NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Overcoming the Need to Be Everyone's Caregiver

The need to be everyone's caretaker often starts in childhood in a family where a young child feels she must be the one to protect and take care of the rest of the family (see my article: The Trauma of the Family "Hero" in a Dysfunctional Family and How to Stop Being the Rescuer in Your Family of Origin).

The Need to Be Everyone's Caretaker Often Starts at a Young Age

While being the caretaker might help a child to feel that her family life is less out of control, there are many problems with trying to be everyone's caretaker over the course of a lifetime (see my article: Overcoming Codependency: Taking Care of Yourself First,  Dynamics of Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families and Reacting to the Present Based on the Past).

Let's take a look at a fictionalized vignette which illustrates these dynamics:

Amy was the oldest of four children who grew up in a chaotic family.

Her parents were both active alcoholics who were constantly losing their jobs due to alcohol-related reasons.  They were often out of the house, sometimes for days, and none of the children knew where they were.  When they were home, they were frequently drunk and fighting with each other.

The Need to Be Everyone's Caretaker Often Starts at a Young Age

At an early age, Amy stepped into the parental role with her siblings, cooking, cleaning and assuming overall responsibility for their care.

She also intervened on her siblings' behalf when their father got angry with them and wanted to hit them.  She would step in front of her siblings and tell the father to hit her instead.

Despite the problems at home, Amy did well in school.  Eventually, she got a scholarship to go to the college that she had always wanted to go to, but she turned it down because she was afraid to leave her siblings alone with her parents.  Instead, she went to a local college to maintain her parental role and protect her siblings.

Amy didn't move out of the house until her younger siblings were independent and on their own.

Even then, she had some doubts about moving out because she feared that her parents' alcoholism had gotten so bad that they wouldn't be able to function on their own.  But she also longed to have her own place and have a life of her own, so she moved out.

She would usually go to her parents' house on the weekends to check in on them, something that none of her other siblings did because they had so much resentment towards them.

Although she did as much as she could for them over the weekends, her parents were usually so drunk that they barely noticed that she was there.

It wasn't until her father's doctor warned him that her father stopped drinking.  Shortly after that, he left Amy's mother for another woman.  Shocked by her husband's abandonment, Amy's mother moved in with her mother and also stopped drinking.

Amy was doing well in her job and she received several promotions.

A few years later, a new CEO took over and began to make changes which worried Amy and her colleagues.

They were very concerned about some of the directives that they were given by senior management under the new CEO.  At best, some of these directives were questionable and, at worst, some were clearly unethical.

Since Amy was accustomed to being in the caretaking role, she assumed that role at work with her colleagues.  She was the one that her colleagues came to when they were upset about these changes.  She always made time to listen to them, often giving up her lunch hour or staying late at work.

The Need to Be Everyone's Caretaker Often Begins in Childhood and Continues Into Adulthood

Although Amy wasn't in a position to challenge the CEO, she spoke to her director on behalf of colleagues and herself to let him know about their concerns.

After he listened attentively, he told Amy that this situation was out of his hands and he felt there was nothing that he or anyone else could do.  He also confided in her that he was looking for another job and advised her to do the same.

Over time, Amy became anxious and developed insomnia.  She knew that, for her own well-being, she couldn't stay at this company.  But she also felt responsible for the well-being of her colleagues and she didn't want to desert them.

Eventually, she began therapy for help with this dilemma:  She felt that her choices were to either take care of herself and abandon her colleagues or remain there to be supportive and her health would continue to deteriorate.

Over time, her therapist helped her to discover the underlying reasons why it felt so compelling to Amy to take care of her colleagues.

Amy was able to make the connection between her childhood history of being the caretaker in her family and her current situation with feeling she had to remain in a bad work environment to take care of her colleagues (see my article: Psychotherapy to Overcome Your Past Childhood Trauma).

Gradually, she began to see that in her family, she felt compelled to be the caretaker so that life at home didn't feel so out of control, and in her work situation, she also felt the need to be the caretaker in another dysfunctional situation (see my article: How Your Workplace Can Feel Like a Dysfunctional Family).

Several months later, Amy was contacted by a search firm that found her profile online and wanted to refer her to another job.  It sounded like a great opportunity to Amy, and they were sure that Amy would be the perfect fit for this job.

Although, on one level Amy was happy to get this call, on another level, it made her feel even more conflicted about what to do.

When Amy's therapist explored this with her and asked her under what circumstances she would feel comfortable with taking another job, the first thing that came to Amy's mind was that she would only feel good about leaving after her colleagues were comfortably situated in other jobs.

