NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Trauma of the "Hero" in a Dysfunctional Family

In a prior article, The Role of the Family Scapegoat in Dysfunctional Families, I wrote about the rigid roles in dysfunctional families and how one child is often labeled the "scapegoat" in the family.  In this article, I'm focusing on another role that is often found in dysfunctional families, which is the "hero."

The Trauma of the "Hero" in a Dysfunctional Family

It's easy to see how difficult it is for the child who is in the scapegoat role.  It might be more difficult to see the emotional consequences of being the hero.

In a dysfunctional family where the parents are emotionally unavailable, it's not unusual for one of the children, often the oldest child, to take on the parental role.

At a young age, these children learn to fill in the gaps where their parents are not fulfilling their adult roles.

Children who are heroes in their family are usually:
  • mature beyond their years
  • very serious and have difficulty having fun
  • goal oriented
  • driven to do the "right thing"
  • striving all the time at school and at home
  • craving attention and recognition, but often feel too ashamed to ask for it
  • very self critical
  • lacking self confidence
  • ashamed of themselves
  • afraid to say "no"
  • mistrustful their own judgment

The roles of scapegoat and hero are both traumatic, but they play out in different ways.

Whereas the child who is in the role of the scapegoat might feel that it's useless for him or her to try to do well, the child who is the hero will keep trying until things are "perfect."  Since there's no such thing as being "perfect," s/he keeps trying because things never seem good enough.

Let's look at a fictional vignette which is typical of what happens for the child in the hero role:

Sandy was the oldest of four children.  Both parents were very involved in their careers and often left it to Sandy to take care of her younger siblings.

The Trauma of the "Hero" in a Dysfunctional Family

By the age of 10, she was often coming home from school to make dinner for her siblings while both parents stayed late at the office.

Sandy tended to be an anxious child who worried a lot about getting good grades at school, even though she usually got A's.  Whenever she would get an A- or a B+, she felt very ashamed and disappointed in herself.

With everything that Sandy did, whether it was getting good grades or making a meal at home, she hoped that her parents would pay attention to her.  Her mother occasionally praised Sandy haphazardly and told the other children that they should be more like Sandy, and her father was usually too distracted with his work to notice Sandy's accomplishments.

Although Sandy craved her parents' attention, she felt too ashamed to ask them for it.  On some level, she felt unworthy.

As an adult, Sandy got into relationships with highly narcissistic men who took advantage of her good nature.

She often found it difficult to say "no" to any request from her boyfriend or from friends.  Since she unconsciously chose people to be in her life that were similar to her parents, she rarely got the attention and praise that she craved.

After breaking up with a man who overlooked Sandy's kindness and generosity, she began therapy to try to find out why she felt so desperately unhappy and unappreciated even though she tried so hard to please the people in her life.

The Trauma of the "Hero" in a Dysfunctional Family

Over time, Sandy discovered in therapy that, since childhood, she had been in the narrow role of being the hero in her family and in her adult relationships.

She saw how she was unable to allow herself to have fun and do other things that children did when she was a child because she was so focused on taking care of things at home and trying to be the "best" in every aspect of her life.

Gradually, she could see why she tended to be anxious most of the time.

She also learned that, as a result of her childhood, she was getting into codependent relationships with men who were self centered and emotionally distant, similar to her parents.

Her therapist told her about EMDR Therapy and, over time, Sandy was able to work through her childhood trauma (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

The Trauma of the "Hero" in a Dysfunctional Family

Once she was free of her psychological trauma, she became more self compassionate and calm.  She also made better choices with regard to her friendships and relationships with men.

Without help, psychological dynamics, like codependency, that develop in childhood usually continue into adulthood.

Someone who has been in a rigid role as a child in his or her family will usually continue in that role as an adult.  S/he will choose relationships as an adult where these dynamics will be perpetuated.

Unfortunately, people often wait until they have been hurt numerous times as an adult before they get help in therapy.

If they choose a trauma therapist who is knowledgeable about codependent dynamics and the types of experiential therapy that help clients to overcome these dynamics, they can work through these issues over time to have a happier life.

Getting Help in Therapy
My experience has been that experiential therapy, like EMDR and other types of mind-body oriented therapies, often work best to help clients to overcome psychological trauma.

If you recognize yourself in this article, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional with expertise in this area.

