NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, December 23, 2013

What Unconscious Decisions Have You Made That Are Impacting Your Life?

In an earlier blog article, I wrote an article called Psychotherapy: Making the Unconscious Conscious.

In this article I'm focusing on how unconscious decisions can impact your life without your even realizing it.

What Unconscious Decisions Have You Made That Are Impacting Your Life?

Sometimes, you can get a glimpse of what these unconscious decisions are by paying attention to your internal dialogue or by looking at your dreams.  But much of the time, these unconscious decisions remain hidden away in the recesses of your mind.

Let's take a look at the following vignette, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed, to see how these unconscious decisions can play out:

Ann was the first one in her family to go to high school.  Her parents and older siblings loved her and were very proud of her, but they would tease her about being "an egghead" because she was so dedicated to her studies.

Ann knew that they were teasing her, but she also felt that, as she got older and developed interests that her family couldn't understand, she felt she was moving away emotionally and intellectually away from her family.

This caused Ann a lot of pain.  She knew that her mother, who was the valedictorian of her class in 8th grade, would have loved to go to high school.  But her mother needed her to help support the family, so  Ann's mother was forced to leave school.

What Unconscious Decisions Have You Made That Are Impacting Your Life?

Ann's mother told Ann how she cried for days after she had to leave school to get a job as a store clerk to help the family.  Ann's heart ached to hear her mother tell this story.

Ann would try to show her mother what she was learning in school.  She hoped that her mother would take an interest and, in a small way, it might make up, at least on an intellectual level, for what her mother missed by not going to high school.

But Ann's mother, who was once a curious young woman, showed little interest.  Ann knew that, in many ways, her mother had been beaten down by life, and she felt guilty that she had opportunities that her mother didn't have.

When Ann's high school announced that they were going to have tutoring classes to help students practice for the SAT college entrance exam, her parents encouraged her to sign up.  But Ann was feeling increasing guilty that she was going to have the opportunity that her mother really would have liked when she was a young woman--a chance to go to college.

Without realizing why, Ann kept losing the information from the school and forgetting the deadline to apply.  And every time her parents mentioned it, she felt anxious.

Then, one evening, Ann's mother came to her room and sat on her bed.  Ann wasn't sure why her mother came to her, but she could see that her mother looked serious and had difficulty starting the conversation.

Finally, Ann's mother took her hand and began to speak.  She told Ann that she thought she knew what was going on with her lately.  Then, she proceeded to tell Ann that she wanted her to do the best she could do and go as far as she could go without ever worrying that she would lose her family.

Her mother told Ann that she thought she understood what Ann was feeling because she had similar feelings when she was a young girl and she had an opportunity to go to elementary school and junior high and her mother was illiterate.  Even though she loved school, she felt guilty that she had an opportunity that her mother didn't have and would have loved.

She told Ann that, even though she understood, she wanted Ann to go to the tutoring classes, take the SAT exam, do well and excel at college.

Ann always loved and admired her mother, but she realized at that moment that even though her mother didn't have a formal education, she was a wise woman.

Ann went on to do well in college and to get a good job in college.  But she continued to feel guilty whenever she had opportunities that her family didn't have, and this continued to be problem for her until she realized that she almost sabotaged an opportunity for a promotion with a sizable increase in pay in her company's California branch.

At that point, she knew she needed help, and she started therapy to deal with the guilty feelings that she felt were oppressing her.

Shortly after she began therapy, Ann had a dream where she was surrounded by family members who were pointing their fingers at her in anger.  Everywhere she turned, she saw her mother, father, and brothers and sisters pointing their fingers at her in anger.

As Ann listened to her family members angrily accuse her of thinking that she was better than them because she had a better education and she made more money, Ann closed her eyes, put her hands over her ears and began to cry.

When she couldn't stand it any more, she screamed, "I don't want to do anything that takes me away from all of you!"

At that point, Ann woke up in a sweat with her heart pounding.

During her next therapy session, Ann told her therapist about her dream.  The dream upset Ann very much, and she knew that it encapsulated the feelings she had since childhood.

As she and her therapist discussed the dream, Ann realized that, throughout her life, she had been giving herself the unconscious message that she didn't want to do anything that caused her to feel separate from her family.

She knew that her family really wanted her to be successfully, and her guilt was her own, not induced by her family.

Over time, Ann was able to work through her guilt in therapy.  She also learned that everyone goes through periods in his or her life where becoming an individual means being more independent from his or her family.  But she had another layer to this process because of her family's history and her good fortune to have opportunities they didn't have.

What Unconscious Decisions Have You Made That Are Impacting Your Life?

As she worked through this issue, she accepted the promotion in California and felt good about it.  Her family was also very supportive.

Unconscious Decisions People That People Make That Impact Their Lives
Unconscious decisions that people make can take many forms.  Often, they involve their relationships with family members.  But they can involve other aspects of their lives.

Guilt, fear, anger and mistrust are often involved with these unconscious decisions.

Because these decisions are unconscious, they're usually hard to discern.  But they might come out in dreams, as in the vignette above.  They might also become increasingly apparent as a person engages in self sabotaging behavior.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you feel there are underlying unconscious decisions you've made that might be affecting your life, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed psychotherapist who has experience helping therapy clients to discover and work through this issue.

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.