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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Relationships: Coping With the Stages of a Breakup

Anyone who has ever gone through a breakup knows that it's hard and that, in most cases, it's a process.  That will mean different things to different couples.  For some couples it might mean that they go back and forth, breaking up and getting back together several times before they completely end it. Other couples might try to change their relationship from being monogamous to opening up the relationship so they can each see other people.  Some couples might want to transition from being lovers to being friends (see my articles: Overcoming the Heartbreak of a BreakupBeing Honest About Your Relationship: Are You Really "Taking Time Apart" or Are You Breaking Up? and Can You and Your Ex Transition From Being Lovers to Being Friends?).

Relationships: Coping With the Stages of a Breakup
The emotional attachment that each person feels for the other usually doesn't end on the day they break up--even if it's a final decision after much going back and forth.  Instead, over time, the feelings usually decrease gradually.  But for many people, if the relationship was significant and there wasn't a major betrayal, feelings of love often remain, and many people say, "My ex will always have a special place in my heart."

No one wants to go through the emotional pain of a breakup, but go through it you must if you're going to remain true to your feelings and not shutdown emotionally.

Even if you're the one who initiated the breakup and know that it's best for both of you, it's still a major loss to contend with and usually brings up emotions about prior significant losses.  Sometimes it's hard to distinguish the emotional pain from the current loss from whatever it's triggering from the past (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past).

Many people remain in a relationship that has, for all intents and purposes, ended on an emotional level because they don't want to go through the pain of the loss or go through the process of trying to meet someone new.  Their attitude is, "The devil I know is better than the devil I don't know."

But there is a price to pay for remaining in a relationship that has already run its course because in order to remain in that kind of relationship, people often need to numb their feelings.  Also, the dissatisfaction of being in the relationship can get displaced in other ways with irritability, anger, feelings of being stuck, and so on.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who are quick to end a relationship because they're obsessed with the idea that there might be "someone better" for them.  This is a particular mindset that some people have that's exacerbated by the many dating apps where there are thousands of choices for a potential "better" partner (whatever "better" means to the particular person).

This can lead to an overall devaluing of an existing partner and the idea that romantic partners are expendable and exchangeable for an "upgrade" at any time.  So, it you're unhappy with something in your relationship, rather than trying to work on it, you can just search for someone new.

Coping With the Stages of a Breakup:
The following stages of a breakup are the some of the same basic stages of any loss.  Although these stages are listed in a particular order, you might experience them in a completely different order.  Also, it's likely that you'll go back and forth between the stages rather than going through each one in a linear manner.
  • Shock:  Even if you're the one who wanted to break up, the reality of the breakup and how it affects you can come as a shock.  Except for the most extreme cases, you might initially feel some ambivalence about breaking up, especially as you go through painful emotions.  If you're not the one who wanted the breakup, you might really be shocked when your partner lets you know that s/he wants to end it.  You can go through a period when the breakup feels unreal or like you're dreaming because you're so shocked.
  • A Need For Answers and "Closure": Whether the breakup is mutually agreed to, you wanted it or your partner wanted it, there are often many unanswered questions about why things didn't work out between the two of you.  Many people mistakenly think that if they could only understand what happened, they would feel better about the breakup.  While it might help somewhat, going through a breakup isn't a cognitive process so much as it's an emotional process.  So, even if you have all the so-called answers to your questions, it still might not make sense to you on an emotional level.  For some people this becomes an obsessive quest for "closure" which often doesn't help because the breakup still doesn't make sense to you emotionally, and a conversation for closure often just leads to other questions: "But why?" "Why don't you love me anymore?" (see my article: Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible and When the Need for Closure Turns Into Harassment).
  • Denial:  If the breakup is very hard for you to deal with, especially if you didn't want it, you might go through a phase of denial where you tell yourself that your ex isn't really leaving you.  You might convince yourself that your ex is going through a phase and s/he'll come back when s/he realizes how awful it is to be without you.  At this point, it's too painful for you to accept that the relationship is over and you would rather believe that there is some mistake than accept the end.
  • Bargaining: If you didn't want the breakup, rather than face the pain of the breakup, you try to bargain with your ex that you'll make everything right in the relationship--whatever it takes.  Things that you weren't willing to do before now seem palatable to you as compared with dealing with the pain of loss.  In most cases, this is a way of delaying acceptance and facing the unknown.  This is especially true for people who don't like to be alone and would rather remain in an unsatisfactory relationship than be alone.
  • Anger:  If you didn't want the breakup, you might feel very angry with your ex because you feel s/he caused you to feel pain.  You might experience the end of the relationship as something that is being "done" to you rather than an acknowledgement that things weren't working out.  Depending upon your temperament, you might take out your anger on your ex, your other loved ones or yourself.  Anger often hides profound sadness, and many people would rather feel anger than sadness.  But anger can also be used to mobilize yourself to make healthy changes for yourself when you're ready to do it (see my article: Anger as a Secondary Emotion).
  • Getting Back Together: If you and your ex are having an especially difficult time with the breakup, one of you might be able to convince the other to get back together again so that you don't have to deal with the pain.  Initially, it might feel like you're "starting over," but if nothing has changed, you will probably end up breaking up again and going through the other stages once again (see my article: Are You Thinking About Getting Back With Your Ex. Think Twice Before You Do and Ask Yourself: What Has Changed?).
  • Acceptance:  Unfortunately, not everyone gets to this stage.  While there is no denying the fact that the relationship is over, on an emotional level, many people remain in a limbo state hoping that they will reunite with their ex--despite significant evidence to the contrary.  These people can neither go back nor move forward and remain stuck.  However, most people go through an initial stage of acceptance.  They might not be happy about the breakup, but after a while, they begin to see new possibilities for themselves.  As time goes on, acceptance takes on new meaning and most people begin to feel hopeful again.
Conclusion
Whether you initiated the breakup, the breakup was mutually agreed to or your partner ended the relationship, breakups can be challenging, especially if they trigger earlier losses.  

