NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Psychotherapy is More Than Just Venting: Understanding the Importance of Balancing Content and Process in Therapy

If you've never been in therapy before, you might not know what to expect, which is why I've written several articles to educate people about starting therapy (see my articles: Starting TherapyPsychotherapy and Beginner's MindThe Benefits of Psychotherapy and How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different Than Talking to a Friend).  One important concept in psychotherapy is the importance of balancing content and process.

Psychotherapy: Understanding the Importance of Balancing Content and Process in Your Therapy Sessions

Psychotherapy is More Than Just Venting
Many people who have never been in therapy before think that their therapy sessions will be a place for them to vent about their problems and nothing more.

They think that they can use their therapy sessions to just release whatever is on their mind, so they can empty themselves of what's bothering them.

While venting is an important part of therapy, it's only one part.  If therapy were solely about venting, it would be of limited value since you can vent with a friend, family member or a spouse.  Why pay a psychotherapist if you're only going to vent?

Understanding the Importance of Balancing Content and Process in Therapy
Psychoeducation is an important part of therapy, especially for people who haven't been in therapy before.

Understanding the difference between content and process in therapy is important, and it's essential to balance both in order to have a successful therapy.

Content is just what you would think it is--you talk about what's on your mind: What happened during the week and other things that are on your mind.

Many people who begin therapy only focus on content.

Often, people provide so much content in therapy sessions that there's little time for processing, which is another very important part of therapy.

Processing in therapy is stepping back from the content, experiencing your feelings about what you're talking about, and telling your therapist about your feelings.  For example:
  • What is it like on an emotional level for you to talk about these issues with your therapist?
  • How is the content that you shared with your therapist meaningful to you?  
  • How does it relate to your past, present or wished for future?  
  • How does it relate to other things that you and your therapist are working on?  
and so on.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that illustrates the importance of balancing process and content in psychotherapy sessions:

Ida started therapy after her breakup with Sam.

She had never been in therapy before, and she started therapy because she was afraid that she would alienate her friends if she kept talking on and on about the breakup.

After the consultation with her therapist, Ida had her first therapy session.  During that session, Ida started venting non-stop about what happened in the relationship.

Since it was Ida's first therapy session, her therapist realized that Ida needed to vent and allowed her to talk.

During the next session, Ida was talking non-stop again about the relationship, but she wasn't talking about her feelings.

When Ida stopped to take a breath, her therapist gently and tactfully pointed out to Ida that she was providing a lot of information about the relationship and the breakup, but she wasn't talking about how she was feeling.

Her therapist explained to Ida why it's important to not only relay information in therapy but also to talk about her feelings--in other words, to balance content and process.

Her therapist asked Ida to slow down rather than try to get in as much information as possible in their hour together.  She told her that by slowing down, Ida would be able to sense into her feelings and process them.

Ida wasn't sure she understood, but she knew how to slow down.  So, rather than racing ahead to her next thought, she focused on what she had just said, which was that she felt betrayed by Sam, her ex.

At first, Ida didn't feel any particular emotions.  Then, her therapist asked Ida to focus on her body and sense if she was holding onto any emotions (see my article: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

Ida felt a tightness in her throat and, as she focused on that tightness, she began to cry.

After she cried for a few minutes, Ida felt an emotional release and she realized that she had been holding onto this sadness in her throat.

From that session on, Ida was much more mindful of the importance of both process and content.  Rather than speaking quickly to vent, she slowed down and allowed herself to feel her emotions.

Ida realized that she had been speaking quickly as a way to not feel her emotions.  She was racing from one thought to the next because, without realizing it, she thought it was just a matter of purging herself of these thoughts so she could let them go.

But as she took the time to process her thoughts and emotions, she began to feel more emotionally integrated.

Psychotherapy: Understanding the Importance of Balancing Content and Process in Your Therapy Sessions

A common misconception about psychotherapy is that therapy is just about venting, but this is only a part of what therapy is about (see my articles about other common myths about therapy: Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy Takes a Long Time and Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're Weak).

Many clients who are new to therapy think that they will use their psychotherapy sessions to just talk and purge themselves of their thoughts.

Psychoeducation is an important part of psychotherapy, especially for people who are new to therapy.

When therapists provide clients with psychoeducation about the importance of balancing content and process in their therapy sessions, clients usually realize how essential this combination is to their healing process.

Rather than just venting about what happened, they're also taking the time to feel how they are affected and make connections to the past, present and their wishes for the future.

