NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Friday, November 30, 2012

Arguing with Your Spouse About His Sexual History

Are you and your spouse arguing about your sexual histories with other people that you knew before you met each other?  Unfortunately, arguments about spouses' sexual histories aren't unusual.  It often begins with one or both people in the relationship asking questions about the other's sexual history and, before you know it, one or both people get jealous or insecure and arguments ensue.

Arguing With Your Spouse About His Sexual History

While it's important to know whether your partner, soon-to-be spouse or spouse practiced safe sex before he or she met you, it's often a mistake to get into the details of who, want, where, and how often.

Talking about these kinds of details can degenerate into bitter arguments.  Unless you suspect that your partner is a sex addict and you're concerned about the future, once you've both determined that there have been no sexually transmitted diseases, it's better to let the past be the past--no matter how tempting it might be to seek more information.

The following fictionalized scenario, whch is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates how easily arguments can begin while talking about each other's sexual history with other people:

Dan and Betty:
After Dan and Betty were married for several months, Betty asked Dan about his sexual activities with other people.  She already knew about the two prior relationships that he had been in before he met her.  They also each had tests for sexually transmtted diseases (STDs) early on when they began dating to ensure that neither of them had STDs.

Dan was hesitant to talk to Betty about his sexual history, but she told him that she felt that they should be able to talk about anything and she urged him to tell her.  After Dan revealed that he had slept around quite a bit in college and in his early to mid-20s, Betty became upset.  And the more upset she became, the more specific questions she asked him, and his answers only made her more upset.

Even though Betty didn't know any of the women that Dan slept with and he wasn't in touch with any of them, she imagined that he enjoyed being with these women sexually more than he enjoyed being with her.  No matter how much he assured her that he loved her and he enjoyed their sex life together, Betty couldn't stop thinking about all the women that Dan slept with.

Over time, Betty's obsessive jealousy about Dan's former sexual partners began to get in the way of their lovemaking.  Whenever Dan touched her, Betty wondered if he touched the other women in the same way.  When it got to the point where they couldn't enjoy each other sexually any more, both Dan and Betty agreed that they needed to see a couples counselor.

In couples counseling, Dan and Betty learned that they had to let the past be the past.   Betty realized that she needed to let go of her obsessive thoughts about Dan's prior sex life or she would ruin their relationship.  She also realized that the problem was that she was feeling insecure about herself.  Since she trusted Dan and she wasn't concerned that he would cheat on her, she realized that she needed to work on her own self esteem rather than argue with Dan about the past.

Once they stopped arguing about the past, they were able to rekindle their relationship.

Many couples feel that they must "tell all" about their prior sexual experiences, but unless you know for sure that you can handle this, it's best not to delve too deeply into your prior histories.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your spouse are arguing abut your prior sexual histories, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional who sees couples for couples counseling to help you salvage your relationship.

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

I work with 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.

Listening to Your Inner Voice to Discover Your "Calling" in Life

People often come to therapy because they feel like they're just drifting through their lives, but they sense somewhere deep down that there's something more that they want, but they just haven't found it yet.  Some people describe this as finding their purpose in life.  To me, it means the same thing, but I like to think of it as finding your "calling" in life because I feel there's an inner voice in everyone that knows what this "calling" is, if we would just learn to listen.

Listening to Your Inner Voice to Discover Your "Calling" in Life

What is a "Calling"?
Often, when people hear the words "finding your calling in life," they think of a religious "calling."  And while you might feel drawn to a religious calling, it can also be so many other things, and it doesn't necessarily have to be your job.  Your job might be working in an office, but your passion might be volunteering on the weekends to work with children.  Or, you might feel a passion to write poetry or play music.

Your Inner Voice Knows Intuitively What's Right For You
To hear and really listen to your inner voice, that voice that knows intuitively what's right for you, you need to get quiet and open yourself to your inner voice.  Many people discover their inner voice through meditation.  I've found meditation to be especially helpful to hearing my inner voice.  I've found my dreams to be even more helpful because the unconscious speaks to us in our sleep.  Over the years, since I began keeping a dream journal, I've noticed recurring dreams with certain themes that have given me new insights.  I've also discovered fascinating synchronicities between my dream life and my ordinary waking life.  Many people have told me that they've had similar experiences.

What Happens When We Don't Listen to Our Inner Voice
Sometimes, our inner voice is clear as to our "calling" in life, but we don't listen.  When I was a teenager, I developed an interest in psychoanalytic literature, especially books by Karen Horney, who was an influential neo-Freudian analyst who dared to challenge Freud.  I devoured her books, and early on, I wanted very much to become a psychoanalyst.  But, then, in my 20s, as I've mentioned in prior blog posts, I thought I should do something more "practical."  I left the Liberal Arts program and went to a business college.  Even though I disliked and felt very hemmed in by the courses, I pushed myself to continue there for a while because I thought this was the "practical" thing to do.

