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Monday, August 21, 2017

Resilience: Remembering Your Past Comebacks So You Can Overcome a Current Setback

One of life's many challenges involves overcoming setbacks. One strategy that is helpful to develop resilience and overcome a setback is to remember your past comebacks during challenging times (see my article: Developing Resilience, Resilience: Bouncing Back From Life's Challenges,  Developing a More Resilient Self in PsychotherapyCoping With Frustration, Navigating Life's Transitions and Turning Lemons Into Lemonade During Life's Ordinary Disappointments).

Resilience: Remembering Your Past Comebacks So You Can Overcome a Current Setback
During setbacks, it's easy to dwell on everything that went wrong.  It's also easy to remain mired in self blame where you're internal critic gets the best of you and paralyzes you (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

But the important thing to remember during a setback is that you bounced back during prior setbacks, possibly even worse setbacks than what you're experiencing now.

Resilience: Remembering Your Past Comebacks So You Can Overcome a Current Setback

Think of the current situation as a learning experience:

Over time, overcoming setbacks allows you to build resilience.

When you can overcome your disappointment to look at the situation clearly, you will often discover that you have dealt successfully with other challenges in the past, and you can use these same skills to overcome the current setback.

Resilience: Remembering Your Past Comebacks So You Can Overcome a Current Setback
Often, this involves changing your attitude about the setback.  If you're overcome with self criticism and telling yourself, "I knew I wouldn't be able to do it" and "I'm not good enough," you're working against yourself and making it that much harder to overcome the current setback.

But if you can develop a more objective perspective about your situation, step back and recognize that you have bounced back before, you're more likely to open up to new ways to overcome your problem.

In the long run, what's most important is not that you're having a setback, but your attitude and what you do about it.

Unresolved Emotional Trauma Can Have an Adverse Effect on Overcoming a Setback
People who have experienced emotional trauma, especially unresolved childhood trauma, often get triggered by setbacks.

If they grew up feeling powerless, unlovable or not good enough, a setback can seem like a confirmation of their negative feelings about themselves (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

This is very difficult to overcome on your own.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're finding it difficult to overcome a setback on your own and it's triggering feelings of worthlessness related to unresolved emotional trauma, rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist, who specializes in helping clients to overcome trauma (see my article: Overcoming Emotional Trauma and Developing Resilience).

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to overcome unresolved trauma that's getting triggered by the current setback.  This can help you to overcome the current challenges as well as future challenges.

Rather than suffering on your own, get the help you need so you can free yourself from your traumatic past to live a more fulfilled life.

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

I specialize in helping clients to overcome emotional 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, August 14, 2017

Emotional Survival Strategies That No Longer Work: "I don't need anyone"

Unresolved early childhood trauma usually leads to emotional survival strategies that were adaptive during childhood, but they are no longer adaptive for adults.  They also often lead to distortions in self perception.  It's not unusual for adults, who were abused or neglected as children, to become adults who deny their own emotional needs and reject emotional connections with others (see my articles: Understanding Why You're Affected By Trauma That Occurred a Long Time AgoGrowing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated, Are You Feeling Trapped By Your Childhood History?Overcoming the Traumatic Effects of Childhood Trauma, and Looking at Your Childhood Trauma From an Adult Perspective).

Emotional Survival Strategies That No Longer Work: "I don't need anyone."

These survival strategies and distortions in self perception are unconscious.  Underneath them are a lot of fear, hurt, anger and shame.

One way to avoid feeling these underlying feelings is intellectualization.  When it is used to avoid unconscious emotions, intellectualization is a defense strategy.  More about this later.

These problems can begin early in infancy when the baby's primary caregiver is either shutdown emotionally, continuously misattuned to the baby's emotional needs, emotionally neglectful or abusive.

Even if all of the baby's physical needs are being taken care of, the baby still needs emotional attunement from the primary caregiver in order to thrive and learn to develop healthy attachment.

A baby, who makes many attempts to get a caregiver to be emotionally attuned, eventually gives up and shuts down emotionally.  Not only does the baby feel resignation about getting his emotional needs met, but he also gives up and dissociates.

If this is a pervasive experience in a baby's life, it will affect brain development as well as emotional development.

This survival strategy of dissociating is adaptive at that point for the baby because it would be emotionally unbearable to continue to yearn for love and attention that won't be given by the primary caregiver.

But this survival strategy, as an adult, is maladaptive and usually results in disconnection from oneself and others.

The dilemma for this adult is that he (or she) yearns for love and connection, but he's too fearful of getting his needs met, so he either (unconsciously) connects with other adults who cannot meet his needs or he believes himself to be "independent," someone who doesn't need other people.

