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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Power of Making a Commitment

The Power of Commitment Improves Your Chances of Success:
How wonderful it is to have an inspirational idea or a flash of insight that gives us that heady feeling of elation! That moment when the light bulb burns bright in your brain. Suddenly, you know intuitively what you need to do and you can't wait to get started. But when you think back on the many inspirational ideas and flashes of insight that you've had, how many of them have you brought to fruition? As wonderful as inspirational ideas might be, without the power of commitment, they will remain just fleeting ideas that don't go anywhere.

The Power of Making a Commitment
Whether it's an idea, a relationship, a career path, or a desire for self improvement, in order to succeed at whatever you've chosen to do, you'll need a strong commitment and the will and determination to see it through even when the going gets rough.

Successful People Usually Have the Power of Commitment:
One of the important differences between people who are successful and people who are not, whether it's success in relationships or success in careers (or however you're defining success) is that successful people usually have unshakable will and the power of commitment to do whatever it is that they set out to do. That doesn't mean that they always succeed in everything that they do, but they tend to succeed more often than the people who get easily discouraged and abandon their ideas, relationships or dreams.

Having said that, there are times when you have to reconsider what you might have wanted initially. For instance, if you've decided to that you want to overcome your fear of skiing and you're driving with all due determination to Vermont, but you realize that you're going the wrong way, you'll need to back track or get new directions in order for you to get to where you want to go.

In the same vein, if you've met someone that you think is wonderful and you feel determined to make that relationship work, but you find out that this person isn't trustworthy, sheer determination and commitment won't change what is bound to be an unhealthy relationship. So, determination doesn't mean that you plow ahead stubbornly no matter what.

Have You Noticed Certain Detrimental Patterns in Yourself When It Comes to Making Commitments?
At the same time, if you find that you have a pattern of starting out with enthusiasm and then getting easily discouraged, that's a different matter. The emphasis here is on the word "pattern." It's one thing to change course when it's necessary in certain instances and it's another thing if your tendency is to give up because of fear, frustration or lack of self confidence. A pattern of giving up often exacerbates a fragile sense of confidence, making it more difficult to try the next time.

Fear Can Be a Powerful Obstacle in Following Through with Your Commitments:
Everyone has had to face fear in his or her life. Whether you encounter fear of failure or fear of success or fear of fear, you're bound to encounter some degree of fear when you step outside of your comfort zone, especially with a new relationship, idea or venture. Following through and sticking with it often involves risk which can be frightening. Hopefully, these risks are calculated risks and not rash actions that are not well thought out. But even calculated risks can be frightening.

Having the fear is one thing, but allowing the fear to paralyze you until you're too frozen to move forward is something else.

Successful People Often Feel Confident in Themselves:
Aside from being committed, determined and having a strong will to succeed, successful people usually feel confident in themselves. Even when faced with a crowd of naysayers, they usually feel confident that, despite obstacles, they're going to succeed. (Now, when I say "confident," I don't mean arrogant.) Often, their confidence stems from having a track record of having overcoming many obstacles and succeeding in the past due to the power of their commitment to whatever it is their attempting to do.

The following fictionalized scenario, which does not represent any one person or persons, demonstrates how the power of commitment can make all the difference:

Dan and Jane:
Dan and Jane were both hired on the same day to work as managers in different departments for a medium size consulting firm. Both of them reported to the same director. Both of them were told at the outset that the organization had gone through many changes, morale was low, and that part of their mission in their respective departments was to help employees transition through these organizational changes and to boost morale and productivity.

Both Dan and Jane started out with a lot of enthusiasm and had many ideas on how to improve things in their departments. Each of them met weekly with the director to discuss their plans and how to implement them.

Several months later, they both encountered problems with organizational politics as well as resistance from their employees to new ideas. Both of them were under a lot of stress to turn things around despite the obstacles that they encountered. Both of them worked long hours to revise and modify their plans, in the face of certain obstacles, and they presented these revisions to the director.

They each felt a certain amount of frustration. However, the way that each of them handled his and her frustration was completely different. Whereas both of them started with a lot of enthusiasm, Dan handled his frustration and stress by allowing himself to feel discouraged. Jane, on the other hand, used her frustration and stress to fuel her passion to get the job done. Whereas Dan's confidence began to plummet with each new obstacle that he encountered, Jane was tenacious. She kept forging ahead feeling confident that she would succeed despite the obstacles.

By year end, Dan felt burnt out and discouraged. His confidence was at an all time low. As a result, he scheduled a meeting with his director to talk about resigning. Jane also had a difficult year and she didn't accomplish everything that she hoped to do, but her commitment to the process was so strong that she continued to feel passionate and excited about her work.

