NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Navigating Major Life Transitions

"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."  Heraclitus

Navigating Maor Life Transitions

Life brings many changes.

Sometimes these life changes are ones that you want, and others times they're not.

Navigating Major Life Transitions:  Life Brings Many Changes

Although the transitions might be unwanted, often you can't avoid them.  So, the best you can do is to learn how to navigate these transitions with emotional balance and resilience.

Tips on How to Navigate Major Life's Transitions
  • Recognize that Many of Life's Transitions are Inevitable:  Rather than wasting time and energy resisting changes that are inevitable (like the changing of the seasons, the "empty nest syndrome," aging or widowhood), try to accept these changes and draw strength from the fact that you have sustained other changes in your life before and, most likely, you'll sustain the current transitions that you are facing.
  • Be Aware That Many Changes Often Occur at One Time:  Often, when you're going through a major life transition, many times you're dealing with more than just one change in your life.  So, for instance if you lose a spouse, in addition to losing someone that you love, you might need to move or make other changes.  
  • Acknowledge Your Feelings About the Transitions:  Although you might not be able to change whatever is going on in your life, it's important to acknowledge the feelings you're having about these changes, whether you're feeling sad, angry, confused or all of these emotions.  In Western culture,  people who are going through major changes in their lives are encouraged by others who are well meaning to "move on" before they've had a chance to deal with their emotions.  Take the time you need.
  • Recognize that Everyone Goes Through Life Transitions in His or Her Own Way:  Related to acknowledging your feelings is the fact that each of us is different and will undergo change in his or her own way.  No one can tell you how you "should" go through a major change in your life.  
  • Be Gentle and Compassionate With Yourself During Major Life Transitions:  Even when the transition is something that you want, it can still be stressful, so you need to take extra care and be compassionate with yourself while you're going through this transition.  This means making sure you get enough rest, eat nutritious meals, and get the level of exercise that's appropriate for you.
Navigating Life's Transitions:  Be Gentle and Compassionate With Yourself
  • Make Choices When You Can:  In situations where you can make choices about the changes occurring in your life, rather than being passive, anticipate what you're going to need, how you can make the situation better for yourself, and try to resolve problems as they occur.
  • Break Big Changes Down into Smaller, More Manageable Pieces (when you can):  If you're anticipating a major change, like for instance, moving to another area of the country, break down this change into smaller, more manageable pieces.  So, for instance, if you're not familiar with this area, do research, ask people who know about this area, spend some time in this area, and so on. 
  • Get Emotional Support:  Major changes can be emotionally, physically, and spiritually draining.  Allow others who are close to you to give you emotional support during this time.  It can make the change a lot less daunting.
  • Be Aware that the Change You Dread Sometimes Brings Unexpected Benefits:  Sometimes the change that you dread the most can bring the most unexpected benefits.  You might develop new skills, meet new people or learn things that you never thought you would or could before.  You might also surprise yourself when you see how resilient you.
  • Acknowledge Whatever Steps You Take:  Often, people who are making major changes in their lives don't give themselves credit for all the small steps they take which, eventually add up to a big step.  If you have a tendency to ignore the small steps that you take that lead to progress, learn to acknowledge even the smallest steps.  When you can acknowledge progress that you've made, instead of focusing only on the big outcome, you'll be encouraged to keep taking steps to complete the change.
Get Help in Therapy
Going through a major life transition can be very difficult, whether it's your choice or not.  

Navigating Life's Transitions:  Getting Help in Therapy

Everyone needs help sometimes.

If you find that you're overwhelmed by the changes you're going through, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional to help you to navigate the change.

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 cope with major changes in their lives and to develop increased resilience and resourcefulness.

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, August 25, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: Unresolved Trauma: Your Emotional Blind Spots Can Have Serious Repercussions For Yourself and Your Children

In a prior article, Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots, I discussed how many people are unaware of the emotional blind spots that affect them in their lives.  In today's article, I'll focus on how your emotional blind spots caused by unresolved trauma can have serious repercussions for you as well as your children.

Your Emotional Blind Spots Can Have Serious Repercussions For Yourself and Your Children

According to an article by Kate Murphy of the New York Times, No Time to Think, many people would prefer to keep themselves continuously distracted than spend even a short amount of time on self reflection.  And, of course, with so many electronic gadgets there are more ways for us to distract ourselves these days than ever before.

