NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable

In a prior article, Dating: Is It Time to Have "The Talk"? , I discussed how people who are dating are often afraid, due to their fear of being emotionally vulnerable, of having "the talk" to clarify the nature of their relationship.  In this article, I'll expand on the theme of  fear of emotional vulnerability.

As a psychotherapist in NYC, I've seen many clients, especially clients in their 20s and 30s, who feel that the idea of "romance" and being in a committed relationship is old fashioned.

Relationships:  Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable

Many of these clients have told me that they prefer to "hook up" and "hang out" rather than getting serious with anyone.

This perspective might work for some people.  But for many others, this perspective is rooted in a fear of getting hurt.

Many of these same clients, who avoid romantic commitments to keep from getting hurt, discover, after a while, that their experiences feel shallow and meaningless (see my article: Wanting and Dreading Love).

Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable

They often discover that the emotional numbing that's required to ensure that you don't get hurt isn't a process where you can be selective about what you feel:  Not only do you numb yourself to potential hurt, you also numb yourself to potential joy.

Let's take a look at the vignette below which, as always, is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality:

Lee was in her early 30s when she started therapy with me.  She came to therapy because she felt vaguely dissatisfied with her life, but she didn't know why she was feeling this way or what to do about it.

Relationships:  Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable

She was oldest of three children, and her parents divorced when she was 10.  She and her siblings spent the school year with their mother in NYC and their summers with their father in Los Angeles.

Each parent criticized the other parent to the children, not realizing what an emotional burden this was to place on young children.

Based on seeing her parents' marriage unravel in such a destructive way, Lee vowed she would never get married.  Instead, she decided she would focus on her career, travel, and other things she wanted in her life.

When she was a senior in high school, Lee started dating a young man where there was a mutual attraction.  Even though she thought he was kind and intelligent as well as handsome, she made a conscious decision not to allow herself to develop intense feelings for him.  She told him she didn't want any "strings attached."  So, despite his wish for something more committed, they kept it casual and things eventually ended between them when Lee went off to college.

Throughout college and into her early 30s, Lee maintained this same "no strings attached" dynamic with men.  Even after she was settled in a career and doing well financially, she kept things casual with the men that she dated.

She thought of herself as being "an independent woman" who enjoyed casual "hook ups" with men.  And in order to ensure that no emotional intimacy developed, she intentionally distanced herself emotionally.

Whenever she dated someone who showed signs that he wanted to take things to the "next step," which involved a commitment, Lee ended it.

In her early 30s, although she prided herself on not experiencing the heart break that many of her friends had experienced, she also felt deeply lonely.  And, although she was happy in her career and she had good friends, she felt an emptiness in her life which she didn't understand.

Lee was comfortable taking risks in her career and in other areas of her life.  But when it came to romance, she was risk averse.

As we explored the vow she made to herself as a child that she would never get married, Lee began to understand how her experience of her parents' divorce affected her ability to be open and emotionally vulnerable with men that she liked.

After a while, she began to understand that her view of herself as an "independent woman" was really a pseudo independence based on her fear of getting hurt.

She realized that her loneliness was based on her avoidance of having meaningful connections with the men that she dated.

As she was able to be more emotionally honest with herself, she also realized that she really cared for the man she was currently "hooking up" with and she didn't want to end things between them the way she did with other men.

But Lee had a dilemma:  On the one hand, although she wanted to continue seeing this man, she was also very afraid to open up to the possibility that they could have something more between them because she didn't want to get hurt.

Whenever he brought up the topic of, possibly, taking things to the next level, Lee made a lot of excuses as to why this wasn't "the right time" in her life.

But, as she and I explored this in her therapy, she realized that she was emotionally paralyzed with fear and that fear, as opposed to being "independent," was dictating her choices.

And, as we continued to explore this in therapy, she knew that if she continued to allow her fear to get the best of her, she would eventually lose someone that she really cared about.

So, we started by working on the unresolved emotional pain about her parents' divorce, and how abandoned she felt as a child by parents who were focused on their animosity towards each other, as opposed to focusing on their children.  This wasn't easy work for Lee, who tried to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions.

But, over time, as Lee was able to work through her unresolved sadness and anger about her parents' divorce, she began to feel a glimmer of hope that she could allow herself to open up more with the man she was dating.