Hearing herself say that, Amy realized that this was exactly how she felt about her siblings--she couldn't allow herself to leave the home until each of her siblings was out of the house and independent.

All along, Amy's anxiety and insomnia was worsening, and she was increasingly concerned about her health.

Over time, her therapist helped Amy to distinguish between her younger siblings, who really couldn't take care of themselves vs. her colleagues, who were competent and resourceful adults.

Amy realized on a deep emotional level, not just on an intellectual level, that her colleagues would survive without her help.

She also looked at, for the first time in her life, the price that she paid for being the caretaker in her family--the social events that she missed, the school clubs that she didn't participate in, the dates she didn't go on, the sacrifice of not going to the college she wanted to go to, and many other missed opportunities.

She also understood that her emotional needs weren't taken care of in her family when she was a child, and now she wasn't taking care of her needs (see my article: Psychotherapy Can Help You to Understand Your Emotional Needs).

Making the distinction between the past and the present and acknowledging that she no longer wanted to be so self sacrificing enabled Amy to accept a great job offer (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma in Psychotherapy: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now").

Overcoming the Need to Be Everyone's Caretaker

Getting to the point where she could do this wasn't easy or quick (see my article: Beyond the "Band Aid" Approach in Psychotherapy).

There were a complex array of early problems to be worked through.  But Amy stuck with her work in therapy and she stopped trying to be everyone's caretaker.

She also began attending Al-Anon as another resource to help her learn to focus on herself first (see my article: Al-Anon: Beyond Reciting Slogans).

Becoming a caretaker at a young age often results in trying to be everyone's caretaker as an adult.

It's understandable that a young child in Amy's situation would want to do whatever she could to try to help her siblings as well as help herself to feel less out of control.

But one of the problems with this is that it comes with big sacrifices to the child who assumes this role with regard to many missed opportunities that can never be regained.

Another problem is that it often sets a pattern for how this child will function later on as an adult with all the dilemmas involved with taking care of oneself vs. taking care of others.

In addition, it increases the likelihood that, as an adult, the person who tries to be a caretaker to everyone will choose relationships with people who have many problems, including substance abuse, gambling and other serious problems, and try to "fix" their significant others.

The person who takes on the caretaker role often feels that he or she can resolve whatever problems another person has regardless of the problems.

This is a kind of inflated sense of self that the child fools him or herself into believing at a young age in order to believe that s/he can do whatever it takes to solve the family's problems.

And while this might have saved the child from feeling despair at the time, it creates a false sense of self and continues to perpetuate these caretaker dynamics (see my article: Understanding the False Self).

Getting Help in Therapy
Trying to be everyone's caretaker is a problem that many people struggling with as adults.

Many people come to therapy when they find themselves in what they perceive to be a no-win situation of taking care of themselves vs taking care of others.

Aside from the emotional anguish involved, trying to be everyone's caretaker often results in physical problems, including anxiety-related problems: insomnia, headaches, stomach problems, high blood pressure and so on.

The dilemma is often too great to resolve on their own, so they seek the help of a psychotherapist.

People who have this problem often discover that once they no longer feel compelled to be a caretaker for others, they have increased vitality and happiness in their own life.

If you recognize yourself as being someone who tries to be everyone's caretaker with all the problems  involved in these dynamics, you owe it to yourself to help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist and How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Develop a New Perspective About Yourself and Others).

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 individuals to overcome problems with taking care of everyone else and not taking care of themselves.

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, March 20, 2017

Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Psychotherapy

People have many misperceptions 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").  Another common misperception is that psychotherapy tends to be negative, but an integrated contemporary approach to psychotherapy also focuses on clients' strengths (see my article: A Strengths-Based Perspective in Psychotherapy).

Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Psychotherapy

Many clients who come to therapy, especially clients who are anxious or depressed, are unaware of their personal strengths either because it hasn't been their focus or because they're so immersed in their current problems that they forget that they have strengths.

When new clients begin therapy with me, especially when they want to work on unresolved psychological trauma, after I find out the presenting problem and get their personal history, we focus on reinforcing their internal resources and healthy coping mechanisms.

Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Psychotherapy

Often, it's a matter of perspective.  Even when clients come in thinking that they have little in the way of personal strengths, as we explore these issues, many of them are surprised and happy to discover these strengths.

Even clients with severe trauma, who feel they're lacking in internal resources, have strengths just based on the fact that they survived their ordeals.  But they often overlook this.

How I Work With Clients in Psychotherapy
I've been helping clients overcome psychological trauma since 1996, and over the years I've discovered that taking the time to reinforce internal resources as well as external resources is well worth the time spent (see my article: Coping Strategies in Mind-Body Oriented Psychotherapy).