As mentioned before, a common pattern for people with this problem is to either avoid relationships altogether by intellectualizing ("I only need my books") to negate the yearning for love and connection.

Fictionalized Scenario
The following fictionalized scenario illustrates these dynamics:

Jane
Shortly after Jane was born, she was left with her maternal grandmother when her mother moved from Florida to New York to find work.

Jane's grandmother did the best that she could, but she was often overwhelmed by taking care of her other grandchildren, her responsibilities in the house and running the family business.  As a result, she had little time to spend with Jane aside from meeting Jane's basic physical needs.

The grandmother was raised to believe that if a baby cried, the baby should be left to cry it out rather than being picked up, otherwise, the baby would be spoiled.

How Emotional Survival Strategies Develop in Infancy

So she left Jane crying for long periods of time in the crib.  Eventually, Jane would give up out of sheer physical exhaustion as well as a primitive sense that it was hopeless to keep trying to get anyone's attention.

When Jane's grandmother noticed that Jane was quiet in her crib and was just staring into space, she thought this was good.

To be clear, the grandmother wasn't trying to harm Jane in any way.  She just didn't understand the developmental harm that was being done by not responding to the baby's crying.  And, aside from this, a quiet baby is a compliant baby and was much easier for the grandmother.

When Jane was 10, her mother sent for her to live in New York City.  Even though Jane and her mother had no contact since the mother moved to New York City, when Jane arrived, her mother expected Jane to be affectionate towards her.

But, instead of an affectionate child, Jane's mother encountered a child who showed little emotional reaction to her.  Jane was obedient and passive, but it was obvious that she felt no emotional connection to her mother.

Jane understood that the woman she was meeting after so many years was her mother--she understood it as a fact.  But it had no emotional resonance for her.  She complied with her mother's rules and directives, but Jane remained emotionally disconnected from her (see my article: Adults Who Were Traumatized as Children Are Often Afraid to Feel Their Emotions).

Jane's mother thought of Jane's emotional distance as Jane being willfully disrespectful of her.  She had no understanding, as many parents wouldn't, that Jane's aloofness was an unconscious survival strategy that she developed at an early age to cope with the lack of love and connection from infancy.

Meanwhile when she was at school, Jane's teachers noticed that she tended to isolate herself from other children.  While other children were playing during recess, Jane sat in the corner by herself reading a book.

When Jane's teacher told her mother that she was concerned that Jane wasn't interacting with the other children, Jane's mother dismissed the teacher's concerns, "My daughter is here to learn.  She's not here to make friends.  It's better for her to read than to play."

Throughout high school, Jane's mother discouraged her from dating, "There will be plenty of time for that after you graduate from college."   Jane didn't mind because she felt no need to date boys or to make friends, "I have my books.  I don't need anyone."

During her first year of college, Jane kept to herself. At first, her classmates tried to befriend her, but when they saw that Jane wasn't receptive, they thought that Jane thought of herself as being "too good" for them.  Their friendliness turned to scorn, and they laughed and ridiculed Jane.

Although Jane pretended not to notice, she saw and heard their criticism.  Sometimes it would bother her, but most of the time, she pushed down her discomfort and told herself that she didn't care what they thought, "I don't need anyone."  Then, she would study harder in an effort to avoid feeling her loneliness, anger and hurt.

Jane graduated college with a 4.0 GPA, which she was very proud of and so was her mother.  But she didn't get any interviews from the college recruiters at campus.

Jane applied for many jobs after she graduated college, but she received no responses.  She wasn't  aware that many companies looked not only for good grades--they also wanted to see that students were involved in college activities, and Jane avoided any activities while she was in college.

Eventually, Jane found a job as a part time bookkeeper, which didn't require a college degree.  She worked in a small office by herself.

After a year, Jane found a full time bookkeeping job.  This allowed her to move out of her mother's home to become a roommate in an apartment with three other young women.

Jane didn't really want to have roommates, but she couldn't afford to have her own apartment.  Even though Jane had no interest in making friends with her roommates, one of them, Cathy, went out of her way to be friendly with Jane.

To her surprise, Jane realized that she didn't mind being around Cathy because Cathy did all the talking when they were together and all Jane had to do was be polite and pretend to be interested in what Cathy was saying.

After Cathy asked Jane many times, Jane agreed to go with Cathy to a silent meditation retreat.  Jane thought, "How bad could it be?  All I have to do is be silent."

