NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Making Changes: What to Keep and What to Let Go of in Your Life - Part 1

Most of the articles in my psychotherapy blog are about making changes.  These include changes to our internal and external worlds as well as changes in our relationships.  Sometimes making these changes involve making choices about who or what to keep and what to let go of in our lives.

Making Changes:  What We Keep and What We Let Go of in Your Life

Change:  What We Keep and What We Let Go of in Your Life
Change isn't easy, especially when it involves the possibility of letting go of strongly held personal identities, people, places, beliefs and things that have had a profound effect on your life.

Even when you know it's for the best, letting go is hard.  Letting go can affect how you see yourself, how you see others as well as how others see you.

It can mean that you give up someone or something that was cherished for a long time, as when you  give up a way of being, a relationship that has become unhealthy for you or a home.

There are also different levels of knowing.

Often, knowing that change is necessary starts on a purely intellectual level.  At the same time, on an emotional level, you might want to pull back and stay with what's familiar rather than dealing with the unknown.

The deeper emotional knowing often comes over time as the heart and mind become aligned.

Elena Ferrante and Her Neapolitan Trilogy
Based on several recommendations, I recently began reading the Neapolitan trilogy by Elena Ferrante, including My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay.

As I read these books, I'm reminded, once again, of how much we can learn about ourselves and others from literature.

Over the course of the three books, the protagonist, Elena Greco, narrates her life story and her 60+ year relationship with her best friend, Lila Cerrulo, from the time when they were young girls growing up in a poor town just outside of Naples to their lives as women.  She takes us into the psychological worlds of these characters in a profound and gripping way.

Making Changes:  What We Keep and What We Let Go

There are many themes in Ms. Ferrante's books, including the changes that both characters make to overcome soul-crushing poverty.  These changes involve making difficult decisions as well as sacrifices.

As the narrator, Elena Greco, tells her tale, the reader is drawn in, sharing to this intimate story.

At the same time, the reader can reflect on his or her own life, similar experiences of friendship, family history, love, loss, fear, betrayal, trauma as well as a fierce determination to overcome personal obstacles.

Over the years, the intense friendship between Elena and Lila involves many instances of coming together and moving apart as they each struggle to make sense of their lives and the world around them.  Both of them are intelligent, perceptive and curious.  As children, Lila is the bolder one.

Then, through a combination of personal determination, luck, and outside intervention, one of them has an opportunity for higher education and the other chooses the path of an early marriage and financial stability.

Naples, Italy

There is irony and reversals of fortune along the way.  Efforts that seem long and fruitless bring unexpected surprises.  Efforts that appear to be a sure way out of misery lead to even greater misfortune.

Throughout the years, the two friends maintain a strong inner awareness of each other, even during times of estrangement.

Given how limited and impoverished their world is, both characters, as girls and later on as women, are courageous in the way they're willing to explore their inner world as well as the unknown world outside of their community.

For both characters, in different ways, this often involves going against the tide of long-held traditions, expectations, and community opinion in order to pursue their dreams.  Sometimes, it means risking it all and going it alone in a world where survival often depends on community. 

Ms. Ferrante, who also grew up in Naples, draws readers in with a compelling story and characters are well defined and true to life.  You can't help caring about them deeply as if they're people that you've known intimately all of your life.  And although the story takes place in Italy, Elena and Lila's struggles are universal, which is why I believe Ms. Ferrante has developed such a devoted following.

Not only do we feel that we know these characters--we actually do know them very well--they are each of us at one time or another in our lives. 

It is noteworthy that Ms. Ferrante's devoted following developed despite the fact that Ms. Ferrante (not her real name) remains somewhat of a mystery.

She doesn't do personal appearances to promote her books, nor does she do in-person interviews (her interviews are conducted via email).  She let her publishers know early on that, if there were going to be any prizes for the books, she would not be there in person to accept them.

As of this writing, she hasn't even divulged her real name.  So, her following is based solely on her beautiful writing, excellent reviews (see:  James Woods' review in the New Yorker magazine) and word of mouth among her fans.

Making Changes:  What We Keep and What We Let Go

While reading her books, I've come away with the impression that her stories might be personal, which could be one of the reasons why she prefers to remain anonymous.

Her stories are a reminder that even when change is for the better, it's often not so black or white because even positive changes often come with loss.

Whether it's a change in how we experience ourselves, a change in our close relationships or a change in the place that we call "home," there are often difficult choices to make.

What Does It Mean to "Let Go"?
What does it mean to "let go" of experiences that are deeply felt and have had a negative impact on us?

Certainly, it doesn't mean that we forget them.

The process of letting go of these experiences means letting go of the negative effect they have on us so that they're no longer running our lives, and we're no longer repeating destructive patterns because of these experiences.

If these experiences are particularly traumatic, part of the change, which is often made in psychotherapy, is working through these experiences so they no longer affect us in the present.

We Can Learn About Ourselves and Others Through Literature

I believe Ms. Ferrante's books are such excellent examples of many themes that I write about in my psychotherapy blog and discuss with my clients in my psychotherapy private practice in NYC that I'll continue this discussion in a future article.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling to make changes in your life, you're not alone.

Many people who have struggled like you have found it helpful to work with a licensed mental health professional to work on these changes in therapy.

Rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist who can help you to overcome obstacles that keep you from leading 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.