NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

I've written about denial in other articles (Overcoming Denial About Family Problems and Discovering Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots).  In this article, I'm focusing on rationalization as a form of denial when you're with someone who has an addiction.

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

As I've mentioned in prior articles, there are many forms of denial, including  

Rationalization is a form of denial often used by people who are in relationships with someone who has an addiction.

It's  understandable how this could happen because most people want to be in a relationship with someone that they can trust.  But often this wish to be able to trust can become so powerful that it leads to self deception.

Rationalizations as Denial and Self Deception
Here are some examples:

"I know he really doesn't have a drinking problem.  The stress on his job makes him drink."

"Living in New York City, where the pace is so fast makes him anxious and this causes him to drink.  If we moved, he wouldn't drink."

"My boyfriend really doesn't have a sexual addiction.  It's not his fault if women throw themselves at him."

"He's hanging out with the wrong crowd.  That's why he's abusing drugs."

"She's constantly having sex with other man because I'm not satisfying her sexually.  It's not her fault."

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

"She has been arrested several times for shoplifting, but I know that the police are exaggerating her behavior."

"Even though she cheats on me with lots of other men, she always comes home to me and that's all that really matters."

"I don't really mind if he spends a lot of time on sex chat sites as long as he doesn't get physically involved with another woman"

"I know she's abusing Xanax, but she told me that she can stop at any time and I believe her."

On the Surface, Rationalizations Seem to Make Sense
While rationalizations seem to make sense on the surface, there are usually underlying reasons, sometimes unconscious, that prompt these rationalizations.

A fictionalized scenario demonstrates how rationalizations can be used to avoid dealing with underlying issues:

Tania started therapy because she was having problems in her marriage.  She would have preferred to attend couples therapy, but her husband refused to go.

During her first session, Tania felt uncomfortable talking about her marital problems, but as she continued to go to her therapy sessions, she began to talk about the sexual problems in her relationship (see my article:  The Importance of Talking About Sexual Problems in Your Therapy).

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

Overcoming her embarrassment, Tania began discussing her sexual life with her husband--or lack of sexual life.  She talked about how passionate their sex life used to be when during the first few years of their marriage.  But then their sexual intimacy began to dwindle until it stopped altogether.

Then, one day Tania told her therapist how her husband stayed up most nights on the computer after she went to bed.

After a few weeks of this, Tania became curious about what her husband was doing on the computer at night, so she looked up the history on the computer and discovered that her husband was looking at pornography at night.

Although Tania didn't like it, she told her therapist that she didn't have a problem with it.  She preferred for him to look at women on porn sites than to have an affair with another woman.

When her therapist attempted to explore this further, Tania deflected her therapist's questions by changing the subject.  When her therapist pointed this out to her, Tania insisted that she didn't think her husband watching porn on the Internet had anything to do with the problems in her marriage.

But as time went on and her husband spent more and more time on the computer at night, Tania became increasingly concerned.

Then, one day, she became curious about the sites that her husband was visiting, so while he was out of the apartment, she spent time looking at the history on the computer and discovered that her husband wasn't just looking at porn, he was emailing several women to meet up with them to have sex (see my article:  Infidelity: Married, Bored and Cheating Online).

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

This was so startling to Tania that she confronted her husband and told him that unless he got help in therapy, she would leave him.

After her husband began therapy, Tania talked to her therapist about how betrayed she felt by her husband.  She wondered if she should leave him even though he was getting help (see my article: Relationships: Should You Stay or Should You Go?)

Rationalization as a Form of Denial and Self Deception

Gradually, Tania's therapist began to explore with Tania's original rationalizations about her husband's  viewing of pornography and how it, initially, prevented her from seeing that the problem was much worse than she suspected.

Tania's therapist helped Tania to see that she wasn't ready initially to see what was happening and how it was affecting her marriage.  At the time, it would have been too overwhelming for her, so the defense mechanism of denial protected her from seeing the truth.

