NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility - Part 2

In my previous article, Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility - Part 1, I began a discussion about people who are emotionally traumatized who confuse compassion with taking responsibility.  In the current article, I'm continuing this discussion with a composite scenario as an example of this dynamic.

Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility

The following scenario is a composite of many different cases to protect confidentiality:

When Rose was a child, she grew up in a household where her mother was abusing prescription drugs and her father was usually away on business.

As the oldest child, she was more aware than her younger siblings of their mother's drug problem.

By the time she was seven, she was already cooking dinner for her siblings, cleaning and washing clothes while their mother was passed out on the sofa.

Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility

When her mother was awake, she often confided in Rose, telling her how depressed she felt.  Since Rose was only a child, she felt overwhelmed by these talks.  But she also felt a great deal of love and compassion for her mother.

So, not only was Rose taking on adult responsibilities for herself and her siblings, she also tried to comfort her mother and tried to help her to cheer up.

More than anything, Rose wanted her mother to be happy, and she thought that if she listened to her mother and was "a very good girl," it might make her mother feel better.  But, of course, it never did.

It wasn't until Rose was in her early 30s and ending her latest unhappy relationship where she was unable to rescue her boyfriend that she realized that she needed help.

As Rose talked about her history of romantic relationships, she described one relationship after another where she felt love and compassion for each boyfriend and she wished, more than anything, to save him from himself.

The men that she chose to be in relationships with were men with either gambling or abusing alcohol or drugs.

In each relationship, similar to her relationship with her mother, she felt it was up to her to rescue these men, but none of these relationships ever worked.

Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility

Each time, Rose came away feeling that she "wasn't enough" and if she had been good enough, she would have helped these men to change.

We used a mind-body oriented therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), to find the earliest memory of when Rose felt this way (see my article: What is EMDR?).

Rose remembered being seven years old and seeing her mother slumped on the couch, passed out on prescription drugs, as Rose was cooking dinner for her siblings.

She remembered feeling so compassionate for her mother, wishing that she knew what to do to make her happy so she wouldn't be so unhappy.

As an adult, Rose recognized that her feelings for the men that she tried to rescue were similar.

As we continued to process this earliest memory about her mother, I asked Rose if a seven year old child can rescue a mother.

Of course, Rose knew logically that this didn't make sense.

But, due to the way EMDR helps clients to integrate memories with new information, Rose was able to do something she had never been able to do before--she was able to feel this on an emotional level.

Then, something else happened that never happened before:  She began to feel love and compassion towards the child that she was growing up.

She realized, for the first time, how lonely and unhappy she was back then, and she imagined herself holding and soothing her younger self.

We also did an EMDR interweave where she imagined that, as a child, she had an ideal mother who would have cared for her.  She described what the ideal mother would have looked like, her scent, how soft her skins was, how loving she would have been towards Rose, and imagined this mother holding and soothing her.

The integrative process of EMDR made this imagined ideal mother come alive for Rose so that she could even close her eyes when she wasn't in a therapy session and imagine her soothing her.

Over time, Rose was able to mourn for her unmet emotional needs.

She also began to distinguish feeling compassion for someone vs taking responsibility for his well being.

She realized, on a cognitive and emotional level, that she no longer had to rescue people.  Even more than that, having worked through the early memories that were triggering her in her current relationships, she no longer felt the desire to do that.

Rose was, at last, free to nurture herself and have healthy, reciprocal relationships.

Getting Help in Therapy
The dynamic that I've described in the above composite scenario is an all too common one.

If this scenario resonates with you, you're not alone and you don't need to continue to repeat this dynamic in your life.

Getting Help in Therapy
You can get help from a licensed psychotherapist who knows how to help you to learn to distinguish feeling compassion and taking responsibility for others, and free yourself from this dynamic.

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, April 27, 2015

Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility - Part 1

Understanding the difference between compassion and responsibility is often confusing for adults who were abused and traumatized as children.

Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility

Compassion vs Responsibility
Since one of my specialties is helping clients to overcome emotional trauma, I see many adult clients who were traumatized and abused as children.

Many of these clients, as children, felt responsible for parents who were impaired either due to substance abuse, mental illness or for some other reason.  This is a common experience for children who became parentified children, which means that at a young age they took on the parental role with their parents and siblings.

This is a tremendous burden for a child to take on, but I often hear from adult clients that if they had not taken on that role, the household wouldn't have functioned:  There would have been no food, no clean clothes, the younger siblings wouldn't have been helped to get dressed to go to school, and so on.

The child who takes on this role isn't only robbed of a childhood, she also grows up feeling confused about the difference between feeling compassion and taking on responsibility.

Confusing Compassion and Responsibility: An Abusive Mother

So, for instance, there might have been a mother who drank excessively and who, while drunk, was physically abusive with the children.

But this same mother, when sober, might feel tremendous remorse for being physically abusive when she was drunk.  She might have apologized profusely, while sober, and promised her children that she would never do it again--only to repeat this cycle over and over again.

Confusing Compassion and Responsibility: A Cycle of Abuse and Remorse

In this situation, a child, who takes on the parent's responsibility often feels a tremendous sense of compassion for the mother when she is sober and remorseful.

This same child might feel that she cannot leave her younger siblings alone with the mother because she knows that if she leaves, her siblings will suffer at the hands of the mother.  So, she has to stay and take care of the family.

Staying to protect her siblings might mean missed opportunities to play with friends, attend after school programs, sports activities and the usual children's activities.

Later on, it might also mean that she will be too afraid to leave to go to college because she fears the household will fall apart without her there to pick up the pieces when her mother gets drunk.

It's also common for young children, who are abused emotionally and physically, to feel that they're responsible for their abuse.

These children will often say, "It's my fault that she got drunk" or "If I were a better daughter, she wouldn't have beat me."

Distorted Beliefs About Compassion and Responsibility Often Continue Into Adulthood
Even as adults, they often continue to have these distorted beliefs on an emotional level, and this can have tremendous repercussions for them.

Even when they understand logically that that their beliefs are distorted, on an emotional level, they continue to feel this way.

It usually affects how they feel about themselves, especially in terms of their self esteem or their ability to feel that they deserve good things in their lives.