Your Emotional Blind Spots Can Have Serious Repercussions For Yourself and Your Children

People who avoid self reflection often have emotional blind spots about themselves as well as those closest to them.   This is especially true of people who have unresolved trauma from early childhood.

Let's take a look at an example, which is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed:

Betty moved to NYC when she was in her early 20s to get away from her father, who had sexually abused her for several years after her mother died when Betty was 13.

When Betty came to NY, she had no experience with dating.  She was also passive.  In addition, she had little self awareness so that she married the first man who showed interest in her without being aware, at the time, that she had no feelings for him.

The man she married, Bruce, turned out to be someone with a serious alcohol problem who was only concerned about having his personal needs met.  He cared nothing about what Betty wanted and, Betty, in turn, had no idea what she wanted because she never thought about it.  She felt that her sole duty was to be a good wife and dote on her husband.

No matter what time Bruce got home from drinking with his friends, Betty waited up for him so she could serve him his dinner.  She never complained, nor was she aware, at that time, of being angry or unhappy about his behavior.

As time went on, Betty and Bruce had a son, John, and Betty began to get to know some of the other mothers at John's school.  There was one mother in particular, Lilly, who Betty would invite over for dinner every so often with Lilly's son, Will.

After Lilly saw how Betty waited on Bruce like a servant and how unappreciative he was, Lilly waited until she could talk to Betty alone.  Then, she tried to be as tactful as possible as she broached the topic with Betty.  But Betty, who knew Lilly meant well, dismissed the idea that Bruce took her for granted.  And Lilly could see that this topic was making Betty uncomfortable so she dropped it.

It pained Lilly to see Betty being taken for granted by Bruce, but she felt that Betty was unable and unwilling to see this, so there was nothing that she could do.

Several years later, Lilly's son, Will, told her that Betty's son, John, was drinking.  Lilly was shocked because John was only 12, like Will.  Will told Lilly how John was stealing liquor from Betty's and Bruce's liquor cabinet without them even realizing it.

Lilly thought about how she could approach Betty about this.  She knew that Betty loved her son, but she didn't know how Betty would respond to being told that John was drinking.

One day, while Lilly was visiting Betty and thinking about how to broach the topic, they were both startled to hear a commotion coming from John's room.

When they went to his room, John was standing on the ledge of his window with a bottle of whiskey in his hand, clearly drunk, saying, "Look mom!  I can fly!" and, before Betty or Lilly could reach him, he jumped off the ledge in a drunken stupor and fell into the bushes in the backyard.

John survived the fall with a broken arm.  But this was a big wake up call for Betty, who had no idea that John had been drinking.

The nurse in the hospital ER called the bureau of child welfare, who provided Betty and her family with family services.  Betty and Bruce were mandated to attend parenting skills classes and the whole family attended family counseling.

The family counselor also recommended that Betty seek her own individual counseling, which she did.  He provided John with a referral to a child therapist.  He also recommended that Bruce attend alcohol treatment, which Bruce refused to do.

Betty began to deal with her early history of childhood trauma in her own individual therapy.  She also learned that, at an early age, in order to deal with the trauma, she learned to "zone out" or dissociate to keep herself from feeling the full impact of the trauma.

Dissociation is a common response to overwhelming trauma.  It helped Betty to survive a difficult situation when she was a child, but now, as an adult, she realized that the dissociation was having serious negative consequences for herself and her son.

Betty also realized that, due to her dissociation and her own related emotional blind spots, she was missing important signs that she was in an unhappy marriage, her life was falling apart, and her son wasn't doing well.

Initially, Betty blamed herself for not seeing the problems.  She was filled with guilt and shame for being emotionally numb and in denial.

It took a lot of work in therapy over a period of time for Betty to deal with her own childhood history of trauma as well as her current problems with her son and her husband in a way where she could be compassionate towards herself.

Over time, Betty began to integrate her childhood history and make connections to her current life.  Her son did well in therapy after a rocky start.  But Bruce refused to attend any more family sessions after a few visits.  He blamed Betty for their son's problems and refused to see how he was contributing to the family's problems.

Eventually, Betty got a job to support herself and John, and she asked Bruce to move out.  She also set limits with Bruce, telling him that if he wanted to have visitation with their son, he had to be sober during these visits.  This was reinforced by the bureau of child welfare caseworker.  To Betty's amazement, Bruce complied.  He was also mandated to provide child support.