After several months, Lee's worst fears came true:  The man she was seeing ended their relationship.  From his perspective, even though Lee was starting to open up a little, it was "too little, too late" for him, and he wanted to be in a relationship with a woman who didn't have Lee's problems.

The breakup was so painful for Lee that, at first, she vowed to never allow another man to get this close to her again.  It was a real setback for Lee (see my article:  Setbacks Are a Normal Part of Therapy on the Road to Healing).

But, over time, as we worked together to help her through the emotional pain, Lee realized that, although it was hard, the pain she felt was preferable to being numb emotionally.

After several months,  Lee began to feel she was ready to open up again with another man that she met.  Not wanting to make the same mistakes, she was able to dig deep inside of herself to find the courage to open up and allow herself to be more vulnerable with this man.

She was afraid, but having overcome the emotional pain of the prior relationship, she knew she wasn't going to crumble if this new relationship didn't work out.  She knew she had the inner strength to survive.

And, as it turned out, over time, Lee and her new boyfriend developed a passionate, loving relationship based on their willingness to open up to each other and experience love.

Fear of Opening Up and Allowing Yourself to be Emotionally Vulnerable
As human beings, we're hard wired for attachment to others.  But, sometimes, early childhood experiences cause people to become too afraid of intense romantic attachments.

Some people spend their whole lives protecting themselves from getting hurt--only to look back later with loneliness and regret.

I've also met people who are perfectly fine without being in a relationship.  Being alone for them isn't about defending against emotional vulnerability.  It's a choice they've made that they're happy with it.  They have people and experiences that make life meaningful, and they're not lonely.

But for many people, who have allowed their fears to numb them, life has little pain but also little joy.  Everything feels "flat" and unsatisfying to them.  They're also very lonely.

Getting Help in Therapy
If the vignette in this article resonates with you and you want to overcome your fear of being emotionally vulnerable, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health practitioner who has expertise in this area.

Numbing yourself emotionally might help to protect you from getting hurt, but it also keeps you from feeling joy and happiness.  This is a heavy price to pay to remain "safe."

By working through your fears, you can open yourself up to the possibility of leading a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with 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.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Making Changes: Are You Creating Obstacles For Yourself in Therapy Without Even Realizing It?

In a prior article,  Reconceptualizing the Concept of the "Help Rejecting Client" , I discussed that, as a psychotherapist, I don't find the concept of the "help rejecting client" to be especially useful in trying to work with clients who might be, unconsciously, creating obstacles in their therapy to making changes.

Making Changes: Are You Creating Obstacles For Yourself in Therapy Without Even Realizing It?

The focus of that article was the term, "help rejecting client," how it's counterproductive to therapy, and that, most of the time, the onus is on the therapist to find creative ways of working rather than blaming the client.

In this article, I'll focus on the same issue, which is common in therapy, to encourage clients, who might be engaging in creating obstacles in therapy, to become more aware of what they might be doing unconsciously that gets in their way of making the positive changes that they want in their lives.

No One Likes to Think of Himself or Herself as "Creating Obstacles" in Therapy
Let's begin by saying that no one likes to think of herself or himself as "creating obstacles" in therapy.

When a client is unconsciously engaging in this dynamic, the therapist needs to broach this issue with the utmost tact and compassion, otherwise it can engender a lot of shame in a client.

Since many clients come to therapy with a long history of being shamed in childhood, the last thing that therapists want to do is engender more shame in therapy.

Since my purpose in writing this article is to help clients, who are often frustrated when they discover that they are unwittingly getting in their own way, I also want to avoid engendering shame.

So, let's try to understand this phenomenon with compassion and understanding.

Why Would Anyone Create Obstacles to the Changes That He or She Wants?
Why would clients, who come to therapy because they want to make changes, create obstacles to the very changes they say they want to make?

After all, coming to therapy involves time, money, and effort.  And, while therapy usually provides a supportive and empathic environment as well an opportunity for self exploration, which can be tremendously gratifying to many people, it's not always "fun" at times.

So, considering that coming to therapy is a major commitment, why would people, who say they want to make changes, get in their own way of making these changes?

Most People Have Some Unconscious Ambivalence About Changes They Want to Make
It's important to understand that, no matter how much people want to change, most people have some degree of unconscious ambivalence about the changes they say they want to make (see my article: Making Changes: Overcoming Ambivalence).