When Dan met with his director, the director refused to accept Dan's resignation. The director knew that Dan was a good manager with excellent ideas, but he lacked the power of commitment and the confidence that he needed to see projects through to completion. He talked to Dan about his own experiences with these obstacles early on in his career and how much he was helped by going to therapy to work them out. He recommended that Dan seek help.

Dan was moved by his director's self disclosure and the director's confidence in him. After his talk with the director, Dan felt inspired and motivated to start therapy. Although he did not tell his director this, he knew that throughout his life he would often start out with enthusiasm and drive, but when problems arose, he would allow himself to get easily discouraged and abandon his efforts before completion. He knew that he was not as confident in himself as he would like to be. He also knew that whenever he abandoned his efforts because he felt discouraged, this made him feel worse about himself so it became a vicious cycle. More than anything, Dan wanted to get out of this vicious cycle so he could feel confident and accomplished in his life.

Dan began psychotherapy feeling motivated to change. But as soon as he and his therapist began talking about difficult early childhood issues which were at the root of Dan's problems, he started to feel uncomfortable and less enthusiastic about his therapy. Gradually, he started finding reasons to cancel his sessions. At times, his reasons were legitimate but, more often than not, his reasons were a cover up for avoiding his fear of dealing with these difficult personal issues.

When his therapist pointed out to Dan that he was starting to do the same thing in therapy that he did in the rest of his life when he felt fearful, frustrated or discouraged, Dan recognized that his therapist was right. He also recognized that fear was a powerful obstacle in deterring him from completing many goals in his life as well as from staying in relationships that had some problems but were otherwise healthy relationships.

As Dan continued in therapy, he and his therapist worked on how Dan could move through his fear without letting it stop him. He realized that successful people often have fears, but they move forward anyway without allowing their fears to paralyze them. More than anything, he wanted to learn how to do this for himself too. With help from his therapist, he learned to manage his fear and stress level through mindfulness meditation, yoga, working out at the gym, continuing to talk about it and learn new tools in his psychotherapy sessions.

Throughout this process, whenever he felt tempted to leave therapy, Dan dealt with his fear directly rather than allowing himself to make excuses around it. In doing this, he renewed his commitment to his therapy and to overcoming his problems. His renewed commitment allowed him to get through the difficult times in therapy. Seeing that he could get through the difficult times gave him more confidence that he could overcome his personal obstacles.

Within a few months, Dan was on an upward spiral. Not only was he more open and motivated in his therapy, but he also felt renewed energy, motivation and commitment at work. When he met with his director, the director commented on noticing the changes in Dan and told him to keep up the good work.

Within the next year, Dan got involved with a woman that he really cared about a lot. When he recognized the first signs of his feeling discouraged and less committed when relatively minor problems developed, he knew that he was encountering his lifelong pattern with relationships, and he was able to work through this in his therapy. Rather than allowing fear to immobilize him or cause him to leave the relationship precipitously, he stuck it out and renewed his commitment to the relationship, which proved to be instrumental in working out their problems.

The reasons why people lose their sense of commitment are as varied as the people themselves. There is no one-size fits all solution or "magic bullet." And, as previously mentioned, the power of commitment doesn't always mean that you succeed in everything that you do. But, when you feel committed and passionate, you're more likely to succeed in the long run.

If you recognize in yourself a pattern of abandoning your commitments, you owe it to yourself and to your loved ones to overcome this problem. Working through this type of problem is not always easy, but it often makes for a more rewarding and fulfilling life.

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to overcome their fears about making commitments so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.

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

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

photo credit: Georgio via photopin cc

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Getting to Know the Only Person that You Can Change: Yourself

As a psychotherapist in NYC, it's not unusual for me to work with clients who come in because they're upset about a loved one's behavior. It might be a husband who refuses to stop drinking, a mother who continues to be masochistic, a father who is emotionally detached, a sister who has a long history of getting involved with abusive men, and so on.

Trying to Get Loved Ones to Change:
Listening to these sad stories, I can certainly understand and feel compassion for someone who is sad and dismayed that his loved one continues to engage in dysfunctional or self destructive behavior, and that his inclination is to try to "fix" them in some way. After all, don't we all want the best for the people that we love?

Getting to Know the Only Person You Can Change: Yourself

Searching for "Just the Right Words" to Get Your Loved One to Change:
Often, clients come to therapy because they think they're going to learn what to do or say to change someone else's behavior. They think if they say just the right thing in just the right way, maybe they can get their loved ones to see their point of view so that they can start changing their behavior. They reason that if only they can come up with the perfect solution, their spouse, father, mother, sister, or best friend will "see the light" and everything will be okay.