It took a while for Tania to overcome the shame that she felt about her denial.  But, over time, she developed a compassion for herself.  She also realized that her husband had a sexual addiction and he would need to continue in therapy to deal with the underlying issues.

Over time, Tania and her husband remained together and eventually went to couples counseling to put their life back together again.

Although defense mechanisms are often perceived as being negative, defense mechanisms, like rationalization, serve a protective function.

People often use defense mechanisms unconsciously because dealing with the truth is often too overwhelming at the time.

But, like other defense mechanisms, after a while the protective function of rationalizations get in the way of emotional healing.

In the fictionalized scenario above, if Tania had continued to use rationalizations about her husband's behavior, she would never have faced what was really happened, she wouldn't have given him an ultimatum and he wouldn't have gotten help to overcome his problems so they could start to do put their life back together again.

Getting Help in Therapy
Defense mechanisms, like rationalizations, are usually unconscious.

An experienced therapist need to use tact and clinical skill to help clients who are defending against seeing problems in their lives.

Self deception, in its many guises, is a common problem for many people.

If you have a sense that you've been stuck with intractable problems, possibly due to denial on your part, you could benefit from working with a therapist who understands this process and can help you to explore the underlying issues involved.

Overcoming rationalization as a form of self deception can be difficult at first but, ultimately, it can free you to lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: The Benefits of Therapy and 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.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Are You Experiencing Chronic Stress and Not Aware of It?

In my prior article, How Do You Know When You're Under Too Much Stress?, I began a discussion about enduring overwhelming stress.  As I mentioned in that article, there are many people, who have lived with chronic stress all their lives, who don't recognize when they're overwhelmed by stress.  It just feels "normal" to them.

Are You Experiencing Chronic Stress and Not Aware of It?

But there are definitely psychological and health-related consequences to longstanding chronic stress.

In this article, I'm exploring this dynamic by giving a fictionalized clinical vignette to illustrate how people who experience chronic stress can be unaware of it and what can be done to overcome this problem:

Ina started therapy after she saw her doctor for debilitating headaches and chest pains and medical tests ruled out any underlying medical problems.  Her doctor told Ina that the cause of her headaches and chest pain was stress and recommended that she start therapy (see my article: Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

Are You Experiencing Chronic Stress and Not Aware of It?

Ina had never been to therapy before, so she wasn't sure what to expect, but her therapist provided Ina with psychoeducation about therapy and helped her to understand how therapy could help.

During the next two sessions, Ina talked about her family history.  Although her family history was filled with many losses and significant emotional trauma, Ina talked about it in a matter-of-fact way without much emotion.  She was very emotionally detached from her own childhood history.

When her therapist reflected back to Ina, Ina seemed surprised.  She had never thought of her childhood history as being particularly traumatic.  In fact, she had not thought much about it at all.  In response to her therapist, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "That's just the way it was."

Part of her early history was that Ina had to over-function for both of her parents because they both had serious problems with alcohol.

As the oldest, Ina took it upon herself to cook, clean and take care of her younger siblings--starting at the age of 10.  She told her therapist, "If I didn't do it, no one would have done it.  I couldn't just let my brothers and sisters starve or not go to school."

Ina was so detached from that younger part of herself that was emotionally and physically neglected and who had to mature beyond her years that she didn't realize that she had paid a psychological and physical price for taking on this role.

Since she couldn't see it for herself, her therapist asked Ina how she would feel if one of her own young children had to take on these adult responsibilities at such a young age and without help from any other adults.

At that point, Ina began to cry because even though she was detached from her own early childhood trauma, she cared very much for her children and she never would want them to have to go through the same thing as she did.

It was only when Ina was able to see her situation from the point of view of her own children that she realized that what happened to her was traumatic.

In the following therapy sessions, her therapist talked to Ina about the ACE study, which was an extensive study which showed how experiencing early childhood trauma could lead to stress-related psychological and physical problems.

