NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Working in Therapy to Reclaim a Lost Part of Yourself

Throughout the course of a lifetime, many people disavow important parts of themselves, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously.  Often, these parts are disavowed because they're connected to painful traumatic emotional problems that remain unresolved.   Then, at some point later on in life, many people realize that they feel something is missing in their lives and what's missing is the part of themselves that has become buried and lost.  At that point, people often want to try to reclaim that lost part of themselves.

Reclaiming a Lost Part of Yourself

Let's look at a fictionalized scenario, which is based on many different therapy cases with all identifying  information changed to protect confidentiality:

When Jim was a young child, more than anything, he loved music.  By the time he was 11, he taught himself to play a guitar.

By the time he was 15, he and his friends formed a rock and roll band. And he was using the money he earned at his part time job to pay for formal guitar lessons because his parents couldn't afford to pay for his lessons.

He loved jamming with his band mates.  They had a strong rapport, especially when they were jamming.  They played at street parties and local events, and they had a great time.

More than anything, Jim wanted to make a career as a musician.  But his parents had other ideas. Since both of them grew up in poor families, they wanted Jim to go to college and choose a more practical career path.

Although she worried that Jim would struggle as a musician, Jim's mother was a little more understanding.  She never tried to discourage him from playing.  But Jim's father was quietly disapproving of his son's passion for music and the band.  He spoke to his wife about his concerns, but never told Jim.  He hoped Jim would outgrow his love of music and become "more practical."

When Jim was 17, he and his band mates were invited to play at a well-known club in the area.  Playing at this club had been Jim's dream since he was a child.  The club owner had heard them playing at Jim's high school, liked what he heard and approached Jim with an invitation to play on the following Saturday night.  Jim and his band mates were thrilled, and they practiced all week.

They invited their families and friends to hear them play and they all showed up, including Jim's parents.

Just before the show, Jim and the other boys were nervous and excited.  They had never played in this type of venue, and they knew that if they played well, the exposure could be great.

As they began playing and singing, Jim could feel that they were really "on."  The people in the audience were really into the music.  As he saw them on their feet dancing and clapping, Jim's nervousness dissipated as he lost himself in the music.

By the end of their set, the audience burst into thunderous applause, demanding an encore.  The club owner jumped onto the stage smiling broadly and clapping.  He encouraged them to play three more songs to the audience's enthusiastic applause.

By the end of the night, the club owner told Jim and his friends that he wanted them to play for the next three months at the club.  He wanted to talk to their parents about signing a contract.

Jim and his band mates were wildly happy.  This is what they had been dreaming about since they got together.

But when Jim looked over to where his parents were sitting, he knew something was wrong.  He could see his father sitting with his arms folded looking angry and disapproving.  His mother was smiling, but she looked worried.

At the end of the evening, when he went to his parents' table, Jim's father told him that he felt Jim and his friends had made fools of themselves on the stage.  Jim was crest fallen.  He never more humiliated than he had felt at that moment.  His father wouldn't even hear about the club owner's offer.  Jim was devastated.

As they drove home in stony silence, Jim tried to hold back bitter tears.  In that moment, he felt like he hated his father.  He was more determined than ever to pursue his music and to "show him" that he would make it in the music industry.

When they got home, Jim ran upstairs to his room, slammed the door, and threw himself on his bed.  Then, the tears came.  He couldn't believe that his father ruined one of the happiest days of his life.

Afterwards, his mother came to his room and tried to console him.  She told him that she knew how disappointed he felt.  She tried to tell Jim that, even though his father was harsh, his father was also worried about Jim pursuing music as a career.  She said that the father's harsh words were his awkward way of trying to prevent Jim from making what he thought would be a big mistake.  She thought the club owner's offer frightened Jim's father because he saw it as the beginning of Jim going down the wrong path.

Jim knew that, even though his mother was more sympathetic and understood how much his music meant to him, she also shared his father's worries.  It hurt him that his parents didn't have more confidence in him and they would try to keep from achieving his dream.

His mother said she would try to talk to his father to try to smooth things over.  But Jim knew that his father, who tended to be stubborn, wouldn't soften.  Jim knew that his father had made up his mind, and that was that.