It's not unusual for clients, who have a history of trauma, to want to delve immediately into the trauma.  The feeling is often something like,  "The sooner we get to the bottom of this, the sooner I'll be rid of these bad feelings."

But delving directly into the trauma without taking time to reinforce internal resources is a mistake.

Discovering Your Personal Strengths in Psychotherapy

Clients, who have significant trauma, need to have their internal resources reinforced and available to help them deal with working through the trauma.  Aside from having the therapist as a resource, these internal resources act as their "safety net," something to fall back on if they get triggered in session as well as between sessions.

Working on internal resources also helps clients to get a more complete picture of themselves.  They realize that they have many aspects of themselves as multidimensional human beings (see my article: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

In the early days of psychotherapy, there was more of an emphasis on looking at clients' problems rather than looking at their strengths.

In fact, we need to do both.  We can't ignore either the strengths or the problems.  There needs to be an integrated approach.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've been procrastinating about going to therapy because you're concerned that it will be a negative experience that is too daunting for you, you could benefit from working with a psychotherapist who uses a strength-based approach to psychotherapy.

By working with a psychotherapist who uses an integrated approach, you're bound to discover parts of yourself that you've been overlooking.

Rather than struggling on your own, consider setting up a consultation with a psychotherapist who is an integrationist and who will incorporate the positive aspects of who you are (see my article: 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 regular business hours or email me.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Is It Time to Reevaluate Your Friendships?

As I've discussed in a prior article, Friendships: Emotional Support From Your Family of Choice, close friendships are usually an important source of emotional support.  Longstanding friendships add to the quality of your life and you add to the quality of theirs. But sometimes it's necessary to let go of toxic people in your life who are causing you pain, so it's necessary, at times, to reevaluate your friendships (see my article: Letting Go of an Unhealthy Friendship and Do You Feel Overwhelmed By Your Friend's Problems?).

Is It Time to Reevaluate Your Friendships?

Reevaluating Your Friendships:
  • Your friend, who is narcissistic, tends to focus almost exclusively on herself when you're together, but when you need support, she's "too busy."
  • Your friend engages in a monologue about herself and doesn't even ask you how you're doing.  You're just there to witness how "wonderful" she is.
  • Your friend has been gossiping about you behind your back, including revealing very personal things you confided in him (see my article: Coping With a Close Friend's Betrayal).
  • Your friend has been flirting a lot with your wife.
  • Your friend tends to put you down and humiliate you in front of others as a way to make herself look superior.
  • Your friend criticizes you a lot.
  • Your friend tells you you're "too sensitive" after you tell her that she hurt your feelings.
  • Your friend is more interested in what you can do for him than he is in you.
  • Your friend keeps borrowing money from you and not paying you back, even when she has the money to pay back.
  • Your friend cancels plans with you when someone else asks her to do something else.
  • Your friend always needs to be the center of attention when you're with a group of people, and this ruins the evening for everyone.
  • Your friend tends to sulk if she doesn't get her way in every situation.
  • Your friend lacks empathy for you about problems that you're having.  She tells you to "get over it."
  • Your friend is easily offended, so you have to "walk on eggshells" with her.
  • Your friend is so self centered that you feel alone when you're with her.
  • Your friend likes to "one up" you when you and he are around other people.
  • Your friend keeps giving you "advice" about how to "improve" yourself, even though you've told her that you don't need advice (see my articles: When to Give Advice and When to Just Listen and Friendships: Losing a Friend After Giving Advice).

Is It Time to Reevaluate Your Friendships?

Is It Time to Reevaluate Your Friendships?

I'm sure there are dozens more examples of things a so-called friend can do that would make you question whether or not you want this person to remain in your life.

Friends Growing Apart:
Aside from the problematic behavior that I've outlined above, sometimes friends grow apart.

The two of you might have been close at an earlier stage in your life, but you might have each gone in different directions.  This isn't anybody's fault.  It just is.

It might not be a matter of letting go of this friendship completely, but more a matter of recognizing that you're not going to be as close as you were.

For instance, it might be fun to see each other periodically to reminisce about your high school days but, other than that, you no longer have anything in common.

Challenges in Letting Go of a Friendship:
Many people find it difficult to let go of a friendship, even when they recognize that the friendship is unhealthy for them.

Sometimes it's difficult to let go of someone who has shared an important part of your life, especially if this person has been a childhood friend.

You might want to keep giving your friend "one more chance" to see if the friendship can be salvage, but as Maya Angelou once said, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them."

Then, again, your own sense of self worth might be so low that you might not feel you deserve to be treated any better.  Often this is an unconscious feeling.