After that, Ina began to open up more and she was able to talk about how hard it was for her and how anxious she was all the time because she didn't know how to do half the things she was doing for her siblings.  She worried all the time that she might get it wrong and they would suffer in some way.

In many ways, Ina still worried excessively about her siblings--even though they were all doing well as adults.  So, her therapist realized that Ida was emotionally stuck in the past.  Even though she knew that her siblings were all doing well now, she still had the same worries as when she was a child.

When her therapist pointed this out to her, Ina was surprised because she never thought of this before.  She realized that her therapist was right--there really was no need to worry about her siblings anymore.  Then, she became curious about why she was continuing to worry.

Her therapist explained to Ina that she had learned to habitually worry about her siblings and her emotions had not caught up with the present.  She was still worrying as if she was living in the past.

Are You Experiencing Chronic Stress and Not Aware of It?

Over time, Ina learned had to take better care of herself.  Her therapist taught her how to meditate.  She also began exercising at the gym.

Her therapist also talked to Ina about how EMDR therapy could help Ina to work through her unresolved childhood trauma so that she wouldn't have to continue to live in the past (see my articles:

As Ina and her therapist did EMDR therapy, Ina noticed that her chest pain had disappeared and her headaches were infrequent.

Gradually, Ina worked through a childhood of trauma and loss and, as she did, she was under much less stress.  It was as if a big weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

It was only after she experienced much less stress that she realized how much stress she had been carrying around inside of her.  She was able to relax more, sleep better and enjoy life more.

A lifetime of chronic stress can take a heavy toll on you both physically and emotionally.

Chronic stress can become increasingly debilitating over time.

Many people who have experienced childhood trauma and loss become "shutdown" to just how much stress they're experiencing.

This makes sense when you realize that, as children, they didn't have many options if they wanted to survive.  Like "Ina," they did what they had to do without much awareness of the toll that it was taking on them.

Medical doctors who are savvy about the mind-body connection know that many (if not most) medical complaints that their patients have are stress related.  After they have eliminated any underlying medical cause, they know that their patients need psychological help--not medical help--and they refer them to a psychotherapist.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you recognize yourself in the vignette above, you're not alone.  Millions of people have had similar experiences.  The unfortunate thing is that most of them never realize that their symptoms have psychological roots.  They often go from one medical doctor to another for "the answer."

As a child, you might have survived your circumstances by not allowing yourself to be conscious of how bad the situation was and how it was affecting you.

Often, it's not until you're an adult that you begin to experience the stress-related symptoms.

Although it's helpful to go to the gym and use other self care techniques, if you have the kind of childhood history that "Ida" had, those self care techniques aren't enough to overcome the trauma.  They can help temporarily to overcome the stress, but the psychological trauma will still be there just under the surface waiting to be triggered by a current situation.

If you can identify with the vignette above, you can take the first step to overcome these stress related  problems by setting up a consultation with a psychotherapist.

By working through your unresolved childhood trauma in therapy, you can live a more fulfilling life free from your history.

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, December 12, 2016

Recognizing the Signs When You're Under Too Much Stress

I've written about stress management in other articles, including: Addicted to StressHow Your Stress Can Affect Your Spouse and ChildrenFinding Inner Peace During Stressful Times and Self Soothing Techniques to Use When You're Under a Lot of Stress.  In this article, I'm focusing on learning to recognize when you're stress level is too high.

Recognizing the Signs When You're Under Too Much Stress

Why Wouldn't Someone Know When They're Under Too Much Stress?
It might seem unusual to pose the question of how you know when you're under too much stress.  After all, many people recognize the symptoms and complain about being too frazzled.

But people who have endured acute stress from childhood often don't recognize when their stress level is too high because they're so accustomed to acute stress and don't recognize it as being an unhealthy state.  It feels "normal" to them.  But enduring acute stress on a long term basis can have negative medical and psychological consequences.  I'll address these issues of in my next article.