It took me a while to realize that I wasn't following my "calling" in life and I needed to get back to what I needed to do.  I mention this because, having gone through this experience myself, I have a lot of compassion for other people who struggle with finding their purpose or "calling" in life.  Also, having gone through my own experience, I know that it's also possible to transform your life by listening to your inner voice.

Eventually, I became a Masters level social worker and did my postgraduate psychoanalytic training.  A few years later, I discovered that, although I love psychoanalysis, I needed other tools to help psychotherapy clients because psychodynamic psychotherapy didn't help to heal all psychotherapy clients.

By listening to my inner voice, I trained in EMDR, clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing as well as Embodied Imagination dream work, and discovered new ways of working with clients that brought about deeper healing experiences for them.

Listening to Your Inner Voice and Self Exploration Can Lead to a More Fulfilling Life
If you feel like you're drifting through life without having discovered your purpose or "calling" yet, you owe it to yourself to begin a self exploration that can lead to a more fulfilling life.  As I've mentioned, I believe this starts by listening to your inner voice.

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 business hours or email me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Unhealthy Relationships: Bad Luck or Poor Choices?

I remember having a conversation with a friend, several years ago, who told me, "I have the worst luck when it comes to relationships with men."  

After a few tumultuous relationships, she started therapy to deal with the emotional aftermath of the last unhealthy relationship.  During the course of her self exploration, she discovered that luck had very little to do with her chaotic relationships with men.  Instead, she discovered that, on an unconscious level, she was choosing men who were emotionally abusive and very irresponsible.

There is Big Difference Between Having Bad Luck and Making Poor Choices
There is a world of difference between seeing yourself as the passive victim of bad luck and realizing that you're responsible for choosing the unhealthy relationship that you're in.  And, it was quite an eye opener for my friend.  

Unhealthy Relationships: Bad Luck or Poor Choices?

Once she accepted that this was her reality, she knew she needed to work in therapy to discover the underlying issues so she could stop making these unhealthy choices.  And it didn't take long to realize that she was replicating her parents' relationship in her own relationships--even though she swore from an early age that she never wanted to have a relationship like the one  her parents had.  This speaks to the power of the unconscious and how we often don't realize what forces are driving our choices.

Feeling Like You Deserve a Healthy Relationship
What was more challenging for my friend was to realize that, deep down, she didn't feel like she deserved to have a healthy relationship.  She understood on an intellectual level that she was "a good person" and, therefore, she deserved a healthy relationship.  But, on a deeper emotional level, she didn't feel it.  It took time and effort in psychotherapy for her to overcome these feelings so that, eventually, she did make healthier choices.

Whenever I hear a psychotherapy client (or anyone else) say they've always had "bad luck" in relationships, I think of my friend's story as well as so many other stories I've heard in my experience as a therapist.  No one likes to think that they're in their current unhealthy relationship due to a choice that they've made.  Of course, there is an element of luck in terms of the people you meet but, more often than not, when someone remains in a dysfunctional relationship, they're making an unconscious choice.

While some people are open to exploring that they're making a choice, other people totally resist it, no matter how compassionate and empathetic a therapist might be.  They feel blamed and criticized.  More importantly, they feel ashamed, and when there is a lot of underlying shame, a therapist must have the client's trust and she must proceed with as much tact as possible.  But the therapist can't avoid dealing with this situation altogether--otherwise, how would the client make progress?

If clients are able to overcome their shame enough to look at their choices, the next dilemma they face is what to do about it.  After all, once this unconscious choice is made conscious, if they remain in an emotionally unhealthy relationship, by virtue of being aware of it now, they're making a conscious choice.  There might be some back pedaling along the way.  But, if a client develops a healthier sense of self, he or she usually wants to be treated better and the current relationship is no longer satisfying.

Do You Have a Pattern of Being in Emotionally Unhealthy Relationships?
If you have a pattern of being in emotionally unhealthy relationships, you owe it to yourself to consider if it is really bad luck that you keep getting into these relationships or are you choosing, on a level that you might not be aware of, these unhealthy relationships.

This can be one of the hardest questions that you will ever ask yourself, but it can also be the start of turning your life around.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City 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.

Overcoming the Guilt You Feel For Not Being Able to Heal Your Parent's Emotional Wounds

Many adults come to therapy because they have longstanding guilt, which started when they were children, for not being able to heal their parents' emotional wounds.  As children, they grew up too fast in an effort to become emotional parents to their parents, instead of their parents parenting them.

Feeling Guilty For Not Being Able to Heal Your Parents' Emotional Wounds

In situations where parents are unable to emotionally parent their children, because of their own emotional deficits, a very young child often steps into this role without even realizing it, at a great emotional cost to him or herself.