Once you have worked through your unresolved childhood trauma, 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 children.

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 or email me.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Connection Between Ambivalence and Mixed Messages

In a prior article, You Feel Mistreated, But Are You Giving Mixed Messages?,  I discussed how people sometimes feel mistreated by others when, in reality, they're giving people mixed messages about how they want to be treated.  In this article, I'm focusing on another aspect of mixed messages--saying one thing, but behaving in the opposite way.

The Connection Between Ambivalence and Mixed Messages

Usually, people who give mixed messages aren't aware that they're doing it.  It's often an unconscious process.

The following short vignettes are examples of how an individual can give mixed messages to someone else where the behavior contradicts what is being verbally communicated.

Scenario 1:
Kim is in a committed relationship with John.  When she meets the new colleague, Bill, she recognizes immediately that they have a strong attraction for one another.  When he asks her out for lunch, she sees no harm in being friendly.

The Connection Between Unconscious Ambivalence and Mixed Messages

During the next few weeks, they have lunch a few more times and he tells her what is already obvious to her--that there is a strong attraction between them and he would like to date her.  At that point, she tells him that she is in a committed relationship with John and she can't date him.  At first, Bill is surprised and disappointed, but then he says he understands and backs off.

After a week of not hearing from Bill, Kim wonders if Bill's feelings are hurt and feels she needs to call him to talk to him about this.  When she talks to her friends about this, they question her motives and try to discourage her from calling him, unless it's about business.  But Kim feels she has to clear up "any misunderstandings" so she calls him and asks him to have lunch.

During their lunch, Bill assures her that she doesn't need to be concerned.  He understands and he's not hurt or angry.  In response, Kim tells him that she thinks she was probably too hasty and maybe they can be friends.  So, she continues to get together with him and their attraction grows.

Despite what Kim told him, after a while, Bill thinks that there might still be a chance for a romantic relationship or, at least, a sexual relationship, so he invites Kim to go away with him for the weekend.  Surprised and angry, Kim tells Bill that she can't understand why he would ask her to go away with him since he knows that she's in a relationship.  Bill responds that he thinks she's playing with him, and Kim gets incensed and walks away.

The next day, when she tells her therapist, for the first time, about her lunches with Bill, her therapist points out that Kim seems to be ambivalent about what she wants from Bill and her words and actions don't match, so she is giving Bill mixed messages.

As they continue to explore it further, Kim realizes that, on a certain level, she does want to date Bill, but she doesn't want to cheat on John.  Due to her ambivalence, she tells Bill that she's not available, but the part of her that wants to date him finds ways to keep seeing him.  After she realizes this, she takes responsibility for her actions, apologizes to Bill, and maintains appropriate boundaries with him.

Scenario 2:
Don has been sober and in recovery for 10 years.  Aside from attending therapy, he goes to A.A. meetings and has regular contact with his sponsor.

Don meets Mary at a party and asks her out.  Both of them realize that there's a strong chemistry between them and they enjoy each other's company.

After a few dates, Don realizes that Mary has a serious drinking problem. After he talks to his psychotherapist and sponsor about it, he recognizes that continuing to date Mary would be unhealthy for him because she drinks heavily and he is putting himself at risk for a relapse.

When he sees Mary again, he tells her that his sobriety is very important to him and being around  her when she drinks so much could jeopardize his recovery.  Mary tells him that she understands.  She says  she is willing not to drink around him.  Initially, Don agrees to this, but he soon realizes that even if Mary doesn't drink around him, she still exhibits other addictive behavior, which is unhealthy for him to be around.

The Connection Between Ambivalence and Mixed Messages

A year later, Don is still dating Mary and telling her the same thing--that he shouldn't be dating her because of her addictive behavior.  Mary never argues with him about this.  She continues to be understanding about it and tells him that if he feels he can't see her anymore, he should let her know.  Even though Don tells her that he "shouldn't" see her, he still continues to ask her to go out with him, so he continues to act out his ambivalence.

As he and his therapist explore his relationship with Mary, Don realizes that Mary reminds him of his alcoholic mother.  Don was the "hero" in his family and he would often be the one to bring his mother staggering home from the bar.  After many years of pleading with his mother to stop drinking, she finally gets into an outpatient program and begins to lead a sober life, and she credits Don for "saving my life" (see my article: How to Stop Being the "Rescuer" in Your Family of Origin).

