearing me!  And you're still not hearing me!" (see my article: Ambivalence and Codependence in the Mother-Daughter Relationship).

The therapy session felt unreal for Jane.  It was as if she was having a bad dream and that any moment she would wake up from this dream.

She kept thinking to herself:  This isn't real.  I just have to open my eyes, and this will be over.   But why can't I open my eyes? (see my article: Overcoming Your Denial About Family Problems).

Then, she realized that Alice's therapist was telling Jane about a alcohol rehabilitation center for adolescence that she was recommending for Alice.  She offered to make the referral and could have Alice in treatment by the next day.

Alice explained to Jane that she had recently told her father about her drinking problem, and he was able to hear it.  But Alice was angry that Jane wasn't there for her about this.  Alice needed help and she needed her mother to be there for her now more than ever.

At that point, Jane felt like she was going through the motions.  She felt like a robot.  She consented for Alice's therapist to make the referral and drove Alice to the rehab.

Driving home from the rehab, Jane had to pull over because she felt overwhelmed with emotion.  Alone and frightened, she couldn't stop crying.  She couldn't understand how this all happened to her daughter--she thought she did everything right.

During a family visit to Alice's rehab, Jane met with Alice and her rehab counselor.  Alice had calmed down since the day Jane met with her and her therapist.  She was now able to calmly recount the times when she tried to tell Jane that she was drinking, but Jane seemed to almost go into a trance.

Although it was confusing and emotionally painful for her to listen to this, Jane listened attentively.  She felt guilty and ashamed. She would never have hurt her daughter intentionally, so she couldn't understand why she had not heard her daughter's cries for help (see my article: Healing Mother-Daughter Relationships).

The rehab counselor also explained the possible genetic link between Jane's father's alcoholism and Alice's problems with alcohol.  She told Jane that Alice was depressed and she was "self medicating" with alcohol (see my article:  Adolescent Depression).

When she met with the other visiting families in the rehab, she heard similar stories to her own--many mothers and fathers who had emotional blind spots and didn't hear their children's cries for help.

At that point, Jane realized that she wasn't alone, but she wanted to understand why she had this blind spot and what she could do about it, so she began attending her own individual therapy (see my article:  Psychotherapy to Overcome Your Past Childhood Trauma).

During the course of her individual therapy, Jane learned about intergenerational trauma and how it can affect one generation after the next in unconscious ways.

She realized that she was directly affected by her parents' unresolved trauma without realizing it, and that Alice was affected by her unresolved trauma.

Jane also realized that she coped with her parent's volatility and her father's alcoholism by shutting down or, to use a psychological term, dissociating.

She learned that this was her unconscious defense mechanism as a child to cope with an unbearable traumatic situation and that it worked for her at the time.  But this same unconscious defense mechanism was counterproductive later on in life with her daughter.

As Jane began to work on her own unresolved traumatic childhood experiences in therapy, she began to feel like a weight was being lifted from her.  She also started remembering times when Alice approached her to try to talk about her drinking problem.

These memories, which, until recently were dissociated in Jane's mind, were very painful to remember.  As part of her treatment, Jane apologized to Alice, who was much more forgiving of Jane after she heard about Jane's experiences as a child.

Until then, Jane had never spoken to Alice about these experiences because she didn't want to burden Alice.  But Jane wanted Alice to understand that these were longstanding unconscious problems and that she didn't know that they were affecting her ability to be completely present with Alice.

Jane also worked on self compassion for not being as good a mother as she hoped that she would be.  She developed compassion for herself as an adult as well as for the struggling child she had been in her family home (see my article: Psychotherapy and Compassionate Self Acceptance).

Conclusion
Unresolved emotional trauma often has a way of getting played out from one generation to the next in ways that are unconscious to everyone involved.

It's not unusual to trace back this intergenerational trauma for many years, even though it might be very hard to detect by people who don't have psychological training.

This is one of the major reasons why it's important to get treated for unresolved trauma before it has an impact on your children, their children and generations to follow.

Getting Help in Therapy
We know so much more about psychological trauma and intergenerational trauma and how it can be transmitted to one generation after the next (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Trauma therapists are also uniquely trained to help clients with unresolved trauma to overcome the effects of the trauma (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than continuing to suffer with the effects of unresolved trauma, you can get help from a licensed psychotherapist who is a trauma therapist so you and your family can live more fulfilling lives.

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

As a trauma therapist, I have helped many clients to overcome single event traumas as well as longstanding unresolved trauma.

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

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






















Monday, July 10, 2017

Understanding Why You're Affected by Trauma From a Long Time Ago

I've written many prior articles about fear and trauma, including Trauma: How Childhood Feelings of Being Powerless Can Get Triggered in AdultsOvercoming the Traumatic Effects of Childhood Trauma, Looking at Your Childhood Trauma From an Adult Perspective, and Time Doesn't Heal All Wounds.  The question that often comes up for many psychotherapy clients when they start therapy is, "The trauma happened a long time ago, so why am I still affected by this?"  This is often asked with a lot of critical self judgment followed by a statement to the effect of, "I should be over this already."

