NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Are You Hooked on the Roller Coaster of Emotional Drama?

Life has its inevitable ups and downs which we can't avoid.  This is a natural part of life and learning how to negotiate these inevitable ups and downs is part of becoming a resilient human being.  But when I refer to "getting off the emotional roller coaster," which is the title of this article, I'm referring to an emotional dynamic that goes beyond these common ups and downs.  I'm referring to a dynamic that goes through emotional cycles of exhilarating highs and despairing lows, which makes most people feel off balance after a while.

Hooked on Roller Coaster of Emotional Drama

But there are many people who are hooked on emotional drama.  They live their lives on an emotional roller coaster and don't realize that this is the dynamic in their life.

They often don't see that they're creating the emotional roller coaster with the decisions they make and the relationships they choose to be in.  Instead, they feel victimized by this dynamic because they don't realize that they can get off the emotional roller coaster.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario based on a composite of many cases (without any identifying information):

When Mia started therapy, she was living her life from one crisis to the next.  She experienced emotional highs when she felt she was in a wonderful relationship and her career was going well.  But these emotional highs usually turned to despair when her latest relationship fell apart and she lost almost every job that she ever had.

Mia felt victimized by these experiences--as if they were happening to her and she was powerless to have any effect on her life.

But as we looked closer at these situations, there was a dynamic that became apparent in almost all of them, which was that, to a large degree, Mia had a big part in creating the very situations which she lamented.

Her most recent relationship ended after her boyfriend was incarcerated for insider trading.  Initially, Mia said she had no idea that her boyfriend was involved in anything shady.  But as we looked at the early days of this relationship, there were plenty of "red flags" that Mia chose to ignore, including a long list of her boyfriend's sociopathic behavior.  

During the good times, Mia and her boyfriend lived in his luxury condo.  He lavished her with expensive gifts, and took her on expensive vacations.  But all of this ended when Mia's boyfriend was taken out of his office in handcuffs.  Then, Mia felt the depths of despair.  

Prior to this relationship, Mia was involved in a string of relationships that kept her on a continuous emotional roller coaster.  Each time there were "red flags" that she chose to ignore in favor of the emotional drama in the relationships.

Her career followed a similar pattern where Mia started out as a star at her workplace and then, through a series of self sabotaging behavior, eventually got fired.  Just like her lack of insight into the choices she made in her romantic relationships, she didn't see how she was sabotaging herself in her career.  

As we looked at her family history, it became evident that Mia's parents plunged the family into one crisis after another because of the decisions they made.  At various times in their lives, they went from having a fairly high standard of living to being nearly bankrupted.  

As Mia talked about the emotional roller coaster of her early life, she looked exhilarated.  Most people, who were not hooked on emotional trauma, would have talked about this type of family history with a lot of emotional pain.  But it was evident that Mia was hooked on the emotional drama involved in her chaotic early life.  And being hooked on emotional drama from an early age had become a way of life for her.

Although there were times when the drama became too much for her, as when her boyfriend was incarcerated, most of the time, without realizing it, she was hooked on the emotional drama.

It wasn't easy for Mia to see that she had a hand in creating the emotional drama or, at the very least, when she wasn't actively creating the drama, she was in denial about the early warning signs.

Many people, who are hooked on emotional drama, choose to leave therapy before they develop enough insight to change.  Getting off the emotional roller coaster which, in many cases, is all they know, is too threatening.

These people might blame the therapist or find other reasons for leaving therapy.  They often go from one therapist to another or one type of therapy to another.  But when the therapist tries to help them see their part in creating the chaos in their life, they leave rather than risk change.

Fortunately, Mia stayed.  But work was slow because she had such a blind spot and she was highly ambivalent, at best, about changing.  During that time, she got into another tumultuous relationship and she lost another promising job.

By then, Mia was getting tired of the highs and lows that her life.  At that point, she was more open to seeing her part.  But she was worried that her life would be boring without the emotional drama.  

Mia didn't know how to live her life without being on an emotional roller coaster, so we worked on helping her develop better internal resources and other ways to feel good about herself without resorting to creating crisis in her life or getting involved in chaotic relationships.

We also worked on helping her to mourn her unmet emotional needs as a child.  To begin doing this work, she had to develop the capacity to tolerate the grief without getting back on the emotional roller coaster to avoid dealing with uncomfortable feelings.

The work was slow and progress was often one step forward and two steps backwards.  But, over time, Mia discovered that she could lead a happy life without creating chaos or going from one emotional crisis to another.

Getting Help in Therapy
If Mia's story resonates with you, you're not alone.  You can get help from a licensed mental health professional to get off your emotional roller coaster so you can lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life without the drama.

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