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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Common Nightmares During the COVID-19 Global Pandemic

Have you been having nightmares lately? If so, you're not alone. Pandemic nightmares have been common during this COVID-19 pandemic.  Regardless of age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality, many people have been having pandemic nightmares, which is the subject of this article (see my articles: How to Overcome Anxiety Dreams).

Common Nightmares During the COVID-19 Global Pandemic

These nightmares are so common that Robert Bosnak, a Jungian analyst in Santa Barbara California, has been offering a free online workshop on Friday nights at 6 PM (PST) during the pandemic called the Spooky Dreams Cafe where he uses Embodied Imagination, a method of dreamwork which he developed, to help some people on the Zoom call with these nightmares (see my article: Dream Incubation: Planting Seeds).

Many people, who lived through the crisis of the 9/11 World Trade Center attack, have reported in therapy that they're having similar nightmares during this time to the ones they had in 2001 and beyond (see my article: Tips For Getting Better Sleep).

Common Themes in Pandemic Nightmares
There are certain themes that are common in these COVID-related nightmares, including (but not limited to):
  • Anxiety-related events or circumstances in the dream
  • Places, which were once known and familiar, suddenly looking and feeling unfamiliar in the nightmare
  • A need to escape or run
  • Feeling trapped, helpless and/or lost
  • A regression to an earlier age (e.g., an adult dreaming that they're a child again)
  • Losing someone or something
  • Phones and other gadgets malfunctioning
  • Other sudden and inexplicable changes 
Typical Nightmares During the COVID-19 Global Pandemic
The following dreams are typical of the type of dreams people have been having during this COVID-19 crisis (as told to me by friends and used with permission):

Dream 1:
I'm in a classroom, which is taking place in my apartment. The instructor, whom I like, is taking things out of my dresser drawer to show the class. These items include a silk scarf I haven't seen in many years.  At one point, he breaks apart the wooden dresser drawer, and I'm fascinated by this (it seems like a deconstruction of some sort). Then, I notice that there's a similar dresser in the room that remains in tact.  I leave the room to go to the rest room, and when I come back, my laptop is gone. Somehow, I know that the instructor gave it away to one of my classmates, and I'm annoyed that he did this without my permission. I look around for it, but I can't find it. I see a male friend, who is sitting in a far off corner of the room. Then, suddenly, the scene changes: I'm walking around in an area of my neighborhood, not far from my home, where I've been many times before. I know that this place is familiar to me, but it looks and feels eerily unfamiliar.  I know I need to get back to class, but I don't know which way to go because I'm lost.  Then, I see a cab and get in it.  There's a couple, who are on their way home from the airport, who are already in the cab.  I don't know where to tell the cab driver to go because I'm lost, but I'm relieved to be in the cab.  The cab stops because the couple have arrived outside their home. I get out too because I realize it's useless to be in the cab if I don't know where I'm going.  The couple tell me that I have to pay thousands of dollars to them for the short distance that I went with them, and I get angry and tell them that I won't pay.  I know that my male friend is back in the class, he has his car and he would come get me if I call him, but I don't know where I am, so I can't tell him. The scene changes: I'm sitting at an outdoor bar with this same friend and our classmates.  We're all dressed up. I suddenly realize that I forgot that he's much taller than me.  I tell my friend about what just happened (that I was lost) and he's surprised and laughs. I'm feeling much better.  The outdoor bar is up on a bridge that overlooks people's homes down below. These people have shallow outdoor pools in front of their homes.  I tell my friend that we could do that too (we could each have outdoor pools).  Then, as I'm gazing out at the water from the bridge, I tell my friend, "Let's pretend that we're on the Arno Bridge in Florence" and he agrees.