The following vignette, which is a fictionalized account of many composite cases, illustrates how a child steps into the role of being her mother's mother:

By the time Sandy was six years old, she spent almost every evening at the kitchen table listening to her mother tell stories about her difficult childhood--the poverty, the loneliness, and the violence in household.  As her mother's sad stories poured out, Sandy wanted, more than anything, to make her mother happy now.  She was anxiously consumed with what she could do to make her  depressed mother happy.  She took on the role of her depressed, single mother's confidant and nurturer.

Sandy's mother was often so overwhelmed by her depression and anxiety that she didn't pay attention to what was going on in Sandy's young life.  By the time she was 11, Sandy was coming home from school, cooking dinner and coaxing her mother, who was often still in bed by late afternoon, to eat.

Going away to college was a tough decision for Sandy because she didn't want to leave her mother alone.  Sandy's mother, who was still preoccupied with her own emotional problems, never came to the college campus to see Sandy and never asked Sandy how she liked her college roommates.

By the time Sandy was in her early 30s, she continued that she just couldn't do enough to try to make her mother happy.  She was consumed with guilt, feeling that she had let her mother down because she couldn't heal her mother's emotional wounds.

When she came to therapy, Sally had no awareness of how she had sacrificed her own emotional well being by trying to be her mother's mother.  All she knew was that she felt tremendously guilty and unhappy.

Often, in situations like this, talk therapy can provide intellectual insight for the parentified child, but more often than not, it doesn't help to overcome the guilt and shame he or she feels.  There is a disconnect between what a parentified child might know on a rational level and what he or she feels on an emotional level.

I have found that mind-body oriented psychotherapy, like EMDR, clinical hypnosis, and Somatic Experiencing are much more effective to help clients to overcome the deeply ingrained guilt and shame they feel for not being able to compensate for their parents' emotional deficits.

Rather than just having intellectual insight, these clients are much more likely to heal and overcome their guilt and shame with one of these mind-body oriented psychotherapy treatment modalities. My experience has been that they usually heal on a much deeper level when psychotherapy includes the mind-body connection.

Getting Help in Therapy:  Overcoming Your Own Emotional Wounds
If you grew up as a parentified child to your own mother or father, you might still feel guilt and shame because you were unable to heal your parent's emotional wounds.

You owe it to yourself to get help to overcome your own emotional wounds so you can lead a more fulfilling life. Many people, who grew up as parentified children, have freed themselves from a history of guilt and shame about depressed and anxious parents by getting help from a licensed psychotherapist who uses the mind-body connection in treatment, and you can too.

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 business hours or email me.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Are You Dating Someone Who Has Problems Making a Commitment to a Relationship?

There comes a time in any dating relationship when you and the person you're dating decide if you're going to take it to the next level--making a commitment to be in a monogamous relationship or deciding that you're not going to pursue a serious relationship.

Are You Dating Someone Who Has Problems Making a Commitment to a Relationship?

Under ideal circumstances, you and your dating partner talk about it and mutually agree either that you're going to be in a relationship, you're going to remain in a casual dating situation or you're going to stop seeing each other.

But, often, both people don't see eye-to-eye about it.  One person might want to remain casual while the other might want to be in a more committed relationship.  This can put an emotional strain on each of you as you try to work out this situation.

If you're the person who wants a committed relationship and your dating partner wants to remain in a non-monogamous dating situation, what do you do?

Of course, there are no easy answers and it depends on many factors.  For instance, if the two of  you have been dating for a year and you're a woman in your late 30s who wants to have children soon, you might have different feelings about it compared to a woman in her early 20s who is not in a hurry to have children.

And, if you're dating partner has a long history of avoiding making commitments to relationships, you would probably want to consider this if it has been a lifelong pattern.

It can be a very hurtful situation to discover that you've fallen in love with someone and you want to take your relationship to the next level, but your dating partner is ambivalent.  You might decide to give the situation more time.

Are You Dating Someone Who Has Problems Making a Commitment to a Relationship?

But if you're someone who wants to get married and have children one day or you just want to settle down with one person, you'll want to ask yourself some hard questions about how long you want to wait to see if the person you love wants to make a commitment to you:

How long are you willing to wait and what is the downside of waiting?  Will it be eroding to your sense of self?  Will there be increasing pressure and tension between the two of you?

Are you being honest with yourself about this person and if you're both suited for each other?  Are you allowing the head-over-heels feeling of being in love blind you to certain problems between you?

Are you staying with this person because you're too afraid to be alone?  Are you afraid you won't meet anyone else?

These are tough but necessary questions to confront.

I think many people know deep down when it's time to end a dating relationship with someone who has problems making a commitment, but they often don't want to break up because they don't want to go through the heartache.

What's even more heartbreaking is to look back on time that has passed and realize that, all along, the person you're dating would never be able to make a romantic commitment no matter how long you wait.

If you're in a dating relationship with someone who has problems with making a commitment, you owe it to yourself to be honest about your feelings with yourself and your dating partner.   You have a right to be happy and so does your dating partner.  You might feel that you won't be able to tolerate the loss, but most people are a lot more resilient than they realize and they overcome these losses.

