NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Beware of Emotional Saboteurs

Most of us have had the experience of being excited about a new idea or project, telling a friend or family member and having them douse our ideas with ice water before we've even gotten our ideas off the ground. Often, because the ideas are new for us, this could be enough to discourage us and tap into old feelings of inadequacy. There's nothing like an emotional saboteur to stop you in your tracks and make you doubt yourself to the point that you give up on your ideas.

What Are Emotional Saboteurs?
Emotional saboteurs come in all shapes and sizes, and there are both internal and external emotional saboteurs. This article will focus primarily on external saboteurs, but it's important to recognize that we have our own internal saboteurs that can get triggered by external saboteurs.

Beware of Emotional Saboteurs

External Emotional Saboteurs - The Anxious Saboteur:
External emotional saboteurs are often well meaning. On a conscious level, they often don't really mean to discourage us but, due to their own feelings of inadequacy or their own fears, they do just that. When we share our enthusiasm for a new idea with them, they become anxious. 

Without realizing it, they begin to find all kinds of reasons why our ideas won't work. On a conscious level, they might feel that they're protecting us from failure or from taking a risk. Often, they try to live their lives as carefully as possible, taking as few risks as possible. So that when they hear you talk about something that might involve a degree of risk, it's like an alarm goes off in their heads that says "Warning! Danger ahead!" and they want to spare you of what they perceive as a bad idea.

External Emotional Saboteurs: The Pessimist:
Another type of emotional saboteur is the person who is very pessimistic about almost everything. He or she can always find "the downside" to any idea or situation. If there is even one possibility in 1,000 that something could go wrong, this person will dwell on this one possibility and try to convince you not to go forward. They have all kinds of stories about people who tried the same thing and it never worked or they suffered some horrible fate. Since they are pessimists at heart, they almost never try anything that is new or risky.

External Emotional Saboteurs: The Office "Jungle Fighter":
Then, there are the emotional saboteurs who knowingly try to discourage you from any new creative endeavors. They might engage in emotional sabotage because they're envious or maybe they're competitive and wish they had come up with your idea. 

It's not unusual to find this type of emotional saboteur in the workplace. No sooner have they discouraged you from proceeding with your idea or project than they are talking it up with the boss as if it was their idea. When you find these emotional saboteurs in the workplace, they're like "jungle fighters," manipulative and cunning. They find insidious ways to discourage you and tap into your insecurities. For the more extreme types in this category, there's something sociopathic about them. They are only motivated by self interest and lacking in empathy for anyone else.

External Emotional Saboteurs: The "Expert":
In our enthusiasm to gather information about the ideas that we might want to pursue, we often consult with an "expert" in the field. This could be someone who has many years of valuable experience in the particular area that we're interested in.

Let's say, for instance, that you're thinking about writing a book. You might consult with an established writer or publisher or someone else in the field who has particular expertise in the area that you're interested in. 

If you choose the right person, you'll get balanced advice on your particular endeavor. You come away with valuable information that you can use to decide how to proceed. But if you choose someone who happens to be an emotional saboteur by nature, their "expert" opinion might be very discouraging. You might hear about how books are not selling due to the recession or that other people have written about the topic that you're interested in and they failed, and so on. 

This person might not be someone who can think "outside the box" and, for example, he or she might not give you ideas about self publishing. They've "been there," "done that" and they try to discourage you from going forward with your idea.

How to Distinguish People Who Give Sound Advice from Emotional Saboteurs:
When we're at the very beginning of a creative process, we're most vulnerable to emotional saboteurs. We have our hopes and dreams and, due to our enthusiasm and naivete, we can go to the wrong person who can dash our hopes before we even get our project off the ground. I often wonder how many writers, artists, dancers, or people in other areas have been discouraged by emotional saboteurs and abandon their ideas.

But how do we distinguish between people who are emotional saboteurs from people who might be giving us sound advice? It's often tricky to tell the difference. A lot depends on your own judgement about the person and the situation. 

So, for instance, if you're thinking of jumping into some get-rich-quick scheme or you're about to be, unwittingly, pulled into a scam, you want someone who is level headed to give you advice or share their own experiences with you to keep you from doing something that is foolhardy. Before you invest your hard earned money in some scheme that sounds too good to be true, you want to be able to listen to balanced advice with an open mind and consider that they might be right before you do something that is potentially harmful to you or your loved ones.

We Often Know, On Some Level, Who Will Be An Emotional Saboteur:
In my opinion, if we know the people that we're going to for advice, on some level, we often know who will be unnecessarily discouraging and who will be even handed with our new ideas. Why we would go to someone that we know would discourage us is a big topic for another article. Sometimes, on an unconscious level, a part of us feels inadequate and, without realizing it, we look to others to confirm our own sense of inadequacy. So, if this is your pattern, it's important to recognize this and learn to stop doing it.

Before you seek advice on new creative endeavors, it's important to think carefully about who you go to for advice. Sometimes, in the early stages of a new project, if you're sure that you want to pursue it and you have a chance for success, you have to use your discernment about who you talk to about it.

I'm not talking about being paranoid. I'm talking about protecting your new, sometimes not quite formed ideas from people who tend to be discouraging. Like the first tender shoots of a plant peeking through the ground, you don't want emotional saboteurs drowning your new ideas with their negativity. You might want to give your ideas a chance to germinate and grow for a while and gain more self confidence about them before you expose them to people who might tap into your own insecurities about them.

I don't know how many times I've heard people say that they started a writing project and gave it to friends to read and comment on only to have their friends criticize and tear it apart with no positive feedback or encouragement at all. Often, the writer will then either tear up the writing or shove it in a drawer never to see the light of day again, saying to him or herself, "I don't know what I was thinking when I thought I could write." After someone has had this type of discouragement time and time again, it's difficult to undo so they can get unblocked creatively and work again.

Psychotherapists As Emotional Saboteurs:
It pains me to say this, but in my own field there are some emotional saboteurs. I don't think that most therapists mean to be emotional saboteurs. Often, they don't realize that they're doing it. Unfortunately, unless a psychotherapist goes through psychoanalytic training, they're not required to go into their own therapy to work out their own personal stuff. This is an area that I wish would change, but I don't see it changing any time soon.

Most therapists have been in their own therapy or at least have obtained professional supervision to be able to distinguish their own feelings and history from their clents' problems. But some of them have not. So, if you're thinking about going into therapy, it's important to ask about a prospective therapist's background. By this, I don't mean that you ask personal questions about a therapist's personal background--I mean that you find out what their training has been. Even with training and personal therapy, some therapists, who might have pessimistic personalities, might end up, unwittingly, discouraging you from worthwhile creative endeavors.

Once again, that doesn't mean that if you're in therapy with a therapist who is trying to help you to see that something that you want to do is self destructive that your therapist is an emotional saboteur. You might just have a blind spot where you're not seeing that what appears to you as a good idea could be foolhardy.