Most of us tend to like to think of ourselves as being integrated beings psychologically.  But, in fact, psychologically speaking, we're really made up of many different aspects within ourselves.

These psychological aspects can be in conflict with each other without a person even realizing it.

Ambivalence About Change

Clients' Ambivalence is Common in Therapy
As a result, I discovered early on in my career as a psychotherapist that it helps to address this unconscious ambivalence during the early stage of therapy to help normalize this phenomenon for clients.

It's helpful for clients to know, in general, about this concept of ambivalence in therapy before they might recognize their own particular ambivalence.

Of course, it's usually easier to see someone else's ambivalence before seeing your own.  So when I'm talking to clients about how it's common to have mixed feelings about making changes, even for deeply desired changes, some clients say, "I've heard about this.  My friend went through that when she started therapy."

But, while this client can see that her friend has this problem, she might not see her own ambivalence at this stage in therapy.

So, beyond just addressing the idea of ambivalence in therapy, as a therapist, I find it's useful to reach for it and, when the time is right for a particular client, to explore his or her ambivalence in a way that gets a client to become curious about his or her psychological process, as opposed to feeling ashamed about it.

Feeling ashamed about it only makes the issue worse and can be retraumatizing, especially for clients who come to therapy with a history of trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
While many people have no awareness of how their ambivalence might be creating problems in their lives, many others do see it and want to change this dynamic for themselves.

If you recognize this dynamic within yourself and you want to change it, you could benefit from working with a therapist who is skilled in helping clients to overcome this problem.

By addressing this issue in the initial consultation with a therapist, you can often sense how the therapist might deal with it and whether or not this therapist is a good match for you.

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, who were, initially, creating obstacles for themselves in therapy, to learn to overcome this dynamic 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 during business hours or email me.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Psychotherapy, Trauma and Meditation

Many people come to therapy to deal with unresolved trauma, whether it's a recent trauma or longstanding trauma from childhood.

Psychotherapy, Trauma and Meditation

Over the years, I've found a mind-body oriented approach to processing trauma in psychotherapy, like EMDR, clinical hypnosis or Somatic Experiencing, to be the most effective therapy for many clients who want to work through unresolved trauma.

No matter which approach I use for trauma therapy, if a client is open to it, I often like to end a session by taking the last 5 or 10 minutes to guide the client through a meditation.

Why Use Meditation at the End of a Therapy Session?
A brief meditation at the end of a session usually provides a client with the following beneficial effects:
  • A reduction in stress
  • A reduction in anxiety
  • A sense of feeling calmer
  • A sense of being emotionally grounded
  • A sense of feeling whole again after processing trauma
  • An awareness that, even after dealing with difficult emotions, it's possible to shift into a more relaxed state
Using Meditation in Therapy to Shift Into a Calmer State After Processing Trauma
The last item on the list above, an awareness that you can shift your emotional state from fear or anxiety (or other difficult emotions) to a relaxed state, is important because many people are afraid to come to therapy to deal with trauma because they think that processing the trauma will be too overwhelming and it will make them feel worse.

Many clients are often surprised that, even though they've just dealt with traumatic memories in a therapy session, it's possible, with a few minutes of meditation, to make this shift so, rather than feeling emotionally overwhelmed, they feel like they can "face the world again" when they leave my office.

If a client likes a particular meditation that I do, like the Safe or Relaxing Place meditation , I ask him or her to bring in a recording device so that we can record the meditation during the session which the client can then be use between therapy sessions.

They also become aware that when they're dealing with difficult emotions between sessions, they have a way that they calm and soothe themselves.

For clients who have a history of trauma, this can be very empowering, especially for clients who, prior to therapy, felt they didn't have the capacity to take care of themselves in this way.

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.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Some Tips on Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

In my last article,  Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship, I began a discussion with a composite vignette about two people in a relationship, Ann and Jerry, who initially were very close in their relationship, even though they had very different temperaments.

Ann was an extrovert and Jerry was more of an introvert.

Initially, Ann and Jerry admired the qualities they saw in each other and felt was missing in themselves.  But, as time went on, they began to have arguments due to their conflicting temperaments.

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

While Jerry, who was a writer, was working hard to meet a publisher's deadline on his book, Ann began to feel resentful, as time went on, that Jerry wasn't joining her for social activities with their friends.  She tended to be gregarious and loved being around other people and having fun.