Distorted Beliefs About Compassion and Responsibility Often Continue Into Adulthood

It can affect the types of relationships that they choose as adults, possibly choosing partners that they feel they have to rescue or take responsibility for in some way.

For instance, if, as adults, they're in a relationship with someone who is abusing alcohol and they feel compassion for their partner, they might feel that they must take on the responsibility for rescuing the partner--even if the partner is abusive.

In these cases, this is an unconscious repetition of what they experienced as children because they've grown up to feel that compassion equals responsibility.   So, they will often try to rescue their partner even when it comes at a great emotional, physical and/or financial risk to themselves.

In these situations, people might feel unhappy and trapped, but they don't see a way out because they feel they can't leave their partner.

Even when they do manage to leave an abusive relationship, they often get into another relationship where there is a similar dynamic and start the cycle all over again.

Once again, this is usually on an unconscious level, so they don't realize that they keep repeating this pattern each time.

It's not unusual to see this pattern continue from one generation to the next.

This dynamic also has repercussions for adults in psychotherapy who want to overcome childhood trauma, and I will address this issue in my next article (see my article:  Understanding the Difference Between Compassion and Responsibility - Part 2).

Getting Help in Therapy
Most people who were abused as children never come to therapy.  They continue to blame themselves for what happened to them as children as well as the abuse that they endure as adults.

They also continue to perpetuate the self destructive pattern of confusing compassion with responsibility.

If the dynamic that I've described in this article resonates with you, you're not alone.

Getting Help in Therapy to Lead a More Fulfilling Life

Although taking the first step is usually the most challenging, it can also be the most empowering.

Getting help in therapy from a licensed trauma therapist can help you to overcome the early emotional trauma that's keeping you stuck in your life.

Getting help in therapy can free you from your emotional history so you can lead a happier, 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.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Remaining in Therapy Beyond the Immediate Crisis

Many people, who might not otherwise have started psychotherapy, come to therapy when they're in an emotional crisis.  They recognize that they're in serious trouble and they seek help from a licensed mental health professional, which is a positive step.  But some people, who have deeper psychological issues that go beyond the current crisis, often leave therapy once the current crisis is resolved--only to find themselves in crisis again because they haven't dealt with the underlying emotional issues (see my articles:  Overcoming Trauma: When the Past is in the Present and Leaving Therapy Prematurely).

Remaining in Therapy Beyond the Immediate Crisis

When people don't deal with the underlying issues that create one emotional crisis after the next, they're bound to continue to have the same problems until these issues are worked through (see my article:  Overcoming Childhood Trauma That Affects Your Adult Relationships).

People who leave therapy prematurely often don't see the pattern to their emotional problems, but an experienced psychotherapist, who explores the history of the problems, can often see that there is an underlying theme that continues to get repeated.  It might be different people involved or a different situation, but the underlying theme is often the same.

Having one emotional crisis after the next can be debilitating, anxiety-producing, and discouraging.  For someone who does not have psychological insight into him or herself, it might seem that the cause of these crises are external and s/he might look for external solutions as a quick fix (see my article:  Beyond the Band Aid Approach to Resolving Psychological Problems).

Experiential therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing or clinical hypnosis, are especially effective in helping therapy clients to become more aware of possible underlying issues that are getting repeated in their lives, whether it involves relationship issues or other problems in their lives (see my article:  Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Can Create Emotional Breakthroughs).

To illustrate how this dynamic plays out, let's look at a composite scenario, which is made up of many different cases to protect confidentiality:

Lisa began therapy after the breakup of her most recent relationship.

Lisa talked about how she and John were very happy during the initial six months of their relationship.

The relationship was going well during the initial six months

But after that initial happy period, as the relationship became more serious, Lisa began to have fears that John wanted to end the relationship--even though he assured her that he didn't want to end it.

Lisa began to have fears that John wanted to end the relationship, despite his assurance

Lisa talked to her friends about this, and they asked her why she thought he wanted to end it.  But she couldn't come up with anything specific, other than her own feelings about it.  She didn't know why she was feeling this way.

Despite John's assertions that he wanted to remain in the relationship, Lisa became increasingly anxious that John was going to break up with her.  She was preoccupied with her fears both day and night.

Remaining in Therapy Beyond the Immediate Crisis

Over time, Lisa struggled with her anxiety.  And when it became unbearable for her, she felt she could no longer endure waiting for what she felt was inevitable, so she ended the relationship with John, preferring for it to be finally over rather than feeling like the breakup was hanging over her head.

Initially, Lisa felt a tremendous sense of relief that she wasn't worried about John breaking up with her.  The pressure was off and she felt like she could breathe again.

But after a few weeks, she felt like she had made a terrible mistake:  She loved John and she realized that he loved her too.  She missed him and she wanted him back, but when she called him to tell him, he told her that he was hurt and angry that she didn't trust him when he told her that he didn't want to break up, and he didn't want to take her back.

This is what brought Lisa into therapy.  She was upset with herself for allowing her fears to overtake her to the point where they clouded her perspective.  She was even more upset that John wouldn't take her back.

Remaining in Therapy Beyond the Immediate Crisis

As we explored her background, she revealed that both of her parents were in and out of her life from the time she was a young child.  Both of them had problems with alcohol and they were in and out of rehabs, but Lisa didn't know this when she was a young child.

She just knew that, at various times, each of her parents would leave suddenly and she would be sent to live with her aunt, who resented taking care of her.  Lisa never knew when one or both parents would leave and she grew up feeling insecure and constantly abandoned.

Exploring Lisa's history of relationships prior to John, it became evident that she experienced the same fears in those relationships and she also ended them in a similar way.

Lisa was able to understand her fears of being abandoned and see how her fears of being abandoned carried over into her relationship with John.  But, at that point, it was only a preliminary intellectual understanding.  Lisa didn't have an emotional understanding of it.

I explained to Lisa how EMDR works and recommended that we process her earlier trauma, which was getting triggered in her as an adult (see my article:  How EMDR Works: EMDR and the Brain).

Lisa agreed, but a few days before we were going to begin using EMDR, she heard from John.  He was missing her a lot and he wanted to get back together again.

