NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Making Changes Within Yourself to Create the Life You Want

One of the most challenging and eye-opening things to discover in therapy is that you need to make changes within yourself if you want to create the life you want.  

Making Changes Within Yourself to Create the Life You Want

By this, I mean that there are times when you discover that your unhappiness isn't so much about the external circumstances in your life, but more about what's going on with your internally, your relationship with yourself and how you interact in the world.  

Why People Begin Psychotherapy
People come to therapy for various reasons.  Some people start therapy because they're struggling with a particularly difficult event in their lives, like a divorce, a death in the family or some other kind of loss.

When the reason for begining psychotherapy is a one-time event (even if it's a traumatic event) in an otherwise happy and stable life, working through this issue is less challenging than someone who experiences a similar event in a life that has been a struggle all along.  When there is a secure foundation of stability and happiness, it's easier to bounce back from life's challenges.  

Many people don't come to therapy because they want to gain a better understanding of themselves.  At least, it doesn't start out that way.  They start therapy focusing on external circumstances that are making them unhappy, which are usually legitimate concerns.  But when, for example, there's a lifelong pattern of particular problems, people often discover that they're having these problems because they need to make changes within themselves and how they interact with others.  

Discovering that You're the One Who Needs to Change Isn't Easy
Discovering that you need to make changes within yourself isn't always such a welcomed discovery.  It can be hard work.  It's easier to focus on the external than the internal.

Making Changes Within Yourself to Create the Life You Want: Discovering You're the One Who Needs to Change

It's easier to focus on:  "How can I fix my boyfriend who's an alcoholic" rather than looking at a lifelong pattern of choosing boyfriends who have alcohol problems.  It requires an internal perspective and a willingness to make changes in yourself.

The following scenario is an example, which is a composite with all identifying information changed:

When Alice began therapy, she was very unhappy because she wasn't in a relationship.  She had a long history of choosing men who were emotionally abusive towards her.  After going through several of these breakups, she felt doomed to either be alone or with men who would mistreat her.  She felt helpless and hopeless about these choices.

In general, Alice had a very low opinion of men.  She thought that they were either "weak and passive" or "self centered and mean."  She said these were the only kinds of men that she met and she felt she had a lot of evidence of this both within her adult life and in her family.  She saw no evidence of there being the kind of man that she said she would like to meet--someone who would be kind, caring and respectful.  As far as she was concerned, men like this didn't exist.

Since she saw no other alternatives, she felt very conflicted about being in a relationship.  On the one hand, she didn't want to be with a "weak" or "mean" man.  But, on the other hand, she didn't want to be alone.  She felt it was an unresolvable dilemma.  Even though she wasn't hopeful that therapy would help her, she felt deeply unhappy and didn't know what else to do.

When I asked Alice how she went about meeting men, she told me that she and her friends went to bars, even though they didn't like bars.  None of them liked the idea of online dating so, with a feeling of heavy resignation, they kept going back to the bars.  They all seemed to have low opinions of men, and before they went they would complain to each other about men.  

Not surprisingly, by the time they got to the bar, they were feeling miserable because they were prepared for the worst and this is often what they found.  

Listening to her talk about how she interacted with the men in the bar, I could see that Alice often turned away men who might have been the kind of men that she wanted to meet.  But she never found out because she would see any kind gesture from these men as being "weak" and she would ignore them or send them packing.  She was more attracted to the handsome "bad boy" sitting in the corner drinking by himself.  There was something exciting about this type of man to Alice.  

Inevitably, these men often had serious drinking and emotional problems.  But, at the initial stage of being in therapy, Alice couldn't see that she was choosing the wrong men over and over again.  She felt very defensive about exploring this at first.  She felt like she was being blamed for her "bad luck" with men.  But she stuck it out in therapy and, over time, she began to understand that she wasn't just a victim of bad luck--she was actively participating in creating what she said she didn't want.

It took courage and a willingness to be open to change for Alice to change her attitudes and her actions. Over time, Alice developed a better perspective about how she was contributing to her unhappiness.  She stopped trying to meet men in bars and began attending other singles events that didn't involve alcohol.

She also began to play with the idea that the type of man she was looking for just might be out there, so she didn't go to these events feeling defeated before she met men.  She also became more open to changing her perspective about how she characterized kindness as "weakness" and allowed herself to get to know some of these men without dismissing them immediately.

Over time, she also realized that her family background played a major role in her feelings about men.  She realized that she was recreating her parents' relationship in her own romantic relationships, and she didn't want to do that any more.  In addition, she was able to see beyond the alluring facade of the handsome "bad boy," let go of her illusions about these men, and they actually became unattractive to her.   

She also realized that part of her hadn't felt deserving of being treated well, and this unconscious feeling of low self worth contributed to her problems.  She worked through her feelings of low self worth and, eventually, she felt deserving of an emotionally rewarding relationship with someone who would treat her well.  By being willing to make both the internal and external changes, she eventually met and married a man that she's happy with.

Making Changes Within Yourself Can Lead to a More Fulfilling Life: Getting Help in Therapy
Making changes within yourself, rather than being exclusively focused on external changes, isn't easy.

Most people don't like giving up attitudes and perspectives they've held for a long time.  It's a challenge to your sense of self and how you see the world.

Making Changes in Yourself Can Lead to a More Fulfilling Life:  Getting Help in Therapy

It takes courage and a trusting relationship with your therapist to be willing to transform yourself.  But the willingness and courage to make personal transformations can lead to a more fulfilling life.

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 or email me.