Dream 2:
I'm a child of 7 or 8 years old. My mother tells me that we have to escape from where we're living to move back to the US.  Only a few close relatives know because it's a secret.  My mother doesn't want her husband, my stepfather, to know that we're running away because he's abusive and we're escaping from him.  I grab whatever I can quickly because we have to get to the airport fast, and I kiss my relatives goodbye.  I don't have time to say goodbye to a male friend, who has been good to me (I'm older in this part of the dream).  So, I try to text him to tell him that I had to leave due to an emergency, but my phone won't work. I know he's going to be hurt that I left suddenly without an explanation, and I feel terrible about this. Then, my mother, brother and I run to the airport to get on a rescue flight that's been arranged for us by the US government to bring us back to the states. Somehow, I get separated from my mother and brother (I'm a young child again in this part of the dream). I don't know which way to go. I'm scared and I call out to my mother, but I don't see her anywhere. Nothing looks or feels familiar, even though I know I've been to this area many times before. I see other people who are also running and I ask them the way to the airport because I'm lost.  They point the way and I run all the way to the airport. Once I get there, I realize I don't have a plane ticket. I call out to my mother again saying that I don't have a plane ticket.  Even though she's still nowhere to be found, a reassuring male voice tells me over the airport public address system that I don't need a plane ticket because this is a special government rescue flight for my family to escape. When I get to security, I realize that I'm not wearing a face mask so I'm not going to be allowed on the flight. I see everyone else around me wearing a face mask, and I look around to see if there's somewhere I can buy as mask (I'm older again in this part of the dream). Then, I realize that I do have a mask, but I've been wearing it on my chin, so I pull it over to cover my nose and mouth.  When I arrive at the gate, I still don't see my mother or brother, but I feel a little calmer because I know I'm going to make the flight and I'll escape from this place.  Somehow, I see the long document that my mother had to fill out to get approval from the government for this rescue flight. I feel badly that I didn't know before about the abuse that my mother endured at the hands of my stepfather.  While I'm waiting for the flight at the gate, I try to text my male friend again. I desperately want to reach him so he won't feel abandoned by me, but my phone still doesn't work. I feel sad that he's going to feel sad and abandoned.

A Word About These Nightmares
I'm going to deconstruct these nightmares and discuss how to work with nightmares in my next article but, for now, suffice it to say that both of these dreams have many typical features of anxiety dreams and, specifically, many elements typical of current pandemic nightmares (outlined above at the beginning of this article).

Getting Help in Therapy
Nightmares during times of crisis are often a way for the unconscious mind to work through difficult emotions and reconsolidate traumatic memories.

In addition, these nightmares sometimes reveal underlying unresolved trauma (see my article: Before and After Psychological Trauma).

If you've been having nightmares during this global pandemic, you're not alone.

An experienced psychotherapist, who helps clients during times of crisis and who works with dreams, can help you to understand and heal from nightmares.

Rather than suffering on your own, take the first step by calling a licensed psychotherapist for help.  Being able to work through your fears and nightmares can provide you with relief and allow you to feel more empowered.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome unresolved trauma.

During the global pandemic, like most psychotherapists, I'm providing online therapy, which is also known as teletherapy and telehealth (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't See Your Therapist in Person).

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, July 7, 2020

Relationships Between Older Women and Younger Men - Part 2: Issues to Consider

When it comes to age difference, relationships between older men and younger women tend to be more common than relationships between older women and younger men. But relationships between older women and younger men aren't as unusual these days as they used to be in the past (see my articles:  Who Says Older Women Don't Enjoy Sex?, Many Older Women, Who Were at the Forefront of the Sexual Revolution, Remain Sexually Active and Relationships Between Older Woman and Younger Men - Part 1).

Relationships Between Older Woman and Younger Me
Relationships between older women and younger men have become increasingly more popular as people view age as less an indicator of compatibility as compared to compatibility with regard to interests, values and life goals.

With more high profile relationships of older women and younger men in public view, there's less of a stigma about these relationships than there used to be.  For instance, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, have a 25 year age difference and they've been married for over 10 years.

Questions to Consider When There is a Significant Difference in Age Between an Older Woman and a Younger Man
While it's important not to make generalizations about age difference because every couple is unique, there are some questions that an older woman and a younger man would be wise to consider, especially if they're considering a long term relationship, as opposed to casual dating, including:
  • Do they have compatible life goals?
  • Do they have similar values?
  • Are they compatible in terms of what each of them wants from the other (dating casually vs. a committed relationship)?
  • Are they sexually compatible?
  • Does the younger man, who gets into a relationship with an older woman who can no longer have children, still want children?
  • Does it make a difference to the older woman that the younger man might be less mature than the older woman?
  • Does the older woman take on primarily a motherly role with the younger man?
  • Does the older woman tend to act superior to the younger man because she has more life experience than he does?
  • How secure do each of them feel about a long term commitment as the woman gets older?
Although some of these questions, like whether each person wants to have children, could be an issue in any relationship, these issues are even more significant in a relationship between an older woman and a younger man.