Jerry felt that Ann was being inconsiderate because she knew that he was under a lot of stress.  And Ann missed having Jerry at social events, especially when her friends were there with their partners.

Initially, each of them kept their feelings to themselves.  But the tension built up over time, and they had an argument that developed over a petty issue.   That's when the real, underlying issue, their conflicting temperaments, came to the surface and threatened their relationship (see my prior blog post).

After their argument, they had a couple of weeks where they were distant with one another.  Jerry stayed at home most of the time, and Ann spent more time going out with her friends.

When they were at home, they barely spoke to one another. Neither of them was happy with the tension between them, but they didn't know what to do.

Then, one day, they got into another argument when Ann brought up that her parents invited them over for dinner.  There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Jerry told Ann that he was too close to his deadline and he needed to stay at home to write.

Ann became angry and told Jerry that they hadn't seen her parents since Jerry began working on his book.  She asked him, "Can't you spare one night to go with me to my parents' house?"

When Jerry lowered his head to think for a moment about how to respond, Ann interpreted this gesture to mean that he was ignoring her.  She ran out of the apartment in tears telling him that she didn't know if she wanted to be in a relationship with him any more.

Jerry was stunned and he followed her out.

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

He said to Ann, "Look, I've been thinking about things.  Maybe we should see a couples counselor to get help.  What do you think?"

Although Jerry had been in therapy before, Ann had never seen a therapist.  She wasn't sure how she felt about it, but she knew that she and Jerry couldn't go on like this, so she agreed to go.

After listening to each of them, the couples counselor pointed out how they had very different temperaments and this seemed to be causing the conflict between them.

Neither Ann nor Jerry had thought of their problems in this way before, and it gave them each a lot to think about.

Both of them told the couples counselor that they were still in love and wanted to salvage their relationship.  But they just didn't know how.

The couples counselor helped them to learn relationship skills so that they could negotiate the differences related to their different temperaments.

Here are some of the relationship skills that they learned over time:

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments:

     Avoid Power Struggles Over Being "Right"
There are many conflicts where both people in the relationship are "right," so basing an argument with your partner on getting your way because you think you're "right" will won't settle an argument most of the time.

Avoid Power Struggles Over Being "Right"

In Jerry's and Ann's relationship, they were both "right" with regard to how each of them felt.

After months of Jerry spending most of his time working on the book instead of going out with Ann, Ann missed having Jerry with her at social events.  Jerry knew Ann liked going out, so he never told Ann not to go out and see her friends.  But Ann wanted him there with her.  Ann had a right to her feelings.

Jerry, who wasn't nearly as outgoing as Ann, felt that Ann was being unreasonable:  How could she expect him to go out parties, which he didn't always enjoy, and possibly miss the deadline for his book?  He felt that Ann wasn't being understanding about what he needed to do.  So, Jerry also had a right to his feelings.

When each of them looked at it this way in couples counseling, where they were calmer than when they tried to talk about it at home, they both acknowledged that it wasn't a matter of "right or wrong."

As they talked about it, each of them acknowledging the other's feelings, they began to relax with each other more.

     Focus on Behavior as Opposed to Making Personal Attacks
The couples counselor pointed out to each of them how they both engaged in personal attacks instead of focusing on behavior.

Focus on Behavior as Opposed to Making Personal Attacks

The couples counselor also pointed out that this only exacerbated their problems, and each one of them became more entrenched in his or her argument rather than working together to try to solve their problem.

     Negotiating Differences
The couples counselor told them that every couple has problems, and couples who have different temperaments can go through challenging times.  But this doesn't mean they can't negotiate their differences.

So, each week the couples counselor gave Ann and Jerry homework assignments to do related to negotiating their differences.  Ann expected Jerry to protest about the homework because of his book deadline, but Jerry wanted to save their relationship, so he agreed enthusiastically to work on these assignments, which made Ann happy.

Over time, both Ann and Jerry developed a greater sense of empathy for each other, which helped them to make compromises.  They struggled along the way, but each of them was more willing to find common ground rather than insisting that he or she was "right."

In couples counseling, they remembered what they liked about each other and what brought them together so they were able to rekindle their relationship.

With the help of the couples counselor, they were able to make compromises between staying home and going out socially.