Internal Emotional Saboteurs:
Our own internal emotional saboteurs can be like old tapes that play in our heads that tell us things like, "You'll never be able to do it," "You're not good enough," "Who do you think you are?" Often these are based on experiences that we've had as children. If we've had many of these experiences when we were growing up, these old feelings are right there on the surface waiting to be triggered in new situations.

Using Your Judgement and Intuition
When someone is thinking about embarking on a new idea, I usually encourage them to be discerning, avoid people that, in their heart of hearts, they know to be emotional saboteurs, and talk to more than one person. Then, after that, it's a matter of using your own judgement and intuition.

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

I have helped many clients to overcome their fears and creative blocks about new creative projects.

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

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

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Relationships: Are You Projecting Your Negative Feelings About Yourself Onto Your Spouse?

When two people are in a long-term relationship, it's not unusual for one or both people to project their own negative feelings about themselves onto their partner. This is an unconscious psychological defense mechanism called psychological projection.

Projecting Your Negative Feelings About Yourself Onto Your Spouse

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a friend who wanted to vent her annoyance about her husband. I listened patiently for a while, and when she was through venting about his "laziness" and "neediness," I told her that I was surprised to hear her say these things. I've known my friend and her husband for many years, and I never would have characterized him as "needy" or "lazy." I've always thought of my friend's husband as being self reliant and very hard working.

So, as we were talking, I asked her if she really felt this way about him. At first, she insisted that this is how she really felt. Then, I asked her to give me some examples of these negative traits that she said her husband has. After a while, she realized that she couldn't really give me any examples. Then, she thought about this for a few minutes. And after she thought about it, she broke down crying, saying that she realized that she wasn't really feeling this way about him--this was really how she felt about herself.

We ended up talking for an hour. She went on to tell me why she feels this way about herself which, for purposes of this article, is irrelevant. But afterwards, she said she felt much better about her relationship and realized that she needed to do some work on herself in her own therapy. Part of what we talked about is that it's not usual for husbands and wives to project their own misgivings about themselves onto their spouses. Since my friend knows that I write a psychotherapy blog, she suggested that I write about this topic and use our conversation as a jumping off point.

Why Do People in Long-Term Relationships Project Their Own Negative Feelings About Themselves Onto Their Partners?
First, it's important to understand, once again, that this is an unconscious process. It's not like the person is saying to him or herself, "I can't accept these negative feelings about myself, so I'll put them onto my partner." Since it's completely out of their awareness, in most cases, they don't realize that this is what they're doing.

Often, the negative traits that they don't like about themselves are split off from their awareness. By that, I mean that they emotionally disown these feelings about themselves, in a sense, and because they're disowned, they're disavowed. These negative traits are so unacceptable to them that they cannot acknowledge that they belong to them. It's much easier to project them on someone else. In that sense, psychological projection is a defense mechanism and it protects the person who is doing the projecting from feeling bad about him or herself.

Even though this article is focuses on psychological projection between spouses, psychological projection can take place between any two people: parent-child, employee-boss, brother-sister, and so on. It often happens between spouses because they're together so much.

How to Recognize If You're Engaging in Psychological Projection:
At the beginning of my conversation with my friend, she was absolutely convinced that she was annoyed with her husband because she felt he was "lazy" and "needy." As I mentioned earlier, I allowed her to vent her feelings, but I was quietly thinking to myself, "Really? She really feels this way? She's never said this before. I know him a long time. Something about this doesn't sound right."

After my friend finished venting, I reflected back what she said to me and asked her if she really felt this way. Being an insightful and reflective person, after her initial insistence that she really felt that way, my friend thought about it some more. Since we've been friends for a long time, she also trusts my sense of her and her husband, and my response to her gave her pause.

After she thought about it for a moment, she realized what she was doing--she was projecting her own negative feelings about herself onto her husband. She felt badly for denigrating her husband and then made a commitment to talk to her therapist about these negative feelings that she felt about herself. Now, I don't think that she is any more"lazy" or "needy" than her husband, but these feelings are obviously deep seated in her. And whatever I might feel about her, what's important is that this is how she feels about herself right now, for whatever reason. And, as a friend, I can't be her therapist, so this is something that she'll work out in her own psychotherapy.

How Can You Stop Psychologically Projecting Your Own Negative Feelings Onto Your Spouse:
First, it helps if you have the ability to step back and think about these feelings. Try to put aside your anger and judgment towards your spouse and ask yourself, "Do I really feel this way?" "How do I know this?" "What objective evidence is there for this?"

Very often, because psychological projection is an unconscious defense mechanism, it's hard to separate out your judgments and emotions so you can be objective. If you have a trusted friend, it can help to talk to him or her about it, especially if this friend knows you and your spouse.

If you have some psychological insight into yourself and if you're ready to accept that these feelings might actually be about you and not about your spouse, you can go a long way to avoiding a lot of arguments and heartache between you and your spouse.

Getting Help in Therapy
Psychological projection can be very damaging to a relationship, especially if both people in the relationship are projecting onto each other, which is not unusual.

If you sense that you could be engaging in psychological projection and you find it too challenging to resolve this problem on your own, you could benefit from the help of a licensed psychotherapist who has expertise in this unconscious psychological defense mechanism.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist.

I work with both individuals and couples.

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

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

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why Do Clients Leave Psychotherapy Prematurely?

This article will focus on the topic of when clients leave psychotherapy treatment prematurely. Of course, there are times when the time is right to leave psychotherapy. One reason could be because you've met your treatment goals, discussed ending treatment with your therapist, and you both agree that it's time for you to end treatment. 

Another reason could be that you know that the psychotherapist that you're seeing is not the right therapist for you. It's not a good match, and you're sure that this is the reason and you're not leaving treatment for one of the reasons that I've outlined below. But ending psychotherapy treatment is a topic for another article.

When Clients Leave Psychotherapy Prematurely

Why Do Clients Leave Psychotherapy Treatment Prematurely?

Clients Leave Psychotherapy Treatment Prematurely Because They Feel Annoyed About Something Their Therapist Said:
It's not unusual for there to be ruptures in psychotherapy treatment. After all, a therapeutic relationship is like many other types of relationships between two people. There are bound to be misunderstandings at times. A client might misunderstand something that the therapist has said. A therapist, being human, might not always be perfectly attuned to a client and might say something the represents an empathic failure. But rather than leaving treatment prematurely without saying something about it to the therapist, unless what has been said is egregious, it's much more valuable for a client to talk to the therapist about it at the next session.

Why is it worthwhile to tell your therapist if she has said something that hurt or annoyed you? Well, for many people, growing up in families of origin where they didn't have a chance to express themselves, it's an opportunity to be heard in a way that they've never been heard before. So, it can be a very empowering experience to assert yourself in this way. Also, often, after a rupture has been worked out in psychotherapy treatment, the treatment advances further than it might have without it.

Clients Leave Psychotherapy Treatment Prematurely Because They Feel "Stuck" in the Treatment Process:
When you begin psychotherapy, you're in the initial phase of treatment. During this phase, you and your therapist are getting to know each other. If you're new to therapy, you're also learning what it means to be a psychotherapy client and how the process works.