A Clinical Vignette: A Relationship Between an Older Woman and a Younger Man:
The following fictionalized clinical vignette illustrates some of the issues that come up in a relationship between a younger man and an older woman:

Jane and Alex
When Jane and Alex met at a party, they hit it off immediately and they soon began dating casually. At first, neither of them were concerned about the 15 year age difference between them because they were enjoying each other's company and having fun.

But after a few months, as they developed deeper feelings for each other, Jane began to wonder if the age difference between them might make a difference in the long term.

When she raised the issue with Alex, he was somewhat surprised because he was hardly aware of their age difference.  From his perspective, "Age is only a number. Why should it matter how old either of us is if we care about each other and we're getting along?"  He told her that he didn't care that she was 57 and he was 42.  He said the age difference had no meaning to him.

Jane told him that she had no problems with the relationship at that point in time, but she worried that, in the long run, they might want different things in terms of their life goals.  So, they began having more in-depth talks about their life goals in terms of what each of them wanted in the future.

They each knew that they had similar values, so they focused their discussion on issues like family, differences in life experience and whether each of them saw the relationship working out in the long run.

Jane raised the issue that she was beyond her childbearing years, and she was concerned that Alex might want to have children one day.  In response, Alex told Jane that, although he liked children, he didn't want children of his own. He said he had always known this and it wasn't an issue for him.

Alex told Jane that he was concerned that she might become bored with him eventually since she had so much more life experience than he did.  He said he worried that she would see him as being "less manly" because of this.  In response, Jane said that she didn't mind that he had less life experience and, in fact, what she liked about him was that he was so open and enthusiastic about trying new things.

As they opened up more to each other, Jane told Alex she worried that, as she aged, he might become less attracted to her and he might prefer to be with a younger woman.  This surprised Alex because he thought Jane knew that his attraction to her went beyond looks and sex.  He told her that his attraction encompassed much more than physical attraction--it included everything about her.

As they continued their discussions, their relationship deepened and grew.  And the more they talked about these issues, the more committed each of them became to their relationship.

Even though they didn't have any major problems between them, Jane suggested that they attend couples therapy to delve deeper into these issues, and Alex readily agreed.

During their couples therapy sessions, they were able to go deeper into the issues that they were already discussing and they each developed insights they didn't have before.  They didn't need to have many sessions with their couples therapist because these sessions served to confirm to each of them that they were compatible for a long term relationship.

Since neither of them could see any reason why they shouldn't be together in a long term relationship, they decided to take their relationship to the next level and they moved in together.

Relationships between older women and younger men are more common today than ever before.

Every relationship, regardless of age, is different in terms of relationship goals, life goals and overall compatibility.

If an older woman and a younger man are considering the viability of a long term relationship, as opposed to a casual relationship, it's important that they communicate openly and honestly about issues that could become obstacles in the future.

Many couples find it worthwhile to explore these issues in couples therapy, even if they're not having major problems, because an experienced couples therapist can help them to delve deeper and develop new insights.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT (for couples), and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work 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, July 4, 2020

Relationships Between Older Women and Younger Men - Part 1

I've been discussing older women's sexuality in my recent articles (see my articles: Who says Older Women Don't Enjoy Sex? and Many Older Women Who Were at the Forefront of the Sexual Revolution Are Still Sexually Active). In this article, I'm focusing on relationships between older women and younger men.

Relationships Between Older Woman and Younger Men

The Old Double Standard About Older Women and Younger Men
More than 40 years ago, writer and feminist Susan Sontag wrote an essay for the Saturday Review called "The Double Standard of Aging" in which she called out the sexist social convention that aging enhances men's attractiveness but detracts from women. In her essay, Sontag indicated that men might be the ones who were primarily perpetuating this sexist double standard, but she also urged older women to stop acquiescing to it. 

Years later, in an attempt to explain the popularity of older women and younger men, Newsweek called 2009 "the year of the cougar."  The image of the "cougar" was an older women who was sexually obsessed and who preyed on younger men.

Not only was this description crass and disrespectful, but it painted an inaccurate picture of older women's sexuality.  In addition, it left out the real story of why many older women often prefer younger men as well as why younger men often prefer older women.  