Understanding Why You're Affected By Trauma That Occurred a Long Time Ago 

When clients come to me for trauma therapy, I provide them with psychoeducation about trauma and why they're still affected by events that occurred, in some cases, more than 50 or 60 years ago.

Whether the trauma involves a one-time event, like shock trauma or a recurring trauma from the past, it's normal to be affected by it many years later because the trauma hasn't been worked through.

Understanding the impact of trauma can be complicated.  Suffice it to say that trauma remains unmetabolized in the mind and might lie dormant for a long time.  Then, seemingly out of the blue, the trauma can get triggered by something that happens in the present, and it can feel like what happened in the past is happening now--even though it's not.

This can be very confusing for someone who is getting emotionally triggered, so this is why it's so important for trauma therapists to provide clients with psychoeducation about trauma.

A fictionalized vignette
The following fictionalized vignette illustrates how trauma that occurred in the past can get triggered in the present:

Rena
Rena, who was in her mid-60s, began dating Larry after they met at a local community meeting in their neighborhood (see my article: Dating Again in Your 40s, 50s, 60s and Beyond).

Understanding Why You're Affected by Trauma That Occurred a Long Time Ago

Initially, they had a wonderful time together.  They both liked to work out at the gym and go on hikes, and they enjoyed outdoor activities together.

But one day, while they were driving to a camping site, Larry got angry with another motorist who cut him off and began yelling at the driver in the other car.

Since Rena had never seen Larry get angry before, she was shocked at his loud, booming response.

Suddenly, she felt confused and afraid.  She began to tremble uncontrollably and, at first, she couldn't speak.  She felt as if she didn't know where she was.  But when she found her voice, she stammered that she wanted Larry to take her home.

By then, Larry had calmed down and he apologized to Rena for losing his temper, but she felt so ill at ease that all she could say was that she wanted him to take her home, and even this was an effort for her.

Reluctantly, Larry drove Rena home.  He apologized repeatedly and asked Rena what was wrong.  But Rena couldn't respond.  She heard his voice as if it was far away and all she could think was that she wanted to go home and hide under the covers.

She barely remembered opening the door to her apartment and telling Larry that he needed to leave her alone.  Then, she got undressed mechanically, got in bed and fell asleep.

When she woke up the next morning, she felt as if the experience she had the day before was a dream or as if she had been in a fog.  She couldn't figure out why she felt so "out of it" and couldn't remember a time when she felt this way before.

Larry had already left several text messages asking her to call him because he was concerned about her.  He wanted to know if she was alright, and he apologized again.

Rena had no desire to contact him, which she thought was odd.  But she didn't want him to worry, so she texted him that she was alright and she just needed some time to herself.

After a few days, when she got very little sleep and continued to feel uneasy, she went to see her medical doctor.  After her doctor ruled out any physical cause, he told her that she should consult with a psychotherapist.

Rena made an appointment to see a psychotherapist the following week.  In the meantime, she felt like she was just "going through the motions" in her life.  She felt oddly disconnected from people she cared about and things she used to love to do, and she wondered if she was losing her mind.

Several therapy sessions later, after hearing about her family history, Rena's therapist told her that she had been emotionally triggered by Larry's yelling.  The therapist explained that Rena's symptoms were a common trauma response to getting triggered (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Experiences From the Past).

Understanding Why You're Affected by Trauma That Occurred a Long Time Ago

After doing the necessary therapeutic preparation, Rena's psychotherapist used a technique that is used in clinical hypnosis and EMDR Therapy to help Rena to go back to the earliest time when she had a similar reaction in her life (see my article: Overcoming Trauma With EMDR Therapy: When the Past is in the Present).

Rena suddenly remembered how frightened she was as a young child whenever her father lost his temper.

Her father was a big man, who frequently lost his temper and would hit Rena's mother, Rena and Rena's younger brother whenever the father got angry.  He had a loud, booming voice, which was similar in tone and volume to Larry's voice when he lost his temper.  This frightened her.

Afterwards, when Rena and her therapist discussed what came up, Rena was surprised that something from so long ago could be still affecting her now.

Before she came to therapy, Rena hadn't thought about her childhood reactions to her father in a long time.  But now, she remembered hiding under the covers whenever her father was abusive.  Her childhood bed was her sanctuary, and she felt the same after the incident with Larry.

Rena's psychotherapist explained how this type of recurring trauma can lie dormant for a long time, but it was still a part of Rena and the trauma was susceptible to getting triggered now (see my article: Coping with Trauma: Becoming Aware of Emotional Triggers).

Rena's therapist helped her to separate what happened in the past from what was happening now (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma in Psychotherapy: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now."

Rena knew that Larry was not like her father.  Before the incident with the other motorist, she never saw him lose his temper or felt afraid of him before.  But since the incident, her feelings for him were conflated with her feelings for her angry father.

