NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, July 25, 2016

Your Family Might Not Be Supportive of the Positive Changes You're Making in Your Life as You Heal From Trauma

In the two previous articles, I discussed coping with psychological trauma and finding personal meaning after trauma.  In this article, I'm focusing on the challenges involved when family members might not be supportive of the changes that you're making (see my article: You're Happy About Making Changes in Your Life But, Unfortunately, Your Loved One Might Find It Challenging).

Your Family Might Not Be Supportive of the Changes You're Making in Your Life

In the fictional vignettes in those articles about Jane, a woman who lost her husband after he had a fatal car accident, I showed how psychotherapy can help to cope with the trauma as well as a personal exploration of what is meaningful after a trauma (see my article: Making Changes to Create the Life You Want).

Family members are often accustomed to seeing you in a particular way and might feel uncomfortable about changes that you decide to make in your life.

Part of this might be related to your family history and part of it might be cultural.

There might also be certain family members who are emotionally invested in seeing you in a certain way and take personal satisfaction in your remaining that way.

After experiencing psychological trauma, many people reevaluate their life and realize that they want to make changes that are meaningful to them.

While this might be life affirming for the person who wants to make these changes, it can feel threatening to family members.

Let's continue to explore these issues in the ongoing fictional vignette about Jane.

Jane's Story Continued
Until she started her internship in graduate school, Jane avoided telling her family about the career change that she wanted to make.

She knew that her parents and siblings, especially her mother, wouldn't understand why, from their point of view, she was leaving a lucrative career in business to become a clinical social worker.

Her family had been very supportive after Martin died suddenly in a car accident (see my article: Coping With Grief For a Loved One).

Until then, she had never felt closer to them.  They all loved Martin and it was a loss for them too.  Her parents and siblings called her frequently and spent time with her.  Without their support, along with her therapy and bereavement group, her grief would have been that much more difficult.

But she knew that they wouldn't understand the changes that she was going through which led to her decision about a career change.  She also knew that she couldn't keep this change a secret any more, especially after she took a leave of absence from her job to do a graduate school internship.

Your Family Might Not Be Supportive of the Changes You're Making in Your Life

After talking about her apprehension with her therapist, Jane decided to take the path of least resistance by talking to her sister, Beth, first.

Jane invited Beth over for dinner, and as they were having coffee and dessert, she began telling Beth how after the loss of Martin she knew she wanted to find more personal meaning in her life.  She told her that as part of her psychotherapy, she began exploring what that meant to her and what changes she wanted to make.

Even before Jane mentioned social work school, she could see that Beth was starting to look concerned, as if she was wondering where this was all leading.

Taking a deep breathe, Jane told Beth that, after exploring many options, she decided to enroll in a social work Master's program to become a clinical social worker.

Jane could see that Beth was at a loss for words, so she told her, "Beth, this is important to me.  I know it's a big change and you might not understand why I'm doing it, but I would like your emotional support."

After Beth asked Jane some practical questions, she told Jane, "I can't say that I'm not surprised to hear you say this.  You have a great job that you've worked so hard to get.  You're well compensated.  But I can also understand, in a way, that you're reevaluating your life, and if  you're sure that this is what you want to do, I'm with you 100%."  Then, she gave Jane a big hug.

Of all her siblings, Jane was closest to Beth and she had a feeling that Beth would be supportive.  As they both relaxed more, Jane told her about the program and her internship at a nonprofit counseling center.

Jane's enthusiasm was contagious and Beth said, "This is wonderful.  I haven't seen you this excited about anything in years."

Then, they both had the same thought at the same time, and Jane said, "I know, I know, mom and dad and Bill and Joe won't understand."

Beth responded, "Mom is going to have a fit.  You know how she likes to brag about you and your 'prestigious job' to everyone that she meets.  She won't like the idea of your being a social worker."

As they discussed it, they agreed that it would be easier to talk to Bill and Joe first before speaking with their parents.

A week or so later, Jane invited Bill and Joe over to her apartment.

As she expected, they were both shocked and pleaded with her not to do it.  Joe thought that Jane's decision to change careers was based on her shock of losing Martin.  Bill told her that he thought it was "crazy."

Jane was patient with them and explained how Martin's death forced her to reevaluate her life and she realized that her current career was no longer meaningful to her and how important it is to her now to be doing something meaningful.  She realized that life is short and she didn't want to waste any more time doing something that didn't make her happy.

Although she knew that she didn't need her family's approval, she also cared what they thought and wanted their emotional support.  But if they weren't going to support her, she would still make the change anyway.