One of the best ways to recognize that you're under too much stress is to observe the physical and psychological symptoms that are telltale signs of being under an unhealthy level of stress.

Many of these signs and symptoms can also involve other medical or psychological issues so, when in doubt, check with your medical doctor.

Warning Signs That You're Under Too Much Stress

Physical Symptoms:
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Eating too much
  • Muscle tension, aches and pains, including shoulder and back pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, nausea 
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Rapid heartbeat and/or chest pain
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth, especially at night
  • Nightmares
  • Heartaches
  • Feeling tired most of the time
  • Low Energy most of the time
  • Difficulty relaxing, even when tired
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Low libido, problems with sexual performance
  • Nervousness, shakiness, cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Nail biting
  • Fidgeting
  • Pacing back and forth

How Do You Know When You're Under Too Much Stress?

Psychological Symptoms:
  • Feeling agitated, frustrated or moody
  • Losing your temper easily
  • Snapping at others
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed
  • Finding it difficulty to relax and quiet the mind
  • Racing thoughts
  • Isolating and avoiding others
  • Feeling less pleasure in socializing or engaging in things that were once pleasurable
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling worthless/low self esteem
  • Feeling depressed 
  • Feeling pessimistic or only seeing the negative side of things
  • Feeling anxious 
  • Worrying persistently
  • Feeling fearful and emotionally vulnerable
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Being forgetful 
  • Having problems focusing

Social Isolation: One of the Signs That You Might Be Under Too Much Stress

These are just some of the many telltale signs of being under too much stress and, as I mentioned earlier, some of these symptoms can be related to other medical and/or psychological problems.

Lifestyle Changes For Stress Management
There are lifestyle changes that you can make to help you manage your stress.

See my articles:

Next Article in the Psychotherapy Blog
In the next article, I'll be focusing specifically on people who grew up as children in families where there was chronic stress and the challenges that they have in recognizing when they're under too much stress as adults.

A certain amount of healthy stress is necessary to live life.

But chronic stress has a way of creeping up on you without you even being aware of it. Over time, chronic stress can have a physical and psychological debilitating effect.

If you're experiencing some of the symptoms mentioned above, you would be wise to consult with your medical doctor to rule out any medical problems since there are many medical issues that have the same symptoms.

Getting Help in Therapy
If your doctor has ruled out medical issues and you've made healthy lifestyle changes, but you're still overwhelmed by stress, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional.

Getting Help in Therapy

A skilled, licensed psychotherapist can help you to get to the root of your problems so you can learn to manage your stress (see my articles: The Benefits of Therapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Getting help in therapy can make all the difference in the quality of your 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 get to the root of their problems so they could manage their stress and live more fulfilling 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.

Monday, December 5, 2016

NYC Psychotherapy Blog: Is It Time to Reevaluate Your Therapy?

I've written many articles for this psychotherapy blog about how to find a psychotherapist that's right for you, and how you know if your therapy is working for you (see my articles: How to Choose a Psychotherapist,  Psychotherapy: Psychotherapists Listening and Learning From ClientsPsychotherapy: How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend and Being Honest With Your Psychotherapist).  In this article, I'm focusing on how you know if you need to reevaluate your therapy and recognizing some of the possible signs that your therapy might not be working for you.