Often, these clients will ask me, "Have you worked with anyone who has this problem?" (referring to their loved ones). As an experienced, psychotherapist, usually, I have experience working with people who have the same kinds of problems. At that point, when I tell them that I have, clients are relieved to know that I understand what they're talking about.

The very next question is usually, "So, what did you do or say to change that person?" When I tell a client that I don't have the power to change anyone, they often seem mystified. After all, isn't that why people come to see psychotherapists--so the therapist can make them change? Well, not really.

No One Can Make Anyone Change if He Doesn't Want to Change:
The truth is that no one can make anyone change if he or she doesn't want to change. Even when they want to change, it's not the psychotherapist's job to get them to change. When I realized that, as a psychotherapist in training, it was a humbling experience.

But, ultimately, it was a big relief: As long as I know that I did everything that I know how to do, my responsibility ends there. I might wish for a different outcome for my client, but I'm not responsible for making anyone change or saving anyone or forcing them to do anything that they didn't want to do. It's completely up to the client. I can provide compassion, some guidance and tools, help them to explore underlying issues, assist them to overcome trauma, help them through the healing process, but I can't make anyone do anything that they don't want to do.

For many clients who come in because they want to change someone else that is close to them, they often don't believe me, at first, when I tell them this. It's as if they're thinking, "Surely, she must have the answer and she's waiting for me to come up with it myself, but if I don't figure it out, she'll tell me."

"But I keep telling him that he needs to change. Why doesn't he listen to me?"
One of the saddest things that I hear in my office from clients who are trying to get someone else to change is, "But I keep telling him that if he continues to do this, he'll destroy himself. I can't understand why he doesn't listen to me." Then, often, they'll ask me to speculate as to why their loved one is not listening to reason (as if I know). They seem to think if they can only figure out why this person is not listening to them, then they can get them to listen and to change.

Just like anyone else, in the past, I've experienced these feelings too for people that I've cared about and wanted to change. So, I have a lot of compassion for clients who come in hoping that they'll learn what they can do to change or save their loved ones. I've been there, and I know what that's like. But the longer I do this work, the more I realize that some people are just not going to change, no matter how much you want them to and, sometimes, no matter how much they say they want to change.

One of the hardest things that I have to tell clients is that their loved one is probably not going to change, no matter what they say to their loved ones and no matter what they do. I wouldn't say "never" to anyone because I've also seen many people make miraculous changes in their lives. Having witnessed this, I'm always open to the possibility of someone turning their lives completely around. Every year, I get calls or emails from former clients who tell me that they're continuing to live sober lives, or they continue to be much happier than when they first came to therapy, or whatever changes they made that they might never have thought that they could make. It's so gratifying and heart warming to hear from these clients.

I Meet Extraordinary People in My Office Every Day:
So, it's not that I don't believe that people can change--because I meet extraordinary people every day, and I'm so grateful to have a job where I can witness such wonderful changes. The problem is that when clients come to therapy focused almost exclusively on changing someone else, they often neglect themselves. Not only do they neglect themselves, but they've become so immersed in trying to get the other person to change that, they're convinced, against all odds, that they can do something to get their loved ones to change.

The Role of Denial:
Years ago, I had a friend who, up until the day his wife died from alcohol-related complications, was convinced that he could get her to stop drinking. He was in such denial that, despite all evidence to the contrary (including her severe liver damage, cognitive impairment, and her non-stop drinking), he could not be deterred from his efforts to get her to be abstinent from alcohol. When she died, even though he had watched her steady decline at close range, he was the only person who was surprised by her death. He was also shattered to realize that nothing he did made any difference.

The Role of the Inner Child:
Very often, when an adult child wants to change a parent, there is an inner child part that is wishing, against all odds, that the parent will change. Clients are often surprised to hear that, even though they might be adults in their 40s, 50s and beyond, they can still have inner child parts that are still operating on a deep emotional level. They're surprised to discover that their inner child has taken control of their emotions and their reasoning, and this can have a very powerful effect on how they feel and think.

Your inner child might be buried deep, but he or she is still there and will often get emotionally triggered in certain situations. Typically, these situations involve an old desire, that is still very strong, to change someone that he or she loves. It doesn't have to be the same person that they wanted to change as a child. It could be someone else. So, for example, if a young boy had a strong desire to stop his alcoholic mother from drinking, it's not unusual for him to have the same feelings when he gets married to a woman who is an active alcoholic.

