NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Are You Living Your Life Feeling Trapped By Your Childhood History?

It's not unusual for adults to live their lives feeling trapped by circumstances they experienced as a child that no longer apply to them as adults, especially if that history involved difficult times or family trauma.  

Feeling Trapped By Your Childhood History

Sometimes, people who have this problem aren't aware that they're reliving their child history.  But even when people are aware of it on a rational level, they might still feel trapped in old circumstances on an emotional level.  It can feel very disturbing to know one thing but to feel another.   And the fear of making a change can be overwhelming.

The following vignette is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality. This case illustrates how someone felt trapped by her family history, a history that no longer applied to her current life, even though she knew rationally that her circumstances had completely changed.  It also illustrates that it's possible to overcome this problem in therapy:

Mary grew up in a family where her mother, who was a single parent, struggled financially throughout Mary's childhood.  Her mother worked in a factory, where she was frequently furloughed for periods of time before she was called back in again to work.

Her mother was always worried about money.  Mary was painfully aware that her mother could barely afford the basic necessities.  At a young age, Mary also worried a lot about their circumstances.  She was very careful to turn off lights when she left a room to save on the electric bill and she was always vigilant about not wasting money in other ways.

When Mary was in high school, her mother told her that if she wanted to go to college, she would have to get good grades to get a scholarship because there was no money to pay for college.

Fortunately, Mary was awarded a scholarship to go to college. She also worked two part time jobs.  She was frequently too exhausted to participate in social activities and she was also anxious about spending her money to go out because her money was tight.

Ten years later, Mary had a good job where she was earning a high salary, but she still felt very anxious about money.  She knew, logically, that she had the money for what she called "extras," like going on vacation or treating herself to a massage but, on an emotional level, she continued to feel "poor."

By this time, Mary's mother was married to a man who made a good living, so Mary's mother no longer had financial problems.  She also didn't have to work at the factory any more.  But she still worried about money just as much as she ever did, even though her husband reassured her repeatedly that she didn't need to worry.

Mary worked very hard as a manager, but she wasn't enjoying her personal life.  She had close friends who saw Mary scrimping on things for herself.  Seeing this, they told Mary that she was living her life based on a childhood history that no longer applied to her current life.

Mary agreed with her friends, but she didn't know how to get over her anxiety about spending money.  At times, she wondered, "Am I crazy?  Why do I know one thing, but I feel the complete opposite emotionally?"  She felt deeply ashamed about her problem.

Mary tried to override her anxiety by treating herself occasionally to fine dining with friends because she knew that what she felt on an emotional level was a distortion of her current reality.  But whenever she did this, regardless of how many times she told herself that she wasn't living under impoverished circumstances any more, she would still feel anxious.  Her fear was getting the best of her, so she couldn't enjoy the experience of treating herself.

Finally, after deciding that she no longer wanted to feel emotionally imprisoned by her family history, Mary began therapy.  And the only reason she could allow herself to spend money on therapy was because she knew her company had an insurance plan with excellent out of network benefits.

Mary and I worked together to free her emotionally from her childhood history by using clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing to update her experience of herself on an emotional and visceral level.  There was no quick fix for Mary's problem, which was deeply ingrained.  But, over time, her feelings gradually became more aligned with her thinking so that she not only knew on a rational level that she was no longer poor, but she felt it on visceral level.

Mary also let go of the guilt she felt about spending money on herself.  We did "inner child" work for the younger aspect of herself that felt so undeserving.  We also worked to help Mary feel less emotionally enmeshed with her mother.

Finally, over time, Mary was able to enjoy her life and give herself much-needed self care without worry or guilt.

Living Life Based on Old Circumstances That No Longer Apply to Your Current Life
As I mentioned earlier, when children, who grew up under difficult or traumatic circumstances, become adults, they often "carry" these emotions with them and live their lives as if they were still in their childhood situation.

They usually know their current life is different from their childhood, but they don't feel it and, often, no amount of trying to convince themselves on a rational level works for them.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're living your life based on a personal history that's no longer true for you now and you're having difficulty overcoming this on your own, you're not alone.

This is a common experience.  Rather than continuing to suffer, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who uses clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing to help you "update" your internal emotional world.

For anyone who is not familiar with clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, I've included links below under Resources that provide more information.

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.