The emotional integration of balancing content and process is an important part of what is healing in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
A skilled psychotherapist knows how to provide psychoeducation to assist clients to use both content and process in therapy (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Like any other skill, it can take clients time to develop these skills.

As a psychotherapy client, with the help of your psychotherapist, you learn as you become more experienced in therapy.

Although it might seem contradictory, going slower to process thoughts and feelings moves the therapeutic work along faster than just venting.

Venting without any processing is a superficial way of talking about  "the story" of what happened and not about your related emotional experience.

If you're feeling stuck or you're having difficulty overcoming your problems, you could benefit from attending therapy with a skilled psychotherapist.

You're not alone.  Help is available to you.

After you've worked through your problems in therapy, you'll have an opportunity to live a more fulfilling life.

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

NYC Psychotherapy Blog: Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"? Ask Yourself, "What's Changed?"

Before you consider "starting over" in a troubled relationship, it's a good idea to ask yourself, "What changed?," especially if, as a couple, you haven't reflected on what needs to change and how the two of you are going to bring about that change (see my article: Love: Is It Really Better the Second Time Around?)

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"?  Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Many couples, who have having problems in their relationship, decide that telling themselves they're "starting over" means they've changed their problems.

But without introspection by each individual, an understanding of what went wrong in the past, and a plan to make changes, in most cases, the same problems continue--no matter how many times these couples vow to "start over."

Some couples might say that they've talked about their problems and they've decided not to repeat the same mistakes.  But with complex relationship problems, if you don't understand the underlying issues at the root of these problems, a simple declaration to not repeat your mistakes won't resolve the problems.

Let's look at a fictionalized scenario that illustrates these issues:

Jane and Bob
Bob and Jane were dating for two years when they moved in together.  Both of them were divorced and had not dated in a long time before they met each other.

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"?  Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Initially, things were going well and they were enjoying their time together, but several months later, Jane discovered that Bob secretly engaged in online gambling.

One night, she woke up in the early hours of the morning to find Bob at their computer in the living room playing poker online.

When he heard Jane come into the room, Bob tried to hide what he was doing by switching to another website, but Jane had already seen what he was doing and she confronted him (see my article: Are Toxic Secrets Ruining Your Relationship?)

They stayed up all the night to talk about Bob's gambling.  At first, he told Jane that this was the first time that he had ever gone onto this gambling site.  But when Jane looked at the browser history, she saw that he was regularly on various gambling sites.

At that point, Bob had to admit that he would frequently gamble online, and he had been gambling online for several years, but he didn't want Jane to know about it because he felt ashamed about it.

Although Jane felt compassion for Bob, she was also shocked and angry that Bob hid his problem from her.

Over the next few days, as Jane and Bob continued to discuss his gambling, Jane found out that Bob had withdrew a considerable amount of money from their joint checking account.

When Jane confronted Bob about this, he told her that he had planned to replace the money before Jane found out about it, but he was having a "bad streak of luck."  He admitted that he was also gambling on sports and he had lost a lot of money.

By now, Jane was very upset.  She was beginning to realize that Bob's gambling problem was a lot worse than she had originally suspected.

After thinking it over for a few days, Jane told Bob that she couldn't live with a gambler, especially since her father gambled away her family's savings.  Then, she asked Bob to move out.

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over?" Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Bob pleaded with Jane to give him a chance to overcome his gambling problem.  He knew he would be miserable without Jane and he felt deep remorse for putting their relationship in jeopardy.

Jane wasn't sure what to do at that point, so she asked Bob to move out for a few weeks so she could think about what she wanted to do.

During the weeks that Bob and Jane were apart, they agreed to no contact.  They each missed each other a lot, and Jane wondered if she had made a mistake by asking Bob to move out.

After their separation period was over, they agreed to talk.  Bob told Jane that he wanted more than anything for them to get back together.  He asked her if she would consider "starting over" and he promised he would never gamble again.

Jane told Bob that their weeks apart had been very hard for her, and she missed him a lot.  She made Bob promise that he would never gamble again and, when he did, she agreed that they should "start over."

They both agreed that they wouldn't discuss his gambling or this painful period in their lives again, and they would resume their relationship "as if nothing had ever happened."  They both wanted to "put it behind" them (see my article: Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots)

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"?  Ask Yourself, "What's Changed?"

Initially, they were so glad to be back together again that they went on a romantic vacation together to rekindle their relationship.  They had a wonderful time, and when they got back, they were more resolved than ever to be together.