You might also be at a point in your life where you feel emotionally vulnerable and you don't have it in you to end a friendship.  But you'll need to weigh whether keeping this person in your life will make you feel better or worse.

Getting Help in Therapy
Letting go of people in your life isn't easy.

If you allow people to remain in your life who are hurting you, you might need to help to understand the underlying reasons for this so you can take better care of yourself.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to learn if there are unconscious reasons related to an earlier time in your life as to why you can't let go of someone who is hurting you.

Rather than struggling alone with this problem, you could benefit from working with a licensed therapist who has experience helping clients to work through these types of issues.

About Me
I'm 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, March 6, 2017

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Open Up to New Possibilities in Your Life

All too often people are held back from accomplishing their goals because they are hindered by their personal history.  Struggling on their own, they're unable to overcome these obstacles. But psychotherapy offers an opportunity to free yourself from a history that has been holding you back (see my article: The Benefits of Therapy and What's Holding You Back From Achieving Your Goals?).

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Open Up to New Possibilities in Your Life

Usually, people don't understand how problems from the past affect them now because these underlying issues are unconscious and it's difficult, on your own, to make the connection between what happened before and what's happening now.

People, who feel stuck, tend to berate themselves for being "lazy" or "stupid" when the actual cause of the problem is unresolved emotional trauma.

While it's generally well known that the past can affect the present, it's often difficult to see this in your own personal situation.  And, even if you're able to see it, it can be difficult to overcome the underlying issues on your own.

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

Max was in a dead end job with little to no possibility of moving up or getting a raise.

He wanted to start his own business as a website developer.  He had developed websites pro bono for his friends and for nonprofit groups, and he received high praise for his skills, so he decided to develop his own website offering his skills to others for a fee.

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Open Up to New Possibilities in Your Life

Max knew there would be lots of competition because there were already many other businesses that already offered the same services, but Max wanted to give it a try.

After he developed the website for his business, he was ready to launch it, but he delayed because he had a terrible sense of foreboding.  He didn't know why he felt this way, but he decided to hold off for a while until he felt more comfortable with the idea of starting his own business.

A week turned into a month and a month turned into six months.  And, before he knew it, Max delayed launching his website for a year--even though he couldn't think of any logical reason why he was putting it off.

Whenever his friends would ask him how things were going with the launch of his website, he would tell them that he was still working on it. But his friends knew that Max was very talented and that something else had to be going on.

Finally, his best friend, John, asked Max what was going on and why wasn't he getting started with his business idea.  John knew that Max would be successful if he advertised his services, so he realized that something else had to be going on.

Max and John were friends for many years, so he felt more comfortable talking to John about it than anyone else.  He explained to John that when he was about to launch his site, he had a terrible sense of foreboding and he couldn't go ahead with it.

They talked for a long time over dinner.  John tried to convince Max to "just do it" and tried to bolster Max's confidence.  But he realized that nothing he said was having an impact on Max.  So, he suggested that Max see a therapist.

Max had been in therapy several years ago to deal with the loss of his grandmother when she died.

At the time, Max, who was very close to his grandmother, thought he would never overcome this loss, but his therapist helped him to work through his grief, so Max had a good experience of being in therapy before.  But he wasn't sure how therapy could help him now.

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Open Up to New Possibilities in Your Life

After he thought about it for a while, Max decided to return to his former therapist to see if she could help him to overcome his fear and procrastination (see my articles: Overcoming Procrastination and  Returning to Therapy).

Max told his therapist that he couldn't think of any rational reason that he was procrastinating launching his website.  He knew he had the skills and the business savvy to do it.  He also knew that he would enjoy this business.

Then, he described the sense of foreboding that came over him when he was about to launch his website.  He had no words to express the sense of foreboding that he felt in his stomach.

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Open Up to New Possibilities in Your Life

His therapist worked with the mind-body connection in therapy and she asked him to stay with the sensation as long as it was tolerable to him.  In response, Max said that, although it was uncomfortable, it was tolerable.

His therapist asked Max to just notice what happened next.

At first, Max didn't notice any change, but then he realized that the tension that was in his stomach was moving up through his chest and into his throat.  He said it didn't hurt and it was still tolerable, but it seemed odd to him.

Using a clinical hypnosis technique called the Affect Bridge, his therapist asked him to stay with the sensation and the emotions and go back to the earliest time that he could remember feeling these same sensations and emotions (see my article: Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

At first, Max was skeptical about this, but he stayed with it and a memory came to him.  He said, "I don't know why this memory is coming up now and I don't know if it's related to what we're working on, but I'm remembering a conversation I had with my grandmother when I was four or five years old."