Defining older women, who prefer younger men, as "cougars," paints a picture of older women as predatory, but this image didn't start in 2009.  As early as 1967, in "The Graduate," Anne Bancroft portrayed Mrs. Robinson as a conniving older woman who manipulated Dustin Hoffman's character, a young college graduate, into having sex with her.  

The movie and the image of the older woman who preys on young men became so popular that the term "Mrs. Robinson" became a term synonymous with sex-hungry older women who go after younger men.  

Although, in the movie, at first, Mrs. Robinson seems beautiful, sexy and sophisticated, subsequently, just below the surface, she is shown to be an older woman who is deeply troubled and unhappy.  She is revealed as a desperate, clingy woman who is someone to be pitied rather than admired. And, of course, eventually, Dustin Hoffman's character leaves her for her younger daughter.

Although the stereotypes of older women as "cougars" and Mrs. Robinson-type women have diminished, these stereotypes still prevail in certain circles, especially in sexist popular media that still seek to demean older women.

In more recent times, many older women and younger men have become more open with revealing their preferences for each other, and see these preferences as natural.  

Specifically, many older women feel more compatible with younger men because these women are still vibrant and open to new experiences and they want men who match their energy, enthusiasm and curiosity about life.  

This is not to say that older men can't be just as energetic, enthusiastic and open to new life experiences. In fact, especially among the Baby Boomer generation, many men are living healthier, more dynamic lives.  But there are fewer older men because women tend to live longer than men.  So, it makes sense that many older women would prefer younger men.

Younger men often say that they prefer older women because they're more mature than younger women.  They say that older women have more life experience than younger women--not just sexual experience, but everyday life experience.  In addition, according to many younger men, older women "know what they want" in life and, as a result, they're generally more confident because they have learned from their life experiences.  

Generally speaking, older women aren't still striving to make it in their careers or worrying about motherhood.  Many of them have already dealt with these issues and they're in the next dynamic phase of their life, all of which makes them more attractive to many younger men.

More about relationships between older women and younger men in my next article.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and EFT therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

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.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Many Older Women, Who Were at the Forefront of the Sexual Revolution, Remain Sexually Active

In my previous article, Who Says Older Women Don't Enjoy Sex?, I discussed the results of a research study which, contrary to popular opinion, revealed that many older women in their 50s, 60s and beyond still enjoy sex.  In this article, I'm focusing on the subject of older women, who were at the forefront of the Sexual Revolution, who remain sexually active.

Many Older Women, Who Were at the Forefront of the Sexual Revolution, Remain Sexually Active

Women of the Baby Boomer Generation and the Sexual Revolution
Many people forget that women in the Baby Boomer generation were at the forefront of the sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s.  This includes both heterosexual women and lesbians who pioneered the fight against sexism and ageism.

Despite being raised with the conventional wisdom that men should be the ones who pursue women sexually and women's role was to "submit" to men, women from the Baby Boomer generation fought against these standards as part of the Sexual Revolution.

So, why would anyone think that these same women would now go quietly and settle for a life without sex?

It wasn't so long ago that women in their 40s and beyond were considered "sexually obsolete."  And in many ways, this myth still persists.

But despite the stereotype of the older asexual woman, it should be no surprise that many women, who are now in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond are still sexually active, and many of them feel freer to enjoy sex more now than when they were younger.

Why Are Many Sexually Active Older Women Enjoying the Best Sex of Their Life?
There are many reasons why these older women are enjoying the best sex of their life, including:
  • People are generally living longer and healthier lives these days, which includes older women and men who remain sexually active.
  • Older adults, who are living longer lives, now think of life in later years as their "third act," which offers them more options in life.
  • Women from the Baby Boomer generation are more likely to talk openly about sex still being important to them.
  • Many older women, who continue to work, are now prioritizing a better work-life balance, so they have more time in their personal life for enjoying a healthy sex life.
  • Older women, who no longer have responsibilities for taking care of young children, are now freer to pursue sexual activities.
  • Older women, who are in their menopausal and post menopausal years, no longer worry about getting pregnant, so they can enjoy sex without this worry, which is present for younger women.
  • Last but not least:  Older women are more sexually experienced and many of them know what they enjoy sexually, so they can communicate with their partners about what they desire in the bedroom. This makes sex much more pleasurable for them and their sex partners.
Challenges to Being Sexually Active as an Older Woman
All of these factors mentioned above don't rule out the challenges that some older women have with regard to sex, including: health issues that make sex difficult, an absence of sexual partners, sexual partners with erectile dysfunction, problems with lubrication during intercourse, misconceptions about older people not contracting sexually transmitted diseases, medical doctors who see older women as being asexual and who don't talk to them about their sexual health, and so on.