When Lisa came in for her next therapy session, she was very happy.  She told me that she and John were going to "start over" and put the past behind them, so she didn't feel the need to continue in therapy.

Even though I attempted to explain to Lisa that starting over with John wouldn't change the emotional issues that continually got triggered whenever she was in an intimate relationship, Lisa left therapy.

Several months later, I heard from Lisa again:  She had broken up with John again when her fears that he would leave her became too overwhelming.  Once again, after the initial relief, she regretted it.  But this time John said he wouldn't take her back, and she felt devastated.

When Lisa came to therapy this time, she made a commitment to complete therapy.  Using EMDR, over time, we were able to work through Lisa's fears of being abandoned (see my article:  Overcoming Fear of Abandonment).

Remaining in Therapy Beyond the Immediate Crisis

She and John didn't get back together.  But when she entered into her next serious relationship a year later with a man named Ted, she was no longer afraid of being abandoned.  She was able to allow herself to be open and caring without her old fears, and the relationship flourished.

As many people do, Lisa left therapy as soon as the immediate crisis passed.

Having only an intellectual understanding of her problems, as opposed to a deeper emotional understanding, Lisa thought that all she and John needed to do to overcome their problems was to have a fresh start.

But Lisa's underlying issues (and whatever issues John might have been dealing with at the time) were still there to get triggered again and to undermine the relationship as soon they got close again.

These underlying emotional issues are often unconscious and respond best to experiential therapy where the client can develop an emotional understanding of the problems as well as a way to resolve them.

Getting Help in Therapy
Attending psychotherapy is a commitment of time, money and effort.

It's tempting to leave therapy once the immediate crisis has passed and you begin to feel a little better.   But when there are recurring underlying issues that are having a major impact on your life, taking the time to work these issues out in therapy can help you to stop engaging in the same dynamics that are creating problems for you.

Although you might not see the underlying issues, an experienced therapist who uses an experiential type of therapy can help you to overcome these issues so they no longer have a negative impact on your life.

Rather than continuing to repeat the same unhealthy patterns, with help in therapy, you could be leading a more fulfilling life (see my article:  How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

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.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Coping Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner

In my prior article, A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Self Esteem, I began a discussion that described the primary characteristics of many people with narcissistic traits and provided a composite vignette to illustrate the challenges of being with a narcissistic partner.  In this article, I'll focus on some strategies for dealing with a narcissistic partner.

Coping Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner

As I mentioned in my prior article, some people have narcissistic traits with certain characteristics and not others (see my prior article for a list of the most common traits).

The strategies that I'm about to recommend are not for situations where there is emotional and/or physical abuse.  So if you're in a situation where you're being abused, you need to do whatever you can so you can be safe.

Coping Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner

It's not unusual for people who are narcissistic to be emotionally abusive (sometimes without even realizing it) because they often lack empathy for others, even their loved ones.

If your partner is unwilling to get help to change, there is little hope that your situation will improve. At that point, it's best to seek help yourself as an individual.

Strategies for Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner

Become Aware of Denial:  Your Partner's Denial as Well as Your Own
Denial is common for both the person who is narcissistic and the person who is in the relationship with a narcissist.  People with narcissistic traits often lack insight into themselves so they either unwilling and/or unable to see their narcissistic traits.

People who are in relationships with narcissists often in denial about their partner's narcissism.  It might be an emotional blind spot that they have or there might be some other reason (fear of being alone, not knowing what to do, having little self regard for themselves and so on).

Coping Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner: Be Aware of Denial

You can't change your partner, no matter how much you would like to do it.  But you can change yourself.

You'll need to be honest with yourself about how you feel about your partner, your relationship and how you feel about yourself in this relationship.

People with narcissistic traits often "put down" their partners, either directly or indirectly to boost their own egos.  If you're in denial about this, it can be detrimental to your self esteem.

Having a sense of awareness is the first step in overcoming denial.  Although it might be difficult, you need to see your partner, your relationship and yourself clearly.

Find Out If Your Narcissistic Partner is Willing to Get Help in Therapy
As I mentioned in my prior article, for many people with narcissistic traits, shame is an underlying issue that is covered over by grandiosity (see my article:  Narcissism: An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame).

Unfortunately, many people with narcissistic traits are unwilling to get help because they're either in denial or they're too ashamed.  Without help, people with narcissistic traits usually don't change on their own.

Find Out If Your Partner Is Willing to Get Help in Therapy

For people who do seek help, they often do so because the shame becomes too painful or they've had a very big blow to their sense of self (a breakup, a job loss or other losses) or, despite their grandstanding, they feel empty inside and this has become unbearable.

Become Aware of Your Partner's Possible Manipulative and Sociopathic Tendencies
Some people who are highly narcissistic also have sociopathic tendencies.  This can include manipulative behavior where they "use" people for their own gains, possibly including you.

It can also include criminal behavior.

Narcissism: Possible Manipulative and Sociopathic Tendencies

Because narcissists are often charismatic, it's easy to be taken in by them, so you might not see sociopathic tendencies at first.

But if you see that your partner has an attitude that "the ends justify the means" to get whatever s/he wants, whether this is in his or her personal life or career, beware.  This is definitely a red flag, and you might become a victim of your partner's whims or implicated in a scheme.

Once again, not all narcissists are sociopaths, but some are, so you need to be especially aware of this possible tendency.

People who are narcissistic tend to externalize their problems and blame others, including their loved ones.

So, for instance, if you talk to your partner about something s/he is doing that you don't like, your partner could manipulate by trying to turn it around and blame it on you by telling you something like, "You're imagining things" or "It's your fault."

It takes courage to stand your ground, especially if you know that you're being negatively affected by your partner's behavior.  S/he might not see it and, often, has little or no motivation to see it.

Unfortunately, in many circumstances, narcissists, including sociopaths, are rewarded for their behavior, even when their behavior is unethical or illegal.

For instance, in some companies, if a high-ranking employee is making money for the company, even if the higher ups know that his or her behavior is illegal, this behavior is condoned and, often, encouraged.

So, if you're the one calling your partner out on his or her behavior, your partner might justify his or her behavior by telling you that it's what makes him or her successful.