Helping the Inner Child to "Update the File:" "That was Then, This is Now":
Because our inner children are often so fragile and vulnerable emotionally, we don't want to run roughshod over them. However, we do want to help our inner children to realize that "that was then, and this is now. Of course, you had a strong wish and fantasy that your mother would stop drinking and somehow you would help her to stop. That was perfectly understandable back then, but this is now. "

Typically, a therapist, who works with clients who come to therapy primarily to help a loved one, helps these clients to "update the file." Often, this involves trauma work to work through the old trauma that is getting triggered again in the new situation. There is also grief work to be done for the old situation and the current situation.

On the Road to Acceptance: "So...I guess she's probably not going to change."A client who is starting to come to grips with the fact that their loved one is probably not going to change will often say, almost in a questioning tone,"So...I guess she's probably not going to change." This is a big step in that client's recovery. It might be a tentative step, and it might involve taking one step forward and another step backwards as denial sets in again. But it's the beginning of an opening for the adult self to nurture that inner child.

Focusing on Yourself:
Rather than continuing to neglect themselves by focusing so much on changing the other person, clients who are coming to grips with the reality of their situation, ideally, begin to focus on themselves. Maybe they've neglected their own health. Or, maybe they've neglected themselves in some other way because they've been so focused on their loved ones.

Getting to Know the Only Person You Can Change:  Yourself

Coming to grips with the fact that, no matter how much we love them and what we're willing to do for them, sometimes, our loved ones just don't change, can be a very difficult emotional journey. We can go through many different stages as we, reluctantly, come to accept that they're not going to change: sadness, anger, disbelief, shock, and, hopefully, acceptance. We might go back and forth through these stages and there's no logical order.

Acceptance Can Be a Humbling Experience:
Accepting that you're the only one that you can change is a humbling experience. But it's often a relief for people who have worn themselves out trying to get the other person to change. By the time they stop trying, they often need to regroup and, sometimes, get to know themselves again. The focus has been so much on the other person that these people often lose a sense of themselves.

Codependence, But So Much More:
Often, what I've described in this article is called "codependence." I use this term myself, but I think it's, sometimes, misunderstood. And in the situations that I've described, where there is such a longing for the loved one to change, it doesn't even begin to capture what that experience is like for the person who is "codependent."

If You're Stuck in this Emotional Battle, What Can You Do?
If you're stuck in a battle with a loved one and, possibly with yourself, to try to get this loved one to change, you could benefit from psychotherapy for yourself. Your loved one either will or won't change, very often having nothing to do with what you try to do for him or her. But if in the process of your trying to get the other person to change, you lose yourself, then, really, all could be lost. So, the healthiest thing to do is to rediscover and take care of yourself.

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

I have helped many clients through their journey of acceptance in difficult situations. I've also helped them to rediscover and nurture themselves again.

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:

Are You Catastrophizing?

In my last article, I focused on Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes which is a common problem for many people. Related to fear of making mistakes is the habit of catastrophizing.

Are You Catastrophizing?

Habitual Catastrophizing:
Why do I call catastrophizing a habit? Because it's usually an automatic negative way of thinking that becomes habitual over time. Many people who engage in catastrophizing don't even realize that this is what they're doing. It becomes such an automatic way of thinking that they tend to see most situations as being dire and dangerous, and they approach many new situations with fear.

What is "Catastrophizing"?
Simply, catastrophizing is when a person expects the worst in most situations. His or her fears are usually highly exaggerated without sufficient evidence for this type of fear. It's a distortion in the way a person thinks.

People who engage in catastrophizing usually fear making mistakes. Their exaggerated fear that something dire will occur if they make a mistake leads them to expect the worst in most situations. They might engage in endless "what if's" that keep them stuck in their particular situation, too afraid to go back but equally afraid to move forward.

When we think about the old story about Chicken Little running around saying, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" this is an example of catastrophizing.

Often, people who engage in catastrophizing can get other people very anxious as they trigger their vulnerabilities and insecurities.

The following fictionalized scenario is an example of catastrophizing, and how an individual can overcome this habitual form of negative thinking:

Most people who knew Joanne knew that she tended to see the worst possible scenario in just about every situation that she encountered. For Joanne, decision making was fraught with fear and anxiety about all the possible things that could go wrong. Whether she was trying to make a career decision or go on a trip, she was sure that something awful was going to happen.

Joanne's fears kept her ruminating about all the "what if's" in any given situation: What if the boss in the new job turned out to be difficult to work for? What if the plane that she was on had a malfunction and crashed? What if the house that she and her husband were considering buying turned out to have a lot of problems? What if..what if...what if...

One day, Joanne's husband, Ken, told her that she was driving him crazy with all of her exaggerated fears, "You see everything as a potential catastrophe." They had been talking about having children, but Ken told her that he didn't want to raise children in a household where they were constantly badgered about everything that could possibly go wrong. He told Joanne that, for her own sake, for his sake, and the sake of their future children, she needed to get psychological help.