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 business hours or email me.

Also, see my article:
Dating vs Being in a Relationship

Monday, November 26, 2012

Relationships and Communication: Do You Expect Your Spouse to be a "Mind Reader"?

As a psychotherapist in New York City, I see many individuals and couples who come to therapy because of problems in their relationships.  One of the most common relationship issues is that one or both spouses or partners expects the other to be a "mind reader," knowing and anticipating emotional reactions, wishes and fears.  

This is often one of the major problems in the relationship because there is a lack of communication as well as anger, resentment and frustration.

Do You Expect Your Spouse to be a "Mind Reader"?

Of course, no one ever comes in saying, "I expect my husband to be a mind reader."  Instead, someone might say, "I didn't tell him because he should have known that I felt that way."  Often, this includes subjects that the couple have never discussed before and the other spouse would have no way of knowing without being told.

I can certainly understand a fantasy to have a loved one anticipate your every wish.  But as delightful a fantasy as that it, it's just that--a fantasy.  It's much more useful to learn to communicate your thoughts and feelings to your spouse rather than expecting him or her to "just know," somehow, magically.

Do You Expect Your Spouse to be a "Mind Reader"?

Often, when this is the problem in a relationship, one or both people have problems asking for what they want.  Sometimes, this happens because they were shamed as children for having wants or needs.  

As adults, they feel ashamed to ask for what they need so, instead, they blame their spouse or partner for not knowing, when, in fact, it's their problem because they don't feel entitled to have what they need or want.  But pointing the finger at a spouse isn't going to change this problem.  Owning it and working it out in therapy is much more useful than continuing to hope that a spouse or partner will intuit what you want.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your spouse are having this problem, you're not alone.  

Many couples have successfully worked out this issue in couples counseling and enhanced their relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many people to communicate in their relationships.

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.

Expressing Condolences in a Caring and Tactful Manner

Over the years, I've had many psychotherapy clients who have come to me after the loss of a loved one, who expressed how hurt and angry they felt about the manner in which family and friends expressed their condolences.  Often, these clients told me that well-meaning friends expressed their condolences by saying things like, "You shouldn't feel bad--he's in a better place now," which only served to infuriate and frustrate the clients who had sustained the loss.

Expressing Condolences in a Caring and Tactful Manner

Use Tact When Expressing Condolences
If only people who said these kinds of things could stop for a moment and think about what a tactless remark this is, and how it fails to take into account what a grieving person is feeling at that moment.

It's understandable that many people feel that whatever they might say to someone who is grieving would be inadequate to the grieving person's feelings.  It's also understandable that, although we're all going to die one day, many people feel uncomfortable talking about or dealing with death.  But that's no excuse for the lack of an empathetic response to someone who is grieving.

Be Empathetic When Expressing Condolences
Like many other situations, it helps to try to put yourself in the other person's shoes.  If someone you loved very much died, would you find it helpful to you emotionally to hear your feelings invalidated?   I'm sure not.  Yet, this is what people do, unintentionally, when they tell a grieving person that they shouldn't feel sad because their loved one is in "a better place."

Mostly, people who are grieving want the emotional support of friends and family.  A simple, "I'm sorry for your loss" is fine.  The person who is grieving over the loss doesn't expect that you're going to find the magic phrase to make him or her feel better.  He or she just wants to know that you cared enough to show up and pay your respects.

Sharing meaningful memories with the person who is grieving can also be a tactful and meaningful way to show that you care.  I remember being at a funeral several years ago for a friend's mother.  Her mother's former coworker told her a few memorable stories about her mother, things that my friend didn't know and that she enjoyed hearing about it.  I could see how moved she was to hear these stories as well as hearing how well liked her mother had been at the office.

Everyone Grieves Differently
It's also important to remember that everyone grieves in his or her own way, which might not be the way you grieve.  So, we must all remind ourselves that there is no way one to go through the grieving process.  It's especially not helpful to urge widows or widowers to "move on" before they're ready.

I'm reminded of a friend who, having lost her husband of 15 years only a few months before, had to deal with a well-meaning friend who was urging her to "move on" and start dating before my friend was ready.  These remarks made my friend feel very alone in her grief, as if she was some kind of "freak" who was continuing to grieve after what others thought was too long a time period.

Eventually, she stopped listening to people who were urging her to "move on" and she mourned her husband in the way that felt right for her.  A couple of years later, she began taking tentative steps to start dating casually, and she eventually met her current husband.  But it was important for her to go through the grieving process in her own way.

Let Compassion and Empathy Be Your Guide When Expressing Condolences
If you feel uncomfortable and not sure of what to say to a friend or family member who is grieving, rather than allowing your discomfort to lead to tactless remarks, let compassion and empathy be your guide.

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, you can 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.

Also see my article: Coping with the Loss of a Loved One: How to Take Care of Yourself

What Would You Do if Your Spouse Had an Affair?