Become Aware of Whether You're Complicit in Your Partner's Narcissistic Behavior
Narcissists often choose partners who are willing to not "rock the boat" and call them on their behavior.

Are You Complicit in Your Partner's Narcissistic Behavior?

Even though your partner is responsible for his or her own behavior, you need to become aware of whether you're being complicit in the behavior:
  • Are you turning a blind eye when your partner puts down your family members or your friends?  
  • Are you going along with your partner's assertions that other people are "too sensitive" when you know that your partner is being hurtful to them?
  • Do you make excuses for his or her behavior to yourself and to others?
All of this is part of denial and nothing will change as long as you're complicit with your partner's behavior.

Getting Help in Therapy
Being honest with yourself about your partner as well as your own role in the relationship might be one of the hardest things that you do.

Getting Help in Therapy

Many people find it difficult to do this on their own and need the professional help of a licensed mental health professional.

If you're struggling with effects of being in a relationship with a narcissist, rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed psychotherapist.

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.

Psychotherapy Blog: A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Self Esteem

In a prior article, Narcissism: An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame, I discussed how the grandiosity that people with narcissistic traits exhibit is often a cover up for an internal sense of shame.  In this article, I'm focusing on the challenges for people in relationships with partners who have narcissistic traits.

A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Self Esteem

Being in a relationship with a person who has narcissistic traits can be difficult.  Over time, a person with narcissistic traits can affect the way you feel about yourself.

Let's first look at some of the characteristics of people who have narcissistic traits:
  • A Sense of Entitlement and a Need to Be the Center of Attention:  People with narcissistic traits often feel that they should be treated like they're "special."  They often feel that they should be the center of attention and that other people should fulfill their needs (often immediately).  They feel easily slighted.  Often, if they're not the center of attention and they can't get others to pay attention to them, they become angry because they're not getting their way or they might become dismissive of the situation ("I really didn't like these people anyway") as a defense against feeling slighted.
  • A Need to Dominate the Conversation:  People with narcissistic traits like to dominate conversations to talk about themselves.  Often, they can go on and on without noticing that they haven't allowed other people to talk.  If you happen to disagree with what they've said, they can feel emotionally injured and get angry or indignant.  At that point, they might ignore you and talk on as if they didn't hear you, dismiss what you've said or insist that they're right (even when they're not).
  • A Lack of Respect For Others:  Many people with narcissistic traits are so self centered that they feel they're not accountable when it comes to certain rules or social etiquette.  They feel the rules don't apply to them because they're "special" and if you can't see how "special" they are, they feel there's something wrong with you that you don't see it.  This goes along with a sense of entitlement.
  • A Need to Impress:  People with narcissistic traits often like to impress or charm others to get compliments or recognition.  This might include how they look (including, for women, breast enlargement or liposuction to attract men and to feel more attractive than other women), financial gains, career status or bragging about knowing "important people."  This might also include overspending on things that they can't afford, like a luxury car, in order to gain status or appear that they have more money than they actually have.
  • A Lack of Empathy:  One of the most challenging traits for someone who is in a relationship with a person with narcissistic traits is their lack of empathy.  Empathy allows you to put yourself in the other person's shoes to try to understand what's going on with him or her.  Because the person with narcissistic traits is self centered, s/he often has a hard time empathizing with someone else.  When you're around someone who is especially narcissistic, it can feel like you're alone because this person is unable to "tune in" to what's going on with you and, sometimes, lacks interest in doing this.
  • A Need to Blame Others For Their Problems:  It's not unusual for people with narcissistic traits to blame others for their problems.  Rather than taking responsibility for a mistake, they find a way to blame someone else.  If you're in a relationship with someone like this, you will probably be the one that is often blamed ("I wouldn't have forgotten if you had reminded me.  It's your fault").  Their underlying shame makes it difficult for them to own their mistakes (see below).
  • An Underlying Sense of Shame:  Even though people with narcissistic traits might exhibit grandiose behavior, it's often a cover for a sense of shame that they hide (see my prior article about narcissism).  Often, they didn't get the emotional attunement that they needed as children which can lead to a deep sense of shame.
The traits that I've described above tend to be the most dominant characteristics of people who are narcissistic.  Not everyone has every trait or every trait to the highest degree.  There can be variations on the theme.

The following scenario, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates how being in a relationship with a narcissistic person can have a negative impact on your self esteem:

When Ann met John at a party, she thought he was the handsomest, most charming and intelligent man that she had ever met.  He also had a great sense of humor and he made her laugh the whole night.  She felt captivated by his charm and wit.  She could see that other men and women at the party were also riveted by him as well.

During the first few months of dating, Ann had a wonderful time with John.  Not only was he a lot of fun, but he took her to the best restaurants in the city and they got special service.  He was also very generous with her.

A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Self Esteem

Ann was also amazed at all of his accomplishments--first in his class in college, captain of the football team, and a quick rise to the top at his company.

Everything seemed to be going well until one night when they were at dinner and Ann disagreed with something that John said.  They happened to be talking about an area that was Ann's area of expertise, history, and John attributed a particular quote to the wrong person.

Ann thought she was being gentle and tactful when she told him who actually said the quote, but John's mood suddenly switched from being light and funny to being angry and sharp with Ann.  He insisted that he was right and Ann was wrong.  She was shocked because she had never seen John like this before.

Ann didn't want to make a big deal out of this, so she told him that it didn't matter and it might be better to talk about something else.  But John wouldn't let it go, and he insisted that he was right and that she was wrong.  He also insisted that Ann acknowledge this.

Ann managed to change the subject but, afterwards, when she got home, she wondered about this.  She came away feeling uncomfortable and wondered why it had been so important to John to be "right."  To satisfy her curiosity, she looked up the quote and she saw that she was right, but she decided not to bring this up with John because she didn't want to get into it again.

Ann thought that John was probably having an off moment and decided to forget about it.

A few days later, Ann and John got together with her friends, Mary and Ed.  This was the first time that Ann's friends were meeting John, and Ann hoped that everyone would like each other.