But a month or so later, Jane couldn't help wondering if Bob was secretly gambling again.  She wanted to trust him, but she began to have doubts.

Whenever she began to have doubts, Jane tried to put these doubts out of her mind, but they kept coming back.

Then, one day, when Bob was out, Jane decided on a whim to look at the browser history, which had been cleared of the previous history, and she saw that Bob had resumed gambling again.  She felt completely betrayed.

When Bob got home, he discovered that Jane had packed his things and put everything by the door.  He realized immediately that Jane had discovered that he started gambling again.

He pleaded with Jane to give him another chance, but she was adamant that he needed to move out.  She didn't want to live her mother's life with a gambler.

A few weeks later, Bob began therapy with a therapist who specialized in addictions.

Over time, he learned about the emotional triggers that triggered his compulsive gambling.  His therapist told him that, in addition to attending therapy, he needed to attend a 12 Step program for gamblers, Gamblers Anonymous and also get a sponsor in that program.

Bob attempted to bargain with his therapist, telling the therapist that he thought he could cut back on his gambling so that it would be less of a problem--rather than abstaining completely from gambling (see my article: Starting Therapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious and Ambivalent).

But his therapist told Bob that he had a serious problem and explained that if Bob gave into his compulsion to gambling, even if it was less frequently than before, he would be reinforcing this habit and wouldn't stop.  He also explained the brain chemistry involved with gambling and other addictions.

Bob decided to leave therapy (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).

He felt he could handle his problems on his own, so he made a promise to himself that he would only gamble once a week and he would set a limit on how much money he would allow himself to lose

For the first month, this appeared to work for Bob and he was proud of himself.  He kept to his promise to himself to only gamble once a week and to stay within certain monetary limits.

Bob felt so good about what he saw as progress that he told himself that he was able to control himself and he could gamble twice a week and increase the limit of what he allowed himself to lose.

As time went on, Bob felt bored and he kept bargaining with himself and this resulted in his gambling more often and losing much more money than he had ever lost before (see my article: Overcoming Addiction: Boredom as a Relapse Trigger).

Before he realized it, Bob had gambled away much of his savings and he was tempted to borrow money from his parents.  But at that point, Bob stopped himself.  He knew that he had sunk to a new low and his denial about his problem was only making it worse.

Bob went back to therapy and made a commitment to remain.  He also began attending Gamblers Anonymous (G.A.) and he got a sponsor that he called several times a week, especially when he felt a urge to gamble.

A year later, Bob celebrated his one year anniversary of abstaining from gambling.  He knew his triggers, and he knew he needed to talk about his habit in his individual psychotherapy sessions and in G.A. groups and with his sponsor.  He also knew that he needed to be aware of not becoming complacent.

Throughout this time, Bob continued to miss Jane.  He had thought about calling her many times, but he was afraid that she would hang up on him.

After celebrating his one year anniversary, Bob called Jane and hoped for the best.  He had already discussed this with his therapist and his sponsor, so he was prepared if she rejected him.  But, to his surprise, she sounded glad to hear from him, and they decided to meet for coffee.

Relationships: Thinking of "Starting Over"? Ask Yourself: "What's Changed?"

Coffee led to dinner.  Jane was happy to hear that Bob hadn't gambled in a year.  She sensed his sincerity and commitment to his recovery. He also offered to have her come to a therapy session with his therapist.

After that, they decided to go to couples counseling (see my article: Starting Couples Counseling).

They both knew that simply saying that they would "start over" wasn't the answer, and they needed help from a licensed mental health professional if they were going to get back together again.

A couple's decision to "start over" is usually well intentioned.  But if the couple doesn't address the issues in a meaningful way and with professional help, especially if they have serious problems, it's usually a misguided strategy.

Without realizing it, many couples tell themselves that they will "start over" as a form of denial--a way to avoid dealing with their problems on a deeper level.

In most cases where there are serous problems, it's magical thinking to think that their problems will automatically vanish because they've decided to "put it behind" them.

Many relationships that could be salvaged with professional help end permanently after many efforts to "start over" don't work.

Getting Help in Therapy
While it might be tempting to put aside problems by vowing to "start over," this is usually a doomed strategy.

Acknowledging and understanding the problems on a superficial level is only the first step.

Rooting out the underlying, unconscious issues requires the skill of a licensed mental health professional.

If you and your significant other have been struggling with relationship problems and "starting over" hasn't worked for you, you could benefit by seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist.

It could make the difference between salvaging your relationship or ending it.