We often think we know exactly what we would do under certain pivotal circumstances in our lives.  For instance, we might have strong feelings about finding out that a spouse was having a year long secret affair. But in an article by Judy Wachs in yesterday's New York Times' Modern Love column, NY Times - November 25, 2012: Modern Love: After the Affair, Ms. Wachs illustrates how we can't always be so sure how we'd respond to infidelity.

Most People Have Strong Feelings About Infidelity
When it comes to infidelity, most people have strong feelings about whether they would stay or go upon finding out about a spouse's secret affair.  But is it really so black and white?

Ms. Wachs makes a compelling argument for a more nuanced approach with reflection and compassion.  She sees the "grey," as opposed to black-and-white thinking, and she surprises herself in the process.

Many individuals and couples have come to me about infidelity in their relationships.  There are no easy answers when there has been this type of breach in a relationship.  Each situation is unique.  Before you face this situation, you might think you know how you would respond.  But often, when actually faced with infidelity in a relationship, many people surprise themselves with their responses to the actual situation.

What Would You Do If Your Spouse Had an Affair?

Before actually being faced with infidelity in a relationship, many people feel sure that they would leave their spouses or partners.  But these same people, when faced with the news of a secret affair that their spouses were involved in, often take a wider view of the situation and whether they want to give up the relationship, especially if it has been a longstanding relationship, and they work on trying to rebuild trust again.

When It Comes to Infidelity, No One Can Tell You What's Right For Your Relationship
Of course, when it's your relationship, no one can tell you what's right for you and your spouse, and many individuals and couples who find themselves at an impasse, when faced with infidelity, seek out professional help from a licensed mental health professional with related experience.

It can be very helpful during this crisis in your relationship to help you through this difficult process.  Even if you decide to end the relationship, rather than ending it in a way that dishonors what might have been good about the relationship, you can do it by both being your best selves.

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

I work with adult 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.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Are You Being Gaslighted in Your Relationship?

In the 1944 film, "Gaslight", Ingrid Bergman's husband, played by Charles Boyer, attempts to manipulate his wife and others to convince them that she is insane.  He secretly manipulates certain elements in their home, including dimming the gas lights, and insisting to his wife and others that she is confused and misremembering things.  During the 1970s, the term "gaslighting" began to be used to describe how a manipulative and abusive person can try to convince someone that they're not in touch with reality.

Gaslighting in Relationships
Gaslighting is a very real phenomenon in relationships (see my article: A Relationship With a Narcissist Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Self Esteem).

People, who are especially adept at gaslighting, are often sociopathic.  They use gaslighting in their relationships as a way to dominate their spouse or partner to get what they want.  They know exactly what they are doing and they have no remorse for their abusive behavior.  

This is the hallmark of sociopathic behavior.  Their goal is to systemically destroy their partner 's sense of self and sense of reality.  Just as in the movie, this can start in small ways and then it can gradually build to bigger things.

Are You Being Gaslighted in Your Relationship?

People who engage in this form of manipulation often know intuitively how to choose their "victims."  They choose people that they know they can dominate and demean.

The person who uses gaslighting to manipulate can be very convincing.  Sometimes, even psychotherapists or marriage counselors are taken in by their manipulation.

Over time, especially in relationships where the more passive partner is dependent upon the person who is engaging in "gaslighting," becomes more confused and less confident.  His or her sense of self diminishes as he or she becomes more "brain washed" by the manipulative spouse.

In some cases, friends or family members might be able to see that the manipulative spouse is "gaslighting"the more passive spouse.  They might try to warn the more passive spouse, but this is often to no avail.  The passive spouse is often in denial about his or her sociopathic spouse.

Gaslighting is a Serious Form of Emotional Abuse
It's important to understand that "gaslighting"or any other form of emotional abuse is a serious problem, and the more passive spouse who is being "gaslighted" needs to be in his or her own individual therapy.   

Although there could be exceptions, in most cases that I have seen, the manipulative spouse lacks empathy and isn't interested in changing, which is why marriage counseling often doesn't work with couples that have this dynamic.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you suspect that your spouse or partner is attempting to "gaslight" you by trying to destroy your confidence in your sense of reality, you owe it to yourself to get help from a skilled, licensed mental health clinician as soon as possible.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

I work with 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.

A Search For Inner Meaning

Many people approaching their mid-life and beyond begin to search for the inner meaning to their lives.  This search for inner meaning can be a time of confusion and doubt and it can also be an enriching time of personal growth and greater satisfaction with life.

A Search For Inner Meaning

Much depends on how you approach this time, your attitude, and what's going on for you at the time. When clients come to see me about this development in their lives, I usually encourage them to see it as "a process rather than an event," a concept borrowed from the 12 Step programs, as their process unfolds.

During this personal search for inner meaning, a question that often comes up is:  What is happiness?  Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.  

But people often find that what they thought would make them happy:  more money, a bigger house, a more expensive car, and other expensive acquisitions, brings them a surge of gratification that is short lived.  