Gradually, Betty began to put her life together.  After working through her childhood trauma and the end of her marriage, she was no longer in denial or in a dissociative fog.

Over Time, Betty Became More Emotionally Available to Herself and Her Son

She no longer feared self reflection and she became more emotionally available to herself as well as her son.

Getting Help in Therapy
If the issues in this article resonate with you, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in this area.

With help in therapy, you can overcome unresolved trauma and any related emotional blind spots so you can lead a more fulfilling and integrated life.

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

I have helped many clients, who were willing to do the work in therapy, to overcome their trauma and emotional blind spots.

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.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: Are You Concerned About Your Husband's Depression?

As a psychotherapist, I receive calls from women who are concerned about their husband's depression. Often, they're calling because they don't know what to do or because their concern about their husband's depression has made them feel anxious, helpless or depressed themselves.

Are You Concerned About Your Husband's Depression?

Of course, I also get calls from husbands about their wives, but I receive more calls from wives about their husbands.  In any case, this article applies to either depressed husbands or wives.

Sometimes, I meet with these concerned spouses because they've become so worried that they're not taking care of themselves.

What Can You Do If Your Spouse is Depressed?
Although every situation is different and there are no one size fits all answers to this problem, here are some suggestions that might help:
  • Ask your husband's doctor to rule out any medical causes.  There are some illnesses, like Parkinson's and others, that cause depressed affect, so it's better to rule this out at the start than to assume that the depressive symptoms are solely psychological.
  • Recognize that your husband has a mental health problem that can affect his ability to help himself and he might feel unmotivated, lethargic and, in some cases, too hopeless and helpless to get help.
  • Be aware that depression in men often goes unrecognized because men frequently exhibit different symptoms than women, and also because many men are often in denial about their depression.  Men are more likely to talk about physical symptoms, like being "tired."  In many cases, men who are depressed exhibit symptoms of irritability, being withdrawn, or behaving in a hostile or aggressive manner.  Many men deny that they're depressed because they feel they have to be "strong" and that being depressed means that they're "weak." 
  • Be aware that depression can affect a man's sexual desire and sexual performance.  Unfortunately, some antidepressant medications can also affect sexual desire, so you and your husband will need to speak with your doctor to find out which medications will not affect sexual desire.
  • Try to be as patient as you can and don't personalize your spouse's problem.  If he's depressed, it's not something that he's doing on purpose to get you angry (although it can be very frustrating if he refuses to get help).
  • Your husband's depression isn't anything that you will be able to "fix." You need to encourage your husband to get help from a licensed psychotherapist (see my article:  How to Choose a Psychotherapist).
  • If you're husband is too depressed to get help on his own, contact a licensed mental health professional and schedule an appointment with him or her.  Then, go to the appointment with your spouse so you can provide information about your observations with regard to your husband's emotional state and behavior.
  • Assure your husband that going to see a therapist doesn't mean he's "weak" (see my article:  Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're "Weak").
  • Rather than pushing your husband, try to take an encouraging attitude with him.  
  • If you husband talks about suicide, take this very seriously.  Don't brush it off.  You must alert your doctor or your husband's therapist to any talk about suicide immediately or if your husband has made an attempt to commit suicide, you must call 911.
Take Care of Yourself
Living with someone who is depressed, can be very emotionally and physically draining.  Make sure that you:
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat nutritious meals
  • Exercise
  • Maintain contact with your friends and family to get emotional support
  • Start your own therapy if you feel overwhelmed or feel like you're getting anxious or depressed yourself 
Take Care of Yourself

Getting Help in Therapy to Overcome Depression
With the help of a licensed mental health professional, people who are depressed, can overcome depression.

Overcoming Depression

It's important to get help before depressive symptoms get worse so that your spouse will feel like himself again and both of you can have a sense of well being together.

About Me
I am a NYC licensed 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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: How to Get "Unstuck" So You Can Free Yourself From Living in the Past

In my prior article, Getting Stuck in the Past and Dwelling on "What Could Have Been," I gave the example of a composite case to illustrate a common problem that many people have when they get stuck in the past and indulge themselves in fantasies about how wonderful life "could have been."  In this article, I'll show how therapy can help a client to overcome this problem and give some tips that I hope will be helpful.

At the point where we left off in my last article, Ann felt stuck emotionally as she pined for the life she fantasized that she could have had with Bill if only she hadn't ended their relationship several years before.