As I've mentioned in prior articles, some clients come to therapy expecting a "quick fix." Even when they come to treatment with complicated, multi-layered problems, they expect that their problems will be resolved in a few sessions. While there are certain problems that lend themselves to brief treatment, many problems do not. So, if you're feeling "stuck" early on in treatment, it might be that you're feeling impatient with the beginning phase of treatment.

It might also be that your treatment has reached an impasse because of some obstacle in the treatment either with you or with the therapist or between the two of you. But, before you leave treatment prematurely, it's best to talk to your therapist about how you're feeling. 

Then, not only are you able to express your feelings, but you can also find out how your therapist assesses the treatment at that point. Maybe the two of you need to change how you're working. Maybe there needs to be adjunctive treatment for a while with a second therapist. 

This is often the case with trauma, where regular talk therapy isn't enough and you might need to work briefly with a second therapist who does EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) or clinical hypnosis. Whatever the reason, it's a good idea for you and your therapist to have a check-in talk with each other every once in a while to evaluate the treatment.

Clients Leave Psychotherapy Treatment Prematurely Due to Financial Reasons:
It's not surprising that many clients have to think carefully about whether they can afford to attend psychotherapy, especially because it's getting harder and harder to find psychotherapists on managed care panels, and many people are now paying for their therapy out of pocket. But rather than leaving prematurely, if you're having financial problems, it's best to let your therapist know.

Many therapists work on a sliding scale basis and your therapist might be able to reduce your fee. Your therapist can also help you to look at your money issues. Money can be a complicated subject. Often, clients will say they can't afford to be in treatment when there are really other underlying issues. At times, it's easier to look at a concrete issue like money than to look at your fear of being in treatment. Other times, it might be a matter of looking at your priorities. 

Are you spending $10-20 a day on cigarettes? If you stopped smoking, not only would you have money for therapy, but you would also preserve your health. Are you spending money on other frivolous purchases as a way to momentarily boost your mood? If so, maybe that's something that you need to look at with your therapist.

Clients Leave Psychotherapy Treatment Prematurely Because They Become Fearful When Therapy Starts to Delve into Core Issues:
Compared to the other issues that I've discussed so far in this article, this is the most complicated issue. Why is it so complicated? Well, first, when clients become fearful of talking about core issues, they often don't realize that this is what's going on. 

It might be completely unconscious for them. They might think that they want to leave for other reasons that are really unrelated to what's really going on with them. 

This is often the time when clients might say that they can't afford to come to treatment any more or they don't have time any more. While these might be issues, it's always worthwhile for you and your therapist to explore if what's really operating is that you've gotten to a point in therapy where you're dealing with deeper, core issues and this is frightening you.

You might wonder how this could happen. After all, you might say, "Don't people come into psychotherapy treatment to work on these issues?" While it's true that clients start psychotherapy because they want to work on a problem and they're often motivated at the beginning of treatment, it's also true that many clients get frightened when the therapy actually starts to delve into the very issues that they came to work on. This is very common in psychotherapy.

Sometimes, clients take a "flight into health," meaning that they tell themselves and their therapists that they're feeling better now (when they're really not) and that they don't need therapy any more. This is a common reaction. When this happens, the challenge is to stick it out in therapy and to be willing to explore this with your therapist.

It might not be obvious to you that this is what's happening. But, often, if you step back and you're able to detach yourself from your fear of addressing your core issues, you and your therapist can work through this treatment impasse. Are you really feeling better or are you in denial and telling yourself this because you're too frightened to deal with core issues?

Maybe it means that the two of you need to address your fear of delving into the problem before you actually delve directly into your core issues. Maybe the two of you need to take a different tact in treatment or change treatment strategies. Whatever is needed in this situation, it's better to talk to your therapist rather than leaving treatment prematurely.

Since this is one of the most complicated issues as to why clients leave treatment prematurely, it's worthwhile to look at a composite vignette. As always this vignette does not refer to a particular client, but represents many clients who have this problem in common.

Alan began psychotherapy because he had problems making a commitment in his relationship. He knew that this was a life long problem for him. Whenever he got close to a woman that he was seeing, he got frightened and left the relationship, even if he cared about his girlfriend very much.

A year prior to Alan starting psychotherapy, Alan began dating Paula. According to Alan, the first few months were great. But as the relationship started to get more serious and Paula wanted more of a commitment from Alan, Alan began to feel that old familiar fear again. He began giving himself all kinds of reasons why the relationship with Paula wouldn't work out in the long run. He never talked to Paula about what he was feeling, but he felt a mounting panic whenever she talked about the possibility of their moving in together.

Alan really loved Paula, and he didn't want to ruin their relationship because of his fears, so he came to therapy. During the first few months of therapy, Alan learned ways to cope with his panic so that he didn't act on it and end his relationship with Paula due to his fear. At that point, Alan actually enjoyed therapy. But when his therapist began exploring Alan's childhood issues in a highly dysfunctional family, Alan began thinking about leaving treatment.

Even though Alan knew that his life long relationship issues were related to his feeling abandoned as a child, when it came time to deal with this issue in treatment, he became frightened. At that point, he began cancelling therapy sessions or coming to his therapy sessions late so that there wasn't enough time to delve into these issues. He didn't realize that this is what he was doing. He always thought that his cancellations and latenesses were legitimate and unrelated to his feelings about what he and his therapists were talking about.

When his therapist spoke to him about his cancellations and latenesses as it related to what they were working on, Alan couldn't see the connection at first. He couldn't see that he was sabotaging his own treatment. So that, with so many cancellations and short sessions, the therapeutic work began to stall, and Alan and his therapist reached an impasse in treatment.

In order to have good treatment, clients need to come to their sessions on a regular basis. When a client misses too many sessions or comes to sessions late, the client can bring about the treatment impasse. A skilled therapist can point this out to a client, but if a client is unable or unwilling to see this, the client can end up sabotaging the treatment--often in the same way that he or she sabotages personal relationships.

While this was happening, Alan thought about leaving his therapist a voicemail message or sending an email that he thought treatment wasn't working and he was leaving. But Paula convinced him that this wasn't the way to end a therapeutic relationship and it would be better to talk to his therapist in person.

So, reluctantly, Alan came into his next session and told his therapist that he wanted to leave treatment. His therapist was able to reflect back to Alan just how anxious he had become once they began talking about his childhood. She also told him that this was not unusual.

When Alan heard this, he was able to relax a little and think back as to when he began cancelling sessions and coming in late. He realized that it coincided with talking about when his mother disappeared from the family household. His mother left when Alan was four, and Alan never saw her again. No one knew of her whereabouts. His father tried to manage as best as he could but, with five children, his father was often overwhelmed, he began drinking excessively, and Alan often felt alone.