Is It Time to Reevaluate Your Therapy?  Warning Sign:  Therapist Frequently  Falls Asleep in  Session

Consider Reevaluating Your Therapy Under the Following Circumstances:
  • Your therapist misrepresented his or her skills, which you discover after you begin therapy.
  • Your therapist lacks the professional skills to help you and is working outside the scope of his or her expertise.
  • Your therapist lacks empathy for your problems.
  • Your therapist doesn't respect your ethnic, religious, racial or cultural background.
  • Your therapist talks too much about him or herself in your sessions.
  • Your therapist hardly talks at all and you feel alone.
  • Your therapist frequently falls asleep during your sessions.
  • Your therapist can't remember basic information about you from one session to the next, and you have to keep repeating your story.
  • Your therapist tries to be your friend instead of your therapist.
  • Your therapist doesn't like that you're developing other sources of emotional support among healthy family members and friends.
  • Your therapist frequently takes non-emergency calls during your sessions.
  • Your therapist often misses appointments or shows up late.
  • Your therapist has a belittling or dismissive attitude towards you.
  • Your therapist uses your sessions to try to get advice from you during your sessions (e.g., you're a financial advisor and therapist tries to get financial advice).
  • Your therapist thinks that his or her method of doing therapy is "the only way."
  • Your therapist doesn't continue to develop his or her professional skills at seminars, workshops or online.
  • Your therapist pressures you to confront family members when either you're not ready or you know it would be dangerous to do so.
  • Your therapist promises you that you will be "cured" of your problem by seeing him or her.
  • Your therapist breaks confidentiality by naming other clients.
  • Your therapist breaks confidentiality by providing information about you without your permission or without a mandate.

Recognize even more serious "red flags" about your therapy under the following circumstances:
  • Your therapist crosses boundaries by being seductive or trying to initiate a sexual relationship with you (see my article: Boundary Violations and Sexual Exploitation in Psychotherapy).
  • Your therapist's license has been revoked.
  • Your therapist has no license at all and never had one.
  • Your therapist tries to borrow money from you.
  • Your therapist appears to be emotionally unstable.
  • Your therapist appears to be impaired on alcohol or drugs during your sessions.
  • Your therapist attempts to push his or her religion on you.
  • Your therapist becomes too emotional when you talk about your problems.
  • Your therapist is frequently late or doesn't show up for your appointments.

Serious "Red Flags" in Your Therapy: Sexual Boundary Violations

Under the first category of items, if you've expressed your concern and your therapist hasn't changed his or her behavior or attitude, it's your right to tell your therapist that the therapy isn't working for you and you'll be seeking other help.

Under the second category of items, the "red flag" items, these problems in therapy are serious enough for you to discontinue therapy and look for someone else, especially in cases of serious boundary violations.

It's not always easy to recognize these problems, especially when you're in a vulnerable state, which is why I hope this article will be helpful to clients who aren't sure if they need to reevaluate or leave their therapy.

I have been a psychotherapist for over 20 years and I've known many therapists.  I believe that the vast majority of therapists are caring, qualified and ethical professionals.  Most therapists enter the field because they feel a calling to help clients and use their expertise in an appropriate and professional manner.

But, just as there are unethical people in any profession, there are cases where some therapists shouldn't be in the profession.

Even if none of these circumstances apply, if you think you're not making progress in therapy after a reasonable time, you've discussed this with your therapist and you still don't know how your therapist is going to help you to overcome your problem, consider that you and your therapist just might not be a good fit or your therapist lacks the skills to help you.

Making a change in your therapy can feel daunting, but continuing to work with a therapist when the therapy isn't right for you is a waste of your time and money.

If you find yourself in one of these unfortunate circumstances in your therapy and you're not sure what to do, it might be wise to have a consultation with an experienced, objective therapist to talk over your concerns so you can make a decision about what to do.

Finding the Right Therapist Can Make All the Difference For Your Emotional Healing

Once you've found a psychotherapist that is the right therapist for you, it can make all the difference in your journey toward healing.

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

Also, see my articles:
The Therapist's Empathic Attunement in Therapy
Asking For What You Need in Therapy
Empowering Clients in Therapy - Part 1
Empowering Clients in Therapy - Part 2: Clinical Issues
Beyond the "Band Aid" Approach in Therapy
Ruptures and Repairs in Therapy
Psychotherapy and the Erotic Transference: When You "Fall In Love" With Your Therapist
What is EMDR Therapy?