At first, Joanne was offended that Ken told her to get psychological help. She felt that her fears were legitimate and not at all distorted. But when she talked to her sister and her best friend and they both agreed wholeheartedly with Ken, Joanne found his suggestion hard to ignore. Even though she didn't think that she had a problem, she thought she would, at least, go for a consultation with a psychotherapist.

No sooner did Joanne decide to find a psychotherapist than she began to worry excessively about the cost. Even though she and Ken had an upper middle class standard of living and they were in stable jobs, she worried that spending money on psychotherapy would drain their savings. Ken tried to reassure her that she had nothing to worry about, but she continued to engage in "what if's"--until, finally, Ken pointed out to Joanne that this was yet another example of her catastrophizing.

Reluctantly, Joanne began psychotherapy. She began therapy by telling the psychotherapist that she didn't think she needed to be there, and she was coming to prove it to her husband. But almost immediately, Joanne began to engage in her habitual and exaggerated negative way of thinking in her first session. When her therapist pointed this out to Joanne, she began to consider that there might be a kernel of truth to what her husband, sister and best friend were telling her.

Exploring her habitual ways of thinking was very uncomfortable for Joanne. She grew up in a family where both her mother and father had strong fears, so it seemed "normal" to her to engage in this type of thinking.

But when she was able to look at her parents' negative and distorted ways of thinking, it was much easier for her to see the problem than when she looked at her own way of thinking. She began to remember times when she was growing up that were spoiled for her because her parents approached most things like they were potential catastrophes. This made her feel very sad, and she thought back to her husband's words when he told her that he didn't want to raise children in an atmosphere of exaggerated fears and negative thinking.

As Joanne remembered those times when she looked forward to going to a party or seeing friends and her parents spoiled those times for her by not allowing her to go ("What if you get into a car accident?"), Joanne began to see how her way of thinking was just like her parents. She told her therapist, "I never wanted to be like that, and now, look at me."

With her psychotherapist's help, Joanne began to question herself whenever she began to worry excessively about ordinary things. She asked herself if there was any rational evidence that these awful things that she was projecting were likely to happen. Not if they could ever happen--but what was the likelihood of their happening? After a while, she had to admit that most of her fears were unfounded.

Over time, after she managed to get her thoughts and emotions under control, she also began to work with her therapist on the underlying issues that caused her to engage in so much catastrophizing. As she worked through these issues, she discovered that she hardly worried excessively any more. When her husband pointed out to Joanne that she was so much easier to be around now, they rekindled their relationship and it became much more passionate than it had ever been before.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're catastrophizing, you're not alone.

There are many people who engage in this form of distorted and irrational thinking. And there are many people who have been helped in psychotherapy to overcome this problem.

Rather than agonizing about what could go wrong and causing a lot of stress for yourself and those around you, you owe it to yourself to learn to stop catastrophizing.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing 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 (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Also, see my article:  Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes

Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes

Fear of making mistakes is a huge problem for many people and it often follows them throughout their lives, sapping their lives of vitality, isolating them, and hindering them from experiencing new opportunities and experiences.

Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes

Fear of Making Mistakes Can Start at a Young Age:
When I was in elementary school, I had a best friend and classmate who lived in my neighborhood. Let's call her Susan (not her real name). We would spend time together doing homework, either at her house or my house.

When we went to Susan's house, her mother, who was a very warm and kind woman, would hover over Susan while she was doing her homework. This became most challenging for Susan when we had to write short book reports.

Her mother would hover over Susan and practically dictate what Susan should write. As Susan was taking down her mother's words, she tried to be careful not to have any erasures on the page because her mother would ask her to start all over again on another clean page rather than turn in a page with any signs of erasures. Susan's mother meant well, but she was such a perfectionist that she made Susan feel very anxious about making mistakes.

Fear of Making Mistakes Can Start at a Young Age

When Susan was in her late teens, she continued to defer to her mother's wishes and recommendations, no matter what the subject was --her choice of college, the young men she dated, and even what she wore. Susan had such little self confidence that when she went away to college and she no longer had her mother close at hand, she agonized about even the smallest decisions. She was so afraid of making a mistake that every choice became ominous and anxiety provoking for her.

Since Susan didn't grow up in an environment where she learned to make age-appropriate decisions along the way, she panicked whenever she was faced with even a relatively minor decision. Her fear worsened, as fears usually do, over time. And it got to the point where Susan would rather skip a social event than try to decide what to wear.