By the end of the evening, Bill and Joe's attitude softened. They still didn't agree with Jane's decision, but they respected it.  Bill also added that he thought all was not lost since she took a leave of absence from her job and she could still go back if social work wasn't as fulfilling as she thought it would be.

All of them agreed that their mother would be shocked and disappointed.  Bill said, "Talk to dad first."

A week or so later, Jane asked her father to come over on the pretext of asking him to help her take care of the plants on her terrace. Tending to the plants had been Martin's hobby and, not having a "green thumb," Jane neglected the plants.  Her father, on the other hand, was a gardener and he would love helping her.  She also knew that this was one way where she could speak with him alone.

After they tended to the plants and they were sitting drinking ice tea on the terrace, Jane broached the subject about career change.

After Jane told him about her process of self discovery leading up to her decision to change career to become a social worker, he was silent for a moment and he looked off into the distance.

Then he cleared his throat and told Jane that he had always hoped that she would do better than he did. He told her the story that she had heard many times about how he was lucky to even graduate high school before he was expected to help his family financially.  He began as a gardener's assistant earning very little money.

Over time, he worked his way up until he bought the business from the owner when the owner retired.  Although there were tough times, the business supported their family and put Jane and her siblings through college.

He told her that he was so proud of her when she got her college degree and went on to get her MBA.  Then, he watched her move up the corporate ladder until she became one of the senior executives in the company.  Now, it seemed to him that she was throwing it all away.

Your Family Might Not Be Supportive of the Changes You're Making in Your Life

Her father's disappointment was palpable.  It hung in the air like a lead balloon.

They were both silent for a while and then her father got up to leave, "You're an adult and I know you.  I know that money isn't an issue, but all I ask is that you think about this carefully before you make this major change in your life."

As he was leaving, he told her that he would be supportive of anything that she would do, but he hoped she would think it over carefully.

After each discussion with her family members, Jane spoke with her therapist.  Although she felt sure that she was making the right decision for herself, she didn't like that her family was worried about her.

An inner child part of her felt sad that her father and siblings were disappointed, and she and her therapist worked on this in therapy.

Jane also braced herself for her discussion with her mother.  Even though her mother was very supportive after Martin died, Jane and her mother had somewhat of a conflictual relationship starting in adolescence.

Jane felt that her mother derived narcissistic satisfaction from Jane's accomplishments without really seeing Jane for the person that she is.

When Jane was a child, her mother bragged about Jane's grades and accomplishments.  Her mother couldn't stop talking to anyone who would listen about all of Jane's promotions.

Her siblings would always tease Jane that she was her mother's "favorite,"but throughout it all, Jane felt that her mother only saw her in terms of how she could bask in Jane's accomplishments and not as a person with her own wants and needs.

Although Jane understood that her mother would have liked to go to college and have a career, she knew that her mother didn't have the same opportunities that she did.  So, Jane felt compassionate towards her mother.

At the same time, she felt that her mother mostly cared about her for her accomplishments and that if she didn't succeed, she wouldn't be her mother's "favorite."

Jane decided to invite her mother for lunch at an outdoor cafe rather than seeing her to home.  She hoped that if they were around other people that her mother would be less likely to lose her temper.

After making small talk through lunch, Jane raised the topic over coffee.  As she began telling her mother about being accepted into the social work graduate program, Jane could see the increasing look of alarm on her mother's face.

Before Jane could tell her about taking a leave of absence from work, Jane's mother threw her napkin on the table and said, "This is completely crazy, and I refuse to listen to it anymore."  Then, she walked off in a huff.

Jane continued in her therapy, which was helpful to her in terms of dealing with the clients she was seeing at the counseling center.  Her clinical supervision was excellent, but she used her therapy to talk about personal issues that arose for her in her internship.

Jane also used her therapy to talk about unresolved childhood issues that got triggered by her mother's strong reaction to Jane's career decision (see my article: Overcoming the Effects of Childhood Trauma).

She always felt loved by her father, but she felt that her mother's love was conditional based on Jane's accomplishments.  This was especially hurtful when Jane was a child, and her mother's reaction brought back all those memories (see my article: Role Reversal in Mother-Daughter Relationships).

By the time Jane graduated from the program, her father and siblings were proud of her.  Over time, they were able to see why this was so meaningful to Jane and they respect it.

Her mother continued to be disappointed, but she went to her graduation ceremony and began talking to Jane again.

As a result of her therapy sessions, Jane realized that her mother wasn't nurtured as a child, and she was also valued mostly for her accomplishments by Jane's maternal grandmother.  Although it was disappointing that her mother couldn't be happy for her, Jane reconciled herself to the fact that her mother wasn't going to change.