His therapist encouraged Max to stay with the memory, sensations and emotions and tell her what was coming up for him.

Max remembered that he used to see his grandmother everyday during that time because she lived in the apartment upstairs from where he lived with his parents.  Usually, he would have his afternoon snack with his grandmother at the same time every afternoon and they would talk.

He remembered on this particular day that his grandmother was reminiscing about her father when she was a little girl in her native country.  She had loved and admired her father very much, and she spent a lot of time with him while he worked in his workshop.

At the time, she thought her father was a genius, especially when it came to fixing things.  He had such a good reputation at what he did that people from their town and the surrounding towns would come with broken appliances or radios, after they had been to other people who told them that it couldn't be fixed, and her father fixed it without a problem.

Although he was admired by most people, there were a few people who had similar businesses who were angry and jealous because they felt he was taking business away from them.

His grandmother told Max that her father invented a farm tool that he was very proud of at the time.  He had hoped that tool, which was unique, would interest local farmers and that he would become financially successful as a result.

When word got out about her father's new farm tool, the men who were jealous of him began to spread malicious gossip about him.  They also maligned his invention.

Although people in the town generally liked her father, for some reason, they believed the gossip and began to stay away from his shop.

At first, her father didn't understand why his business had dropped off so much.  Then, word got back to him about the stories that were circulating about him, and he was stunned.

He realized that his competitors were jealous about his invention and they were behind the vicious rumors.  He also knew that the rumors wouldn't stop until he stopped trying to promote his invention, so he quietly put it away.  And, sure enough, the gossip stopped and people gradually came back to his business.

Max's grandmother remembered this time as being a very humiliating and sad time for her father, for her and the rest of the family.  When she spoke about it, she talked about her father and the rest of the family being powerless to stop what was happening at the time.

Then, she looked directly at Max and she told him, "It's better to remain humble than to be proud and try to rise above where you are or people will try to destroy you."

Max remembers feeling shocked and anxious as a child after he heard his grandmother's story about her father.  At the time, he knew that, even though this was an old memory for his grandmother, she was still very affected by it.  He could see the sadness and fear in her eyes and, as a child, he thought about it for a long time, although he didn't completely understand it because he was so young.

When Max discussed this memory further with his therapist, he had the sudden realization that this was what was holding him back.  He wasn't sure why or how, but he felt it in his gut (see my article: An Unconscious Identification With a Loved One Can Create an Obstacle to Change).

Then, he remembered many other times that his grandmother gave him similar advice based on her traumatic experiences as a child.

Although he knew that his grandmother had been traumatized and she was only trying to protect him, he also felt annoyed that he had been burdened with these ideas at such a young child.

"But how could such a memory from so long ago still be affecting me?" Max asked his therapist.

His therapist responded by telling Max that although this memory wasn't in the forefront of his mind, it had remained in his unconscious and had made an emotional impact on him at an early age, especially since his grandmother had such a big influence on him.

His therapist explained that the memory got triggered, without his realizing it, when Max was about to launch his website to advertise his services.  Even though his grandmother told him this story a long time ago, the memory remained in his unconscious mind and became the impediment to his going forward (see my article: Freeing Yourself From Family Expectations and Beliefs That Are Harmful to You).

Using EMDR Therapy, his therapist helped Max to work through this obstacle (see my articles: How EMDR Therapy Works - Part 1How EMDR Therapy Works - Part 2: Overcoming Trauma and How Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Can Help to Achieve an Emotional Breakthrough).

Over time, Max was able to separate his experience from his grandmother's experience (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma: Psychotherapy Helps You to Separate "Then" From "Now").

Gradually, he became comfortable with the idea of launching his website and he also became open to new possibilities in his life, including that he could be a successful business owner.

How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Open Up to New Possibilities in Your Life

By the time he launched his website, he had no fear, conscious or unconscious.  He anticipated that he would enjoy his business and he would be successful.

Often, people are stuck for reasons that they don't understand because the reasons are unconscious.

The Affect Bridge from clinical hypnosis is one of many ways that skilled therapists, who are hypnotherapists, help clients to overcome unconscious obstacles so that clients can become open to new possibilities and new ways of seeing themselves.

Getting Help in Therapy
Clients are often surprised to discover that unconscious memories that are creating obstacles for them.

Getting to these unconscious memories on your own would be very difficult.

If you're feeling stuck and you've been unable to move forward on your own, rather than suffering alone, you can get help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you identify the obstacles and work through them.

The first step, which is often the hardest, is making a call for a consultation, but it can make all the difference between remaining stuck and freeing yourself from your history (see my article: 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.