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

Jerry realized that he was actually more productive when he took a break from his work to go out and have fun, and Ann realized that she could begin to appreciate staying home more and feeling close to Jerry, even when he was working.

Getting Help in Couples Counseling
Problems with negotiating conflict is a common issue in many relationships, so if you and your partner are having this problem, you're not alone.

The important thing is to get help before anger and resentment build to the point where the relationship is beyond repair.

An experienced psychotherapist who has expertise in working with couples can help you to learn the necessary relationship skills to negotiate conflict so that you can have a happier relationship.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

As anyone who has ever been in a new relationship knows, during the initial heady stage of falling in love in a relationship both people are usually on their best behavior.  During that stage, many people feel they have met their "soul mate."  

But conflicts can arise over time, especially when each person in the relationship has a different temperament compared to his or her partner.  If the couple doesn't know how to negotiate these differences, after a while, a relationship can end with anger and resentment.

Coping With Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

What is Psychological Temperament?
Let's start first by defining what we mean by the word "temperament."

Generally speaking, psychological temperament refers to aspects of personality that are considered to be innate as opposed to being learned.  An example of contrasting temperaments would be introversion and extroversion.

Extroverts generally tend to be outgoing, gregarious, talkative and prefer being around others as opposed to being alone.  If they spend too much time alone, they often become bored.

An Example of Temperament: Extroverts

Introverts tend to be more interested in their inner emotional world.  They are often more emotionally reserved than extroverts.  They might enjoy being at social gatherings, but they can get overstimulated in certain group environments.

An Example of Temperament: Introvert

These examples of temperament are generalizations, of course, and there are many variations.

Let's take a look at the vignette below, which is a composite of many different couples, to see how conflicting temperaments in a relationship can create problems:

Ann and Jerry:
When Ann met Jerry, she liked that he was sensitive to her feelings and that he had a calming effect on her.  She also liked that Jerry, who was a writer, was much more emotionally aware than most men that she dated in the past.  They would talk for hours about topics that Ann hardly talked about with other men, including psychology, literature, and music.  She loved Jerry's writing and admired that he was so disciplined in his work.

Ann Liked Jerry's Sensitivity and Jerry Liked Ann's Gregariousness

When they first met, Jerry liked Ann's gregariousness.  He admired how she comfortable she felt among strangers at a party, and he felt that being around her helped him to be more outgoing than he normally would be on his own.  He also liked that Ann, who was a marketing rep., tended to be a "go-getter," a trait he wished he had to promote his work.  He had never dated anyone as lively and charming as Ann.

After dating for a year, Ann and Jerry moved in together.  Jerry didn't really care about how the apartment was furnished or if they had a house warming party, so he left that for Ann to handle, who loved decorating and organizing social gatherings.  She also organized their social activities with friends.

During the first year that they lived together, they were both very happy.  Jerry enjoyed hearing about Ann's interactions in the business world, and Ann loved reading Jerry's magazine articles.  She was also thrilled that he had just received an advance to write a book, and she was very encouraging with regard to his writing.

But by the second year, tension developed between Jerry and Ann.  Jerry was spending a lot of time at home working on his deadline for the book, which left little time for social activities.  Ann continued to be supportive of Jerry's writing, but she missed going out to parties and seeing her friends more.

Ann was beginning to feel stifled by her relationship with Jerry.  Even though she would see her friends when Jerry was too busy with his writing, she wanted him to come along.  Her other friends' husbands came out with her friends, and she felt awkward being the only one who went to social gatherings on her own.

At first, she tried not to complain to Jerry because she knew that it was important for him to meet his publisher's deadline.  But, even though she didn't tell him directly that she was feeling annoyed that she was going out without him, her resentment came out in other ways.  She found herself snapping at Jerry for petty things, like when he forgot to call the superintendent to fix a leaky faucet.

Jerry, who was immersed in his work, felt guilty that he wasn't accompanying Ann to the social gatherings that she normally enjoyed going to with him.  But he felt he had no choice.  He had to meet the publisher's deadline, and he wouldn't enjoy spending time at a party knowing that he was at risk of not meeting the deadline.  He also didn't like or understand why Ann was snapping at him for petty issues.  He felt she was being inconsiderate when she knew how much pressure he was under.