The stages of a breakup and the feelings of loss aren't sequential or linear.  Some people go back and forth between the different stages many times before they reach an initial level of acceptance.  

Acceptance doesn't come all at once.  After the shock, denial, anger, bargaining and need for answers and closure stages, acceptance might be paper thin.  It might start with accepting the fact that the breakup is real and you're not getting back together again.  As time goes on, acceptance can take on new meaning and can lead to feeling hopeful again.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with the loss of a breakup, being kind and patient with yourself will help you.  But if you find that after a period of time, you're still struggling, you could benefit from the help of a licensed mental health professional.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to go through the loss so you can accept the end and come out on the other side feeling hopeful (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling on your own, seeking help when you're in an emotional crisis can help you to mourn the breakup so you can move on and lead the fulfilling life that you deserve.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and AEDP therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, which is a well researched, evidence-based therapy that is effective in helping people deal with relationship problems.

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 1, 2019

Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players" - Part 2: A Clinical Vignette

In Part 1 of Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players," I described the typical emotional dynamics and behavior of players (also known as pick-up artists), including the their manipulative and emotional abusive behavior towards women.

Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"

I described a behavioral dynamic that is on a continuum and, in some cases, can include sociopathic behavior where there is a lack of empathy for how their behavior affects the women they're attempting to seduce (see my article: What Makes So-Called "Bad Boys" So Irresistible to So Many Women? Brain Chemistry Might Have the Answer).

Also on that continuum are men who eventually find being a player to be unsatisfying, lonely and, despite the conquest of many women, unsatisfying because it feels empty and meaningless.

Often these same men find themselves in an emotional crisis because they can neither remain a player nor can they move forward to a more meaningful life because they don't know any other way to be.

The focus of the this article, including the clinical vignette, will be on this subset of men.

As previously mentioned in the prior article, players can be either men or women, gay, bisexual or heterosexual.  But, generally speaking, the term is usually associated with heterosexual men, which is what this article is about.

Clinical Vignette: The Emotional Crisis of a Man Who is a Player
The following fictional vignette illustrates a typical scenario for a man who learns to develop a persona as a player but who eventually discovers that he wants more than casual hook ups with women--he wants a relationship, but he doesn't know how to be genuinely himself or how to have a committed relationship.

John
When John was in his teens, he wanted more than anything to date women, but he lacked the necessary self confidence to approach them.  Since he was very good looking, many girls were drawn to him and they approached him, but even when he knew that these girls liked him, he felt awkward and shy.

His first sexual experience was with a teenage girl, Jane, from his class who invited him over to her house while her parents were out.  He was highly anxious before going to her house because he feared that this girl would laugh at him due to sexual inexperience.  But rather than laugh at him, Jane, who had prior sexual encounters, led him into the bedroom and patiently initiated him into his first sexual experience.

Afterwards, realizing how pleasurable sex could be, he wanted to have sex with other girls too.  But throughout high school and even in college, he continued to feel shy and lack self confidence, so the only time he had sex was when girls or young women came onto him.