Soon after the introductions, John asked Ed what type of car he drove.  When Ed told him that he drove a Honda, John laughed and told Ed that he drove a Mercedes Benz, he has always had a Mercedes and he wouldn't think of driving anything else.

A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner Can Have a Negative Impact on Your Self Esteem

There was a pause in the conversation and Ann felt uncomfortable.  She could see that John was behaving in a competitive way with Ed and it made her feel uneasy.

Then, Ed changed the subject and they began talking about sports.  At one point, John interrupted Ed to tell everyone that when he had been the captain of his college football team, professional scouters were interested in him, but he injured himself so he didn't join a pro team.  But if it hadn't been for that injury, he surely would be on a pro team now.

Without giving anyone else a chance to talk, John continued to talk about himself--even though he didn't become a pro football player, he is very successful and makes a lot of money.  Then, he proceeded to go over all of his career accomplishments.  He spent the rest of the night grandstanding.

Going on and on, John didn't notice that both Mary and Ed's eyes were glazed over and they were suppressing yawns.

Ann felt so surprised and embarrassed that by the time they were considering dessert, she told them that she had a headache and she thought it would be best if they left early.

John made a big deal of picking up the check, much to Mary's and Ed's annoyance, but John didn't notice that they were annoyed.  His attention was on the waiter, who thanked John profusely for the generous tip.  Ann could see how gratifying this was to John.

When Ann got home, she felt upset that John had been so self centered and obnoxious, so she decided to talk to John about it when she saw him the next time, which was a few days later.

Before Ann could even broach the topic, John asked her why she was friends with Mary and Ed.  Ann was taken aback by this question and asked him why he was asking her this--to which John responded that he didn't see anything special about them.  They seemed boring to him and they clearly weren't able to understand or appreciate his accomplishments because they didn't seem impressed.

At that point, Ann could feel her face getting flush with anger.  She told John that Mary had been her friend since high school and she had been a very supportive and caring friend throughout their friendship together.  And Ed was one of the kindest people that she knew and she was happy for Mary when she met him.  She told John that she felt angry and offended with how John was measuring their worth.

John laughed sarcastically and told Ann that he was surprised that Ann would be interested in hanging out with "losers."  He told her that all of his friends were highly successful with a lot of money, expensive cars and expensive houses.  He wouldn't even consider being friends with people like Mary and Ed.

Then Ann asked him, "Then why are you interested in being with me?" and he responded, "Because you're beautiful and you're successful in your career."

Ann noticed that these attributes were external and, to her, external attributes were a lot less important than someone's internal attributes--like being kind and caring to others.  She realized that John not only didn't see or care about those attributes, but he didn't see them in her.

This was the beginning of the end for Ann.  She told him that she realized that they were two very different people with different values and she didn't want to see him anymore.

For a few weeks after that, Ann received angry, hurtful messages on her voicemail from John.  He told her that if she didn't see what a "good catch" he was, then she must be "a loser" too.

Even though Ann knew that John was a much more shallow person than she realized, his words hurt her.  When she first met John, she didn't see his narcissism.

Narcissistic Partners: Ann Saw John with Another Woman Shortly After the Breakup

A days after she broke up with him, Ann saw John with another woman.  He seemed like he was being his most charming self.  He didn't seem to be broken hearted about Ann.  He didn't even notice her.

Ann began therapy a month later to try to deal with the breakup.

During her therapy, Ann realized that John's charm and attentiveness to her were meant to get her attention so she would like him.  It was all a show--the charm, the wit, the gifts--to get her to admire him, and if she wasn't admiring him, he couldn't tolerate it and she was of no use to him.

She realized that she wasn't a real person to him.  To him, she only existed to the extent that she would admire him.  And because she was beautiful, he saw her as a "trophy" on his arm for other men to admire him for being with her, another form of self aggrandizement for him.

During therapy, Ann was able to make connections between John and her father, who also had many of the same traits.  She realized that since she grew up with someone who was narcissistic, John seemed familiar to her.  But she knew now that she didn't want to be taken in again by another narcissistic man.

People with narcissistic traits, whether they possess all the traits outlined above or some of them, often don't show their narcissistic characteristics at first.  Similar to John, they are often charming and witty and people want to be around them because they're fun.

The problem is that after a while, people with narcissistic traits reveal these characteristics in way that are detrimental to the people around them.  What might have seemed, at first, like fun often turns out to be a way to seek attention from others.  Sooner or later, their sense of entitlement and lack of empathy, among other traits, come to light.

So, it's not unusual for them to have problems having close friendships, romantic relationships or collegial relationships because many people won't put up with them.

In situations where the person with narcissistic traits is a boss or the head of a company, s/he often knows how to defer to the people above them (higher ups, people on the board or shareholders), but their subordinates suffer under their "reign."

Although this article's vignette happened to be about a narcissistic man, there are similar situations where the narcissist is a woman.

In my next article, I'll provide some tips on how to deal with a narcissistic partner (see my article:  Coping Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic Partner).

Getting Help in Therapy
Being in a relationship with someone who is narcissistic is a constant challenge.

Getting Help in Therapy

Other people might not see this side of your partner because people with narcissistic traits often know how to hide it, especially if they feel that these other people can be "useful" to them.  So, without your partner acknowledging his or her narcissism and others to acknowledge what you're coping with, you can feel very alone.

Rather than struggling alone, you could seek help from a licensed mental health professional so that you can understand the role that you play in this relationship dynamic, make decisions as to whether you want to stay or leave the relationship, and what you can do to salvage your self esteem.

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.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Behaving Like a Parent to Your Spouse Could Be Ruining Your Relationship

All healthy relationships have loving qualities to them where each person provides nurturance and emotional support to the other (see my article: Nurturing Your Relationship).

Within the context of a relationship that has many aspects to it, including passion, friendship, shared values and so on, a loving, nurturing quality is one of many qualities that are found in healthy stable relationships.  But when the predominant quality is for one spouse to take on mostly a parental role, certain problems often develop that have a negative impact on the relationship.

Behaving Like a Parent to Your Spouse Could Be Ruining Your Relationship

This is true whether it's the woman who takes on a predominantly maternal role to her husband, a husband who takes on a paternal role, and in gay relationships where one partner takes on a predominantly parental role.