But when Jane began the silent meditation at the meditation center, she was surprised to discover that she felt upset and emotionally overwhelmed, and she didn't know why.  She asked the center director if she could read books instead, but she was told that she had to focus on meditation.

After a couple of days of silent meditation with no other distractions, Jane felt so emotionally overwhelmed with sadness that it was unbearable.  She felt ashamed to leave early, but she couldn't bear being so overwhelmed.

When she got home, Jane tried to distract herself from her sadness by immersing herself in her books and going online but, no matter what she did, she still felt engulfed by sadness and she didn't know why she was feeling this way and why she couldn't distract herself.

After experiencing overwhelming sadness for a couple of weeks, Jane knew she needed help, but she wasn't sure where to turn, so she sought help from her medical doctor.

Although she felt very ashamed of her feelings, especially since she couldn't think of any reason for her sadness, her fear that she was "going crazy" got her to talk to her doctor.

Jane's doctor explained to her that there was nothing physically wrong with her and that she needed to address these psychological issues in psychotherapy.  Then, he referred her to a psychotherapist.


Getting Help in Therapy For Emotional Survival Strategies That No Longer Work 
Over time, Jane learned in therapy that, as an infant, she developed an emotional survival strategy of disconnecting from her environment as a way to deal with the environment that she grew up in.  Her therapist explained to her that this is called dissociation and it's what babies do when they are being raised by a caregiver who neglects or abuses them.

Jane learned from her therapist that this early emotional survival strategy was adaptive at the time because to continue to yearn for love and attention when none was forthcoming would have been even more emotionally painful when she was an infant.

Her therapist explained that Jane continued to use this emotional survival strategy as an adult.  Jane used books and other intellectual pursuits to distract herself and dissociate from her environment, but it was no longer adaptive in Jane's life--in fact, it was getting in the way of developing healthy friendships and relationships.

When Jane went to the silent meditation retreat, her psychotherapist explained, and she wasn't allowed to distract herself with books, her sadness about years of emotional neglect and disconnection came bubbling up to the surface, and this was what Jane was experiencing now.

The feelings were so strong that Jane could no longer push them down so, rather than trying to suppress them, Jane needed to engage in trauma therapy in order to heal.

She could no longer remain in denial about not needing anyone, which was a defense against feeling her longstanding sadness.  Jane saw this defense mechanism for what it was--an emotional survival strategy and distortion in self perception that was now maladaptive.

The psychotherapist talked to Jane about EMDR therapy. She also took a thorough family history and helped Jane to prepare to do EMDR (see my articles: Overcoming Trauma With EMDR Therapy: When the Past is in the Present and EMDR Therapy: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough).

The work was neither quick nor easy (see my article: Psychotherapy: Beyond the Bandaid Approach).

But by the time Jane and her therapist began processing her early trauma, Jane trusted her therapist and, eventually, she was able to free herself from her history to lead a fuller life.

Conclusion
When infants are neglected or abused, they're able to develop survival strategies, on an unconscious level, that are adaptive at the time to ward off the devastating emotions that are the result of neglect and abuse.

Although it was adaptive at the time, these emotional survival strategies are no longer adaptive as an older child, teen or an adult.  These strategies keep people cut off from their feelings and in denial about their emotional pain.  It also keeps them cut off from other people.

Although they might believe that they really don't need anyone, this emotional survival strategy and distortion in self perception takes a lot of energy to maintain.

People often distract themselves from difficult underlying emotions with intellectual pursuits, drinking excessively, abusing drugs, gambling compulsively or engaging in other addictive and compulsive behavior.

When someone can no longer distract himself, these underlying emotions often come to the surface in a powerful way so that these emotions can no longer be denied.

Getting Help in Therapy
Various forms of trauma therapy, like EMDR therapy, clinical hypnosis or Somatic Experiencing are effective in helping people to overcome emotional trauma.

Rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself get the help you need from a skilled psychotherapist who specializes in helping clients to overcome trauma.

By freeing yourself from a traumatic history, 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.

I specialize in helping clients to overcome emotional 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, August 7, 2017

How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems

Many people avoid dealing with their emotions because they think it will be too emotionally overwhelming (see my articles:  Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Feelings so You Can HealUnderstanding and Expressing Your Emotions in a Healthy Way, and Working in Therapy to Accept Your Emotions).  Instead of allowing themselves to feel their emotions, they defensively suppress their emotions or numb themselves in order not to feel the unpleasant feelings.
How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems

Since we know so much more than we ever have in the past about the mind-body connection, we now know that these suppressed or numbed feelings don't just disappear--they often take a physical toll and result in serious medical problems.

