NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Overcome the Trauma that Keeps You Stuck in Emotional Pain

People often start psychotherapy to overcome trauma that keeps them stuck and in emotional pain.   My experience, as a psychotherapist in private practice in NYC, is that EMDR is a safe and effective form of therapy for trauma when practiced by a licensed, skilled EMDR therapist.

Trauma That Keeps You Stuck in Emotional Pain

Getting Into Relationships With Romantic Partners Who Keep Hurting You
There are many situations that cause people to get retraumatized in their lives.  One of them is when people keep getting into relationships with romantic partners who hurt them.  Why does this keep happening to certain people over and over again?  Is it just bad luck or is there something deeper going on?

Of course, every situation is different, but it's often true that when someone keeps getting into relationships with people who cause them emotional pain, they're unconsciously repeating an old pattern from their childhood.  This phenomenon usually involves unresolved childhood trauma that keeps getting repeated in one relationship after the next.

It's usually hard to see this phenomenon on your own and it's even harder to try to change it by yourself without help from a skilled psychotherapist.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized example, which is a composite of many different psychotherapy cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality:

By the time Susan came to therapy, she was at her wit's end.  Her two-year relationship with Sam was falling apart, and she came to our psychotherapy consultation hoping she could find out what she was doing "wrong" so she could save her relationship.

Originally, Susan wanted to attend couples counseling, but Sam wanted no part of this.  He came to the consultation because she begged him to, but he made it clear that he wasn't interested in couples counseling.  In fact, 10 minutes into the consultation, he dropped a bomb by telling Susan that he wanted "out" and he was waiting until our appointment to let her know so that Susan would have a place to deal with the emotional aftermath of their breakup.  And, having said that, Sam stood up, gave Susan back her apartment keys and left the session, leaving Susan in tears.

I wish I could say that this is very unusual during a consultation.  But, unfortunately, this wasn't the first time that two people came in to talk about their relationship where one person used the session to bail out.

After I helped Susan to calm down, she said that, although she was surprised, this wasn't totally out of character for Sam, and he had a way of bailing out when the going got tough.  Their dynamic would be that she would pursue him when he left and take all the blame for their relationship not working.

Apparently, Sam never had to take any responsibility.  They just resumed their relationship with Susan "walking on eggshells," hoping that Sam wouldn't leave again.

When this happened during the consultation, Susan wanted to pursue Sam again, but she agreed to stay to talk about what happened.

They reconciled after Susan's first session.  But during the next month, Sam was in and out of their relationship on a weekly basis whenever things got tense.  Susan was working in therapy to change her behavior so that she wasn't continually graveling before Sam.

In our therapy sessions, she began to realize, for the first time, how awful she was being treated by Sam.  She also became exhausted with their on again/off again relationship until, finally, she decided that she just couldn't do it any more, and she allowed him to leave without pursuing him again.

Without the chaos, we were able to explore how this dynamic, which went on in her prior romantic relationships, was a recreation of her relationship with her father, who was a cold distant man.  He would manipulate Susan's mother and Susan by constantly threatening to leave the family when he didn't get his way.

This resulted in Susan's mother allowing him to use the family savings for very risky business ventures which usually failed and left the family on the brink of financial disaster.  Susan's mother was so afraid of the father abandoning her and Susan that she would give in to his outlandish schemes.

Susan grew up to be an anxious child who had nightmares of her father leaving her stranded in the middle of nowhere.  She was so afraid of being abandoned by her father that, even at the young age of five, she would take on the blame for whatever her father was angry about.

Children at that age often blame themselves for their parents' problems, and Susan was no exception. The problem was that there was no one to tell her that she wasn't to blame.  Her mother was too overwhelmed and preoccupied with accommodating the father, so she wasn't emotionally available to comfort Susan.  And Susan's father was too narcissistic to feel any empathy for Susan.  He was mostly concerned about getting his way.

So, when Susan began dating, she continually chose men who were like her father because these men were familiar.  It was also her way, in an unconscious effort, to try to have a different outcome than what she experienced as a child.  In other words, she was still trying to be the "good girl" in her relationship who would be so good, kind and accommodating that her boyfriend would love her and never leave her.  Except it never worked out that way because these men were too self involved and didn't have the capacity to be part of a loving relationship.  So, these relationships didn't end well.

When Susan was able to see that she was repeating the same pattern over and over again, it was an eye-opening experience for her.  But she felt it would be impossible for her to change.

We began talking about EMDR, a trauma therapy that was developed by Francine Shapiro, Ph.D.  And she agreed to try it.  After spending several sessions developing internal resources and coping skills, we began our EMDR work on the current situation but focusing more on the older trauma that was getting emotionally triggered in Susan's relationships as an adult.

As we worked through her emotional trauma, Susan began to feel more confident and less burdened by her traumatic past.  With EMDR, she was able to work through the current and prior trauma so she  was free of her traumatic past.

EMDR Therapy 
EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing isn't magical.  But I have found it to be one of the most effective forms of trauma therapy--much more effective than regular talk therapy.

Many of the clients that come to see me for psychotherapy have had a lot of talk therapy and they have developed intellectual insight into their problems.  But they haven't healed and they continue to be affected by their trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have unresolved trauma that keeps you stuck and in emotional pain, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed psychotherapist who is an EMDR practitioner.

About me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, Somatic Experiencing and EMDR therapist who works 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.