How to Get "Unstuck" So You Can Free Yourself From Living in the Past

Ann followed Bill's life on his Facebook page.   As she read about how happy he was, she regretted breaking up with him.  When she ended their relationship, she felt they each wanted different things in their lives.   But now that she was reading about how happy he was and how much fun he was having, she felt she made a mistake.  She compared her life to his and she felt her life was dull.

The worst part was seeing the pictures of Bill with his new girlfriend, which made Ann feel jealous and made her regret even more that she ended her relationship with him.  She knew that the more she looked at his Facebook page, the more unhappy she felt, but she couldn't stop herself.  It had become an obsession that she felt embarrassed about.

Since she was so focused on Bill, she wasn't giving herself a chance to get to know other men.  When she went out on dates, she compared her experience to the life she felt she could have had with Bill and each man came up short.

As further "proof" that she had made a mistake by breaking up with Bill and missed a chance to be happy, she thought about the relationships that didn't work out since she broke up with Bill.

On some level, Ann knew that she was making herself miserable, but she felt powerless to do anything about it, which is why she began therapy.

How to Get "Unstuck" So You Can Free Yourself From Living in the Past

In her therapy sessions, we worked on distinguishing her fantasies from the reality of her past experiences in her former relationship with Bill.

At the point where she broke up with him, she knew the relationship wasn't right for her. Ann was able to concede this in our sessions.  But she couldn't get over the feeling that his new girlfriend was "reaping the rewards" of a more mature, responsible Bill and that if Ann had only stuck it out, she would be happier now.  Ann was filled with regret about this.

We also talked about how someone's Facebook page isn't always a reliable source of information about how things are in his or her life.  Ann knew this in theory, but she felt sure that Bill and his new girlfriend really were having a wonderful life together--a life that she could have had with him if she hadn't  broken up with him.

Ann was aware, at least on an intellectual level, that if she was happier in her own life, she wouldn't be so focused on Bill.  Her obsession was a distraction and defense against taking responsibility for her own happiness as opposed to imagining what life could have/would have been with Bill.

Her obsession also kept her from looking at her own patterns for choosing men that resulted in unhappy relationships (see my article:  Learning to Make Better Choices in Romantic Relationships).

As Ann began focusing more on herself and less on her fantasies about Bill, she began to take steps to improve her own life.  This helped her to feel more empowered.

Since she was bored at work, she began a job search to find a job that would be more enriching.  Once she began the search, she discovered that her skills and experience were in demand, and she had her choice of several good jobs.

She also realized that she wanted to travel more, and her obsession with Bill had kept her from making plans.  So, she took a much needed vacation that she really enjoyed.

How to Get "Unstuck" So You Can Free Yourself From Living in the Past

In the meantime, she heard from a former college friend, who remained friends with Bill, that his life wasn't all that it seemed to be on social media.  Despite the happy photos that continued to appear on his Facebook page, he and his new girlfriend weren't getting along--for many of the same reasons that caused Ann to end her relationship with him.  He continued to have a hard time settling down and being responsible.  Ann also found out that he had mismanaged his business, and he was about to declare bankruptcy.

Although she was sorry to hear that Bill's life wasn't all that it seemed on Facebook, this new information from her friend was a wake up call for Ann and put to rest any illusions and fantasies that she had.

How to Get "Unstuck" So You  Can Free Yourself From Living in the Past

Once she was able to put her fantasies about Bill aside, she became more fully engaged in her own life.  She became more open about looking at her pattern of choosing men.  She also became more open with the men that she was meeting and stopped comparing them to fantasies.

As Ann became more involved in her own life, things began to improve for her.

Some Tips on Getting "Unstuck" to Free Yourself From Living in the Past:
  • It's easy to get caught up in fantasies and remain tied to a past that no longer exists (and, possibly, never existed outside of your fantasies).  Living life in the present is harder.
  • Staying focused on the past keeps you from making changes in the present.
  • Remember that people's Facebook page often isn't a true reflection of what's really going on in their lives.
  • Remember that your thoughts and feelings aren't "facts" and what you imagine to be true might not be the case.  Just because you believe something to be true doesn't make it true.
  • If you find yourself obsessively dwelling on the past and telling yourself that you could have been happier in a relationship or situation from the past, rather than giving these thoughts more power, be as objective as you can and question your thoughts.  
  • Ask yourself if these obsessive thoughts are serving another purpose--like keeping you from being proactive to make changes in your life or if you're punishing yourself with these thoughts.
  • Ask yourself if you're remembering the past accurately or are you "rewriting history" to make it look better than it was in actuality.
  • Talk to friends that know you well, listen to what they have to say and consider their perspective.
  • If talking to friends doesn't help, consider getting help from a licensed mental health professional.
Getting Help in Therapy
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this topic, getting stuck in fantasies about the past is a common problem that many people have and it's often hard to see when you're in the middle of it.