In future articles I'll continue the discussion about older women and sex.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're feeling overwhelmed by problems that you have been unable to resolve on your own, you could benefit from seeing a licensed psychotherapist.

An experienced psychotherapist can help you to work through problems so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, I'm providing teletherapy sessions, also known as telemental health, online therapy and telehealth (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't See Your Therapist in Person).

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 1, 2020

Who Says Older Women Don't Enjoy Sex?

There are a lot of misconceptions about older women and sex, including the myth that older women (50s, 60s and beyond) don't enjoy sex.  But a recent study revealed that this just isn't true. Before the results of this study, common wisdom was that women's desire for sex diminished with age.  This is also the outcome that researchers involved with this study expected to discover (see my article: The Sexual Reawakening of an Older Woman).

Who Says Older Women Don't Enjoy Sex?

But, in fact, what they discovered was that not only do many older women still want to have sex, but the main reasons why some of them don't have sex is because they no longer have a partner or the health or quality of their life isn't good. Despite these issues, many of these women still have a strong sex drive.

As part of the study, which is published in the journal, Menopause, researchers collected information from 27,357 women and followed them for 5-7 years.  The results of the study reveal that 57% of the older women in the study wanted to have more sex--not less.

This doesn't mean that this is the experience of all older women.  For instance, some menopausal and post menopausal women experience a reduction in their sex drive due to hormonal changes.

Who Says Older Women Don't Enjoy Sex?

However, in the past, it was universally assumed that this was the experience of all menopausal and post menopausal women. So, this recent study and others like it have shown that what was once considered common wisdom about older women and sex isn't true.

Use or Lose It: To Maintain a Healthy Sex Life, Being Sexually Active Helps
One of the conclusions of the study is that if older women want to maintain healthy sexual function, being sexually active is important. Researchers concluded that, just like any other part of the body, the "use it or lose it" concept applied to maintaining good sexual function.

So, to maintain good sexual function, remaining sexually active and consistent, if possible, is advisable.

I'll continue to explore the topic of older women and sexual enjoyment in future articles (see my article: Older Women, Who Were at the Forefront of the Sexual Revolution, Remain Sexually Active).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're having problems with your sex life, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist.

Rather than struggling on your own, an experienced therapist can help you to work through issues you're having about sex.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I'm providing teletherapy, which is also called online therapy, telehealth and telemental health.

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, June 30, 2020

Developing Self Compassion as an Essential Part of Trauma Recovery

Learning to develop self compassion is an essential part of overcoming emotional trauma.  At the same time, it can be challenging for most adults who experienced childhood trauma to feel self compassion because part of the trauma involved developing a harsh, critical attitude towards themselves (see my article: Self Compassion: Loving Yourself in the Places Where You Feel Broken).

Developing Self Compassion as an Essential Part of Trauma Recovery

Often, these are individuals who found themselves in impossible situations where they had to function as adults even though they were young children. These situations include children who were in a role reversal situation at home where they took on the role of being the "parent" in a dysfunctional family. The term for this role is a "parentified child" (see my article: Children's Roles in Dysfunctional Families).

Many of these individuals have childhood stories of making heroic efforts at home to take care of their parents and siblings despite formidable odds.  Anyone who heard these stories would feel an outpouring of compassion for these people, and yet, these individuals are often hypercritical of themselves for "not doing enough" for their families.

These feelings of either "not doing enough" or, worse, "not being enough" often develops early in childhood and continues through adulthood.  These feelings often permeate their relationships, including their romantic relationships, friendships and work relationships (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

These same individuals often feel a lot of compassion for others who had similar experiences as children, but they struggle to give themselves even one iota of compassion.  When they begin therapy, they might see the incongruity of this logically but, on an emotional level, they struggle when they attempt to feel compassion for themselves.

Clinical Vignette: A Traumatized Adult's Struggle to Feel Self Compassion
The following fictional vignette is a typical scenario of an individual's initial struggle in therapy to feel self compassion and how I use trauma therapy to help the client:

Initially, when Nina sought help in therapy she said the presenting problem was, "I have low self esteem." Although she was aware of her feelings of low self worth, she didn't see how harsh and critical she was of herself.