Often, couples get into this dynamic without even realizing it.  It's often not a conscious choice.

A relationship might not start out this way, but the dynamic can develop over time because of the earlier unmet emotional needs of one or both people in the relationship.

Let's takes a look at a composite vignette, with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, to see how relationships are often affected by this dynamic:

Nina and Sam
When Nina and Sam first met, there was a strong sexual attraction between them and they shared many of the same interests and values.

After three years, they got married and moved to NYC where they both had successful careers.

Before they got married, Nina was aware that Sam had a difficult childhood with a mother who was emotionally abusive.  Sam's father left the family when Sam was an infant, so Sam never met him.  Each of his siblings had different fathers and none of them were involved in their children's lives.  As the oldest, Sam often took care of his younger siblings when his mother got drunk several times a week.

During the early years of their relationship, Nina admired Sam for his independence and self reliance, especially when he was younger.  She was amazed at how he was able to take care of himself as a young boy and even put himself through college.

What neither Nina nor Sam realized, at first, was that Sam had a lot of unmet childhood emotional needs.  These unmet emotional needs weren't obvious to either of them because Sam managed to suppress them for a long time starting at an early age.  As a young child, it would have been too painful for him to feel how neglected and abused he was, so these emotional needs were unconsciously suppressed.

These emotional needs were so well suppressed that adult relatives, teachers and other people who knew Sam as a child and young adult thought of him as being a very independent person who managed to succeed despite his family history.

Like most defensive strategies, suppressing his emotional needs as a child served to allow him to function without having the awareness of these needs.  An awareness of his needs would have overwhelmed him.

But, after Nina and Sam got married, these unconscious needs, which were still split off from Sam's conscious awareness, began to surface in their relationship.

Without realizing it, over time, Nina began to take on a predominantly mothering role in their relationship and, within two years of being married, they were no longer having sex.

It began gradually with Sam wanting Nina to spend less time with her friends and more time with him.

At first, when Sam couldn't convince Nina to stay home with him and they went out with friends, Sam would develop headaches that would cut short their dinner plans with friends.

Feeling sympathetic towards Sam because of the pain that he was in, Nina would agree to cut short their dinner plans and go home with Sam.  Over time, Sam began to develop headaches a few hours before their plans with friends, so Nina would cancel their plans.

Behaving Like a Parent to Your Spouse Could Be RuiningYour Relationship

Whenever he had these headaches, Sam would lie down and put his head on Nina's lap and ask her to rub his head.  Being a naturally nurturing person, Nina would do whatever she could to soothe Sam until he felt better.

During those times, she thought of Sam as her "little boy" and she would hold him in her arms and talk "baby talk" to him.

Over time, with subtle prompting from Sam, Nina began taking over certain responsibilities, like setting up Sam's doctor and dentists appointments and dealing with Sam's mother, who could still be difficult at times.

After Sam's doctor ruled out any physical causes for his headaches, his doctor suggested that the headaches might be psychosomatic and encouraged Sam to go to therapy.  But Sam felt this was nonsense.  At that point, he didn't see that he only had these headaches when he wanted attention from Nina.

Growing up as an only child, Nina wanted to have a little brother or sister that she could take care of when she was a young child.  But her parents, who were otherwise kind and loving people, didn't want any other children.  Her mother believed that girls shouldn't be given dolls because, in her mind, it created a stereotype of girls only wanting to be mothers, so Nina wasn't allowed to have dolls.

When Nina asked for a dog, her parents rejected this idea because they felt it would be too much work.

Neither parent understood that their daughter had a need to nurture someone or something, so they ignored these needs.

The result was that, without realizing it, Nina would often choose men who were emotionally dependent upon her.

After a while, these relationships fell apart because Nina found their emotional demands to be too much.

But when she met Sam, she thought she had finally met a man who was loving and kind and who also knew how to take care of himself.  She didn't know, at that point, that he was unconsciously suppressing these needs and they would surface later on.

As their sex life began to dwindle, Nina tried to talk to Sam about what they could do to rekindle the passion that they once had.

She felt hurt and rejected because she was the one who usually tried to initiate sex between them and Sam wasn't interested.

He tried to assure Nina that he still loved her, but he just wasn't feeling sexual (see my article:  Sexual Incompatibility in RelationshipsHave You and Your Spouse Stopped Having Sex? and Telltale Signs That You and Your Spouse Are Growing Apart).

Behaving Like a Parent to Your Spouse Could Be Ruining Your Relationship

But when Sam began feeling a powerful sexual attraction to a woman at work who was flirting with him and he realized that he was fantasizing about having sex with this woman, he realized that the problem wasn't that he wasn't feeling sexual at all--the problem was that he wasn't feeling sexual with Nina.

Soon he was having lunch with this other woman and confiding in her about his marital problems (see my article: Are You Having an Emotional Affair?).

But when she told him that she reserved a room for them at a nearby hotel and he realized that he was tempted to go, he knew he had to stop socializing with her.

Not understanding what was happening in his relationship, he told Nina about his sexual attraction towards his female coworker.  He told her that he had no intention of getting involved with this other woman, but it made him realize that something was amiss between the two of them.

Nina felt hurt, but she blamed herself for gaining a few extra pounds and for not making more of an effort to look attractive for Sam, so she began going to the gym and working with a trainer, buying new lingerie to look more sexually attractive, and being more sexually playful with him.

But none of this rekindled Sam's sexual desire for Nina.

Not willing to live as "roommates," Nina suggested that they go to couples counseling to try to save their relationship.

With the help of couples therapy, they could see how this parent-child dynamic affected their relationship (see my article:  The Importance of Talking About Sex Problems in Your Psychotherapy Sessions).

Sam realized that Nina had become a "mother" to him and that it was understandable that he wouldn't want to have sex with his "mother."

Nina was able to see how, once again, she chose a man who had strong dependency needs, even though they weren't as obvious at first.  She was also able to see how her need to be "mothering" developed because of her own background.

Both of them saw how their individual psychologies came together to create their current problem.

But having insight into their problems wasn't the same as changing them.  They each needed to work in their own individual therapy to work through their early unresolved problems.

