NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Psychotherapy: Overcoming the Shame That Keeps You From Starting Therapy

Shame can be a very debilitating emotion, especially when it comes to asking for help.  As a psychotherapist in NYC, I see many clients who have struggled with shame for years before they allow themselves to come to therapy for help, usually after their problems have gone from bad to worse and they're in an emotional crisis.

Overcoming Shame That Keeps You From Starting Therapy

Why Do People Feel Too Ashamed to Ask For Help in Therapy?
The reasons why many people are too ashamed to come to therapy vary with each person, but negative self judgment is often a major factor.

Negative Self Judgment: "I Should Be Able to Handle This Problem"
One of the most common underlying issues is an attitude of self judgment with an internal dialogue that says, "I should be able to handle this on my own"  or "If I was stronger, I wouldn't need help."  Many of these same people wouldn't judge their loved ones if they needed help, but they can be very punitive with themselves.

Why Do People Feel Shame and Negative Self Judgment? 
Often people who feel shame and engage in negative self judgment were placed in a role as a child where they had to act like an adult.  It's amazing how children, when placed in this role, will rise to the occasion and take on problems that are really beyond their development.  Of course, this comes at a great emotional price to them because they're not allowed to be children.

Shame and Negative Self Judgment Often Keep People From Coming to Therapy

Unfortunately, the fact that they're able to rise to the occasion and act like adults reinforces a parental attitude that they can handle problems that are really beyond them and perpetuates this cycle.  This isn't always intentional on the parents' part.  Often, this happens with parents who are overwhelmed and who were also called upon when they were children to take on this parental role.  So, it might not occur to them that it's not appropriate to ask children to take on what are really adult problems.

Being the Person That Everyone Else Comes to With Their Problems
Being raised as a parentified child primes a child to grow up to be an adult that everyone else comes to with their problems.  I've seen this so many times with psychotherapy clients who finally come to therapy for their own problems when they feel overwhelmed.  They'll often tell me that they're usually the ones that everyone leans on, but they don't feel comfortable asking for help from others.

Often, they understand, logically, that there are times when everyone needs help.  But it doesn't feel right to them on an emotional level because they're not used to being the ones who ask others for help.  On an emotional level, it feels wrong to them.

Part of the problem is that many of them have little or no experience, even as children, getting help.  These children usually learn to push down their own natural dependency needs in order to accommodate others.  After years of pushing down their own emotional needs, they don't feel them any more.  They've become so good at denying that they have needs of their own that they have little or no awareness of what they're feeling--until something big happens.

You Can Only Override Your Emotional Needs For So Long Before It Has Consequences For You
Denial is a very powerful defense.  You can be in denial for a long time before it begins to have consequences for you.  But, inevitably, denying your own emotional needs will have consequences.

The consequences can result in problems that are of an emotional, physical or even spiritual nature.  For example, you might ignore your need for help until it develops into a sleep problem.  Then, rather than considering that your problem might stem from your suppressed emotional needs, you go to the doctor and ask him or her for a sleep medication.

There Can Be Emotional and Physical Consequences to Ignoring Your Need For Help

A well-informed doctor will ask you if you're having particular emotional problems that are keeping up at night.  S/he will often recommend that you see a therapist to deal with these problems rather than just relying on medication, which may or may not work and might have side effects.  But many doctors are so busy that it's easier and faster to write a prescription than to explore underlying issues.

In fact, many medical problems have a strong psychological component that often go unrecognized.  Then, rather than treat the source of the problem, people go from one doctor to the next to treat the physical symptoms of an underlying psychological problem, like depression or anxiety.

Unfortunately, many people ignore their own needs until they reach an emotional, physical or spiritual crisis.  They might get to the point where they feel they can't get out of bed any more because they're so depressed.

Getting Help in Therapy 
It often helps to step outside your own experience and ask yourself if you would judge your best friend or a beloved family member if he or she came to therapy.  Then, ask yourself if shame and false pride are preventing you from being as emotionally generous with yourself as you would be with a loved one.

 Rather than allowing shame to get in your way, sometimes you need to allow your rational mind to tell you what your emotions are preventing you from seeing--that you need help from a licensed mental health professional and there's no need to feel ashamed of this.

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

I've helped many people to overcome shame so that they can lead fulfilling lives.

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.