Suppressed grief can also result in compulsive and addictive behaviors, like excessive drinking, abuse of drugs, compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, overeating, smoking as well as other psychological problems such as problems with anger management, depression and anxiety.

Fictionalized Vignette:  How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems:
The following fictionalized vignette illustrates how suppressed emotions can manifest in medical and psychological problems:

Bill
Bill grew up in a family where no one dealt with unpleasant emotions, except anger (see my article: Psychotherapy Can Help You to Overcome the Effects of Growing Up in a Family That Doesn't Talk About Their Feelings).

When he was 16, his paternal grandfather, who lived with Bill and his family, died unexpectedly.  Bill found out about his grandfather's death when he came home from school and his father told him that his grandfather died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack.  The emergency management technicians were just taking the grandfather's body out as Bill arrived.

Bill and his grandfather were very close.  As he heard the news from his father, he began to cry, but his father scolded him and told him not to be "such a crybaby."   He told Bill that he needed to "be a man" and "stop acting like a girl."

Hearing his father's words, Bill stopped crying and tried to follow his father's example.  Throughout the funeral, Bill watched his mother and sister sobbing, but the men in the family remained stoic.  From their examples, Bill learned that this was what it meant "to be a man."

At age 38, Bill went for a physical exam to find out the cause of his headaches.

After his doctor ruled out any other medical causes for Bill's headaches, he told Bill that his headaches were probably due to psychological problems, and he should see a psychotherapist.

How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems

When Bill went to therapy, as part of his family history, he also revealed that the men in his family, especially his father, never expressed any unpleasant feelings, except anger, because it was considered "unmanly."

Bill gave many examples of times when he felt very sad, including when his grandfather died, when he was told that he needed to "be a man" and stop crying.

Bill told his therapist that it had been many years since he had been aware of unpleasant feelings--except anger, and he often felt angry and would sometimes lash out at his girlfriend and family members.

Bill's therapist told him that he had learned from a young age to suppress most of his unpleasant feelings and suppressing his feelings had medical and psychological consequences for Bill.

His therapist explained the mind-body connection to Bill to help him understand why he was having his current problems (see my article: The Body Offers a Window Into Unconscious Mind).

His therapist used Somatic Experiencing to help Bill to overcome the emotional numbing that he was experiencing (see my article: Understanding the Mind-Body Connection and Somatic Experiencing).

The work that Bill did with his psychotherapist was neither quick nor easy.  It took time.

Gradually, over time, Bill learned that allowing himself to feel his emotions and express them in a healthy way was not "unmanly."

Over time, Bill grieved the loss of his grandfather and other losses in his life that he never allowed himself to feel.

How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems

As Bill learned to allow himself to feel all his feelings, he no longer got headaches.  He was amazed that he had so much energy now that he wasn't using a lot of energy to suppress his feelings.

Conclusion
Although the vignette above is an example about a boy who suppressed his emotions and continued to engage in this behavior as an adult, this problem is not limited to men--it happens to women too.

Young girls and women are often told by well-meaning family members that they have to be "the strong ones" in the family to help others through difficult times.

The rationale behind this misguided advice is that the women are "supposed to be" the nurturers and caregivers in the family, so they can't allow themselves to feel or express their emotions, especially sadness, because they have to take care of everyone else.  As a result, this suppression of emotions is equally destructive for women too (see my article: Overcoming the Need to Be Everyone's Caretaker).

People who have never been to therapy often think that "not suppressing emotions" means that they just "let it out" however it comes out.  This is definitely a misunderstanding of what it means to feel and express emotions.

The key is to feel and express emotions in a way that is healthy to the person with the emotions as well as the people around them.  So, it doesn't mean that they allow themselves to act in ways that are abusive to others or to themselves.

Cultural or family behavioral patterns are often factors that play a role in the suppression of emotions.  For example, as in the fictionalized vignette above, if a boy is told over and over again that "being a man" means that boys and men never allow themselves to feel or express sadness, this is a learned behavior that usually needs to be unlearned in therapy and replaced by healthy behavior.

Getting Help in Therapy
Whether you're numbing yourself emotionally or you're engaging in other self destructive behavior to suppress emotions, you can get help in therapy before your self destructive behavior results in serious medical or other psychological problems (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).

Anxiety and depression are often the result of pushing down emotions that people either fear or find unacceptable in some way.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to understand the root of your problems, work through unresolved trauma, and learn how to replace self destructive behavior with healthy ways of coping (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling to overcome these problems on your own, you can work with an experienced psychotherapist who can help you 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.

I have helped many people to overcome self destructive patterns so they can lead healthier and 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.