Once that surge is gone, another surge requires another, possibly bigger and better purchase, to create the next experience of excitement. And on and on it goes, requiring more and greater quick fixes to excitement.

But is this really happiness?

Book:  The Secrets of Happiness - Three Thousand Years of Searching for the Good Life
I've been very curious about the history and different cultural views about happiness and inner meaning.

While I was reading The Geography of Bliss - One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner, I came across a reference to the book, The Secrets of Happiness - Three Thousand Years of Searching for the Good Life by Professor Richard Schoch.

Professor Schoch is a professor of History at the University of London, and director of their Graduate School in Humanities and Social Sciences.

In his book, he explores three thousand years of history about people from various times, from the ancient Greeks to modern times, and how happiness and the good life were defined during those periods.

This includes philosophical and spiritual beliefs of the Utilitarians, the Epicureans, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Stoics, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, an how their beliefs relates to their definitions of happiness.

I've been enjoying reaching Professor Schoch's thought-provoking book, which is written in an accessible way (available as an e-book).

I was surprised to discover how, people's perception of happiness have changed dramatically over time.  I won't write any spoilers here, but I recommend that, if this is a topic that interests you, you read Professor Schoch's book.

I think you'll be in for a treat and might even question how you define happiness and inner meaning for yourself.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City 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.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Why Compassion is Much More Helpful Than Sympathy

In prior blog posts, I've written about the importance of compassion for others as well as compassion for ourselves, referred to as self compassion:  Developing Curiosity and Self Compassion in PsychotherapyPsychotherapy and Compassionate Self Acceptance and Are You Gazing at the Sky Through a Straw? Today, I would like to focus on the difference between compassion and sympathy, which are often confused.

Why Compassion is Much More Helpful Than Sympathy

Comparing Sympathy and Compassion
With regard to sympathy, there's a vivid memory that stands out in my mind from the time I was about five years old.  My mother and I were standing on line in front of a subway token booth to buy tokens to go on the subway.  Just ahead of us, there was an elderly man, probably in his late 80s, who was trying to pay for tokens with change in his hand.

But every time he tried to hand the token booth clerk the money, he would drop all his change because his hands were trembling so badly.  Whenever he would drop his change, I would hurry to pick up the coins to hand them back to him.  But no sooner did he try to hand the coins to the token booth clerk than he would drop them again.  I remember feeling very upset that this old man, who looked so sad, was by himself and helpless to hold onto the coins.

Finally, after the third time, my mother gave the change to the token booth clerk, and the elderly man was very grateful.  Then, we went our separate ways.

As my mother and I walked onto the train, I could feel the emotional upset welling up inside me.  I was trying, as best as I could, not to burst out crying.  But when my mother said, "That poor man...," I couldn't hold it in any more, and I burst out crying.  I could easily imagine this elderly man being my grandfather and, at such a young age, I took on this man's emotional pain.

My mother was taken aback at first that I had such a strong emotional reaction, but then she comforted me, and she allowed me to talk about how badly I felt for the old man with the trembling hands.

As a child, I didn't have the capacity that I developed as an adult to be able to dip into another person's experience with compassion, but to remain grounded in my own experience.  The ability to empathize allows us to care about others with compassion without taking on the other person's emotional pain, which is what we do when we feel sympathy.

Compassion is much more helpful because, even though we feel aligned with their emotions, we are in a better position to help as compared to when we're immersed and weighed down by their feelings.  

Standing Outside of the Emotional Vortex
When I explain this to clients in my psychotherapy practice in NYC, I often talk to them about it by giving the metaphor of "standing outside of vortex."  So, when a friend or family member is in crisis, it's not helpful to them if you've jumped into the emotional vortex with them.  Rather than being helpful, you're immersed in the same emotions.

When you're "standing outside the vortex," you can see and sense everything that is going on, but you're still on solid ground and have a bigger perspective than the person who is in crisis.  You're better able to help your loved one as well as yourself.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City 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 Psychotheapist

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Staying Emotionally Grounded During Stressful Times

We all go through difficult times at various points in our lives. Often, these are times when we can't control what is going on around us. All we can do during these times is to try to stay emotionally grounded to maintain our physical, mental and emotional well being. How each of us does that is a very individual process, and it helps to know or, at least, be willing to find out, what is helpful to you, in particular, to stay emotionally grounded.

Staying Emotionally Grounded

What Does It Mean to Be "Emotionally Grounded"?
People have different definitions for what it means to be emotionally grounded. For me, being emotionally grounded means that you are relatively calm and centered within yourself. You feel yourself to be whole and present.

Many times, when you're in a difficult situation, you might have to center yourself often throughout the day in order to cope. The 12 Step concept of "One Day at a Time," where you only deal with your problem in the present and not worry about what will happen too far in the future, can be modified to "One Hour at a Time" or even "One Minute at a Time" if it helps you get through it.