Since she wasn't aware of her inner critic, she was also unaware of the relationship between the inner critic and her feelings of low self worth and how this dynamic was connected to her traumatic experiences in childhood (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

Her self criticism extended to her inability to overcome her low self esteem. She felt that, as an adult, "I should be able to pull myself up by my bootstraps" (an expression her father often used when Nina was a child) to overcome her low self esteem. In fact, there was hardly an area in her life where she didn't experience herself as "weak."

As a trauma therapist, I'm aware that this inner critic can pose a significant challenge in trauma recovery and needs to be approached with care so traumatized clients don't leave therapy prematurely to protect this critical aspect of themselves (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).  

You might wonder why someone would feel so protective of an internal part that is causing them so much emotional pain. Looking at this situation on the surface, logically, it might seem that they would want to overcome the internal critic.  

But, on an emotional level, it's important to understand that the internal critic was part of their survival strategy as children.  Even though the internal critic was harsh, it also pushed them to overcome obstacles as children.  Without the internal critic as a defensive strategy, these individuals would have fared much worse in their childhood homes (see my article: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

Getting back to Nina's story: When asked about her childhood, Nina recounted how, as a young child, she pushed herself (through her internal critic) to keep the household going. As the oldest of four children, she took on a parentified role with her parents and siblings. 

At the age of 10, not only did she get alcoholic father up and out in the morning so he could get to work on time, but she also made breakfast for the whole family (while her depressed mother stayed in bed) and got her younger siblings dressed and took them to school.

As she talked about this time in her life, Nina said she often said to herself, "You'd better get dad up because if you don't no one else will and then he'll lose his job and we'll all starve" or "You have to get your brothers and sisters to school everyday or the school might contact the authorities and then we'll all be taking away from mom and dad."

During the initial part of therapy, Nina believed it was her responsibility, as a child, to take on the role of her parents because neither of them could function as parents. And, even though she was correct that there was no one else to help and the family would have fallen apart if she didn't take on this role, she didn't see the high price she paid in doing it.

Initially, as Nina talked about her childhood best friend, Anna, who was in similar role as a child, Nina expressed enormous love and compassion for Anna for the challenges she faced in her childhood. She understood that Anna functioned above the capacity of most children and that Anna sacrificed their childhood to do so.  

During the initial stage of therapy, when I tactfully tried to point out her compassion for Anna as compared to her lack of compassion for herself, Nina would shut down emotionally.

Her protective feelings towards her inner critic were so strong that she couldn't see the similarity between her childhood experience and Anna's.  It was as if her internal critic was her savior, and she couldn't tolerate being open and curious about it.

So, as Nina developed more of an awareness of her inner critic, I talked to Nina about the important function that her inner critic served when she was a child.  Nina agreed and told me, "That part of me pushed me to keep the family going, to do well at school and to do whatever was necessary to keep the household going. If I didn't have that part of me, I think I would have fallen apart and then my family would have fallen apart.  I couldn't allow that."

Over time, Nina felt safe enough in therapy to begin to go beyond appreciating the useful function that her internal critic served so that she was able to take small steps to explore the negative impact this internal part had on childhood, "I was often so exhausted. I could barely keep my eyes open in school. I see now how this part pushed me relentlessly and why it was so exhausting."

This realization didn't come like a lighting bolt. Instead, it evolved gradually over time as Nina saw that I appreciated the internal critic as the only survival strategy that she had as a child.  And, even as this initial realization developed, Nina was often quick to defend this part.  

Gradually, as Nina seemed ready for it, I helped her to tolerate seeing both the "good and the bad," as she put it, with regard to her internal critic.  This was a major breakthrough for Nina because, before this, she was only able to tolerate seeing the positive aspects of her internal critic rather than seeing the whole picture.

As we developed a positive therapeutic relationship, Nina felt safe enough with me to explore the more tender feelings that she had suppressed as a child so that she could take on an adult role.  She began to feel a sense of compassion for her younger self and, over time, she mourned for her lost childhood.

Parts work, which is also called Ego States therapy or Internal Family Systems (IFS), was helpful in allowing Nina to open up to those suppressed tender feelings.  By then, she had developed the emotional wherewithal to tolerate exploring the loneliness and emotional neglect she experienced as a child, and she allowed herself to grieve.

