NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Learning How to Stop Creating Chaos in Your Life

In a prior article, Do You Have a Pattern of Creating Chaos in Your Life?,  I began a discussion about people who unconsciously create chaos in their lives, and I  gave some examples in everyday life with regard to relationships, money issues, family problems and other related issues.

Learning How to Stop Creating Chaos in Your Life

As I mentioned in the prior article, most people who develop self awareness that they're creating chaos in their lives want to stop, but they don't know how.

In this article, I've given a fictional vignette, based on many different cases, and describe how therapy can help.

The following is a fictional vignette based on many different cases:

By the time Ed came to therapy, he was ending an on again/off again relationship for the fifth time and considering reconciling with his girlfriend once again (see my article:  The On Again/Off Again Relationship).

Learning How to Stop Creating Chaos in Your Life

He was considering reconciling with his girlfriend once again even though nothing had changed between them, they disagreed about important fundamental areas in their lives, and they frequently argued.

Despite their problems, Ed felt very lonely without his girlfriend and a part of him would have rather remained in this dysfunctional relationship than spend time alone (see my article:  Are Your Fears of Being Alone and Lonely Keeping You in an Unhappy Relationship?)

He was also behind in his bills and he was receiving delinquency notices.

Ed acknowledged that he made a good salary and he had the money to pay his bills, so he wasn't sure why he allowed his debts to pile up.

Ed felt that his life was out of control and completely unmanageable, but he didn't know what to do to change things.

During the first therapy session, Ed was flooded with anxiety and needed constant redirection because his anxiety caused him to jump from one topic to the next.

As he discussed his family history, he revealed a highly dysfunctional family and he had many of the traits that are usually associated with people from dysfunctional families (see my article:  Dynamics of Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families), including:
  • Fear of angry people and personal criticism
  • Fear of authority figures
Each of his parents also came from highly dysfunctional families and they seemed to unknowingly repeat patterns from their families just as Ed was also unconsciously repeating patterns from his family.

Not only was Ed deeply ashamed of himself and his family background, but he was ashamed to be coming to therapy.

He felt like he must be "weak to need therapy" (see my article: Overcoming Shame: Is Shame Keeping You From Starting Psychotherapy?).

He was very surprised when I told him that people who seek help in therapy are often the healthiest people in their families (see my article:  Why It's Often the Healthiest Person in a Dysfunctional Family Who Comes to Therapy).

Ed felt so overwhelmed by his problems that he didn't know where to begin, so we began by breaking down his problems into manageable pieces so that he could begin to tackle the most pressing issues, including paying his bills.

Deep down, Ed knew that his relationship with his ex was very unhealthy for him.  He also admitted that he knew nothing would change and they would just end up breaking up again because they were basically unsuited for each other.

So, he agreed not to contact his girlfriend and, if he felt like contacting her or he felt lonely, he would call a friend instead for emotional support and he would discuss his feelings in his therapy sessions.

We also worked on helping Ed to develop coping skills so that he would be able to calm himself when he felt overwhelmed (see my article:  Developing Internal Resources and Coping Skills).

Once Ed was able to begin tackling some of his concrete problems, like paying his bills on time, and he developed techniques for managing his stress, we began to work on the unconscious issues related to his family of origin that he was recreating in his life (see my article: Psychotherapy: Making the Unconscious Conscious).

As we discussed how he was leading his life from one crisis to the next and the chaotic patterns in his family of origin, Ed was able to see the similarities.  But, at first, he couldn't see how he was creating these patterns.

This was a new concept for him.  Until then, he experienced the chaos in his life as things that "happened" to him--not that he was creating these situations.

As we went over each situation that had occurred in the recent past, Ed began to develop clarity about his role.  But rather than feeling self compassion, he was self critical, judgmental and hard on himself (see my article: Self Blame and the Internal Critic).

Being critical was another pattern from his family, and it caused Ed a great deal of shame.

Not only was this self blame not helpful in the present, it was also getting in the way of his understanding the origin of his problems from the past.

We had to work on helping him to distinguish taking responsibility and being compassionate towards himself and being critical and self blaming.

As we continued to explore his current relationship to his family, who continued to be dysfunctional, Ed realized that one of the underlying issues to his repeating the pattern of creating chaos in his life was that it enabled him to commiserate with them and to continue feeling connected to them (see my article: Overcoming Trauma: When the Past Affects the Present).

This was an aspect of his problems that Ed had never recognized before, and he worried that if he got his life together that he would be, in effect, moving away from his family on an emotional level.  He had a deep sense of family loyalty, and he felt conflicted about this (see my article:  How a Distorted Sense of "Family Loyalty" Can Affect Your Therapy).

At the same time, Ed recognized that he couldn't keep living his life in the same way as he had been--he had to change if he wanted to be happier in his life.

The next step in our work was to do trauma work in order for Ed to work through the emotional trauma that he experienced in his dysfunctional family and for him to accept that he might not feel as connected to them in the same way if he wasn't creating chaos in his life.

I often use different types of mind-body oriented therapy to help clients with emotional trauma and choose the type of therapy that is best suited for each client.  In Ed's case, I used EMDR to help him work through his childhood trauma (see my articles:  What is EMDR? and How Does EMDR Work - Part 1 and Part 2).

Learning How to Stop Creating Chaos in Your Life

After Ed worked through his experiences of childhood trauma in his dysfunctional family, he no longer felt drawn to creating chaos in his life and to choosing unhealthy romantic relationships.  He was able to live a more stable and meaningful life.

People who have a pattern of creating chaos in their lives usually do so on an unconscious level.

Often, they come from families that are dysfunctional where they experience childhood trauma.

Without realizing it, they usually recreate the dysfunction and trauma that they experienced as children in their adult lives, including choosing unhealthy relationships.

Developing self awareness about this pattern and how they're perpetuating it is usually the first step in therapy to help people to change.

Since many people who create chaos in their lives have never developed healthy coping skills, developing coping skills is also essential.

Therapists often help clients, who are creating chaos in their lives, to break down problems into manageable parts so they can begin to deal with these problems.

In order break the pattern of creating chaos, it's also essential to do trauma work about unresolved family of origins issues.

Often, people who have taken these steps no longer feel drawn to creating chaos in their lives and they often no longer feel compelled to get into unhealthy relationships.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you think that you are creating chaos in your life and you want to change, you can overcome these problems by working with a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in this area (see my article:  How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Once you've stopped living your life from one crisis to the next, you can lead a happier life with new meaning and purpose.

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

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.