Even in very difficult situations, people often find ways to stay emotionally grounded by tapping into their own internal emotional resources as well as external resources among family, friends and their community. That doesn't mean that they don't suffer or feel grief or loss. It often means that whatever they're going through is mitigated by internal resources and external support.

How to Stay Emotionally Grounded:
Often, depending upon the situation and whatever else is going on in your life, being emotionally grounded means slowing down. Seemingly small steps can make a big difference.

For instance, for most people, when they're highly anxious, their breathing becomes shallow and constricted, which only makes them more anxious. So as strange as it might sound, these people need to remind themselves to breathe more deeply. It can be as simple as reminding yourself to take a deep breath from time to time to calm down your nervous system. You can also focus on the quality of your breath as you breathe in and breathe out. Focusing on taking in a calming breath and breathing out the tension that you feel can help to calm you down.

Feeling emotionally grounded can also mean that you focus on feeling your feet firmly on the ground. When you do that, you become aware that the ground beneath your feet is solid, and this can help you when you feel overwhelmed. Even in situations when you can't do deep breathing, you can almost always feel how solidly your feet are planted on the ground, and you can do this without anyone else being aware of what you're doing.

Your attitude in many situations can also make a big difference in allowing you to feel emotionally grounded. So, for example, if you're dealing with someone who is being difficult, your attitude in the situation can make the difference between feeling grounded and feeling upset.

One example of this is when you're dealing with an angry coworker. If you respond to your angry coworker by becoming hostile yourself, you're just adding "logs to the fire." Both of your emotions will escalate and make the situation worse. So, at those times, when you might feel like lashing right back at your coworker, it's better to take a moment, breathe, think twice, and try to find a centered place within yourself. This isn't easy, especially when you're first learning to feel emotionally grounded in difficult situations. But if can be of enormous benefit to you and the other person.

It's usually a good idea to remember that the other person's hostile behavior might not really have anything to do with you, even though you might be the recipient of it. Many years ago, when I was a human resource manager, I remember receiving a call from a department manager about an employee who snapped at a coworker, which resulted in a loud argument in the office. The manager told me that Jane (not her real name) was usually cheerful and friendly, and it was very uncharacteristic of her to snap in this way.

When Jane came to my office, she was already feeling remorse for her outburst. She went on to say that her husband was just hospitalized and she was very worried about him. She also said that she had hardly slept in the last few days, and she was feeling tired and irritable. It was clear from what she said that she had not asked friends or family for any support because she felt that she "should" be able to handle this on her own. She also felt overwhelmed by the hospital system. On a practical level, I talked to Jane about what she could do to talk to the doctors, nurses and the social workers at the hospital who were involved in her husband's care to ensure that her husband would get appropriate treatment and a good discharge plan. On an emotional level, we talked about how she could elicit emotional support from her environment and how difficult this was for her.

After our talk, Jane breathed a sigh of relief, and she went back to her office and apologized to her coworker. Jane and her coworker had worked together for many years, and the coworker was immediately forgiving and accepting of Jane's apology when she heard about Jane's husband's hospitalization. She was also sorry for snapping back at Jane and not realizing that something else might have been going on. When I spoke to Jane's coworker (let's call her Mary), Mary told me that she also felt overwhelmed by her grandchildren, who were staying with her for a month. So, it was apparent that Mary was also going through her own personal challenges.

When I checked back with Jane, Mary, and the manager a week later, they each told me that the situation was resolved. Jane and Mary also told me that, because of this situation, they learned to try not to personalize another person's reactions towards them, and that a person's reaction might not have anything to do with them. Jane also told me that she was feeling better because she asked her sister for support, and her sister came to stay with her.

Stress Management:
Rather than waiting until something happens to learn to feel emotionally grounded, it's usually best to find ways to manage your every day stress. This could mean learning to meditate, taking yoga classes, going for regular walks or other things that you might enjoy that help to reduce your daily stress. If you learn to manage your stress on a daily basis, more than likely, you'll cope better when difficult situations arise.

You will also build and strengthen your resilience. A sense of resilience is just as important as feeling emotionally grounded when you're faced with difficult challenges. Being resilient means that you're more likely to bounce back from hard times. When someone is emotionally resilient, he or she is more likely to cope better with hard times than someone who is not. Even if you don't start out being very resilient, you can learn to build your sense of resilience and this is something that I often focus on with new and existing clients.

Getting Help in Therapy
When new clients come to see me in my psychotherapy private practice, early on, I usually ask them about their coping strategies and I get a sense of their emotional resilience. If their coping strategies are limited, this often becomes one of our first priorities. In the beginning, it's a matter of finding out what works best for each of them and what they will be most likely to do on a regular basis to reduce their stress and increase their emotional resilience.

Learning to be emotionally grounded is a skill like many other skills--the more you practice it, the better you get at it and the easier it becomes for you. And the more skilled you become at being emotionally grounded, the better it will be for your overall health, resilience, and well being.