As he continues to explore these issues in therapy, Don realizes that he has a strong desire to "save" Mary too.  Logically, he knows that Mary doesn't want to stop drinking and he can't "save" her.  But his wish, which had been unconscious before it came to light in therapy, is so strong that he finds it very difficult to let go of the relationship.  It's only after he finds himself thinking that maybe he could have one or two drinks and he remembers that, in the past, this resulted in a major relapse, that he develops the motivation to end the relationship.

Underlying Issues in Both Scenarios
In both of these scenarios that are powerful unconscious wishes that create ambivalence and result in mixed messages.

In Scenario 1, Kim feels very attracted to Bill and if she wasn't already in a committed relationship, she would date him.  Even though she wants to remain faithful to her boyfriend, she deludes herself into thinking that she has to see Bill again to make sure she hasn't hurt his feelings by rejecting him.  Then, even after he tells her that he isn't hurt, she deludes herself further and rationalizes that she can spend time regularly with Bill but not call it dating.  This combination of factors results in mixed messages to Bill, who thinks that he has a chance and decides to take it.  Not seeing how she gave mixed messages, Kim becomes insulted and angry with Bill when he suggests that they spend a weekend together.  But after she and her therapist discuss it, she recognizes that she was acting on her own unconscious ambivalence and realizes that she has to take responsibility.

In Scenario 2, Don has already invested 10 years in his recovery, which is important to him.  After he begins to see Mary, who has a serious drinking problem, he recognizes, logically, that this is an unhealthy relationship for him and he is jeopardizing his recovery.  Even though he expresses this to Mary, he feels so drawn to her that he continues to see her.  A year into the relationship, he is continuing to tell Mary that her alcoholic and addictive behavior isn't healthy for him to be around, but his words and behavior don't match because he continues to see her.  After he discusses this with his therapist, he realizes that he is reenacting his "hero" role from his family of origin and Mary reminds him of his mother.  Since Don and his mother both think that his mother eventually stopped drinking because Don "saved" her, on an unconscious level, Don also thinks that he can save Mary too.  Logically, he knows that Mary doesn't want to stop drinking and he really can't "save" her, but his need to do so is keeping him in this codependent relationship.  It's only when he realizes how close he is too relapsing, as a result of being around Mary, that he finds the motivation to end the relationship.

In both scenarios there are powerful unconscious issues that both individuals are unaware of at first.  These unconscious issues are powerful drivers in both situations.

If Kim and Don were to continue in their respective therapies, their therapists would likely help them to work on these underlying issues.  Otherwise, both Don and Kim would probably continue to find themselves in similar situations with other people.

In my experience as a psychotherapist, experiential therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis are ideal forms of therapy that help clients to overcome these unconscious issues.

It's not enough to just understand the unconscious issues on an intellectual basis.  There needs to be a transformative experience that leads to a breakthrough (see my article: Experiential Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Getting Help in Therapy
Unconscious ambivalence and the resultant mixed messages are common.

If you find yourself in situations where you're expressing your ambivalence by giving mixed messages, which creates confusion, you could benefit from working with a skilled mental health professional who has experience helping clients with these issues.

By getting help and working through the underlying unconscious issues, you could lead a more fulfilling and authentic life.

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

I have helped many clients to overcome the underlying issues that creates ambivalence and mixed messages.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Being Honest in Your Relationship: Are You Taking Time Apart or Breaking Up?

The expression "Taking time apart" is often used by one or both people in a relationship when what they really mean is "Let's breakup."  In my prior articles, I've addressed the issue of being honest in relationships (see my articles: Relationships and Lies of Omission).

Are You Taking Time Apart or Breaking Up?

In this article, I'm addressing an important issue that often leaves people feeling betrayed because of the lack of honesty involved.

I hope to encourage people in a relationship that really know it's over to be honest rather than giving your spouse or partner false hope in order to avoid the unpleasantness of a breakup.

Of course, there are times when one or both people aren't sure if they want to stay together or not and "taking time apart" is a way for each of them to discover how they really feel about the relationship.  As long as both people are as honest as they can be with themselves and with each other, I don't see a problem with this (see my article: Your Relationship: Should You Stay or Should You Go?)