They each chose EMDR therapists who helped each of them to resolve their childhood problems and the underlying unmet needs (see my article:  Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

As they each worked in their individual therapy, they also worked in couples counseling to change their relationship dynamic so that Nina was no longer in the "mother" role and Sam was no longer in the "child" role.  They began to relate as two adults, and they eventually regained their sexual intimacy.

This wasn't easy because their individual problems as well as their problems as a couple were complicated and longstanding, but they both wanted to salvage their marriage so they persevered.

There are many reasons why people get into mother-child roles in their relationships.  As I mentioned earlier, these dynamics are often unconscious and relate to unmet childhood emotional needs.

I want to emphasize, once again, that all relationships have nurturing qualities to them as part of the relationship where, over time, the nurturing is reciprocal. The problem usually arises when this is the predominant quality and it is one sided.

Often, this dynamic surfaces after the couple has been together for a while.  During the first year or two, the sexual chemistry that is part of all early relationships can mask some of these problems.  Once the sexual chemistry naturally dwindles somewhat and the relationship becomes more emotionally intimate over time, these dynamics are more apparent.

When both people in a relationship are willing to change this type of dynamic and begin to see how each of their histories have contributed to it, it's important that they get beyond just understanding it in an intellectual way.

Experiential therapies, like EMDR, help clients to process unresolved problems in a way that helps them to understand as well as make an affective shift in their dynamic (see my articles:  How EMDR Works - Part 1 and Part 2).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you recognize the dynamics described in this article as being similar to what's happening in your relationship, you can get help from a licensed mental health professional who works with unconscious process, understands relationship dynamics and who does experiential therapy, as opposed to just talk therapy.

Without help, most relationships that have a predominant mother-child relationship tend to lose many of the other qualities that each person enjoyed in the relationship.

Don't wait until the sexual and romantic aspects of your relationship completely fizzle out.

Many couples wait until it's too late to try to save their relationship.

By getting help now, you can salvage your relationship before it's too late.

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.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families and People Pleasing

In my prior articles about adult children of dysfunctional families, I focused on various personality traits, which are described in ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) Laundry list and which are often found in adult children from dysfunctional families, including confusing love and pity and having difficulty completing things.  In this article, I'll focus on another trait from this list, people pleasing (also known as approval seeking).

Children of Dysfunctional Families

As I've mentioned in the prior articles, dysfunctional families, include families where there is addictive or chaotic behavior, which could include, among other things:  alcoholism, drug abuse, compulsive gambling, domestic violence, infidelity, sexual addiction, and other chaotic and unhealthy behavior.

People who grew up in a dysfunctional family often didn't get the love and approval that they needed as  children.  So, as adults, they usually engage in people pleasing behavior, often to their own detriment, to try to seek approval and avoid feeling abandoned.

Inwardly, they often suffer with low self esteem, which also fuels their need to seek approval from outside of themselves.

Not everyone who engages in people pleasing behavior comes from a dysfunctional family, but it is a common trait for adults from these families.

Often, until they come to therapy, individuals who engage in people pleasing behavior have little or no awareness that they have this personality trait.

It's also not unusual for them to wait until there's an emotional crisis for them to seek help for themselves.

The following vignette which, as always, is a composite of many cases to protect confidentiality, illustrated how therapy can help to overcome people pleasing behavior:

Alice was in her early 50s by the time she came to therapy for the first time.  She was exhausted and at her wit's end trying to balance taking care of her teenage children, her husband, her household, and her elderly parents.

Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families and People Pleasing

Never having been in therapy, Alice came initially because she felt she needed emotional support to continue providing support to everyone else.

Initially, she expressed guilt about not being able to handle all the responsibilities that she took on without feeling depleted and overwhelmed.

As we discussed her family history, she divulged that she grew up as an only child in a household where her father was an alcoholic and her mother was a compulsive gambler.

Her role in the family was as the "scapegoat" (see my article:  The Role of the Family Scapegoat in Dysfunctional Families).

Alice had a nurturing grandmother who took care of Alice when she was young

They lived upstairs from Alice's grandmother, who was warm and nurturing and also made sure that Alice's basic needs were taken care of while Alice's parents were out drinking and gambling.

But after her grandmother died, when Alice was 12, Alice was often left to fend for herself as well as take care of her father when he came home drunk while her mother was out at the casino.

Alice described her mother as cold and withdrawn.  Her mother often stayed in her room (the parents had separate bedrooms) and kept to herself, especially as her gambling got progressively worse.  When she paid attention to Alice at all, she was critical and dismissive.

Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families:  Alice's mother was a compulsive gambler
Sometimes, when her mother lost a lot of money gambling and she came home angry, she would take out her anger on Alice.  She would threaten to put Alice in an orphanage.  This would terrify Alice as a young child and it created a fear in her that her mother would abandon her.

It wasn't until she came to therapy that Alice came to understand that her parents had already abandoned her emotionally and how this also exacerbated her fears about abandonment and a need to seek approval from others.

Alice described her father as being the more affectionate one when he was sober.  He had endearing pet names for Alice and she liked being around him during those times.

But when he was drunk, it was as if he were a different person (Alice called these shifts "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde").

Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families and People Pleasing:  Alice's father drank excessively

Alice dreaded being around him when he was drunk because he was often enraged and verbally abusive.  When she was a young child and her grandmother was still alive, Alice would retreat into her grandmother's apartment to steer clear of him.

But after her grandmother died and her father's drinking got worse over time, she had no retreat.  And he would usually come home so drunk that he could barely get into bed by himself.

Since her mother wanted nothing to do with her father, Alice would help him as best as she could.

Throughout her childhood, she tried very hard to please her parents, but she was only moderately successful with her father when he was sober.  No matter how hard she tried, Alice couldn't please her mother.

Alice got married when she was 18 to get out of her parents' house.  She and her husband barely knew each other.

Her husband, who was also 18, turned out to be an alcoholic.  Alice tried to make the marriage work, but she left him after three years because she couldn't stand his drinking anymore.  She had a job so she was able to support herself in a rent stabilized apartment.

Several years later, she remarried to a man who was loving and stable, and they eventually had two teenage daughters.