As Nina looked at her younger self, she began to feel a sense of love and compassion for that part of herself. During parts work in therapy, she was able to have a dialogue between her adult self and her child self where the child self was finally able to ask for what she needed and the adult self was protective of the younger self and helped to soothe her.  

This was an important turning point in therapy because as her adult self expressed compassion and love for her child self, the role of Nina's inner critic diminished.  Rather than pushing herself with harsh, critical messages, Nina nurtured her younger self in ways that she was never nurtured as a child.

At that point in therapy, I provided Nina with psychoeducation about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy as a trauma therapy (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

After learning about EMDR therapy, Nina agreed to try it with me.  The work was neither quick nor easy, but EMDR therapy, along with parts work, helped Nina to work through her traumatic experiences.

By the time Nina completed trauma therapy, she was a much more psychologically integrated person.  Her traumatic experiences no longer had a negative impact on her life.  She experienced self compassion. And, in addition, she was able to form a healthy relationship with a man she began dating, and her friendships grew and deepened.

Self compassion is often sorely missing for individuals who grew up with childhood trauma. Although they might feel compassion for others in similar situations, they have difficulty feeling self compassion.  

A harsh inner critic is often part of a maladaptive survival strategy for people who experience trauma.

If the therapist doesn't appreciate role of the inner critic in terms of the client's survival, the therapist risks alienating the client and the client leaving therapy prematurely as a way to protect that part.

Before the negative impact of the inner critic can even be broached, the therapist needs to establish a strong therapeutic alliance with the client for the client to feel safe enough to explore the negative aspect of the inner critic (see article: The Creation of the Holding Environment in Therapy).

Parts work, also known as Ego States work or IFS, is helpful for clients to begin to see that their internal world is made up of many different aspects, including an internal critic.

When clients can begin to feel compassionate and nurturing feelings for the younger self, the internal critic often begins to soften and diminish.

EMDR therapy, which is a trauma therapy, helps traumatized clients to reprocess and reconsolidate their traumatic memories so that these memories no longer have a negative impact on them.  

Getting Help in Therapy
It's often difficult for traumatized individuals to seek help in therapy because many of them weren't able to form loving, trusting relationships in their family, so they're reluctant to reveal the more vulnerable parts of themselves to a therapist.

Finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with is essential. It might take a while before you feel comfortable enough to reveal the more tender parts of yourself, but most people get at least a sense of whether they feel a connection with a therapist during the first few sessions.

If you're feeling overwhelmed by unresolved trauma, you're not alone. Trauma therapy can help you to work through traumatic experiences so that these experiences no longer create obstacles for you, and you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy)

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to recover from trauma (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I am providing teletherapy, which is also known as online therapy, telehealth or telemental health (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't See Your Therapist in Person).

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.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Making and Responding to Your Spouse's Loving Reparative Gestures

In his book, The Seven Principles For Making a Marriage Work, relationship expert John Gottman discusses what works in successful relationships and what ruins relationships (see my article: Are You a Stonewaller?). Being able to make and receive loving reparative gestures is an important part of successful relationships (see my article: The Challenge of Preventing Small Arguments From Becoming Major Conflicts in Your Relationship).

Making and Responding to Your Spouse's Loving Reparative Gestures

As John Gottman describes it, when both people in a relationship can make and receive sincere and genuine gestures as a way to repair an argument, it can make all the difference in the relationship.

What I'm referring to in this article is common arguments that spouses often have.  I'm not referring to ongoing abusive behavior.

Also, Gottman emphasizes that when there is a dynamic of contempt between spouses, this is one of the most destructive aspects of a relationship and often ends in divorce.

Clinical Vignettes: Responding to Your Spouse's Loving Reparative Gestures
The following vignettes illustrate the difference between spouses who are able to give and receive reparative gestures and spouses who are unable to do it.  These fictional vignettes aren't about any one particular couple. Instead, they are common dynamics seen in many relationships.

