NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Healing Old Emotional Childhood Wounds that are Affecting Your Relationships

As a psychotherapist in New York City, I see many clients in both individual psychotherapy and couples counseling who are struggling with old, unresolved childhood wounds that are affecting their current relationships. 

Healing Old Emotional Childhood Wounds Affecting Your Relationships

Most people know, at least on an intellectual level, that their unresolved family of origin issues have the potential to impact their current relationships. But when you've actually experienced how powerful these old emotional wounds are when they get triggered in current relationships, you have a deeper emotional understanding of their adverse impact in your intimate relationship.

Often, these old emotional wounds remain buried for a long time and don't get triggered until you're in an intimate relationship. The closer you are to your spouse or partner, the more likely it is that issues like fear of emotional abandonment, fear of not being lovable, and other similar feelings will arise in your relationship. 

The reason for that is that you're most vulnerable emotionally when you're in an intimate relationship. When you're experiencing these issues in your relationship, it's often difficult to know if you're feeling these emotions due to problems in the current relationship, past family of origin issues, or they represent some combination of the two.

One clue that these feelings are connected to unresolved emotional issues from the past is that your emotional reactions in your current relationship are out of proportion to the situation. Obviously, to recognize this, you must have some degree of insight and objectivity or, at least, be willing to talk it over with a trust family member or friend who can offer an insightful perspective.

The following scenario, which is a composite of different clients with all identifying information changed, illustrates how unresolved childhood emotional issues can get triggered and cause problems in a current relationship:

Tom was a man in his mid-30s. He and Jennifer had been in a relationship for two years. They were talking about getting married. But, at the point when Tom came to see me for individual psychotherapy, they were arguing and Jennifer expressed serious concerns about whether they should stay together.

As Tom explained it, they were very happy together until Jennifer took a job where she had to travel to the West Coast every couple of months. Whenever Tom heard that Jennifer had a business trip coming up, he would become highly anxious, irritable and argumentative with Jennifer.

Usually, Jennifer's business trips lasted no more than a week. But during the time when Jennifer was away, Tom became despondent and he had a terrible feeling of foreboding that he would never see Jennifer again. Neither Jennifer nor Tom understood why Tom was experiencing such strong emotional reactions. At first, she tried to be empathetic and console him. However, after a while, Jennifer felt frustrated and questioned whether she could be happy with Tom as a lifelong partner.

As Tom and I discussed his childhood history, I discovered that his father would often disappear for months at a time without warning, leaving the Tom, his mother, and his younger brother in a state of emotional and financial chaos. It became clear that whenever Jennifer left for a business trip, Tom's old, unresolved trauma was getting triggered and he was feeling the same fear and sadness that he experienced when he was a child. Realizing this on an intellectual level helped Tom to realize that he wasn't "crazy," but that knowledge alone did not prevent his fears.

Over time, Tom and I worked on his unresolved issues using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and clinical hypnosis. Using these two powerful psychotherapeutic treatment modalities helped Tom to work through his trauma so that he was no longer triggered.

The real test came when Jennifer went on her next business trip. Tom was amazed that, despite fearing that he might have one of his usual traumatic reactions, he felt all right about Jennifer leaving. 

 It was the first time, since she started traveling, that he wasn't in a panic, he didn't feel despondent, and he didn't feel abandoned by her. He felt completely free of his former traumatic symptoms. Jennifer was also greatly relieved. Within six months, they got married. When I followed up with Tom six months later, he reported that he continued to feel symptom free and they were happy together.

Often, when dealing with unresolved childhood trauma, regular talk therapy is not enough to overcome these problems. Talk therapy might provide intellectual insight into the trauma and what triggers the traumatic symptoms. But, often, it is not enough to heal old emotional wounds. 

 Within the last 10-15 years, research has shown that, when it comes to healing trauma, mind-body oriented psychotherapy is usually more effective than regular talk therapy. Both EMDR and clinical hypnosis are considered forms of mind-body psychotherapy.

Many clients who are already in regular talk therapy will often come to an EMDR therapist or hypnotherapist for adjunctive therapy, where their current psychotherapist is the primary therapist and the EMDR therapist or hypnotherapist provides treatment in collaboration with the primary psychotherapist.

Getting Help in Therapy
When choosing a psychotherapist, EMDR therapist or a hypnotherapist, always choose a licensed mental health professional. 

 Also, there is a big difference with regard to training and professional background between a "hypnotist" and a hypnotherapist. 

 As the name implies, a hypnotherapist is a licensed therapist and a hypnotist is usually someone who has learned hypnosis techniques but who does not have the therapeutic background and expertise to deal with emotional issues.

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

I have helped many clients in individual therapy as well as in couples therapy to overcome unresolved emotional trauma that is adversely affecting their current relationships.

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

To set up a consultation, please call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.