When it came time to choose a major, Susan allowed her mother to persuade her to become a business major. Until then, Susan was doing very well in her foundation courses, but Susan hated the business courses, and she began to fail her classes. Her failures only reinforced her lack of self confidence and contributed to Susan becoming depressed.

After the dean suggested that Susan see a counselor at the student counseling center, she began to talk about how agonizing it was for her to make choices and her fear of making mistakes. While it's true that most of us don't like making mistakes, Susan's fear was exaggerated beyond all logic. Her fear of making mistakes was paralyzing her and making her world very small and narrow.

Fortunately, Susan was able to work on her fear in counseling. Over time, she learned to let go of her fear by asking herself. "What's the worst thing that could happen?" Usually, when she asked herself this, she realized that, most of the time, nothing monumental was at stake. But she also knew that, on an emotional level, it felt like something awful would happen if she made a mistake.

Through trial and error, Susan began to practice making relatively small decisions and working on her fear of making a mistake as it came up. She began to realize that she had internalized her mother's perfectionism and her mother's own fears about making mistakes. As she learned to let go of her fear, she was able to relax more and she began to see that she actually had good judgement when she made decisions, and her fears were groundless. Emotionally, this was very freeing for Susan, as if a huge burden had been lifted from her shoulders.

Inevitably, as we all do, Susan did make mistakes when she made decisions. But, just like anyone else, she learned from her mistakes. Over time, she also began to trust her intuition more. Rather than suffering in business courses that she hated, Susan changed her major to liberal arts, and she was much happier. Her grades also improved tremendously. She began socializing more and enjoying herself. And when her mother tried to persuade her to go against what she knew was best for her, Susan told her, tactfully, that she wanted to make her own decisions. She said, "If I make a mistake, I'll deal with it."

As you can imagine, this wasn't what Susan's mother wanted to hear but, reluctantly, she respected Susan's right to make decisions and to make mistakes.

Earlier this week, I was in a children's store. While I was searching for a gift for a young child, I watched two different parents interact with their daughters in quite different ways.

Both girls were about four years old. One of them was very neatly dressed in a matching outfit. Her father was "helping" her to pick out a new outfit. Whenever she chose something that he didn't like, he expressed his disapproval by shaking his head "no" and telling her that the color was wrong or there was some other problem in his eyes.

I watched as the young girl became frustrated with her father's criticism of whatever she liked. Eventually, she gave up and told him to choose something for her. Apparently, not understanding how discouraging he was being with his daughter, the father looked delighted to buy what he liked for his daughter rather than allowing her to pick it out. He picked out an outfit that he liked and he showed it to his daughter. She shrugged her shoulders in resignation. He took that as approval and bought the outfit for her.

The other little girl was having a very different experience with her mother. Although she was well groomed, it was obvious that this little girl picked out her own outfit to wear that day. She had on a mismatched tee shirt and shorts with clashing colors. But it didn't seem to matter to her mother. She allowed her daughter to choose what she wanted to wear that day. And, other than telling her daughter to keep her choice below a certain price range, she was pleased with whatever her daughter chose. This little girl seemed much more confident, and she was enjoying her shopping excursion with her mother.

So, we can see how fear of making mistakes can start at a young age. And parents might not even realize the effect that they are having on their children when they don't allow them to start making age-appropriate decisions along the way.

Fear of Making Mistakes is Not Limited to Any Particular Group:
Fear of making mistakes is not limited to a particular age group, gender or a particular profession. Several years ago, I was at a training workshop with about 40 other psychotherapists. Most of us are seasoned clinicians with diverse backgrounds. Our trainer could not have been more open, skilled, informative, and compassionate. Yet, even in that nurturing environment, many therapists expressed their fears of learning a new treatment modality because they feared making mistakes.

After a while, when she realized what was happening, our trainer would start the day by saying, "Please, please make mistakes. Make lots of mistakes. I really mean it," which elicited knowing smiles and laughter. She told us that the only way that we could learn this new treatment modality was to risk making mistakes as we practiced on each other.

Fortunately, the trainer's encouragement to "please make mistakes" was very freeing, and allowed clinicians to practice a treatment modality that was completely different from anything that they had done before. They began to feel more confident in terms of practicing with each oher, "playing" with the modality, and seeing how it fit in with what they already knew.

Fear of Making Mistakes Can Limit Your Life, Causing You to Stagnate:
When you allow your fears about making mistakes to prevent you from trying new things, you might not realize how limiting this can be in your life. If you're always "playing if safe," hardly ever trying anything new or taking risks, you impose a very circumscribed life for yourself. Everything becomes dull and predictable. And rather than grow and learn from mistakes, you stagnate.

Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes

If you think that you're overwhelmed by your fear of making mistakes, you can start by asking yourself whose voice is getting replayed in your head. Is it one of your parents? A former schoolteacher? Or some other authority from your childhood? Those "old tapes" from your childhood can be very powerful. Without your even realizing it, you could be giving in to your fears in order to avoid making mistakes.

Some of our greatest inventors, like Thomas Edison, were willing to try and try again, making many mistakes along the way, until they achieved their goals. If these inventors were too afraid of making mistakes, we wouldn't have the wonderful inventions that they eventually created.

Getting Help in Therapy:
If you think that your fear of making mistakes is holding you back in life, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist to overcome this fear. Once you've overcome your fear of making mistakes, you'll probably discover that new opportunities will open up for you in your personal life and in your career.

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to overcome their fear of making mistakes so they could broaden their horizons and lead happier lives.

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

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

Developing Emotional Intelligence

What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, be attuned to, and manage your emotions in positive ways. When you have emotional intelligence, you're able to recognize your own emotional state as well as the emotional states of others.

Developing Emotional Intelligence
In many ways, emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), is even more important than intelligence quotient (IQ) with regard to being attuned to yourself and others. When you're attuned to your own emotional state and the emotional states of those around you, you're more likely to build successful relationships in your personal life as well as in your career.

Emotional intelligence includes self awareness, managing emotions, picking up on social cues, and maintaining relationships

Emotional Intelligence: self awareness, managing emotions, picking up on social cues, maintaining relationships
Being self aware:
When you're self aware, you recognize how your emotions affect your thoughts and behavior. You know your basic strengths and weaknesses, and you feel confident.

Being able to manage your emotions:
Part of emotional self management is being able to manage your emotions, thoughts and behaviors in a healthy way. You don't behave impulsively. You're able to take charge, when appropriate. You're able to keep your commitments. You're also able to adapt to changes in your environment, which is so important in our ever-changing world.

Being able to pick up on social cues:
Emotional intelligence enables you to pick up on social cues in your environment. You recognize your needs as well as the needs of those around you. You feel comfortable in most social situations. You also recognize the social dynamics in personal and work-related group settings.

Being able to develop and maintain relationships:
Emotional intelligence allows you to develop and maintain personal and work-related relationships, communicate well with others, influence people, manage conflict, and interact well in group settings. More than ever, businesses are now evaluating their employees on the basis of their emotional intelligence at work.

Ideally, emotional intelligence is a set of skills that you learn as you're growing up. However, depending upon your particular circumstances when you were growing up, you might not have learned to develop these skills. As a result, this could be causing significant problems in your personal and work-related relationships. But it's never too late to develop these skills, and many people come to psychotherapy because they've been adversely impacted by their lack of skills in this area, and they want to change.

The following fictionalized scenario, which is not about any one person and has no identifying information, illustrates how someone who has not developed emotional intelligence can learn to develop these skills in psychotherapy:

Bob was a man in his early 30s. When he began psychotherapy, he had just received his annual performance review at his new company, and he was very disappointed to learn that his boss, Gregg, was not pleased with how Bob interacted with others at work. While Gregg praised Bob for his technical skills, he told Bob that he needed to improve how he interacted with his colleagues and senior management. He felt that Bob was too aloof and isolated at work, and he was not a "team player."

Gregg told Bob that this was not just his opinion--he had also received this feedback from Bob's peers and other managers at the company. Gregg told Bob that his potential success at the company depended on Bob learning to develop emotional intelligence on the job. He recommended that Bob read Daniel Goleman's book, Emotional Intelligence. Gregg also told Bob to consider getting emotional help to overcome whatever emotional barriers might be getting in Bob's way from forming good interpersonal relationships at work.

Bob was also experiencing difficulty forming personal relationships. He recognized that this was a lifelong problem, but he didn't know what to do about it. Whenever he tried to form personal relationships, whether they were friendships or romantic relationships, they never lasted beyond a brief period of time. This left Bob feeling very lonely and lacking in self confidence. He had a couple of buddies that he went with to sports events, but he didn't have any close relationships.

Bob often felt that there was "something missing" in him that caused him to have such difficulties in his relationships, but he didn't know what it was. Until his boss mentioned the term "emotional intelligence," Bob was completely unaware of this concept. But as he started reading Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, he realized that he lacked these interpersonal skills, and he very much wanted to develop them.

When Bob began psychotherapy, he had very little awareness of his emotional state at any given time. He grew up in a household where his parents demonstrated very little in terms of their own emotions, and they didn't talk about emotions at all. Education was very important to them, and they encouraged him to do well in school. When Bob's teachers told his parents that Bob had problems forming friendships, they dismissed this as unimportant. As long as Bob got excellent grades, they were happy and they told him not to be concerned about friendships.