Vignette 1: Tom and Betty
Tom and Betty were married for two years. When Tom came home from work, he often needed time to himself. Not only did he have a stressful job, but his long commute made him feel tense and irritable.  By the time Tom came home, he wanted 15 minutes to himself before he was ready to interact with his wife. But when he got home, he experienced Betty as nagging him about household things that weren't pressing. Although he told her many times that he needed time to himself, he felt that she ignored his need by bombarding him with demands the minute he walked through the door.  One day, when Tom came home from a particularly difficult day at work, he snapped at Betty when she berated him for making demands of him about household chores rather than allowing him to have time to himself. After he snapped at Betty, he went into the bedroom to compose himself and let go of the tension of the day.  Then, when he felt calmer, he approached Betty in the living room to apologize.  He sat next to her and, as he apologized for his behavior, he touched her shoulder in a loving gesture as a way to repair things between them.  But Betty pulled away from him and said, "I don't like the way you spoke to me, and apologizing doesn't change anything." Over the course of the next few days, Tom approached Betty several times to try to repair things between them, but Betty refused to accept his apology. Instead, she responded to him with contempt. These interactions between them were emblematic of the dynamics in their relationship. Betty was unable to let go of her hurt and anger and she refused to take in Tom's loving gestures to make amends with her. She also turned down Tom's pleas to go to couples therapy. After another year of this, Tom decided that he didn't want to be in a marriage where arguments couldn't be repaired and he felt Betty's contempt. So, he told Betty that he no longer wanted to be in the marriage and, within six months, they were divorced.

Vignette 2: Alice and John
Alice and John were married for two years.  This was the second marriage for both of them. Sometimes they had common arguments about household chores. Alice tended to like the household to be neat and John had more of a tolerance for messiness. They each learned to make compromises in this area. But one day when Alice felt particularly frustrated to find dirty dishes in the sink again, she confronted John in a harsh way, "Why are you such a slob!?!" When she saw the hurt look on John's face, Alice knew she had gone too far, but she wasn't ready to apologize yet. She went for a walk to try to calm down, and she realized that her reaction was out of proportion to the situation and that she had displaced some of her anger about her workday onto John. When she returned from her walk, Alice felt a lot calmer.  She approached John, who was sitting on the couch reading a book.  As she sat next to him, she took his hand in hers, looked into his eyes and said, "I'm sorry I overreacted about the dishes. I shouldn't have called you a slob. I realized while I was out walking that I allowed my frustration about work to affect my response to you. I'm sorry."  John smiled at Alice and put his arm around her, "Yeah, it made me feel bad, but I also knew that you didn't really mean it. I know that I can do a better job of cleaning up after myself and I'll try to do better from now on." After that, they each let go of their annoyance. They watched a movie together holding each other and later that night they made love. Similarly, John was able to apologize for things he said that he regretted, and Alice was able to accept John's apologies.  They were each able to let go of their anger to work things out in their relationship. Over time, their love for each other grew and they felt closer to one another.

Discussion About the Two Vignettes
In Vignette 1, Tom made attempts to make amends with Betty, but Betty was unwilling to let go of her anger to accept Tom's gestures for repair. Not only did Betty ignore Tom's need for a short period of time for himself when he came home from a stressful day, but there was never a way to make repairs, as far as Betty was concerned, because she took a hard stance against accepting apologies and reparative gestures. Betty's unwillingness to accept Tom's reparative gestures resulted in the demise of their relationship because the relationship deteriorated over time, and Tom was unwilling to remain with someone who showed contempt and could never forgive.

In Vignette 2, Alice and John would argue over common issues that couples often argue about, but they were both able to make and accept reparative gestures soon after the argument. They were able to move on from these arguments and let go of anger so that resentment didn't build up. This allowed their relationship to grow and deepen over time.

There are many people in relationships who are unable to make or take in repairs in their relationship. This is often the result of a childhood where mistakes weren't tolerated or where, as children, they didn't see their parents resolve their problems. Successful relationship skills weren't modeled for them.

The ability to make and receive reparative gestures in a relationship is crucial for the survival of a relationship. The alternative is a destructive dynamic that grows over time and often leads to the demise of the relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
Being in a relationship often takes skills that people haven't developed.  Often these people haven't seen models of successful relationships when they were growing up.

Individual or couples therapy can help one or both people to develop the necessary relationship skills to salvage an otherwise good relationship (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples?).

Rather than continuing in a negative cycle that might be ruining your relationship, you owe it to yourself to get help from an experienced therapist.

Learning successful relationship skills will help you to feel better about yourself and improve your relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and EFT For Couples therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

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.