Then, one day, when Ann came home to discover that Jerry forgot, once again, to call the superintendent to fix the leaky faucet, she felt upset and exploded at Jerry:  He was at home all day.  Couldn't he take a minute to call the superintendent?  How many times did she have to remind him to do this?  She was busy at work all day. She didn't have the time to do it.  And so on.

Coping With Conflicting Temperaments: Ann Felt Upset

Jerry, who was already anxious because he was falling behind where he wanted to be in terms of meeting the publisher's deadline, became exasperated:  Did Ann think that she was the only one working because she went to an office?  Wasn't his work important too?   She knows that he has been under a lot of pressure.  Why is she making it worse by stressing him out about a leaky faucet?  How could she be so inconsiderate.  And so on.

Their argument escalated to the point where Ann told Jerry that she felt bored in their relationship.  She wanted to go out more and be around people.  She wanted to go to parties, skiing and snow boarding with friends.  She didn't want to just sit around the apartment and watch him write.  She felt like she was suffocating.

Jerry responded by telling her that he didn't mind going to parties sometimes, but he would feel irritated after a while by the loud music and people trying to shout over the music to be heard.  He couldn't understand why Ann found this enjoyable.  And while many of her friends were "nice," he thought some of them were "vapid," like teenagers who never grew up.

Coping With Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

Ann took offense to Jerry calling her friends "vapid" and asked him if he thought she was "vapid" too because she wasn't as intelligent as he is.  As Jerry was gathering his thoughts to respond, Ann interpreted this as meaning that he did think she was "vapid," and he didn't want to say it out loud, so she shot back, "Well, I think you're boring and we might have made a mistake moving in together."

After that, Jerry retreated into the den to cool off and reflect on what just happened.  Ann, who felt abandoned when Jerry walked away, texted a friend to meet her at a local bar to talk.

During the next few weeks, their relationship was strained.  They each felt hurt and angry, and neither of them knew what to do.

Conflicting Temperaments in a Relationship
As you probably realize, in the vignette above, generally speaking, Jerry is an introvert and Ann is an extrovert.

Each of them was drawn to the other, in part, for the qualities that they felt was missing within him and herself.  But, after the initial stage of their relationship, conflicts arose when each of them, based on their different temperaments, felt that their needs weren't being met by the other.  The very personality traits that they each liked in each other at the beginning of the relationship now annoyed each of them.

In a situation like this, the relationship can quickly unravel when neither person knows how to negotiate these issues or if they don't get help from a licensed mental health professional who works with couples and who knows how to help couples develop the relationship skills required to negotiate conflicts based on conflicting temperaments.

In my next article, I'll focus on how couples who have conflicting temperaments can negotiate their relationship so that these type of conflicts don't destroy the relationship.

Next Article: Tips on Negotiating Conflicting Temperaments in Your Relationship

Getting Help in Couples Therapy
If you and your partner are having problems in your relationship because of conflicting temperaments, you owe it to yourself to get help from a couples therapist who has expertise in this area.  It could make the difference between salvaging your relationship or breaking up.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist who works with individuals and couples.

I have helped many couples to have more fulfilling relationships.

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.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Overcoming the Fear That People Wouldn't Like You if They Knew the "Real You"

It's amazing how many people have the intense fear that if people really knew who they were, people wouldn't like them (see my article:  Learning to Feel Comfortable With Yourself).

Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You If They Knew the "Real You"

In my psychotherapy private practice in NYC, over the years, many clients, both men and women, have come to therapy because they feel they're "defective" in one way or another.

Although their fears that others won't like them if their "real" self became evident is projection of how they feel about themselves, before they recognize this, this fear feels very real.  And, unfortunately, they live their lives as if it is true.

Many of these therapy clients feel that they're hiding this part of themselves from others and it makes them feel unhappy and inauthentic.

Although there are many reasons why people have this fear, it's often rooted in unconscious issues from their early childhood.

It's very painful to feel that you're hiding some aspect of yourself that's "defective" and that others would shun you if they knew about it.

For many people who feel this way, they think they have to put on a facade for others, which is not only emotionally, mentally and physically draining, it also makes them feel inauthentic, which exacerbates the problem.

Let's take a look at an example of this phenomenon, which, as always, is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality:

When Nina, who was in her mid-30s, began therapy, she felt like she was almost to the point of exhaustion in her interactions with the people in her life.

Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You if They Knew the "Real You"

In order to always seem like she was positive and engaging, she tended to "people please" most of the time.  In order to do this, she tended to acquiesce to most of the demands that friends and coworkers placed on her so that they would think she was "nice."

Nina Felt She Had to "People Please" So People Wouldn't Know She Was "Defective"

Often, these demands would be at the expense of Nina's time, energy and finances that she needed for herself.  But, no matter.  She wanted to others to see her as being kind and generous all of the time.  So, it was very rare for Nina to say "no" to the people in her life, unless she was sick and, physically, she just couldn't do.

Even when people weren't making demands (and most of them weren't), Nina would go out of way to be extra helpful and extra kind.

As we talked about this dynamic, it became apparent that, although she was, in fact, a kind and generous person, she was also defensively fending off any possibility that these people would see her as anything but kind and generous by going above and beyond in her interactions with others.

The emotional risk for her if she didn't engage in this dynamic was that if they didn't see her as being always kind and generous, they would, instead, discover that she was really a 'fraud," which is how she felt about herself.  And, more than anything, she wanted to avoid this.

As we continued to explore her dynamic with the people in her life, Nina realized that she couldn't go on doing this because she would wear herself out.  And all this focus on others and not enough on herself was making her feel emotionally depleted and deprived.

Nina came to realize that there was a lot more going on for her emotionally under the surface than she ever realized before she came to therapy.  And, given her fear of being "defective," exploring this dynamic in therapy was a big challenge for Nina.

As with any client in therapy, we had to proceed at a pace that she could tolerate.  If not, Nina would be emotionally overwhelmed and might drop out of therapy rather than work through this issue.

Her ambivalence about exploring the underlying issues in therapy was strong.  For instance, sometimes,  especially in the beginning stage of therapy, she would "forget" to come to therapy and when I contacted her, she would be surprised that she missed our session.

It was less of a challenge of her to pay for the broken appointment, which she already knew was my policy, than to appear for the session and deal with the underlying issues.

But, over time, Nina and I worked together to develop the kind of therapeutic rapport that is necessary to work on these kinds of issues.

When she felt she could trust me and trust our work together, we began to make connections between her family history of growing up with highly critical and punitive parents and how this history affected her sense of self.

Of course, just knowing this isn't enough to change the kind of "people pleasing" dynamic that Nina was engaged in.

We had to work through the original childhood trauma, which took time.  And then, Nine had to stop trying to ingratiate herself with the people in her life in order to fend off what she saw as the possibility that they would see she was "defective."

In our work together, I helped Nina to separate her life as a child from her life as an adult.

See my articles: 
Working Through Emotional Trauma: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now" 
Overcoming Trauma: When the Past is in the Present.

Only when she was able to develop an awareness of the dynamic she was engaging in by "people pleasing," work through her emotional trauma and learn to interact in a healthier way with others, was she able to have healthier relationships.

Of course, there were some people who were accustomed to Nina being willing to bend over backwards for them, and they didn't like this change in her, at first.  This was especially hard for Nina.  There were times when she reverted to her old behavior to fend off these people's disapproval.

Over time, she was able to catch herself before she reverted to her old "people pleasing" behavior.

But a surprising number of her friends and coworkers told her that they sensed a change in her. They felt she was more present and authentic with them, which they really liked.

Some of them even told her that they much preferred this way than when she was that she was overly solicitous and self sacrificing, as she was before, because it made them feel uncomfortable.  This made Nina feel happy, and it helped to reinforce her new dynamic with the people in her life.

Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You If They Knew the "Real" You

Over time, she also learned to choose people who wouldn't expect her to be so self sacrificing, and she eventually let go of the existing people who couldn't accept the positive change in her.

Getting Help in Therapy
The example that I gave in the scenario above is one of many possible dynamics that people engage in when they feel that people wouldn't like them if they knew the so-called "real" person who is "defective."

Getting Help in Therapy

Aside from "people pleasing," there are many other dynamics that people who have this fear engage in to compensate for their feelings of low self worth.

If you recognize yourself in the composite vignette above, rather than continuing to suffer on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional who helps clients to overcome this problem.

Once you're free from feelings of low self worth, you have an opportunity to live a more fulfilling life.

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 the feelings of low self worth that caused them to fear that people wouldn't like them if they knew them better.

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.