When Alan got older, he thought of himself as being "independent" and "not needing anyone." But it was clear to his therapist that this was a pseudo independence. It was a defense against opening up his heart and getting hurt again. Alan had never recognized this before. When his therapist discussed this with him, it resonated with him, and he felt it to be true. He also knew that this was a breakthrough for him in his therapy. So, he decided to stick it out in treatment and not to run because of his fear. Whenever he felt the urge to flee from treatment, he talked about it with his therapist and each time he gained new insights into himself.

He also realized that when he felt fearful in therapy and he was tempted to leave, he was going through a parallel process in his therapy that was similar to how he felt in his relationship with Paula. In addition, he realized that his issues were complicated and treatment would not be brief.

Over time, as Alan continued to explore his childhood issues, he continued to gain new insights into why getting close to Paula was frightening for him. Rather than fleeing from his relationship with Paula or fleeing from his therapist, he learned to stay in these relationships and to manage his anxiety while he worked through his problems.

If You're Thinking About Leaving Treatment, Talk to Your Psychotherapist in Person:
Many clients feel too uncomfortable about talking to their therapists in person about leaving treatment. They will often leave a voicemail message or send an email. But when clients leave treatment in this way, they are short changing themselves and the treatment process (see my article: How to Talk to Your Therapist If Something is Bothering You About Your Therapy).

It's worthwhile to remember that the therapeutic relationship between a client and a therapist is still a relationship, albeit a professional relationship. You owe it to yourself and the treatment to talk to your therapist in person if you want to leave treatment or you're thinking about it.

Clients who leave voicemail messages or send emails to end treatment often regret it afterwards. Even if there are legitimate reasons to leave treatment, they've had no closure to the relationship. And it's not surprising that these same clients do similar things in their personal relationships by avoiding direct communication with people in their lives when there are unpleasant or uncomfortable things to talk about.

I hope this article has been helpful to you or someone that you know who might be thinking about leaving psychotherapy treatment prematurely. There are many other reasons why clients leave treatment prematurely, but the issues that I've discussed above tend to be the most common reasons.

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

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 (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.

Also, see article:  Returning to Therapy

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

The title of this blog post could easily have been "Falling In Love with Ms. Wrong Over and Over Again."

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

A Recurring Pattern of Choosing "Mr Wrong" or "Ms. Wrong"
Whether you are a heterosexual man or woman, bisexual, or gay, the pattern is often the same: You leave a relationship where you feel you've been mistreated (or that person leaves you). You vow not to get into another relationship like that again.

Some time goes by. Then, you meet someone new and it's love at first sight again. You're "head over heels" about this person. You go out for a while. Everything seems wonderful at first. Then, gradually, over time, the same pattern emerges.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

After a while, you find yourself wondering how you ended up choosing someone with the same problems as the last person. The relationship ends. You feel disappointed in yourself and very reluctant to meet someone new. After that, you take some time to yourself. Then, you meet someone new that you think is wonderful, and the pattern begins again.

It's not unusual for men and women to begin psychotherapy to find out why they keep falling in love with people who are not right for them. Usually, people come to therapy after they've gone through several cycles of the pattern that I described above. At that point, many people don't trust themselves to enter into another relationship because they're afraid that it will be another disaster. The problem is that they don't want to be alone either, so they're stuck between wanting to have someone special in their lives and being too afraid to open their hearts again.

Why Do People Keep Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" or "Ms. Wrong"?
Choosing a partner can be complicated, especially if you grew up in a dysfunctional family. There are so many unconscious feelings that are operating just under the surface when you feel attracted to someone. Often, these unconscious feelings affect your ability to choose someone who is right for you. If you have a pattern of choosing people who are wrong for you, you're probably repeating old patterns from your family of origin without even realizing it.

The following vignette which, as always, is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, illustrates how someone continues to repeat the same pattern of falling in love with people who are wrong for her:

When Marla began psychotherapy, she had just gone through the most painful breakup of her life. She met Neil at a friend's party. She noticed him immediately from across the room and he was already looking at her. She felt an instant "rush" and attraction before she even talked to him. They began dating shortly afterwards, and Marla fell in love with Neil very quickly. She felt that he was so kind and considerate, so much nicer than any man she had ever been in a relationship with before. All the other men in her life had cheated on her and those relationships ended in disaster.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

She felt this relationship was different. This time, Marla felt that she had met "Mr. Right." Neil was so sensitive to her needs, so attentive to her, not like the other narcissistic men she had been with before who cheated on her. She and Neil also had similar values, and sex between them was very passionate.

Within a couple of months, Neil moved in with her. She said they were both very excited about taking their relationship to the next level. Everything was wonderful at first, according to Marla. They spent all of their free time together and had lots of fun. She had never felt so loved before.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

Then, suddenly, things changed: Neil began spending a lot of time at the office. He said he had critical deadlines that he had to meet. Marla was very understanding at first. But when Neil said he had to start working weekends too, Marla was disappointed because they were hardly spending any time together any more. Even when Neil was home, he was tired, irritable and emotionally distant. He blamed it on his work. Marla missed being close to Neil and the good times they had together.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

One day, Marla tried reaching Neil on his cellphone on a Saturday afternoon when he said he was at work. The call went directly to voicemail, so she tried him at his work number. But he didn't answer that phone either, and that call went to voicemail too. Since the office was not far from their apartment, she decided to go there to surprise him with a picnic basket for lunch. She missed him and she thought it would be a good way for them to spend some time together for an hour or so. But when she got to the office, the security guard told her that no one had gone up to Neil's floor all day. Marla thought there must be some mistake, so the security guard accompanied her to the floor and she saw for herself that the office was locked and lights were out.

Marla walked home slowly, feeling dejected and with a growing sense of unease. She tried Neil a few more times on his cellphone, but her calls continued to go to voicemail. She waited for Neil to come home that night. When he got home, he seemed very preoccupied and emotionally distant. He said he was tired and just wanted to go to sleep.

Marla wasn't sure how to talk to him about the fact that she went to his office and he wasn't there. But she summoned her courage and broached the subject with him. Neil had his back turned towards her at first, but when he heard her words, he whirled around and began shouting at her, "Are you checking up on me!?!"

Marla was very startled by his reaction. She had never seen Neil lose his temper. Before she knew it, she was on the defensive, trying to reassure Neil that she was not checking up on him, that she had only gone to his office to surprise him with a picnic lunch. But he was so angry that he refused to talk or even listen to her. He gathered a few articles of clothing in a hurry and stormed out of the apartment, leaving Marla in tears. He didn't even tell her where he was going or when he would be back.

Marla's head was spinning. She couldn't understand what had just happened. Then, she noticed that Neil had left his cellphone behind. Part of her didn't want to invade Neil's privacy by looking at his phone, but a bigger part of her wanted some answers. So, she looked at the phone and, to her shock and dismay, she found several sexually explicit text messages from another woman and Neil's equally explicit responses to this woman.

Marla felt like she could hardly breathe, but she felt determined now. After she read the text messages, she decided to check his email. She had never known before that his email was password protected. After a few tries, she figured out the password and got into Neil's account. She was heart broken to find dozens of sexually explicit emails to and from several other women, including nude photos of these women and emails making arrangements to meet at hotels during the same times that he had told Marla that he was at work.