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, February 13, 2017

Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy is "All Talk and No Action"

As I've mentioned in prior articles, there are many common myths about psychotherapy (see my articles: Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy Takes a Long Time and Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're Weak).  In addition to the myths that I mentioned in my prior articles, there's also a myth that therapy is all about talking and not taking action.

Common Myths About Psychotherapy:  Therapy is "All Talk and No Action"

I believe this myth survives because of old stereotypes of psychotherapy where a client comes to therapy for many years and nothing changes.

The type of contemporary psychotherapy that I practice focuses on helping clients to achieve transformation, which includes taking action to change.

There can be many obstacles to transformation, so clients often have to work through those obstacles, including early emotional trauma, including their own ambivalence about change, before they can make changes in their lives (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious and Ambivalent).

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario that addresses these issues:

Rick came to therapy because he felt stuck in almost every area of his life.

He was in a marriage where he had been unhappy for many years, and he was also in a career that he had come to dislike intensely.

Rick was in therapy before when his anxiety about these issues was especially acute, but he never remained long enough to make changes (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).

After he turned 45, Rick's fear of remaining stuck became worse than ever.  He was afraid he would complain for the rest of his life about his unhappiness, but he wouldn't make any changes.

When he started therapy again, Rick wasn't very hopeful that it would help him, but he knew that his friends and colleagues were getting tired of hearing him complain, and he and his wife were barely speaking to each other, so he couldn't count on her for emotional support.

Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy is "All Talk and No Action"

Having low expectations of therapy, Rick said he wanted a place to "vent" and to "let off steam" so that his anxiety and dissatisfaction wouldn't overwhelm him.

His therapist addressed these issues in the first session when she asked him what he wanted to accomplish in therapy.

When she heard that he had little expectation of changing, she explained that she worked with clients to help them overcome the obstacles to change and she hoped to be able to help Rick with whatever challenges were getting in his way.

During one of their early sessions, his therapist asked Rick to do a sentence completion exercise in their session through free association, which means to say whatever comes to mind.

Free association is a psychoanalytic technique and using free association in this way is a technique used in Coherence Therapy (see my articles: Discovering the Unconscious Emotions at the Root of Your Problems and Experiential Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

The therapist gave Rick the following sentence stem for Rick to complete:

"If I could make the necessary changes to be happy in a relationship and in a career, then ________."

Initially, like most people, Rick's first few answers for filling in the blank were somewhat superficial (" life would be easier," "...I would feel better about myself," and so on.

But by the time he did it for the tenth time, he was shocked to hear himself say, "...then I would be afraid that something terrible would happen."

It took a few minutes before Rick could reflect on his words because he was so surprised.  But once he could think about it, he said this felt true to him--although he never realized he felt this way before.

As he and his therapist explored this issue, Rick realized that one of his unconscious core beliefs was that if he allowed himself to be happy, fate would intervene to spoil it for him and something terrible would happen (see my article: Are Your Core Beliefs Keeping You Stuck?)

He didn't have any idea what that "something terrible" would be, but it was a strong feeling that he felt in his chest and in his stomach (see my article: Are You Afraid to Allow Yourself to Be Happy?).

As his therapist listened to his family history, she and Rick discovered the roots to this underlying belief.

Rick talked about how unhappy his parents were, especially his father, who had many unresolved early traumatic experiences.

From the time that Rick was a young child, his father told him that Rick had to remain ever vigilant for the "fickle finger of fate," especially if things were going well and he was happy.

His father had many early losses, including the loss of both parents in a car accident, when he was a small boy.

From his father's perspective, the accident (and other family tragedies) occurred because things were going too well in the family, and fate came along to teach them a lesson.

His father saw each loss and downturn as the direct result of "fate" when things were going well, so that, from his perspective, no one could ever let down their guard, especially when they were feeling happy.

Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy is "All Talk and No Action"

His father told Rick from an early age, "If you learn to expect terrible things when you're happy, you'll be prepared and you won't be taken off guard."

Rick's father's belief were so detrimental to Rick that he feared being happy, which was the obstacle in his way to making changes (see my article: Freeing Yourself From Family Beliefs and Expectations That Are Harmful to You).

It was Rick's unconscious belief that as long as he was in an unhappy marriage and in a career that he hated, "fate" wouldn't be tempted to devastate him.

After he said these words out loud, Rick realized how unrealistic it sounded but, deep down, he also knew that he had come to believe this at an early age.