After college, John was at a total loss about how to meet women.  It was much easier for him when he was surrounded by young women in college who took the lead in initiating sex.  But after he graduated from college, he was no longer around women all the time, and he didn't like using dating apps, so he wasn't sure what to do.

Sometimes, he and his friends would go to singles bars and his friends would meet women and take them home  but, more often than not, he remained standing alone against the wall.  Occasionally, an attractive assertive woman would approach him and take him home, but this wasn't usually the case.

One day, feeling disappointed and discouraged, John turned down his friends' invitation to go out to a singles bar.  Although his best friend, Bill usually laughed at John's awkwardness and lack of confidence, when he realized how miserable John was, he told John that any man could learn to pick up women in a bar--he just needed to learn a few simple techniques and strategies and practice them.

Then, Bill recommended that John attend a three-day pick-up artists' boot camp where part of the training would be to stand side by side with a "dating coach" and observe the "dating coach" pick up women at various venues in New York City, including singles bars.

Bill also explained that John would get classroom instruction and drills that he would practice when John would go out with an experienced "dating coach" to apply what he learned in class while the coach stood nearby to observe John and give him feedback later.

In response to Bill, John laughed, but Bill urged him on, "What do you have to lose, man?  By the end of the training, you'll feel confident meeting and picking up women anywhere.  That's how I learned.  This training is foolproof."

With some reluctance, John signed up for the Attractions Method training, and he was amazed that he was able to develop the persona of a player that allowed him to feel the confidence that he lacked with women.  Soon after that, whenever he went out, he psyched himself up and took on this persona.

The strategies that John learned led to his hooking up with hundreds of women over the next several years.  He became so good at being a pick-up artist that he always had a sexy, beautiful woman on his arm, and his friends expressed envy, "John, where do you meet these women!?!  One is more beautiful then the next!"

But whenever one of the women wanted a more serious relationship, John would panic.  He had mastered taking on the persona of a confident pick-up artist and the techniques for picking up women for casual sex, but he was too afraid of allowing any emotional intimacy to develop between him and any of these women.  So, whenever a woman expressed wanting more from him, he would stop seeing her and focus on the many other women he was seeing simultaneously.

At the same time, John discovered that some of the techniques he learned to pick up women also worked in his sales career.  He was able to charm his female boss into giving him the best sales territory in the company.  He was also able to charm customers into buying the company's services.

With all the money he was earning, he attracted even more beautiful women who admired his success, his new sports car, and the way he generously spent money on them.  They were fascinated by him and they wanted to be around him.  He also enjoyed the admiration of his friends and colleagues who not only admired him--they wanted to be him.

But over time, when John was in his mid-30s, he realized that he no longer derived as much pleasure from sleeping with one beautiful woman after the next.  He found most of these women to be narcissistic and shallow, and he felt bored.  Deep down, he also knew that he was just playing a role and, even though he was convincing in this role, this wasn't really how he felt.

His friends were all getting married, some of them were starting families, and he realized that he felt lonely, especially because the only relationships he had with women were shallow and very short term. He never had a substantial monogamous relationship.

Gradually, John realized that there was something missing in his life.  Other than being with beautiful women, having sex with as many of them as possible, and making a lot of money, his life lacked meaning and substance and this was increasingly worrisome to him.

There was one woman, Sara, that he was dating who wasn't narcissistic or shallow.  He really liked her and thought he might like to be in a relationship with her, but he was afraid to be himself.  He feared that, even if he knew what it meant to be himself, Sara wouldn't like him if she knew the real him (see my article: Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You If They Knew the "Real You").

He realized that he had spent so much time taking on the persona of a player that he wasn't even sure who he was anymore.  Although he would have liked to talk to one of his friends about it, he was afraid that he would lose their admiration for his success with having so many women.

When he attempted to talk to Bill, who was married for several years, Bill just brushed him off, "What do you mean you feel lonely?  You're always with a sexy, beautiful women.  I envy you.  Don't get me wrong--I love my wife, but do you have any idea how boring it is to wake up to the same woman every day?  Enjoy yourself and, whatever you do, don't get married.  It's totally overrated."

After John got a similar response from his other close friends, he felt increasingly depressed and isolated.  He began having problems sleeping and getting up in the morning.  It took a lot more effort for him to take on the confident persona and to charm his customers into buying the company's services.  He also began to isolate and stopped seeing many of the women he had been hooking up with.

Soon his sales performance went from being the highest in the company to being one of the lowest.  His boss called him into her office to find out if there was anything wrong, but John didn't feel comfortable confiding in her, so he made up some excuse and told her that he would do better.