All Marla could think at that time was, "Not again. I can't believe this is happening to me again." Every other man that she had ever dated cheated on her. It was the same pattern over and over again. In the past, there were some obvious signs that these other men were "ladies' men." Marla thought she could change each one of them. But it never worked. After several experiences like this, whenever she met a man where there were obvious signs that he cheated, she stayed away. But she thought Neil was different. He had been so kind and attentive to her. She felt like she was in a nightmare and kept hoping she would wake up.

All that night, Marla cried and tossed and turned. She couldn't sleep. She couldn't believe that Neil turned out to be like her other boyfriends. And the worst part was that all of them were just like her father. When she was growing up, she vowed to herself that she would never be like her mother, who passively put up with the father's numerous affairs. But here she was again, back in the same situation.

When Neil came back the next night, Marla felt desperate to talk to him. Even though her rational mind knew that he was cheating on her, she still hoped that he would say something that would make all of this go away. But Neil behaved as if he was the one who was betrayed. He said he could never forgive her for invading his privacy and he was through with her. Once again, Marla found herself on the defensive. She knew that she shouldn't have looked at Neil's text messages and his emails and she acknowledged this to him, but she felt that he also owed her a big explanation about his behavior. Neil refused to talk to her. He just gathered more things and, despite Marla's pleading with him, he left again.

Falling In Love with "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again

When Marla came home from work the next day, all of Neil's things were gone. It was obvious that he came during the day while she was out and took all of his belongings. He didn't even leave a note to say good bye. All he left was the apartment key on Marla's dresser. There was no other sign of him in the apartment. It was as if he had never been there. He never returned any of her calls. She waited for him outside his office building, but she never saw him. A couple of weeks later, when she tried to reach him on his cellphone, she got a message that the number was disconnected. And she never heard from him again. When she phoned the friend who had the party where she met Neil, her friend was very sympathetic, but she told Marla that she didn't know Neil well, she had not heard from him since that party, and she didn't know his whereabouts. When Marla called his friends and family, she was shocked that all of them said that they didn't know where he was.

By the time Marla came to therapy to sort everything out, she was at a very low point. She told me that she had gone through bad breakups before, but this was the worst by far. She just couldn't believe this was happening. She also couldn't understand how Neil went from being so kind and loving towards her to cheating on her and freezing her out of his life. She came away feeling that, since she had been in so many relationships where men cheated on her, somehow, it must be her fault. She thought, "Maybe I'm doing something that causes men to cheat on me."

With the help of once-a-week psychotherapy and the emotional support of her friends, Marla began picking up the pieces of her life again. Over time, she realized that she had not done anything to actively cause Neil or the other men to be unfaithful to her. She began to realize that, even though she never wanted to be with a man like her father, unconsciously, she kept choosing the same "Mr. Wrong" who was so much like her father.

It was true that, by the time she met Neil, she had gotten better at not choosing men who were obvious "ladies' men." But her unconsicous mind could still get attracted to a man from across the room who was a not-so-obvious "ladie's man."

This is an interesting phenomenon that occurs to many people with the unconscious mind. It's not only about infidelity. Instead of infidelity, you could also see this same unconscious process happen with regard to alcoholism, domestic violence, people who have problems making a commitment, and so on. It doesn't matter what the particular issue is, the unconscious mind often works in the same way to cause you to feel instantly attracted to "Mr. Wrong" or "Ms. Wrong."

How Does the Unconscious Mind Keep Choosing "Mr. Wrong" or "Ms. Wrong" Over and Over Again?
You might ask, "How could the unconscious mind know, without even talking to someone, that you're choosing the same type of person?" I don't think anyone knows for sure. But I've seen it happen countless times. Somehow, the unconscious mind picks up the nonverbal signals. Some people call it "a vibe." Whatever you call it, it's a common occurrence.

In Marla's case, at that point in her life, if her unconscious mind could talk, it would have said, "There he is! I'm really drawn to him. I must meet him. This time it'll be different. I'll change him." But, more often than not, the person in Marla's shoes doesn't change someone like Neil. What usually happens is that things seem wonderful at first. That heady in love feeling can sometimes cause us to lose our sense of discernment and good judgment. Also, people who engage in infidelity are often good at hiding what they do. Maybe they'll even be faithful for a while but, sooner or later, if they don't get psychological help, they usually go back to their old ways.

It's not that they're "bad people"--they're usually repeating their own old unconscious patterns too. So, the two of you come together in such a way that your unconscious patterns mesh in a dysfunctional way.  It took a while before Marla was able to feel emotionally safe enough to start dating again. We did a lot of family of origin work, and Marla learned to make the emotional connection between 1) her childhood trauma of being with a father who was usually unfaithful and often seemed on the verge of leaving the family for another woman, and 2) the unfaithful men that Marla was choosing as partners who engaged in the same patterns as her father.

Marla also needed to do a fair amount of grief work to work through her childhood trauma related to her father so that she wouldn't continue to repeat this pattern in her adult life.

We also spent a lot of time exploring her pattern of falling in love with "Mr. Wrong." It was a gradual process. She learned to take her time to get to know new men in her life. In addition to seeing the problem signs with new people, she also learned to recognize her own internal cues, especially if she felt that someone was immediately very compelling to her when she first met him. At first, she was afraid that she would be relegated to having only "dull" relationships because the heady feeling was missing. But, gradually, she learned not to go for the big, immediate emotional "rush." She learned to get to know men over time and not to get into a committed relationship before she knew a man well.

When she finally met a new man that she really liked, she was a little disappointed at first that she was not "head over heels" immediately. She missed that feeling. But she also knew that the immediate "head over heels" feeling had gotten her into trouble every single time. As she got to know this new man, Steven, her feelings for him deepened over time. By the time, they decided to move in together a year later, she experienced a deep, mature love that she had never felt before. She also felt confident that Steven was someone that she could trust and, over time, this turned out to be true.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you find yourself continually choosing partners who are not right for you and you don't understand why this continues to happen over and over again, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who has experience in this area.

It is possible to make healthier relationship choices for yourself if you are committed to doing the work in psychotherapy.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, AEDP, EMDR,  Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

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

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

Friday, April 9, 2010

You Feel Mistreated, But You're Not Communicating How You Feel

Over the years, as a psychotherapist in New York City, I've seen many clients in my psychotherapy private practice who come to me to talk about how they feel mistreated by others, including spouses, children, other family members, bosses or coworkers:

"My husband takes for granted that I'll do everything in the house."

"My children don't listen to me and do whatever they want."

"My wife ran up my credit card again and now I'll have to pay it because she doesn't work."

"My boss expects me to work overtime everyday, even though he knows I have a family."

As I listen to clients talk about how they feel mistreated, I also listen to how they handle these situations and what unintentional mixed messages they might be giving to the people they feel are mistreating them.