A licensed mental health professional who has worked with clients on this issue can help you to free yourself so you're empowered to make changes in your life rather than dwelling on the past.

About Me
I'm 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.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Getting Stuck in the Past and Dwelling on "What Could Have Been"

It's so easy to get stuck in the past with endless thoughts about "what could have been" and lose sight of "what is."  There are so many websites for reunions of all kinds, including classmates and sites to find former romantic partners (see my article:  Relationships: Romantic Reconnections).   It's no wonder that many people get stuck yearning for and idealizing how they think things "could have been" in their lives as opposed to dealing with how life is now.

Getting Stuck in the Past and Dwelling on "What Could Have Been"

Of course, there's nothing wrong with nostalgia and remembering good times.  These memories can help to get us through difficult times and remind us that there can still be good times ahead of us when we're dealing with current challenges.

The problem isn't about nostalgia.  The problem arises when people get stuck in fantasies about the past.

Let's take a look at some of the reasons why getting stuck in the past is a problem:
  • Your heart and mind aren't as open to new experiences 
  • Instead of creating new experiences, you're reliving and reinforcing the old ones in your head
  • You can lose your enthusiasm for life
  • Instead of feeling empowered to make things happen in your current life, you can feel helpless as you tell yourself that things will never be as good as before
  • You're not taking responsibility for changing things that you're unhappy about now
  • You lose sight of the fact that you're indulging in fantasies and fantasies are often better than reality ever might have been
  • You're not growing and developing as a person
  • Your identity can become diminished by your fantasies about "how wonderful life could have been...if only…"
The following vignette, which is a composite of many cases, illustrates why getting stuck in the past is problematic:

Ten years prior to coming to therapy, Ann ended her relationship with Bill because she realized, after seeing him during their last two years in college, that they both wanted very different things in life.

Whereas she wanted to move back to New York, get an apartment and start her career, he wanted to rent a van and travel all over the country, taking whatever jobs he found along the way.  She also realized that they had other fundamental differences that would have made a life together difficult.

For several months after the breakup, Bill continued to pursue Ann, contacting her from wherever he was and trying to persuade her to get back together.  But even though Ann still loved Bill and the breakup was hard for her too, she knew, at the time, that she made the right decision.  She wished Bill well and she started dating other men.

Ten years later, Ann had a successful career and she was doing well financially, but her relationships weren't working out.  After the last breakup, Ann found herself dwelling on memories of her time with Bill, especially when she was bored at work or home alone on the weekend.

It had been several years since she had heard from Bill directly, but she followed him on his Facebook page.  She knew from Facebook that he started his own tour company and he conducted tours all over the world.

The places were so exotic and colorful.  He seemed to be having a lot of fun, and Ann wondered if she had made a mistake in ending their relationship.  Since their breakup, there had been no one in her life as interesting and fun loving as Bill.

Getting Stuck in the Past and Dwelling on "What Could Have Been"

Just prior to coming to therapy, Ann found out on Facebook that Bill now had a new girlfriend.  She surprised herself with how jealous she felt, after all these years, about this new relationship.  But, it was undeniable--as she looked at their happy pictures online, she was becoming increasingly obsessed with Bill and found herself yearning for him and their days together.

Not only did Ann think about him during the day, but she also had dreams about him at night where they were back together and happy.

She couldn't understand what was happening to her.  Even though she knew she was torturing herself by continuing to look at his Facebook page, she couldn't stop herself--she felt like she needed to know (see my article:  Stalking Your Ex on Social Media).

Ann began feeling increasingly sad and disappointed about her own personal life.  Her friends introduced her to new men, but she never gave them a chance.  She compared each of them to the life she imagined she could have had with Bill and they all came up short.

Next Article:
In my next article, I'll continue this topic and discuss how Ann was helped in therapy to get unstuck.

Getting Help in Therapy
Getting stuck by dwelling on how good life "could have been"is a common problem that many people have.

Rather than remaining stuck, you can get help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to understand why you're stuck and help you to get free so you can lead 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.

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.