What I'm referring to is a situation where, usually, one person really wants to leave the relationship and the other wants to try to salvage it.  The one who wants to leave knows it's over, but s/he wants to avoid the messiness of a breakup by calling it "time apart" rather than being honest that s/he knows they're not getting back together once they've parted.

This leads to false hope for the one who wants to stay and overall misunderstandings.

I've seen this dynamic many times in couples therapy where a couple comes to talk about relationship issues and, sometimes in the first session, the one who originally said they wanted to take a break reveals that s/he wants it to be over and then says that the other individual in the relationship should use the therapy session for him or herself.

In those instances, the one who wants "out" knew all along that, even though s/he agreed to couples sessions, s/he planned to leave the partner off in my office so that I could be the one to deal with the partner's heartbreak over the breakup.

In those circumstances, the person who wanted to salvage the relationship is not only heartbroken but also feels betrayed because it quickly becomes apparent that this was the intention all along of coming to the therapy session--to avoid taking responsibility for ending the relationship and the emotional aftermath that goes with that.

Not only is this unfair to the partner who wants to remain, it's also unfair the person who wanted to end it.  Even when someone knows that it's over, s/he usually has feelings about it.  There might be feelings of relief, but there is usually sadness too because most relationships, even ones that are ending, had good aspects to them at some point.  There was love at one point and other positive emotions.  It's not like throwing away yesterday's newspaper.

There is a responsibility, in most circumstances, to a spouse or partner to be your "best self" when  you're breaking up and this involves honesty, kindness and a willingness to help him or her to understand what's happening in the relationship.  (I say "in most circumstances" because there are times when it's too dangerous to stay in a relationship.  If a spouse or partner is being abusive, the person who is leaving may have to seek safety for him or herself and the children.  Then, once everyone is safe, s/he can use the social service system to negotiate the problems.)

Let's take a look at a fictionalized vignette, which is based on many different cases, to understand this phenomenon.

Mary and Dan
Mary and Dan had been living together for 10 years.  During the last year, they had been arguing a lot about money, whether or not to have children, and whether to stay in NYC or to move.

Are You Taking Time Apart or Breaking Up?

They were both in their 20s when they originally got together and these issues weren't on their minds.  But during the last two years, Mary told Dan that she wanted to get pregnant because she feared that if she waited any longer, she might not be able to have children.

Dan told her that, even though he liked children, he wasn't sure if he wanted to have children at this point.  He also wanted to leave NYC and move out West.  But Mary said she couldn't leave her job now because her career in her company was just starting to take off in a big way.

Mary wanted to save more money, but Dan liked to spend freely.

After months of bickering, Dan told Mary that he thought it was best that they "take time apart." He proposed that he move out for a couple of months so they could each have time and "space" from each other.

Mary wasn't in favor of Dan moving out, but he assured her that this would only be temporary and he wasn't breaking up with her.

Reluctantly, Mary agreed to this, but it still made her feel anxious.  She had childhood memories of her parents "trial separation" when her father told her mother that he needed his "space," but shortly afterwards, he filed for divorce.  This made Mary suspicious about Dan's intentions, but she had only known Dan to be honest and she decided to take him at his word.

Are You Taking Time Apart or Breaking Up?

They set the terms of their temporary separation--they would have occasional phone contact, but not see each other for the next two months.  At that point, according to Dan, he wanted to them to talk again about their issues without arguing.

Mary was lonely and worried during their separation.  She really wanted to work things out.

Are You Taking Time Apart or Breaking Up?

Six weeks into their separation, Dan told Mary that he would like to attend couples counseling because he felt it would help them.  Mary took this as a hopeful sign that Dan was serious about resolving their problems so she agreed.

During their consultation with a couples therapist, Mary spoke first.  She talked about how much she loved Dan and wanted to work things out.  She said she was happy that he was open to seeing a couples therapist so they could get help.

When it was Dan's turn to speak, he spoke directly to the couples therapist, he told her that he no longer wanted to be in the relationship and he wanted to come to the session so that Mary would have a place to talk about the breakup.

Both Mary and the couples therapist were surprised because this isn't how Dan originally presented what he wanted.  But based on his confident tone and demeanor, it was obvious that he had already made up his mind.

