NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable

One of the most common experiences for adults who sustained early childhood trauma, especially early abuse or emotional neglect in their family, is that they often grow up feeling unlovable.

Feeling unlovable can be at the root of many personal problems, including problematic relationships, as well as career problems.

Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable

Often people don't realize that feeling unlovable is at the root of their problem.  Instead, they might attribute their problem to having low self esteem or depression.  And, while these issues might be part of the problem, working to boost self esteem or elevate mood often isn't enough when the root cause is that, deep down inside, they feel unlovable.

The following scenario which is, as always a composite of many different cases, is an example of how early childhood trauma can develop into feelings of being unlovable and how these feelings can be overcome with trauma therapy:

When Ted began therapy, he was in despair about ever being able to have a happy romantic relationship.  In his mid-30s, his fiancee of two years just broke up with him.  This was the third serious where his girlfriend broke up with him.

There was a particular pattern to all three relationships:  Initially, he was happy in his relationship with his girlfriend.  Everything seemed to go well up to about the second year.

Then, after a while, similar problems began to crop up in each relationship:  Ted began to feel that his emotional needs weren't being met, and each of his girlfriends felt that he wasn't the man she thought he was.

Recognizing that his emotional needs weren't being met any more and hearing that each girlfriend was disappointed in him after a while was emotionally devastating for Ted.  By the end of the third relationship, he felt like there must be "something wrong" with him.  He felt defective in some vague way.

After hearing Ted's family history, I could see parallels between his romantic relationships and his relationship with his mother.  Of course, this isn't unusual.  We often replicate our early childhood relationships in our adult romantic relationships--many times without even realizing it.

In Ted's case, based on what he heard from his older siblings, his mother was very attentive to Ted while he was an infant.  She liked being close to her children when they were infants.  But when they got a little older, she no longer found them to be as emotionally gratifying.  So, just as she did with Ted's older siblings, she relegated Ted's care to a series of nannies who left after a short time because Ted's mother was difficult.

Babies need consistency in their physical and emotional world.  So, having his mother, who was his primary attachment figure, withdraw from him and then having other caregivers come and go, created a great deal of emotional insecurity in Ted from an early age, even though he learned to hide it as he got older.

As Ted and I explored the dynamics in all three romantic relationships, it became apparent that certain interpersonal dynamics developed after a period of time.  As is true for most relationships, both Ted and his girlfriend at the time were on their "best behavior" during the initial stage of the relationship.

But after a while, Ted's emotional insecurities were more evident.  Until that point, Ted appeared to be more emotionally independent.  But this appearance was really a pseudo emotional independence that many children, who are left to fend for themselves, learn to exhibit on the surface.  Just below the surface, there are often strong dependency needs that become more apparent later on in the relationship.

This is why, at first, Ted's girlfriends experienced him as being confident and emotionally secure.  Ted learned to project confidence and an emotionally secure self to the world in order to survive.  It wasn't that he was trying to manipulate or deceive anyone.

Exhibiting a confident and secure persona is the way many people with early attachment problems come across in order to protect themselves from getting hurt.  Many people don't even realize that this what they're doing.  Often, they really believe that they are the persona that they've adapted to show the world.

But as a romantic relationship develops and matures, people can't maintain what amounts to a facade of pseudo emotional independence.  With increased emotional intimacy, emotional vulnerabilities become more apparent.  And this is what happened in Ted's relationships as each of his girlfriends realized that he was really a lot more emotionally dependent.  And this is why they felt that he wasn't the man they initially thought he was.

So, in the end, both Ted and each of his girlfriends were disappointed.

Since, on an unconscious level, Ted chose women who had narcissistic traits, unconsciously replicating his childhood experience with his mother, when his true dependency needs surfaced, they weren't capable of offering him the empathy that he needed.

As Ted and I worked on clarifying his feelings about himself, he started with a vague sense that he "wasn't good enough."

As we continued to refine how he felt about himself, he had an "Aha!" moment when he realized that it wasn't just that he felt "not good enough," he actually felt unlovable.

This feeling of being unlovable really resonated with him.  And, along with the feeling of being unlovable came a lot of shame, as if he felt he was to blame for being unlovable.

Logically, Ted understood that these feelings were distortions, but he felt them deeply nonetheless.  No matter how many times he told himself that his feelings were distorted, he continued to feel he was unlovable. So, just knowing wasn't enough to change it because, on an emotional level, this was how he felt.

Using a combination of clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, we worked on Ted having a different felt sense of himself as being a lovable person which, of course, he was.  Most people who knew him experienced him as being a very lovable person.  But he needed to have his own felt sense of this before he could really believe it at the core of his being.

Mind-Body Psychotherapy: Somatic Experiencing Combined With Clinical Hypnosis
People who feel deep down inside that they're unlovable often don't realize just how common an experience this is because it's not something that people usually talk openly about.

It's not unusual for people to go through their whole lives feeling unlovable without realizing the emotional impact this has on their inner world as well as their relationships with others.

If you've been going through life feeling unlovable, help is available for you.

My experience, as a licensed psychotherapist who has a lot of experience working with emotional trauma, has been that regular talk therapy, where psychotherapy clients talk about their problems, often doesn't help clients to overcome this problem.  They might develop intellectual insight about it, but they often don't have the felt sense of change.

My experience has been that clients who have this problem are more likely to have this felt sense of change through a combination of a mind-body psychotherapy, like Somatic Experiencing, and clinical hypnosis, which helps clients to get to unconscious feelings more readily.  The combination also allows clients to have a felt sense experience of change rather than an experience of talking about changing.

Getting Help in Therapy
If this article about the emotional pain of feeling unlovable resonants with your personal experience of yourself, you could benefit from working with a licensed therapist who is trained in a mind-body psychotherapy, like Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis.

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

I have helped many clients to overcome emotional obstacles so they could lead more 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 or email me.