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

I work with individuals and couples, and I have helped many clients to learn to become more emotionally grounded.

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

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

photo credit: Jos van Wunnik via photopin cc

Overcoming Self-Limiting Beliefs About Yourself

Our core beliefs about ourselves and others often have a profound unconscious effect on how we live our lives and the choices that we make. These core beliefs are usually formed early in life. It's important to understand these beliefs so that we can understand how they are impacting our lives and we can decide if we want to change them.

Overcoming Self-Limiting Core Beliefs

Listening for Core Beliefs in Psychotherapy Sessions
When I'm in psychotherapy sessions with clients, especially early in treatment, I listen for their core beliefs in our discussions. These beliefs are often stated in indirect ways.

For instance, if a client is talking about feeling lonely, about not being in a relationship for many years and that she has no desire to be in a relationship but she doesn't want to be lonely either, I would want to know more about her prior experiences in relationships. If she tells me that her last breakup 10 years ago occurred because of "the usual problems that women have with men," I would want to know more about what this means to her. If I ask her about it and she tells me, "You know, the usual reasons why most relationships don't work out with men--he cheated on me."

Exploration of Self-Limiting Core Beliefs in Psychotherapy
As we explore this further, I might learn that this client believes it's inevitable that men cheat on women, they can't be trusted, so it's pointless to get involved in relationships because it will only bring pain and sorrow.

As we continue to explore this, she might tell me about all of her other relationships where her boyfriends cheated on her, as well as her friends' relationships where the men cheated, and her parents' relationship. She might say something like, "My father had a lot of other women on the side. It made me so angry that my mother put up with it. I vowed to myself that I'd never put up with a man cheating on me, but every man that I've ever been with has cheated. Men are like dogs, so, it's better to not even be in a relationship".

This exploration has revealed a few self-limiting core beliefs about men and, possibly, about herself. One core belief is that all men cannot be trusted. So, starting from that premise it's clear that she has low expectations of men in relationships. Her expectation is that it's inevitable that if she's in a relationship with a man, she'll be hurt. So, based on this belief, in her mind her choices are to either get hurt or to be lonely. When she was younger, she was willing to try to be in relationships, even though she had low expectations. But time after time, she got hurt. So, she decided that it's better to be lonely than to get hurt. But that makes her feel unhappy too, so neither choice has worked out for her, which is what brought her to therapy in the first place.

Another possible unconscious core belief might be that she doesn't deserve to be treated well. So, if, as the client continues to come to therapy sessions, she talks about how her father often told her when she was growing up that she was "nothing," then we might begin to understand why, on an unconscious level, she internalized this, why she tended to choose men who would mistreat her and confirm these beliefs that she internalized about herself as well as her beliefs about men and relationships in general.

Self-Limiting Core Beliefs due to Trauma
These kinds of self-limiting core beliefs are usually formed in early traumatic experiences, not necessarily one big trauma, but repeated trauma over time. For the client described above, she might not even see the trauma related to her father repeatedly telling her that she was "nothing." She might say, "I didn't have any trauma when I was growing up. Nobody beat me. My father said these things to me and that's just the way it was. You know, that's just how men are." So, the experiences and the resulting beliefs are deeply ingrained in this client.

She believes she has a lot of "proof" that substantiates her way of thinking and rather than seeing these beliefs as her feelings and opinions, she sees them as "facts." As such, they become self fulfilling prophecies. She believes she doesn't deserve to be treated well, men are always unfaithful so, on an unconscious level, she chooses men that will confirm her beliefs about herself, men, and relationships.

For many clients, it takes a while to be able to step back from their core beliefs to be able to examine them. But when they are able to do this, it can be a very powerful experience. It often comes as a revelation to them that they've been operating under certain assumptions that they believed to be facts. If they're able to step back and explore the basic premises of their beliefs, it can open up many new possibilities in their lives.

So, for example, in the fictitious case above, which represents a composite of many different clients, this client can continue to hold on to her core beliefs about herself, men, and relationships in general, and continue to feel that she's caught between two unsatisfactory choices--pain or loneliness. In that case, she would live out the rest of her life being driven by these self-limiting core beliefs, living a sad and lonely life. Or, if she is willing, she can question her core beliefs, despite all the "proof" that she might feel she has, explore the origins of these beliefs and discover her own self fulfilling patterns that continue to perpetuate these beliefs.

At that point, she can begin to become more aware of the type of men that she chooses (i.e., men who will confirm her beliefs) and start to learn in therapy how to choose men who will treat her better. If she's able to do this, she will be able to free herself from her personal history and live a happier life.

It's essential to our happiness and sense of well being that we question our self-limiting core beliefs about ourselves as well as others, and recognize that we might be living our lives under a set of beliefs that limit our possibilities and make us unhappy. When we're able to challenge our self-limiting core beliefs, we can begin to free ourselves so that we can live more fulfilling lives.

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 self-limiting core beliefs so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.

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

To make an appointment, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.