You Feel Mistreated, But You're Not Communicating How You Feel

Ideally, in a perfect world, everyone would follow the Golden Rule and we would all treat each other the way that we want to be treated. 

But we live in an imperfect world and, at some point, someone is going to hurt your feelings, cross a personal boundary or do something that you don't like. Does that make it right? No. But when we're talking about a dynamic between two or more people, we need to look at our own behavior in these situations and how our behavior is affecting the situation:
  • Are we setting appropriate boundaries with others?
  • If someone has done something that we don't like, do we let him or her know in a tactful way?
  • Are we able to assert ourselves appropriately in these situations?
  • Are we telling them one thing, but secretly hoping that they will know how we really feel without our telling them?
If we're not communicating how we feel, we might be giving the other person the unintentional mixed message that it's okay to mistreat us.

The following vignette is a composite scenario of various cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality:

When Jessica began coming to psychotherapy sessions, she said she felt mistreated by her husband, her children and her boss. When she was growing up, she also felt taken advantage of by her parents.

She often felt sad and exhausted by the demands she felt others were placing on her. She talked about how her husband expected her to watch the children every Sunday while he went off to play golf with his friends. She also said that her teenage children didn't listen to her when she told them to clean their rooms. In addition, she felt that her boss loaded her down with his work, on top of her own work, and she often had to work long, tiring hours. She felt that no matter how hard and long she worked, the work was never done.

When we explored Jessica's family history, she told me that her parents expected her, as a child of nine or 10, to take care of the younger children while they went out to have fun. This happened a lot. She said she never felt that she was allowed to be a child herself because she had to help her parents take care of her six younger siblings and the work seemed never ending.

When we looked at the various situations where, as an adult, Jessica felt taken advantage of, it was interesting to explore how Jessica handled them. It turned out, much to Jessica's surprise, without realizing it, she was actually encouraging the very situations that she said she didn't want.

For instance, when we explored the dynamic between Jessica and her husband, she actually encouraged him to go play golf every Sunday and offered to take care of the children. But she secretly hoped that he would figure out on his own, without her telling him, that she really wanted a break most Sundays and would have preferred that he stayed home to help her. Not only was she not telling him how she really felt--she was telling him to go and not to worry about her.

As we looked at this situation, it was very surprising to Jessica. She realized that she was repeating an old pattern that began with her parents. That small child in her internal emotional world that felt taken advantage of by her parents was recreating the old scenario with her husband, but hoping for a different outcome this time. That part of her that was the small child secretly hoped that, without being told, her husband would see how she really felt. All of this was totally unconscious on Jessica's part.

Once Jessica realized what she was doing with her husband, she also realized that she was doing the same thing with her children and her boss. She realized that she asked her teens to clean their rooms, but she also gave them mixed messages by going ahead and doing it herself--and then feeling resentful about it. She wanted them to see how tired she was, without her telling them, so that they'd clean their rooms themselves. What she said and what she did were two very different things, and this created mixed messages.

At work, Jessica continually asked to help her boss. She never told him that she felt exhausted by her own workload--let alone taking on his work. But when she asked him for his work and he gave it to her, she felt resentful that he didn't see how tired she was. Once again, the small child in her internal world who felt mistreated as a child was hoping to be discovered and seen in a way that Jessica was not seen when she was younger.

It took a lot of hard work and practice but, over time, Jessica learned to assert herself in these situations. It was difficult for her at first, and sometimes she continued to give mixed messages. But as she worked in her psychotherapy sessions on her family of origin issues and we dealt with her inner child, who really was not seen when Jessica was younger, Jessica learned to say what she felt as an adult. And she learned to do it in a tactful way. She no longer kept her real feelings to herself hoping that others would see, without being told, what she really felt.

This was all new for Jessica. It was also new for her family and her boss, so they had to adjust to this new way of interacting with Jessica. But, overall, it worked out well.

It's important to remember that interpersonal dynamics involve two or more people. While the other people in the situation might not be emotionally attuned to how you feel, you might also be giving mixed messages without realizing it. Often, these mixed messages have to do with earlier unresolved issues from childhood that are operating in the situation without your awareness.

So, if you're feeling mistreated in a situation, before you blame the other person for it completely, it's worthwhile to look at what mixed messages you might be giving to the other person. And ask yourself if there might be a part of you, perhaps a younger inner child, who is secretly hoping to be discovered, seen and heard without your letting the other person know how you really feel. This doesn't take the other person off the hook for his or her behavior, but we can't control other people's behavior. We can only control our own.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you continually find yourself in situations where you feel mistreated or taken advantage of, it might be worthwhile for you to explore these issues in psychotherapy with a licensed psychotherapist.

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

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 (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Becoming the Person You Want to Be

"It's never to late to be who you might have been."
George Elliott

When you were younger, did you have a fantasy about what you wanted to be when you grew up? Do you remember the reactions you got from the adults in your life? If you were fortunate enough to have adults who were emotionally attuned to you, you probably received encouragement and praise for having that dream. But many people were not so fortunate or they had parents who never fulfilled their own dreams and imposed their own unfulfilled wishes for themselves on their children.

Becoming the Person You Want to Be: Children Often Fantasize About Who They Want to Be

As a Child, I Wanted to Be a Writer
Like many children, when I was younger, I changed my ideas over time about who and what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I was five or six, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them that I wanted to be a writer. Right away, I could tell from their puzzled looks that this wasn't what they expected to hear.

If my mother happened to be in the room at the time, she would say to me, "You can't be a writer. You'll never make any money as a writer." Then, she would turn to the other adults in the room and explain with pride, "She's going to be a teacher." Then, the other adults would look at me with big smiles and say things like, "Ohhhh....a teeeeacher! That's very nice."

All the adults in the room, including and especially my mother, would nod their heads and talk on and on in glowing terms about how wonderful it would be to be a teacher--until they heard me respond with some annoyance in my voice, "I don't want to be a teacher! I want to be a writer!" Then, once again, my mother would try to patiently explain to me all the reasons why I couldn't be a writer and how much better it would be to become a teacher: It's a practical, secure job, you get the summers off, etc. Of course, what she never said is that it had always been her unfulfilled dream to become a teacher.

This writer-teacher power struggle between my mother and I went on for a few years. The longer it went on, the more defiant I became. To prove her wrong, when I was seven, I used to write short plays for my cousins and I to perform in my grandmother's backyard. To counter my mother's protestations that I'd never make money as a writer, I would charge my grandparents, uncles and aunts to come see our performances.

For 10 cents, they could watch us perform in plays with titles like "Mystery of the Mysterious Letters," a play about two sisters who were receiving anonymous scary letters (the mystery was resolved when they found out that the letters came from their long lost brother who wanted to surprise them so, by the end of the play, there was a happy ending when they all got together and laughed about their prankster brother).

For the same 10 cents, after the play, they could listen to my cousins and I sing at the top of our lungs songs like "Love and Marriage" and other popular tunes at the time. For that same 10 cents, we also threw in a can of soda for each guest. With all of that, we still turned a profit, which I never failed to point out to my mother.