After his therapist helped Rick to discover this unconscious belief, it made sense to both of them why he remained stuck.  Given his belief, why would he want to "tempt fate" to bring him pain?

As he continued to work in therapy, Rick explored the many times when he was happy in the past and when he wasn't "punished by fate" for it, so he started to understand the fallacy in his unconscious belief.

Over time, his therapist encouraged Rick to begin to explore other career options that might interest him.  Initially, he set up informational interviews, and then he talked about his experiences in therapy.

After one of these interviews, Rick got a call from someone, who met with him for an informational interview, telling Rick about an opening in the company.  This manager had been so impressed with Rick's background that he asked Rick to apply for the job.

When Rick told his therapist about it, he was excited about the possibility.  As she listened to him speak, his therapist asked him to check in with himself to see if he was feeling his old fear that if he allowed himself to be happy that "something terrible would happen" to end my happiness.

Rick reflected on this for a moment, and he was surprised that he didn't feel this old feeling.

As Rick took each step in the process towards changing his career, he would check in with himself to see if his old core belief was getting in his way, and each time he was surprised that it wasn't.

As it turned out, Rick didn't get that job, but he now felt free to explore other options and take the necessary steps to make changes.

The other problem, his marriage, was more complicated because Rick wasn't sure how he felt about his wife.

After talking it over with his wife, they went for marriage counseling and, after a few sessions, they mutually agreed that the relationship had been over for several years and that neither of them were happy.

Soon after that, they spoke to their marriage counselor about how they could end their marriage in a way that was amicable and respectful.

Rick got his own apartment nearby and they began the divorce process.

Even though Rick knew that he wasn't happy in his marriage and the divorce was for best for both of them, he still felt sad about the ending of this long relationship, and he dealt with his grief about it in his own individual therapy.

A year later, Rick wondered if he should start dating, but he had not been on a date in many years, and he felt uncomfortable.

As they explored this issue, Rick checked in with himself again to see if his old core belief was lurking in the background and tripping him up.  But he had no sense of this.

After they had talked about dating for a few sessions, Rick's therapist encouraged him to start taking steps, no matter how small, to start dating.

Rick would have preferred to continue talking about dating rather than taking any action, but his therapist told him that he could do both.  He could start taking steps to date and they could continue to talk about each step.

In this way, step by step, Rick began dating and he developed increasing confidence in the dating process, even though he had not met anyone that he really liked yet.

In a therapy session where he and his therapist looked back at where Rick started and where he was at that point, Rick expressed a sense of empowerment that he was able to take steps to overcome the obstacles that were preventing him from making changes in his life.

Old stereotypes contribute to the common myth that therapy is "all talk and no action."

Contemporary psychotherapy is a combination of self discovery which leads to taking meaningful action to change.

In the fictionalized scenario above, there is a particular longstanding core belief from early childhood that got in the way of the client making changes.

There are many other types of obstacles, conscious and unconscious, that get in the way of people making changes.

Once these obstacles are discovered, they can be worked with in therapy so that clients can free themselves of their effect.

It's important for the therapist to encourage clients to take action, no matter how small, and not to just talk about the problem.

This requires a clinician who has the clinical skills to know when to push the limits and when to hold off and, of course, this will be different with every client.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been avoiding therapy because you believe in the old myth that therapy is just about talking and not taking action, you're doing yourself a disservice.

Rather than telling yourself that you've tried to change in the past, but you can't do it, recognize that there are obstacles that you haven't discovered yet but that you can discover with the right therapist.

You might be surprised, as the client in the scenario above, to discover that there are unconscious beliefs that are holding you back.

Very often, once these unconscious beliefs have been exposed to the light of day, they don't hold up.

If you've been feeling stuck, you could benefit from working with a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to bring about the changes that you want.

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, February 6, 2017

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

In an ideal world, couples would work out the end of their relationship in a mutually respectful way that would allow for closure.  While this is possible for some couples, for many couples this isn't possible, for a variety of reasons, and each person in the former relationship has to find closure in his or her own way (see my article: Overcoming the Heartbreak of a Breakup).

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

In a situation that is volatile or when one or both people feel unable or unwilling to communicate with each other, closure might not be possible for the couple.  But most of the time, people feel a need for closure and it becomes frustrating when this isn't possible.  It can also prolong the grieving process after the breakup.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario which is representative of one of these situations:

Ina and Ted
Ina and Ted were in a relationship for five years.  They lived together for the last three years.