Rena knew, on an intellectual level, that she wasn't in any danger with Larry.  But, on an emotional level, she felt afraid.

Her therapist introduced her to EMDR Therapy (see my article: EMDR and the Brain).  She told Rena that there was no "quick fix" for getting over what happened in the past that was still affecting her now.

Gradually, over time, with EMDR Therapy, Rena began to appreciate how damaging her childhood experiences were, and she was able to work through the trauma related to her father.  She also "uncoupled" her experiences with her father from her experience with Larry.

Eventually, a year of so later, she resumed her relationship with Larry, who, from then on, was much more aware of how he came across.  A few months after they reconnected, they got engaged.

Understanding Why You're Affected by Trauma That Occurred a Long Time Ago
But when he did occasionally get a little angry, he was relieved to see that Rena didn't have a big reaction.  Rena was also relieved that she remained calm, she was able to see that Larry's anger wasn't abusive, and she was also able to react to the present rather than getting triggered by the past.

Conclusion
Traumatic memories can get triggered in the present--even when people don't have present explicit recall for those memories.

Trauma reactions can include emotional and physical reactions as well as sleep disturbance, and other common reactions to trauma.

For the sake of simplicity, the example which I gave in the vignette above is a relatively straightforward example.

But triggers aren't always so straightforward or as easy to link to the past.  Sometimes, the trauma that gets triggered can appear to be very different from the present circumstance.

Often, what links the present to the past can be memories that seem to be unrelated to the present.  The original trauma isn't always so easily detectable at first.  It might not even be a complete memory.  It can be a fragment of a memory--like a sound, smell, emotion or physical reaction.

People who come to therapy to work on unresolved trauma often feel guilty and ashamed of their reactions, as if it's their "fault" that they're experiencing these reactions.  So, an important component of trauma work is developing self compassion (see my article: Having Compassion For the Child That You Were).

Getting Help in Therapy
Most survivors of psychological trauma are resilient people.  They often have a lot of personal strengths.

Their resilience and personal strengths can make it all the more confusing as to why they're unable to overcome traumatic events on their own (see my article: The Benefits of Therapy).

People who suffer with traumatic reactions often feel ashamed of their reactions.  As a result, many people, who suffer with traumatic reactions never get the help that they need, which is unfortunate, especially now that there are effective forms of trauma therapy.

If you are struggling with psychological trauma, you're not alone.  Even though many people don't talk about their struggles with trauma, a significant percentage of the population are affected by psychological trauma.

Rather than suffering on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to work through the trauma so that you can lead a more fulfilling life (see my articles: How to Choose a Psychotherapist and How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend).

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.
























Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Happy Life vs. a Meaningful Life

In my prior article, Are You Waiting For Happiness?, I focused on the issue of people waiting for a person, event or something else that is external for them to be happy.  In this article, I'm discussing the issue I began to address in my prior article, happy life vs. a meaningful life (see my article: Living Authentically, Aligned With Your Values).

A Happy Life vs. a Meaningful Life

The Difference Happiness and Meaning in Your Life
Although many people have similar values, what's meaningful to one person can be very different from what is meaningful to another person with the same values.

What Research Says
Stanford research study explored the differences between happiness and meaningfulness and discovered the following differences:
  • Satisfying your desires can provide happiness, but it had nothing to do with a sense of meaningfulness.  The example that they gave was that a healthy person are usually happier than sick  people, but sick people's lives don't lack meaning.
  • While happiness is about the present, meaningfulness links the past, present and the future.
  • Interpersonal connections are important to both happiness and meaningfulness.  And, while spending time with casual friends might add to happiness, deep relationships, which require working on challenges, like family relationships, are more meaningful.
  • People who have a high degree of meaningfulness in their lives often encounter negative issues, which can result in unhappiness.  One example given in the study is that raising children can give a sense of joy, but it's also connected to high stress, which can be meaningful but can also lead to unhappiness.  Another example is that while retirement can lead to happiness because people no longer have the pressure of their jobs, a sense of meaningfulness can drop.
  • Meaningfulness is about expressing and defining yourself and your personal identity, whereas happiness is getting what you want.  A meaningful life is connected to a valued sense of self and your purpose your life and community.
  • You can find meaning in life and still be unhappy.
  • You can be happy and yet lack meaning in your life.
  • Happiness without meaning often leads to a shallow and self-centered life.
  • A meaningful life gives you a sense of purpose and direction where you are aligned with your values.
Getting Help in Therapy
Understanding what is meaningful to you is a process--it's not a one-time event that you settle once and for all.

In addition, what is meaningful to you at one stage in your life could be different from what it would be at a different stage as life changes and you continue to grow as a person.

Discovering what is meaningful to you can be challenging at various points in your life and might conflict with what might make you happy at the moment but would provide meaning in the long run.

Working with a skilled psychotherapist can help you to identify what is important to you, help you to develop insight into yourself and work through these issues.

These are issues that most people struggle with at some point in their lives.  Rather than struggling alone, you could get help in therapy so you can lead 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.