Stunned, Mary asked him how long he knew that he wanted to end the relationship, and Dan admitted that he knew it before they separated, but he thought that "time apart" would make it easier for both of them rather than telling Mary before he moved out.

Mary was angry and sad.  She told Dan how betrayed she felt that he wasn't honest with her from the beginning.

Dan reluctantly agreed to come to three more sessions for closure.  He would have preferred to not return and to leave Mary to work things out with the therapist.  However, he also felt guilty for hurting Mary, which wasn't his intention.

As he talked about his family background, it became clear that he came from a family that avoided talking about sensitive issues, which was why his arguments with Mary were so difficult for him.  He was able to recognize in therapy that he was being avoidant and he approached the breakup in a dishonest and hurtful way.

Mary remained in therapy to deal with the heartbreak of the current breakup as well as the early unresolved childhood trauma of her parents' divorce.  With time, she was able to work through her feelings (see my article:  Learning From Past Romantic Relationships).

Are You Taking Time Apart or Breaking Up?

Eventually, she was able safe enough to allow herself to be vulnerable enough to date again, looking for the qualities in a romantic partner that she now recognized were very important to her.

Breakups aren't easy.  No one wants to go through the pain of a breakup, but being honest about your feelings to yourself as well as to your partner is best for both of you.

Breaking up is hard enough without adding dishonest and feelings of betrayal to your problems.

You might have a history of being avoidant in terms of dealing with difficult feelings and, if so, you could benefit from getting help in therapy to be able to cope with and express difficult feelings.

Even if you feel you're avoiding the unpleasantness with the current breakup, you'll probably face the same issues in the future in other relationships where emotional honesty is so important.

Getting Help in Therapy
Whether you're seeking help for yourself or as a couple, a licensed mental health professional who has experience working with relationship issues can help to either salvage the relationship or make the transition to breaking up.

If you're seeking couples therapy, it's important that both of you feel comfortable with the therapist (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than waiting for the situation to get worse, you owe it to yourself and to your partner to get help.

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

I have worked successfully with many individuals and couples on relationship issues.

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, May 8, 2016

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

In my last two articles, I focused on expectations and promises.  In this article, I'm focusing specifically on broken promises with regard to infidelity and how it's possible for a relationship to survive this betrayal.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

Broken Promises: Infidelity
Infidelity is a broken promise that many people in relationships have to face.

Depending upon the relationship, how stable it was before the infidelity, the history of each person in the relationship, and other important factors, including prior history of infidelity, some relationships survive and others don't.

No one can tell you what's right for you when you're dealing with infidelity in your relationship--not your family, friends or your therapist.

People often think that they would never stick around in a relationship where their spouse cheated.  But once they're faced with actually dealing with infidelity, they might feel differently about it, especially if it's a long term relationship where each person feels that he or she might have invested a lot in the relationship before the infidelity came to light.

Restoring Trust: The Person Who Cheated Has an Emotional Transformation
Each person is different in terms of how s/he responds to infidelity, even when s/he has made a decision to try to work it out.

It can take a long time for the person who has been betrayed to overcome the anger, sadness and mistrust that infidelity engenders.

Although it's important for the person who cheated to feel sincere remorse, it's not enough for the person who cheated to apologize.

To help restore trust, the person who cheated must be able to explain what was going on for him or her internally that caused him or her to cheat.

There might have been external factors that contributed to the infidelity, but the most important factor in this situation is for the person who cheated to be able to discover, usually in therapy, what was going on in his or her internal world that led to the infidelity.

Not only would this demonstrate that s/he is taking responsibility, but it also shows, hopefully, that there is a possibility for an emotional transformation--a profound emotional shift.  And this profound emotional shift, which is a genuine emotional breakthrough, can bring about the change that the betrayed spouse needs to see in order to trust again.

There's no way to predict in advance how long, if ever, it will take the spouse who has been betrayed to heal from the betrayal, even if the spouse who cheated has a genuine emotional breakthrough.  So, it's important for the spouse who cheated to be very patient.

Let's take a look at a fictional vignette, which is based on many different cases, to see how this can happen in therapy.

Peg and Ed
Peg found out about Ed's infidelity when she signed onto the computer at home and discovered emails of a sexual nature on Ed's email account.