The next day, Jim heard from each of his band mates.  All of them were excited about the night before, and told him that his parents were willing to sign the club owner's contract.  Jim told them about his father's reaction.  But he said he was determined to persevere--even if it meant that he forged his parents' signature on the contract.

Later that day, as Jim was leaving the house for band practice, Jim and his father got into a big argument.  The argument escalated to the point where Jim's father told him, "I have a good mind to forbid you from going to practice!" At that point, Jim's anger and frustration overtook him and he shouted, "I hate you!" as he ran out of the house.

By the time he got to band practice, Jim calmed down and he told himself he would apologize to his father when he got home and try to reason with him.  Deep down, Jim knew that his father's reaction came from fear.

But later on as Jim walked home, he saw the flashing lights of an ambulance in front of his house.  He ran down the block as fast as he could.  He got to the house to see his mother sobbing and his father being taken out in a stretcher and placed in the ambulance.

Between sobs, his mother told Jim that his father had a heart attack and the EMTs were unable to revive him.  His father was dead.  Jim was convinced that he had killed his father.

Twenty years later, Jim came to therapy because he felt like something was missing in his life, but he wasn't sure what it was.  He was happily married, and they had two beautiful children.  He liked his job as a high school counselor.  He just couldn't pinpoint why he was feeling so lost.

As Jim talked about his family history, he told me that, after his father died, he put down his guitar and never picked it up again.  His band mates pleaded with him not to give up his passion.  But all Jim could think about was his last words to his father, telling his father that he hated him.  And why?  Because his father was trying to protect him from, possibly, making a big mistake?  He felt so ashamed and selfish.  He believed he killed his father.

Jim felt deeply ashamed and filled with sadness, guilt and remorse.  Without Jim, the band broke up, and Jim and his friends drifted apart.

As an adult, Jim didn't even listened to music anymore.  Recalling his passion for music and his days with his band mates was inextricably and painfully intertwined with the fact that he and his father never reconciled before his father died.

 Over time, using Somatic Experiencing, a mind-body therapy, we worked towards separating out his former passion for music from his grief and shame related to his father's death.  In Somatic Experiencing, this is called "uncoupling."

As he mourned his father's death and dealt with his guilt and shame, it took a while because Jim felt he "didn't deserve" to feel better.

After Jim could experience some degree of pleasure in his memories about his music, he realized that what was missing in his life--his music.  As he remembered that his father had high blood pressure and he wasn't following the diet that the doctor prescribed for him, Jim realized that he wasn't to blame for his father's death and he no longer felt he had to punish himself.

Gradually, Jim started to recapture that lost part of himself--the passion he felt for his music.  Although he had no illusions that he would become famous, after many years, he picked up his guitar, which was hidden away in the basement.

Jim described the combination of emotional pain and joy that he felt as he began strumming awkwardly on his guitar.  But he also said he felt an emotion that was hard to describe--as if he was more integrated and whole.

After a while, Jim found a few men his age who shared his passion for music and they jammed together for fun.  As they played together, Jim felt a joy similar to how he once felt.

Reclaiming a Lost Part of Yourself:  Talking in Therapy Often Isn't Enough
Unfortunately, Jim's experience of disavowing an important part of himself is common.  But, unlike Jim, many people live the rest of their lives without recapturing that part.

Many people never realize what's missing and live out the rest of their lives with the sad feeling that they're not complete.

Often, just talking about it in therapy isn't enough because it remains an intellectual experience.  More often than not, a mind-body approach, like Somatic Experiencing, allows therapy clients to experience what they're unable to experience by just talking.

Getting Help in Therapy
If Jim's experience resonates with you, without even realizing it, you have also disavowed an important part of yourself that remains lost to you at this point.

But you're not alone.  Many therapy clients have been able to reclaiming lost parts of themselves through mind-body oriented therapy approaches, like Somatic Experiencing.  And you can too.

When you're looking for a Somatic Experiencing therapist, always choose a licensed psychotherapist who has mental health training.

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 therapy clients to reclaim lost parts of themselves so they can lead more fulfilling and meaningful 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.