Creating a Meaningful Life With a Career Change

More importantly, by the time Jane began as a full time clinical social worker at the same nonprofit counseling center, she knew she had found a career that she loved.  Her supervisor recommended that Jane continue her education at a psychotherapy postgraduate center where she could further develop her clinical skills.

People who experience trauma or big losses as adults often go through a reevaluation of their life.

Part of this reevaluation is often a psychological journey to create a more meaningful life.

For a variety of reasons, family members might not be supportive of these changes.

Psychotherapy with a skilled psychotherapist can help to go through the reevaluation and discovery process as well as deal with the lack of support from family.

The lack of support from family often triggers earlier unresolved childhood trauma that can also get worked through in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're reevaluating your life or if you're dealing with family members who are emotionally unsupportive, you could benefit from working with a skilled licensed mental health professional who can help you through your journey.

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 evaluate their life and to deal with unsupportive family members.

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, July 11, 2016

Psychotherapy Blog: Coping with Psychological Trauma and Asking "Why me?"

When traumatic events occur to people who are ethical, good people, it's common for them to ask, "Why me?  Why did this thing happen to me?  I've been a good person.  I didn't deserve this" (see my article: Coping with Hard Times).

Coping with Psychological Trauma and Asking, "Why me?"

Not only is this a common response to psychological trauma, it's an understandable question because most people live under the unconscious assumption of a "just world" where if they are leading a good, ethical life, they expect that life will be fair and just.

This unconscious assumption begins at an early age for most people whether it's part of their religious beliefs or childhood fantasies that Santa Claus rewards children who are good and leaves no gifts for children who have misbehaved.

I'm stressing that the belief is unconscious because, on a conscious level, at some point in their lives, most people know that tragedy can strike anyone at any time.  They've seen it happen to good people that they've known.

But they have a deep and personal experience of trauma, it can feel like they've been forsaken by fate (or higher power or God, depending upon their beliefs).

Initially, many people who have experienced psychological trauma feel angry and resentful about what has happened to them.  This is completely understandable because when tragic events occur, it can upend a person's sense of how they see themselves and how they perceive the world.

Most of us go through life not expecting tragic events.  This was certainly the case for most spouses and other family members on the morning of 9/11, who expected to see their loved ones come home that night.

Initially, coming to terms with a tragic event can leave one feeling shocked and emotionally devastated.  Soon after, there can be feelings of anger and resentment as well as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

The following fictionalized vignette demonstrates how psychological trauma can upend a life and how psychotherapy can help.

Jane and Martin were happily married for 10  years.  Their relationship was never better and they were both at the peak of their careers when Martin got into a fatal car accident.

Jane struggled for two years on her own to try to make sense of this tragic event (see my article: Coping with Grief: It's Not Unusual to Feel Worse Before Feeling Better).

She couldn't understand why this happened to her and constantly asked herself why Martin was taken from her and "Why me?"

Coping with Psychological Trauma and Asking, "Why me?"

After feeling no relief from her sadness and anger about losing her husband, she decided to try therapy at the recommendation of her doctor.

As she told the therapist about the call she received that day, she recalled it as if it had happened yesterday.

She remembered where she had been standing when she answered the phone.  She remembered looking out the window at the trees in bloom.  She even remembered hearing a bird singing outside her window.

Worst of all, she remembered the feeling--like getting a punch to her gut--when she heard the police officer at the other end of the phone apologizing to have to tell her that her husband died instantly when another driver hit her husband's car head on that day.

She told the therapist that she felt like her vision narrowed and "everything stopped" at that moment.  Everything felt surreal, as if she were in a dream and would soon wake up and see her husband beside her.

But it wasn't a dream.  The events of that day were very real, and every day since that day she wondered, "Why?  Why did this have to happen?  Why me?"

Jane had mixed feelings about therapy.  She couldn't imagine that she would ever feel better about losing her husband.  But she didn't know what else to do, so she sat in the therapist's office that first day and told her story (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious and Ambivalent).

Afterwards, Jane braced herself for what the therapist might say to her.  So many people tried to heal her emotional wound by telling her things like, "He's in a better place now" or "Time heals all wounds."

Jane tried to be outwardly diplomatic when people said these things to her because she knew that they meant well.  But inside she was seething.  She felt they couldn't possibly understand what she was going through and she would rather they said nothing than to make these banal comments.

So, she was expecting the therapist to be like everyone else, but the therapist listened and remained attuned to Jane.  She didn't offer Jane any pat answers or try to placate her with trite sayings.

After Jane spoke, she realized that, for the first time since Martin's fatal accident, she felt she was really heard.  She felt that her words and emotions were being contained in the safety of the therapist's office (see my article: The Therapist's Empathic Attunement Can Be Emotionally Reparative For the Client).