Peg wasn't snooping. Ed left the computer on, and the sexual subject line in an email caught Peg's eye.  As she clicked on the email, Peg discovered that Ed had been having a long distance affair with another woman.

One email led to another email, and as the extramarital affair was exposed, Peg realized that Ed had been cheating on him with woman in California during his business trips.

Peg was shocked.  She could hardly believe that her husband, whom she had always thought of as being kind and faithful, could have done this.  But the proof was in front of her eyes, the emails back and forth between the other woman and her husband.

When Ed got home from work, Peg confronted him with the emails.  At first, he denied it.  He told Peg that he didn't know who this woman was and someone must have hacked into his email.

Broken Promise - Surviving Infidelity
Then, Ed got quiet.  He hung his head down in shame looking away from Peg, and he admitted that he had been having an affair for several months with a woman that he met at a bar in California.  He hastened to say that he didn't have serious feelings for this woman and he was very sorry.  He never meant to hurt Peg.

Peg asked Ed to move out for a few weeks to give her time to think about what she wanted to do.  At that point, she wasn't sure if she wanted to remain in the marriage or she wanted to end it (see my article:

After a month, Ed asked Peg if she would consider going to see a couples therapist to talk about what happened.  Reluctantly, Peg agreed.  Ed wanted to save their marriage, but Peg wasn't sure what she wanted to do.  At that point, she mostly felt emotionally numb.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

The couples counselor that they consulted with recommended that they each see separate therapists for individual therapy so that they could each work on how the infidelity affected them.

Ed remained with the couples therapist who had a specialty in working with infidelity, and she referred Peg to another therapist.

In the meantime, they continued to live apart and maintained minimal contact by phone.  Although Ed wanted to come home, this was all that Peg could tolerate at that point.

In Peg's therapy, she was able to talk freely about her shock, anger and sadness about the infidelity.  Deep down, she knew that she still loved Ed, but she didn't know if she could forgive him.

Initially, Ed blamed the infidelity on the fact that he and Peg were only having sex about once a month and it felt routine.

When he met the a young, attractive woman, Tania, at the bar, they had both had one too many drinks.  She came onto him and, before he knew it, they were back in her room having the most passionate sex that he had ever had.  It made him feel young, sexy and attractive in a way that he had never felt.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

After the first time, Ed knew that he had made a mistake and vowed to himself that he wouldn't see Tania again.  But she kept calling and emailing him sexy pictures of herself telling him that there would be "no strings attached," she just really loved having sex with him.

Even though he knew he should have avoided Tania, he was drawn to her each time that he went to California for a business trip, which was happening with increased regularity because of a new business  deal.

After a while, it got easier for him to lie to Peg about being in late night meetings in California so he could spend all of his free time with Tania.  Even though he loved Peg and he wasn't in love with Tania, he felt obsessed with his sexual relationship with Tania.  He describe it as feeling like he was "addicted" to her.

Sex with Tania was constantly on his mind, and all he could think about was the next time that he would see her.  Between his trips to California, he even flew Tania in a few times so that they could spend weekends together in a hotel in New York.  During those times, he lied to Peg and told her that he was away on business.

Whenever he was with Tania, he felt happy and alive.  She was constantly telling him how sexy and attractive he was--things that Peg never told him.  He loved her wild, free spirit and how she pushed him to be more open and daring sexually.

At first, although Ed said he took responsibility for his behavior, he also blamed Peg for always being tired or disinterested in sex.  He said he had "sexual needs" that weren't being fulfilled in his marriage and, even though he never sought out an affair, he felt he couldn't resist this attractive, sexy woman who threw herself at him.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

His therapist called Ed on the excuses and asked him if he ever spoke to Peg about feeling dissatisfied with their sex life.  Reluctantly, Ed admitted that he had not.

Then, his therapist told him that he was making excuses for his behavior by blaming Peg, and she told him that if there was any hope of salvaging his marriage, he would have to look deep within himself to discover what caused him to cheat on his wife.  That would be his only hope for trying to get Peg to trust him again and to believe that it wouldn't happen again.

They also talked about the fact that Ed left the computer open with his emails exposed for Peg to find.  On an unconscious level, did he want Peg to find out?  He and his therapist explored this.

Over time, Ed's therapist helped him to look beyond the surface and delve into the underlying issues.