Although they loved each other very much, one of their ongoing problems was that Ted didn't like to talk about his feelings and he became impatient when Ina wanted to talk about her feelings or about the relationship.

Ina felt very frustrated by Ted's refusal to talk about feelings, and he felt annoyed by Ina's need to talk  (see my article:  Are Your Emotional Needs Being Met in Your Relationship?).

Ina was aware that Ted came from a family where the only emotion that was expressed was anger.  Ted's father was especially volatile when he got angry and, although he never hit Ted, Ted was frightened by his father's angry outbursts.

He also grew up being frightened by his own anger or any strong emotions that he experienced.  Whenever he experienced a strong emotion, his first impulse was to push it down.

It took Ted a while to tell Ina that he loved her, and throughout their relationship, it still made him feel uncomfortable.

Since Ted wouldn't allow any strong emotions, after five years, the relationship felt "flat" to Ina.  When she tried to talk to Ted about this, he walked into another room.

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

A few days later, Ina came home and she was shocked to discover that all of Ted's possessions were gone.  At first, she thought they had been robbed.  But when she saw that many valuable items were still in the apartment and all of her things were still there, she realized that he had moved out without a word.  There was no message--not even a note.

Ina tried to call Ted on his cellphone and at his work number, but he didn't pick up and he didn't respond to her messages.

Although she knew that Ted didn't like to deal with strong emotions, she couldn't believe that he would end the relationship this way.  She still loved him, and she hoped that they would be able to work things out.

After a few days, he sent her a text in which he told her that she needed to "move on" with her life because things weren't working out between them.

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

Ina was shocked, angry and hurt that, after five years, this is all he had to say to her and that he was saying it in a text message.

She tried, in vain, to get Ted to speak with her, but he resisted all of her efforts.

Not knowing what else to do, Ina started therapy because she felt overwhelmed by the breakup, how it occurred and that Ted refused to speak with her.  She knew he wasn't communicative about his feelings, but she never would have guessed that he would do something like this.

Ina found herself ruminating about what might have happened that caused Ted to break off their relationship in this way.

She felt a rapport with her therapist and felt safe being vulnerable in therapy.  She realized that she really missed feeling heard and understood in her relationship.

After a few weeks in therapy, Ina admitted that the relationship had been on the rocks for a while and it was bound to end.  But she still felt a need to have closure.  She would have preferred to have closure with Ted, but she knew that this wasn't going to be possible.

In her therapy sessions, her therapist asked Ina to imagine talking to Ted about her feelings and to say out loud what she was feeling.

At first, Ina felt awkward doing this, but as she opened up, she felt how freeing it was to express her feelings "to Ted" (even though he wasn't really there).  She told him how hurt she was and how disappointed she felt that he ended their relationship this way and refused to speak with her.

As she expressed her feelings, she had a realization that, all along, she had been asking Ted to do something that he was incapable of doing--to listen to her express her feelings and for him to express how he felt.

On some level, she always knew this, but when she spoke out loud, as if Ted was in the room with her, she had a deep awareness of it.

In time, this helped Ina to inwardly forgive Ted, even though they never spoke again.  Realizing that he was incapable of doing what she wanted and needed allowed her to let go of her anger.

Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible

Over the next several months, Ina felt that she was able to have her own sense of closure about the breakup in therapy, and she realized what she needed emotionally in her next relationship (see my article: Learning From Past Romantic Relationships).

There are many reasons why closure isn't possible within a relationship.

The scenario above presents one example, but there are numerous reasons.

Just because you can't have closure within the relationship doesn't mean that you can't have closure within yourself.

Even when two people are able to talk about the end of their relationship, one or both people might still feel that there's no closure.

Sometimes, one person in the relationship can use the idea of closure in order to maintain contact with the other person and this can lead to a form of harassment (see my article:  Breakup: When Closure at the End of a Relationship Leads to Harassment).

Therapy allows for another possibility for closure.

Getting Help in Therapy
Working with a skilled psychotherapist can help you to have closure around the end of a relationship even when you can't have closure with your ex (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

This doesn't mean that all the loose ends are tied up in a neat bow or that it will be quick or easy, but it does mean that you can emotionally heal without being in a protracted state of grief after a breakup.

If you're going through a breakup and you need emotional support, you owe it to yourself to get help in therapy.

Friends and family might be supportive, but they're not trained to help you to work through your sadness, anger and grief (see my article: Talking to a Psychotherapist Is Different From Talking to a Friend).

Getting help in therapy can allow you to heal emotionally.

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.