Becoming the Person You Want to Be:  Children Have Dreams About Their Future

The only kink in our performances was that there was always one person who refused to pay: The only person who would not hand over that 10 cents was my Aunt Lizzie, who was known to be a very frugal person (may she rest in peace). She lived upstairs from my grandmother and, much to my annoyance and frustration, rather than pay the 10 cents, she just hung out her window and watched our performances like royalty sitting in the balcony, giving her royal wave whenever I glared up at her.

As the years went on, like most children, I changed my mind many times about what I wanted to be. All through those years, the one profession that I never wanted to be was a teacher. No matter how many different ways my mother tried to convince me, even though I had many influential teachers that I liked and admired, teaching was not for me.

In My Late Teens, I Wanted to Be a Psychotherapist
By the time I was in my late teens, I had decided that I wanted to be a psychotherapist. This really confused my mother and everyone else in my family. They thought it was odd. No one in my family had ever met a psychotherapist, let alone gone to one for help. Even though they weren't quite sure exactly what a psychotherapist did, generally, they viewed this profession with a strong degree of suspicion. My aunt would say to me, "But why would you want to talk to crazy people? They could be dangerous."

Becoming the Person You Want to Be:  In My Late Teens, I Wanted to Be a Therapist

By that time, I was reading books by the neo-Freudian psychoanalyst, Karen Horney. She was the first woman psychoanalyst in Freud's inner circle. I would try to talk to my family about what I was reading. But my family tended to be traditional and somewhat conservative in their views. To their way of thinking, the unconscious, if it existed at all, was better left unconscious: "Why stir things up? Leave it alone!" And I could tell that, by the time I decided I wanted to be a psychotherapist, they longed for the old days when I wanted to be a writer. They thought this new idea about becoming a psychotherapist was very strange, and I could tell that, on some level, they were worried about me.

Having maintained what I considered to be my independence all of those years, I thought I would have been better equipped to actually make a career choice when I was in my 20s. But little did I know that some of my mother's and other family member's persistent advice to be practical and choose a more traditional profession had seeped into my psyche, so that by the time I was in my early 20s, I was in a state of conflict about what I wanted to do.

I started out as a psychology major in college. I loved my courses and my professors at Hunter College. But, in the back of my mind, I kept feeling a growing inner conflict about my choice. As that inner conflict grew, I lost confidence in my choice to be psychotherapist. By my sophomore year, that inner conflict was raging in my mind. It was as if there were two forces in my mind pulling me in two different directions. If they could speak, one force would have said, "You love psychology. Pursue your dreams" and the other one would have said, "Be practical. Become a business major."

A Detour to Be "Practical"

A Detour to be "Practical"

At some point in my sophomore year, the second force won out and I left Hunter and pursued a business degree at Baruch College. My family seemed much relieved that I was finally being practical. Now, Baruch was, and still is, a very fine school for business. But I hated most of my business courses, especially accounting. It was torturous for me. Despite all of my grim determination, I could never get my debits and credits to balance out. And, more importantly, I didn't care.

A Career in Human Resources
Eventually, I left Baruch College and pursued a career in human resources. At the time, you didn't need a college degree to become an interviewer. And over time, I was promoted to become an assistant human resources manager for a financial institution.

I enjoyed my work. But, in the back of my mind, I still felt a passion for psychology. From time to time, I thought about going back to college and pursuing a psychology degree. But whenever those thoughts came up, I told myself that I was already in my late 30s and I was too old to go back to school. I didn't want to sit in classrooms with 18 year olds.

The Unthinkable:  Losing My Job
Then, the unthinkable happened: I lost my job. If you've ever lost a job, you know how shocking and disturbing this can be. For most people, losing your job can precipitate a crisis, especially if there were no signs or hints of an impending job loss. Despite excellent performance reviews and overall praise from my superiors and colleagues, I was laid off. I can still remember how disorienting it was to collect my possessions and leave the building. One minute you're following your daily routine at work and going about your life as usual, and the next minute you're unemployed.

Even though I was shocked by this turn of events, what's interesting is that it took me only a couple of hours to decide that, rather than looking for another job in human resources, I would return to Hunter College and complete my psychology degree. Prior to getting laid off, whenever I thought about going back for my psychology degree, I gave myself all of the "practical reasons" why I couldn't do it.

Times of Crisis Can Be Opportunities for Change
But times of crisis can also be opportunities for change. And once I made my decision, I knew it felt right and I never looked back. I threw myself into my studies with abandon. To my surprise, many of the same professors were still in the psychology department. And even though I was much older than most of the other students, I became accustomed to being the oldest student in the class relatively quickly. And I realized that, as a student in my late 30s, I had more depth and life experience than I ever had when I was in my late teens and 20s, so I had a lot more to offer.

Training to Become a Psychotherapist
I love to learn. So, after I completed my undergraduate degree, I went on the graduate school and then postgraduate psychoanalytic training. Attending psychoanalytic training was like coming home for me. I reread articles by Karen Horney, among other psychoanalysts, and remembered how much joy I felt reading this material when I was 18.

While I was in the adult psychoanalytic program at Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, I saw clients. It was then that I really knew that I was on the right path. Eventually, I set up my own private practice with some of the clients that I had been seeing from Postgraduate Center.

I Learn By Listening to My Psychotherapy Clients
Today, I continue to learn and grow from various professional trainings. I also learn by listening to my clients. I am continually expanding my knowledge in areas like EMDR and clinical hypnosis. And I continue to be curious and fascinated by the different areas in psychology. In May, I'll be training in Somatic Experiencing.

The point of my self disclosure in this blog post is that, as long as you're alive and in reasonably good health, it's never too late to pursue your dreams. You might get derailed by obstacles in your path, but usually you can find a way to get back to your dreams.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you feel stuck and conflicted about "what you want to be when you grow up," no matter what age you are, you could benefit from seeing a licensed psychotherapist who can help you overcome those obstacles so that you can pursue your passion.

About Me
I am a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR therapist in New York City.

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients overcome obstacles that kept them from leading fulfilling lives.

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

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

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Learning About Yourself While Traveling

I thought I would take a break this time from weighty psychological topics and focus on travel and what we can learn about ourselves when we travel.

Learning About New People, Places and Cultures While Traveling
Most people who like to travel talk about how much they like meeting new people from different countries, visiting new places, and learning about different cultures. 

Learning About Yourself While Traveling

When I have an opportunity to travel and can get away, I also enjoy all of these things. I have a natural curiosity about new people and places. And I'm sure that my curiosity, as well as my desire to help people, contributed to my decision to become a psychotherapist.

Aside from discovering new cultures, I find that traveling is also a good way to learn about yourself--how you react to new people, situations, foreign customs and possible hardships on the trip. Recently, I traveled to Nosara, Costa Rica on the Pacific coast for some rest and relaxation. I've been curious about Costa Rica for a long time, especially after I heard that Costa Ricans, who call themselves Ticos, are supposed to be among the happiest people in the world.