Not surprisingly, these issues had nothing to do with Peg or his marriage to Peg.  They involved long-standing feelings of inferiority and unattractiveness that went back to a young age when his family would tease him for being overweight, calling him "an ugly duckling."

Even though Ed had lost the weight when he was in college, he still harbored this deep sense of inferiority.  Peg was his first and only girlfriend when they met in college.  He had never had sex with another woman--until he met Tania.

Although he loved Peg, he felt like he "missed out" on dating other young women at college.  So, when he met Tania, he felt like a young man again.  Even though he felt ashamed to say it, he realized that knowing that she found him attractive and that she wanted to have sex with him, made him feel good about himself.

This helped him to realize that he wasn't "addicted" to Tania, he was really drawn to how his affair with her made him feel about himself.  It also helped him to realize that he had been carrying around this sense of inferiority without realizing it for a long time.

Realizing this was an emotional breakthrough for Ed.  He understood that he was still responsible for his behavior, but now everything made sense to him.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

He and his therapist were able to work directly on his longstanding feelings of inferiority to enhance his sense of self worth.  He mourned for all the years that he harbored his low sense of self and gained new confidence in himself.  He knew now that he would never need to resort to having an affair again to feel good about himself.

Ed blocked Tania's emails and text messages, and he erased her number.  He had no desire to be with her ever again.

Eventually, Peg joined Ed so that he could talk to her about the emotional breakthrough that he had in therapy and to assure her that it would never happen again.

Peg was happy for Ed and, for the first time, she felt there was a real possibility for reconciliation because she believed that Ed had undergone a transformation in therapy.

Over the next several months, they worked at reconciling and repairing their relationship.

Discovering the internal experiences that led to the infidelity doesn't excuse the infidelity.  It's not a justification.  But it helps both spouses to understand what drove it so that the person who cheated can work on these factors in therapy to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

In order to trust again, the spouse who was betrayed needs to know that the spouse who cheated has undergone an emotional transformation that leads to a major shift emotionally as well as in terms of behavior.

Broken Promises - Surviving Infidelity

Surviving infidelity isn't easy or quick--if it happens at all.

It requires a commitment from both people.

Often the underlying issues are unconscious and longstanding.

There is often a need to do grief work to grieve for earlier losses as well as the loss of innocence and trust in the current relationship.

Both people need to be patient and there is no way to predict how long it could take to restore trust.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many couples, who experience infidelity in their relationship, avoid coming to therapy because they feel ashamed, angry and hopeless about salvaging their relationship.

Many relationships fall apart after infidelity is discovered, and there's no way to predict which relationships will survive and which ones will end.

Doing nothing and trying to "put it behind you" or "start over" almost never works because nothing has changed.  Neither person has gained insight into what and why things happened.

Some couples need individual therapy before they can come together for couples therapy in order for each person to understand how s/he feels and the underlying emotions experienced by each person.

Getting help in therapy can help to save your relationship if you're serious about making a commitment to change.

Don't wait until it's too late.  Get help.

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

I have helped many individuals and couples with infidelity.

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 regular business hours or email me.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Keeping Your Promises

In a prior article, Freeing Yourself From Family Expectations and Beliefs That Are Harmful to You, I discussed how family expectations and beliefs that are unhealthy can lead to an individual making a promise that can't be kept.

Keeping Your Promises

In the fictionalized vignette in that article, a young girl makes a promise to her grandmother and her mother that, when she becomes an adult, she will follow the family legacy of being the adult daughter who takes care of her mother when her mother becomes unable to take care of herself.

Keeping Your Promises

Part of that promise is that she won't place her mother in a nursing home no matter what happens.  But, eventually, when she becomes an adult, she is unable to keep this promise because she can no longer maintain her mother at home, as per her mother's doctor's recommendations.  It has become impossible in terms of what the mother needs medically as well as the toll that it is taking on her and her husband.

One of the points of that vignette is to demonstrate how challenging it can be to come up against certain family legacies that have been maintained for generations.  In the case of this vignette, the expectation is that the adult daughter takes care of the elderly mother until the end of the mother's life without complaining or calling on their brothers for help.

Another important point is that these family dynamics are so ingrained that they are often out of the awareness of the individual.  They are often unconscious until a person comes to therapy and the therapist helps the individual to discover these unconscious beliefs which are at the root of the problem.