Bob's therapist began by helping Bob to recognize his own emotions. When he started therapy, Bob had only the vaguest notion of his emotions. Generally, he recognized when he felt "good" or when he felt "bad," but he couldn't distinguish whether "good" meant that he felt content or elated or if "bad" meant that he felt sad or angry.

Bob's therapist helped Bob to distinguish his emotions based on what Bob was feeling in his body. For instance, he learned to recognize that when his stomach was clinched, he often felt fearful. He also learned to identify other emotions based on what he was feeling physically. Gradually, he began to distinguish fear from anger or sadness. He also recognized that sometimes he felt more than one emotion at a time, which was confusing to him at first.

Bob's therapist also worked with him to begin to pick up on social cues in his work environment. Prior to this, Bob didn't pay attention at all to the emotional environment at work. He was emotionally disconnected from it and from how his colleagues were feeling at any given time. Over time, working with his therapist, Bob began to learn how to read "body language" with individuals and at staff meetings. This helped him to negotiate his relationships at work. It also alerted him with regard to the appropriateness of timing and others' receptivity with regard to introducing new ideas.

In addition, he learned to take an interest in his coworkers. Prior to starting therapy, it never would have occurred to Bob to ask a coworker about his or her weekend or a vacation. After he began working with his therapist on developing emotional intelligence, Bob began taking his first tentative steps by engaging in conversation with coworkers. To his amazement, his coworkers began to take more of an interest in him as well. He discovered that several of his coworkers would go out for lunch on Fridays, and they started inviting him to come along, which pleased Bob.

He recognized that his coworkers were beginning to like him. While this was gratifying to Bob, he also began to feel the sadness of so many years of not having this in his life, and he realized that this was an important missing piece for him.

Socializing in his personal life was more of a challenge. Even though Bob was very lonely, he felt very awkward in social situations, and he tended to avoid them. He would often turn down invitations from his sports buddies to attend parties where he could have, potentially, made other friends or met a woman that he could date.

Although he was very anxious about getting out more, Bob was determined to overcome his fear. So, when an opportunity presented itself for him to attend a party, he accepted the invitation. He and his therapist had several sessions to talk about his anxiety and to work on how he could improve his interpersonal skills in these types of social situations. Even though he was starting to feel more comfortable socially with his colleagues, he was anxious about socializing on a personal level. He felt that, at least in his work environment, he could talk to his colleagues about work. But with new people where he did not have this in common, he felt very unsure of himself.

Bob and his therapist worked on various role plays where he practiced how to start a conversation in a social setting. They talked about all different types of scenarios and what social cues Bob should notice among those around him with regard to people's relative openness to engaging socially. They decided that it would be easier for Bob to start by asking the hostess to introduce him to some of the people at the party. They also decided that, to start, Bob didn't have to stay for the entire party if he was too uncomfortable, so they talked about how he could negotiate this socially with the hostess.

Fortunately for Bob, the hostess at this party was an emotionally astute woman. She recognized that Bob was anxious in social settings, and she started by introducing him to other people in his particular field of work. Although Bob was very nervous at first, once he began talking to these people, he felt more comfortable. One person confided in Bob that he also felt anxious at parties, and Bob felt relieved to know that he wasn't the only one who experienced social anxiety.

It took Bob a while, working diligently with his therapist, to develop emotional intelligence in his work environment and in social situations. But Bob felt proud when Gregg approached him one day and told him that he was pleased to see that Bob had improved his interpersonal skills at work. This positive feedback was what Bob needed to continue working on this issue in his therapy. In addition, Bob was starting to date women, and he was surprised and pleased to realize that women found him appealing.

What Can You Do to Develop Emotional Intelligence?

How to Develop Emotional Intelligence
If you're experiencing a lack of emotional attunement to yourself and to others, you could benefit from developing or improving your emotional intelligence skills.

Daniel Goleman is a psychologist who has done a lot of research on the topic of emotional intelligence. I recommend that you read his book, Emotional Intelligence and go to his website for more information:

While reading a book about emotional intelligence is a good start in terms of acquainting yourself with basic concepts, reading alone won't help you to develop emotional intelligence. Very often, it's helpful to also develop these skills in the context of your own personal psychotherapy with a licensed psychotherapist who helps clients to overcome this problem.

Contrary to what you might think, you'll discover that you're not alone, and many people, who struggle with this issue, are able to develop these important skills to become more emotionally attuned to themselves and to others. You'll also discover that developing emotional intelligence will contribute to the success of your relationships and your career.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to develop emotional intelligence so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.

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

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

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