Learning About Yourself While Traveling
It's always interesting to observe yourself in new situations. Even though I love to travel, there are certain things about traveling that I don't especially relish: the long lines at the airport, travel delays, and going through security at the airport. 

I think I usually approach these situations with patience and equanimity, but I'm aware that, at times, I feel frustrated. Over the years, I've learned that remembering to take a few deep breaths and closing my eyes to meditate for a few minutes can go a long way when faced with travel challenges.

When our plane boarded on time, my companions and I were pleased. Everything seemed to be going as planned. But then we got stuck on the tarmac, waiting for our turn, in a long line of planes, to take off. The captain, who had a confident and reassuring tone, told us that we would be delayed by about 20 minutes as we waited for our turn to take off. I closed my eyes and, in my mind's eye I saw the beautiful pictures I had seen online of Nosara beaches. Even with a 20 minute delay, I told myself, we could still be on the beach by mid-afternoon.

Then, after about 10 other planes had taken off, it was our turn. As the plane gained momentum and I felt it lifting off, I felt a sense of exhilaration. There's something about take offs that always makes me think that I'm free of whatever cares I might have left behind. I thought to myself: I'm off the ground, heading into the clouds, leaving behind the cold, dreary New York rain, and in four in a half hours, our plane would land in Liberia, two hours away by car from Nosara.

Fortunately for us, our flight was fairly uneventful, and I was able to relax and read my book. When we landed, it was a sunny 85 degrees in Liberia. I could already picture myself on the beach, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the beautiful ocean...but first, we had to go through Costa Rican Immigration. We were directed to the Immigration area, which was a open area in one of the airport buildings that was cooled by a large ceiling fan.

The first thing that I noticed was that five other planes from the US and Canada had arrived around the same time that we had. The second thing that I noticed was that there were no lines--it was just a mass of hundreds of people all trying to get to the four or five Immigration officials who were examining passports. There was no organization at all.

Finally, two and a half hours later, my companions and I were allowed to enter into the country. The next challenge was waiting for a van that would take us to the nearest Avis office since there were no car rental agencies at the airport. Forty-five minutes later, we were in the van on our way to Avis. We were greeted by very pleasant, efficient Avis employees who spoke fluent English and who were very helpful with regard to explaining to us how to get from Liberia to Nosara.

Then, we were off, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Even with all of the delays, we could still be on the beach by the late afternoon, I thought. It was also a relief to be driving on the open highway. We had the guidance of a GPS, which is a must if you're traveling from Liberia to Nosara because the roads can be confusing. We passed through open fields where cattle ranchers were raising cows and goats. We also passed through small, quaint towns along the way. Some of the Ticos waved to us as we went by, and I remember thinking that they really did seem like happy people.

Everything was going fine for the first hour or so. Then, the GPS informed us that we would be coming to unpaved roads. No problem, we thought, we had all driven over unpaved roads before, so we weren't concerned. However, the unpaved roads in Costa Rica are not just unpaved--they are extremely rutted and filled with big stones. So, it wasn't possible to drive more than 40 kilometers per hour.

After another hour of the bumpiest ride that I've ever experienced in my life, the sun began to go down. (Did I mention that the roads are unlit at night and that, other than our car lights, the only light came from the stars and a sliver of waxing moon?) At that point, we were on high, narrow, windy roads with two-way traffic and hairpin turns. As we made the turns, there were blind spots where we couldn't see the oncoming traffic until it was nearly on top of us which, in a few instances, was rather harrowing.

There were several instances where we had to drive over bridges where there were signs that said, "Peligroso," which means dangerous in Spanish. So, we were forewarned about the danger, except that we didn't know what that meant. Only one car could go over these bridges at a time, so we usually yielded to other cars and motorcycles coming from the other direction. At one point, we were about to go over another bridge and, luckily, we noticed before we drove further that there was no bridge. The only indicator that there was no bridge was a pile of rocks in front of where the bridge used to be (before it was washed away?). Beyond that, there was a big drop.

Four hours later, after getting lost several times, we arrived at Villa del Sol, a gated community of low-rise condos in Nosara. We were very glad to have reached our destination. The manager, Daniel, greeted us warmly. I wondered if I would have to try to muddle through in my imperfect Spanish, but Daniel spoke perfect English, "I'm surprised that you drove from Liberia to Nosara at night. I usually tell people to rent a hotel in Liberia and wait until morning, rather than drive at night, because the roads in Nosara are treacherous at night." If only we had asked him...

Once we were settled in for the night, exhausted, we wondered aloud if we had made a mistake in traveling to a place with such dangerous roads. After all, this was supposed to be a vacation for rest and relaxation. But by the morning, we were refreshed and we were ready to explore Nosara. And being able to see during the day was a big improvement over driving on the rutted roads in the pitch black of the evening. But we still had to proceed very slowly and cautiously over the roads and we got lost quite a bit because many road signs were missing.

As we were driving along, I noticed that the Ticos did not seem at all bothered by the roads. They were riding in all types of vehicles--everything from 4 Wheel Drive vehicles to rickety bicycles. We saw mothers carrying their little children on bicycles, waving to us, looking very content.

It was then that I had a small epiphany about my own and my companions' attitudes: There we were, middle class Americans who had the luxury of traveling to beautiful Costa Rica, complaining to ourselves about the roads. And here were these Ticos, many of whom lived in small humble homes, who had much less than we had monetarily. They were traveling along these same bumpy roads but, rather than complaining, they were smiling and waving at us. (I was amazed at how adapt the cyclists were, both bicyclists and motorcyclists, at navigating around as their bikes occasionally went up in the air when they hit a big rut or a stone in the road.)

For the rest of our vacation, I was much more aware of my thoughts, feelings and attitudes about any inconveniences that came up. I think we were all much more aware of how lucky we were, and how much we had to be grateful for in our lives. And we realized that a few bumps in the road, literally, should not throw us off.

For me, it was a wonderful example of how much we can all learn about ourselves when we find ourselves in unfamiliar situations: Do we approach these challenges with a calm and patient attitude or do we become discontent or fearful of the unfamiliar?

As for Nosara, I would highly recommend it. Pelada beach was just steps from our condo. It's a beautiful beach. We saw all kinds of birds on the beach, including diving pelicans and white egrets. There were also many howler monkeys in the trees close to our condo. They seemed as curious about us as we were about them. And the sunsets on Pelada are magnificent. If you go to Nosara, go to Olga's restaurant, which is a small, unassuming restaurant right on the beach, and eat the most delicious shrimp that you've ever tasted while watching the sunset.

I never did find out exactly why Costa Ricans are among the happiest people in the world. I suspect that it has a lot to do with the fact that their government places a strong emphasis on education and health. 

Almost everywhere you go, you hear or see the words "Pura Vida," which means pure life. They also place a high value on family, community, and preserving their environment. I think we could all learn a lot from Ticos, and I hope to return to Costa Rica to see the many wonderful sights that I did not have time to see during this trip.

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

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

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