In the case of this vignette, the adult daughter's unconscious belief were that she would be a "bad daughter" and a "bad person" if she broke her promise to her mother and grandmother by breaking with  a longstanding tradition in her family.

In this type of situation, even when a person understands logically that it would be detrimental to a loved one's health to keep this kind of promise, the unconscious belief can be so powerful that the person can still feel, on an emotional level, that they're "bad."  So, this is why it's so important for the therapist to work in an experiential way gets to the unconscious dynamics.

Most people would agree that, as in the case of this vignette, young children should never be put in the position of being asked to make such a promise.  Not only do they lack the capacity to understand at such a young age what they're agreeing to, but it also places a terrible burden on them.  And, as in the vignette discussed in the last article, it was a promise that eventually couldn't be kept because to do so would have been detrimental to everyone involved, especially the elderly mother.

What is a Promise?
On the most basic level, according to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a promise is "a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified."

What is a Promise?

When you make a promise, you're giving your word that you will keep your commitment.

Promises range from the ordinary, like making a promise to meet someone for dinner, to life changing events like pledging lifelong fidelity during a marriage ceremony.

Keeping or Breaking Your Promises
As an adult, before you make a promise it's important to consider beforehand whether you'll be able to keep that promise.

Of course, you can only work with the information that you have at hand, things change and there might be times when you're unable to keep your promise.  Most people will understand if, for example, occasionally, you have to cancel a dinner because you have an emergency at home.  But, generally speaking, when you make a promise, the other person expects you to maintain your commitment, so it's important to think first before making promises.

If you're in the habit of breaking promises, you might want to look at some of the questions below and consider these issues before making a promise.

What to Consider Before Making a Promise:
  • Ask yourself why you're considering making a promise.  
    • Are you doing it for yourself or primarily for the other person?  
    • If you're not sure, it might be better to figure this out before making the promise, especially if it's a situation where the other person is really depending upon you in a critical matter. For instance, if you make a hasty promise to get the other person off your back, you and s/he might come to regret it when you're unable to fulfill your commitment.
  • Are you taking into consideration all your other commitments?  
    • Is it realistic for you to make this promise in light of the other obligations that you have in your life?  
    • Are you over-committed already?
  • Is this a promise that you're likely to keep?  
    • There are some promises that are unlikely to be kept because we're human and we make mistakes.  For instance, if a husband promises his wife, "I'll never hurt you," can he really say that he'll never say or do anything in their marriage that will never hurt his wife?  Hopefully, there won't be anything that's big, like infidelity, but just about everyone in a long-term relationship, at some point, says or does something hurtful, even if it's only an angry look or a snarky comment made without thinking.  In most relationships, these issues are usually overcome if everything else is going well.  But no one can promise to be perfect in this way.

How to Handle a Broken Promise Under Ordinary Circumstances
There are times when you're not going to be able to keep your promise.  For example, I'm referring to an ordinary commitment that you've made to see a friend for dinner.  I'm not referring in this section to big important promises, like a promise to be faithful in your relationship, which I'll deal with in a future article.

Take Responsibility and Give as Much Notice as Possible

As I mentioned, most people will understand if, on occasion, you have to reschedule a dinner, as long as you don't have a pattern of breaking these commitments.

The important thing is to be as considerate as you can to the person that you made a commitment with by:
  • Taking responsibility for breaking the commitment, even if it's unavoidable.  Acknowledging that you're breaking a promise shows that you understand that, even under unavoidable circumstances, you are aware that it's an inconvenience for the other person.
  • Giving that person as much advanced notice as possible so s/he can make other plans or adjust their schedules accordingly.
  • If possible, make an attempt to reschedule with your friend.
  • Keep these broken commitments to a minimum by taking into account the questions outlined above before you make the commitment.
Feeling Good About Yourself By Keeping Your Promises and Commitments
When you can fulfill your promises and commitments, not only does it help you to strengthen and maintain your relationships with others, it also makes you feel good about yourself.

Keeping Your Promises Strengthens Your Relationships and Helps You to Feel Good About Yourself

When you keep your promises, you feel like a confident and trustworthy person.

Making it habit to keep your promises also helps you to continue developing your skill to keep your commitments in the future.

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

I have worked with many individuals and couples to help them with their commitments in their personal life as well as in their career.

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.