At the point when Alice came to therapy, she was working full time, raising her daughters with her husband, assuming all the household chores at home, and taking care of her elderly parents who lived nearby.

Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families and People Pleasing

She was so exhausted that she often got sick because her immune system was compromised.

Although her husband wanted to help at home and with her parents, she wouldn't allow.  She felt that she needed to be in control of all aspects of the responsibilities that she took on.

She didn't want her daughters, who were in their mid-teens, to help because she didn't want them to feel overwhelmed the way she did as a child.

So, against her husband's wishes that their daughters should have some responsibilities, Alice often catered to them as well (see my article:  Avoiding Codependency With Your Children).

Her husband was also annoyed that Alice spent so much time cleaning and shopping for her parents because they were ungrateful and they could easily have afforded to hire help.

He often told Alice that, by overextending herself with her parents, she was still seeking the love and approval that she never got as a child, but until she came to therapy, she wouldn't listen to him.

Both parents were now in their early 70s and retired.   Her mother was in reasonable good health and she could have taken care of herself and her husband.  But she felt it was Alice's duty, as their only child, to take care of them.

The father, who had cut back on his drinking, was showing signs of alcohol-related dementia and he had become much more passive.

Both treated Alice as if she were still a child, and she felt like a child whenever she was around them (see my article:  Feeling Like a Child Again During Family Visits).

At work, Alice often eagerly volunteered to do extra work to please her boss, who complimented her, but who hadn't given her a raise in several years.

Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families and People Pleasing

The weight of all of these responsibilities came crashing down on Alice one day as she was driving back home from her parents' home to her house during an ice storm.

As she narrowly missed hitting another car due to icy conditions, she burst into tears and barely managed to maintain control of the car.

By the time she got home, Alice felt like she was losing her mind.  She was so out of touch with her own feelings that she didn't realize that her anger and frustration had been building up for many years.

When her husband suggested that she seek help, she felt deeply ashamed for needing help, but she also knew that she felt too overwhelmed to deal with her emotions on her own.

When I showed Alice the ACOA Laundry list, which is a list of 14 character traits developed by the Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, she was stunned to discover that she could identify with most of these traits, especially #2 which says, "We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process."

We also talked about codependency and how her codependent behavior was adversely affecting her life as well as her husband's and daughters' lives.

We began therapy by working on Alice developing a better sense of self as an individual who was separate from her parents and her current family.

We worked on her developing better coping skills and self care routines (see my article about self care).

We also did trauma therapy, including EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, and clinical hypnosis to help Alice process her feelings of being emotionally abused and her fear of being abandoned (see my articles: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment).

Giving up even a little bit of control wasn't easy for Alice.  But along the way, she allowed her husband to shoulder more of the responsibilities at home, which he was more than willing to do.

They also both sat down and talked to their daughters about assuming more responsibility for themselves and household chores.

At first, unaccustomed to having these responsibilities they balked, but they eventually got accustomed to helping out.

The most difficult part for Alice was being assertive and setting limits with her mother.

It took a lot of work in therapy for her to get the courage to stand up to her mother and deal with the possible emotional consequences.

Alice mourned what she didn't get emotionally from her parents.

Alice was assertive with her mother

By the time she was ready to talk to her mother, Alice had developed a stronger sense of self.

She knew her mother would be very angry and might never speak to her again.  Although this made her feel anxious and sad, Alice was ready for this possibility.

When she told her mother that she would no longer cook and clean for her parents because she needed time for herself, as Alice predicted, her mother went into a rage and called her "selfish."  But Alice was able to be assertive and set limits with her mother.

Afterwards, Alice had terrible pangs of guilt and anguish. She talked in therapy several times about calling her mother to apologize and take it all back.  But deep down she knew that would be a step backward.

Under these circumstances, feeling guilty after taking a stand for one's self isn't at all unusual, especially for adult children of dysfunctional families, who have problems asserting themselves.

As Alice expressed her guilt, we both knew there was a younger part of herself, the young child who didn't want to be abandoned, who was getting emotionally triggered within Alice. So, we did ego states therapy work to help to heal that part of Alice.

After not hearing from her mother for several months, Alice received a call one day from her mother, who spoke casually and acted as if nothing had ever happened between them.

Even though her mother didn't apologize, Alice knew that it had taken a lot for her mother to make that call, so she accepted her mother's limitations and spoke to her.

By the end of the conversation, her mother gave Alice a dig by saying that the house was in better shape than it ever was with her new housekeeper.  But Alice realized what her mother was doing, and she didn't go for the bait.  She knew she couldn't change her mother.

Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families and People Pleasing

During the termination phase of our work together, Alice reflected back on the crisis that had brought her to therapy.

At the time, as previously mentioned, she wanted emotional support to keep doing what she was doing, but she came to realize that her codependent behavior was unhealthy for her and those around her.

Although she had initially seen this crisis as one of worst things to happen in her life, she now saw it as a turning point that forced her to come to therapy so she could regain her sense of self.

By the time, she ended therapy, she was no longer engaging in people pleasing behavior.

She had more realistic expectations of her parents (see my article:  Developing Realistic Expectations About Your Family of Origin).

She was taking better care of herself.   She and her husband went out more.  Her daughters were helping out more.  Alice no longer spent long hours at the office and she asserted herself to get a raise.  She was also attending Al Anon meetings (see my article:  Al Anon: Beyond Reciting Slogans).

See my other articles on this topic:
Dynamics of Children of Dysfunctional Families
Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families: Confusing Love and Pity
Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families: Having Difficulty Completing Things

Getting Help in Therapy
Even when you know that you are caught up in approval seeking behavior, trying to overcome this problem on your own is difficult due to the underlying dynamics and emotional triggers involved.

Getting Help in Therapy

Rather than being stuck in this dynamic, you can seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has experience helping clients to develop a strong sense of self, work through related trauma and overcome codependent behavior.

Freeing yourself from your history of dysfunctional family dynamics can help you to live a more fulfilling life.

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

I have helped many adult children of dysfunctional families and others to overcome shame, improve their self esteem, set limits and boundaries with family members, and overcome codependent behavior to lead happier 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.