To her surprise, Jane felt a small sense of relief after that therapy session, so she made another appointment for the following week.  She still felt sad, lonely, resentful and angry, but she could feel a tiny sense of relief that was new.  She even slept better that night than she had in a long time.

She continued to go to her therapy sessions and talk about how lost she felt.

After a while, she found herself reminiscing about Martin and telling the therapist about how happy they had been as well as some funny things that Martin said.

Memories: Remembering That There Were More Happy Times Than Sad Times

For the first time, she was able to laugh when she remembered his sense of humor, even though she was still filled with grief. This was a new experience for her and she was surprised and curious about it.

To her amazement, she actually began to look forward to her therapy sessions.  She felt that when she spoke about her memories of Martin, he "came alive" for her internally as well as in the room with the therapist.

Initially, she only thought about the day of the accident.

But, as time went on in therapy, she realized that she had many more moments of joy and happiness in her life with Martin that she was now able to access and talk about because her therapist provided her with a safe space for her to do so (see my article: How a Therapist Creates a Holding Environment in Therapy).

After a few months went by, her therapist asked Jane if she would be willing to process the traumatic memory using EMDR therapy.  Her therapist explained how EMDR therapy works and how it could be helpful to Jane.

By that time, Jane had a good relationship with her therapist and she was willing to try it.  After going through the preparatory phase, Jane began EMDR therapy sessions to work on the trauma related to her loss.

EMDR therapy wasn't a quick fix, but by the time Jane and her therapist completed the EMDR therapy, Jane was feeling like a great weight had been lifted from her.  She still missed her husband and remembered the details of the day she received the phone call, but she no longer felt oppressed by the memory.

Coping with Psychological Trauma and Trying to Find Personal Meaning

Soon after that, Jane began to think that she would like "something good" to come out of her personal pain.

This was a new thought for Jane.  She wasn't sure what she wanted to do, but she knew she wanted to find inner meaning, so she and her therapist began to explore what Jane could do to create inner meaning about her experience.

The feeling of "Why me?" is a common experience that many people go through when they experience a deep loss or tragic event.

After the event, life feels unfair.  The world can feel precarious and unsafe.  Some people even have a sense of hopelessness and helplessness to think that something tragic could happen again without warning.

The depth of their sorrow can cause many people to feel that nothing, not even therapy, could help heal  their sorrow.  Some people come to therapy at that point with low expectations, but they don't know what else to do.

The unique experience of being with an attuned psychotherapist is hard to imagine until it is experienced (see my article: Psychotherapy: A Unique Intersubjective Experience).

Therapists who are skilled in creating a holding environment can help to contain even the deepest sorrow to help alleviate the emotional pain.

Experiential therapy, like EMDR, help a client to process psychological trauma so that the experience becomes integrated within the rest of client's life (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Getting Help in Therapy
The shock, sorrow and anger brought on by a traumatic event can be overwhelming without help from a licensed mental health professional.

Therapists, who are trained and skilled in helping clients with psychological trauma, can provide the intersubjective space for healing to begin.

If you are struggling with psychological trauma that you've been unable to cope with on your own, you owe it to yourself to get professional help from a psychotherapist who is a trauma therapist.

Many people are amazed that they can not only heal from a traumatic experience but also find personal meaning and feelings of transcendence.

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 heal from psychological trauma.

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.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Fear of getting hurt is often connected to blaming communication (see my article: Fear of Intimacy Can Lead to Fault-Finding, Which Can Destroy Relationships).  Blaming communication occurs  when a person communicates anger or hurt by blaming the other person instead of focusing on his or her own internal experience of what happened (see my article:  Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable).

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Behavior?

Examples of Blaming Statements
  • You made me feel hurt when you forgot my birthday.
  • You made me feel unloved when you ignored me at the party and talked to your friends the whole night.
  • You were so inconsiderate of me when you made reservations without asking me where I wanted to go.
  • You were selfish when you chose to make plans with your family without inviting me.
And so on.

Why Do People Engage in Blaming Communication?
As you can see, what all of these statements have in common is that one person is blaming another person without speaking from his or her experience or taking responsibility for his or her own feelings.

Often when people communicate in this way, it's because they are afraid to make themselves emotionally vulnerable by expressing their own emotional experience.

People who communicate this way in their relationship often have no awareness that they're afraid of getting hurt because the fear can be unconscious.

It's not a surprise that this fear usually originates in early childhood where children feel blamed, criticized, unloved or invalidated by their parents or other significant adults in their lives (see my article:  Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past).

How Can People Learn to Stop Engaging in Blaming Behavior?
This fear is difficult to overcome alone or by reading a self help book.