Although he managed to fake his way through that meeting with his boss, he knew that all his pretending was sapping him of energy and he felt a big disconnect between how he felt inside and the persona he was trying to project on the outside.  He wasn't even sure why he was doing it anymore--except that he didn't know what else to do.

As he became increasingly depressed, John knew he needed to seek help from a licensed mental health professional.  Admitting this to himself was hard, but he knew it would be much harder if he descended deeper into depression.

During his first session with a female psychotherapist, John was tempted to take on the same persona he used to charm so many women.  It was hard for him to let down his guard to show the therapist just how bad he felt about himself.  At the same time, he knew that, if he was going to overcome his problems, he would need to be honest (see my article: The Importance of Being Honest With Your Therapist).

Gradually, over time, John opened up to his psychotherapist and told her about his history of being a shy, awkward young man and how he learned to be a player with women.  He explained that for a long time he felt like he was on a "high" when he slept with hundreds of beautiful, sexy women and all his friends envied him.

Then, he described the slow descent into his current emotional crisis, his feelings of being a fraud, his loneliness, his yearning to be himself (although he didn't know anymore what that meant), his guilt for the emotional pain he had caused the many women he manipulated, and his fear of developing a relationship with Sara.

Over time, John realized that the more he opened up to his therapist, the more genuine he felt.  Often, he would have realizations about himself in the therapy that he never had before.

As he became more comfortable with his psychotherapist, John allowed her to see more of the frightened, emotionally vulnerable side of himself.  To his surprise, he revealed his shame, which  was a big part of his lack of confidence of awkwardness (see my article: Healing Shame in Psychotherapy).

As he continued to talk in therapy, he also realized that he felt like he was basically an unlovable person who didn't really deserve to be happy with anyone.  It was only when he took on the persona of being a player that he felt confident, but he realized now that this wasn't genuine confidence--it was all a sham (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

His therapist used a technique in clinical hypnosis called the affect bridge so that John could go back to the earliest time when he felt unlovable.  In a relaxed hypnotic state, where John had the dual awareness of being in the here-and-now in the therapist's office as well as being in his earliest memory of feeling unlovable, John recounted how he was constantly and severely criticized and belittled by both of his parents who told him that he would never amount to anything and he would fail at everything.

As he recalled these early memories, John felt a wave of tremendous grief and anger for the way his parents treated him.  He knew that his parents thought they were trying to make him "tough" to face a difficult world, but he also realized how misguided they were.

Having gotten to his earliest memory of feeling unlovable using the affect bridge, his therapist recommended that they use EMDR therapy  to help him overcome the traumatic effect of his early childhood history (see my articles: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Gradually, John began to feel better about himself.  The work with EMDR therapy wasn't the quick fix he hoped that it would be, but he discovered that he was slowly overcoming the trauma that had been an obstacle for him for so many years.

As John felt more confident and more genuinely himself without relying on a persona, over time he developed a relationship with Sara and discovered that she actually liked him for who he was and not for the person he was pretending to be when they first met.

Overall, he was happier in his relationship with Sara and in his career once he was able to overcome his traumatic history and allow himself to be genuine.

Conclusion
Men, who are players, are on a continuum.  With the exception of the most narcissistic or sociopathic male players, many men who engage in this deceptive, manipulative behavior with women eventually find this lifestyle to be hollow and meaningless.

Over time, they long for deeper, more substantial relationships, but they're so caught up in acting the part of a player that they don't know anymore (if they ever did) who they really are.  Giving up the persona would also mean giving up a way that they have come to successfully rely on to have attractive women as well as giving up the admiration they receive from their male peers.  It would also involve showing a more vulnerable part of themselves which they are ashamed of.

This often precipitates an emotional crisis for them, which is difficult to overcome on their own or with the people in their lives.  So, when the pain of being in an emotional crisis becomes greater than their shame, they often seek help in psychotherapy.

In an experiential therapy where the therapist knows how to help clients to trace back the origins of these men's problems, there is an opportunity for them to work through the current issues as well as the underlying issues that caused them to feel inadequate in the first place (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Getting Help in Therapy
If this article resonates with you, you could benefit from getting help from a skilled psychotherapist.

An emotional crisis is painful, but it can also be an opportunity to resolve emotional problems that you might not otherwise feel motivated to address.

Once you have freed yourself from the burden of these emotional issues, you can lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, which is an evidence based therapy which research has shown to be effective for relationship issues.

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

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