Even if people who engage in this behavior learn to make "I statements" where they speak from their own internal experience (without blaming the other person), if the fear of getting hurt is strong enough, the fear can be emotionally paralyzing, especially if they grew up in a household where they were invalidated emotionally.

This problem can be overcome by working with a psychotherapist who knows how to gently help clients to get to the underlying issues that are causing the problem (see my article: You Can't Change Your Past, But You Can Change How the Past Affects You Now).

Once clients feel safe enough to get to the underlying issues, they can begin to differentiate between "then" and "now" in terms of being a young child with their family back then and being an adult now (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma: Learning in Therapy How to Separate "Then" From "Now").

They can also learn to distinguish between their family (when they were children) vs. their current relationship.

Psychotherapists who specialize in working with this type of problem often do inner child work to help that aspect of the client to feel safe (see my article: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

Fictionalized Vignette
The following fictionalized vignette demonstrates this dynamic and how therapy can help:

Ida began therapy to deal with the loss of a three year relationship after her boyfriend broke up with her.  She was sad and upset about the loss.

What is the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Initially, Ida said she couldn't understand why her boyfriend left her.  He told me that he was fed up with being blamed for the problems in their relationship.  This was something that he had told her many times before, but that she didn't understand.

From Ida's point of view, "I was only telling him how I felt.  I don't know why he got so upset that he left me."

At that point in her therapy, Ida was unable to see that she used blaming communication with her boyfriend.

Her therapist helped Ida to see the difference between:

"You make me feel hurt and unlovable when you don't call me."


"I feel hurt and unlovable when I don't hear from you."

When her therapist asked Ida to practice saying this, Ida froze.  To her surprised, she was so afraid that she couldn't utter the words.

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Since Ida was too afraid to say the words, her therapist asked Ida about her internal experience, on a physical level.

Ida told her that her chest was tight, her heart was racing, her throat was constricted and her stomach was tight.  She also felt light headed.

Fear: Chest tight, racing heart, throat constricted and stomach tight

Ida's therapist asked Ida to stay with those sensations, if she could, and see what else came up for her.

The first thought that came to Ida was an early memory of telling her mother and grandmother that she felt sad about her grandfather dying (see my article: Looking at Your Childhood Trauma History From an Adult Perspective).

When her grandmother left the room, Ida's mother slapped her and told her that she made her grandmother feel sad by bringing up the grandfather's death.

Ida had many early memories of being scolded and beaten for expressing her feelings, and she was able to see the connection between her current problem and the abuse that she suffered when she was a child when she expressed her feelings.

Her therapist helped Ida by doing inner child work.  She asked Ida, as her adult self, to speak to her younger self in a compassionate and nurturing way.

But when Ida imagined her younger self and began to speak to her compassionately, she felt a great deal of shame.  Then, she got angry and blamed the younger self for causing problems in her family.

Ida and her therapist had to work for a while to gradually help Ida to feel compassion for her younger self.

Ida was someone who loved children and who would have felt compassionate for a young child who was being mistreated.  But she had trouble summoning up self compassion without feeling shame.

So, her therapist had to help her to separate out self compassion and shame before she could truly feel compassionate for herself.

After a while, Ida was able to see that she could express her feelings to her therapist and there were no negative consequences.  She felt safe with her therapist, so she began to believe that it was possible to feel safe with other people if she was discerning with regard to the friends and romantic partners that she picked.

Gradually, Ida felt less and less afraid to express her feelings and she learned to express them without blaming others.  When she knew that she could trust the person, she didn't feel the same emotional vulnerability that she had felt in the past.

What's the Connection Between Fear of Getting Hurt and Blaming Communication?

Eventually, she was able to get into another relationship and express herself in a healthy way.

Fear of being emotionally vulnerable often starts at a young age in the family of origin.

This fear can result in your communicating in an unhealthy, blaming way instead of expressing your feelings and taking responsibility for them.

This fear is often unconscious and difficult to see on your own, especially if it has been part of your life for a long time.

Working with a therapist, who can help you to discover the origin and meaning of your fear and who can provide you with a safe place to talk about your feelings, can help you to express your feelings in a healthy way so that you're no longer engaging in blaming communication.

Getting Help in Therapy
Blaming communication can ruin a relationship.

After a while, this type of communication erodes the relationship and can lead to its demise.

If you are in the habit of engaging in blaming communication and you want to learn to express your feelings in a healthy way, get help from a licensed mental health professional who has expertise in this area.

Not only can it save your relationship, but it can also help you to work through unresolved childhood trauma that can be at the root of this and other problems.

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:

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.