NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Are You Waiting For Happiness?

Are you telling yourself that you're waiting for something to happen in your life in order for you to be happy? (see my articles: Redefining Happiness and SuccessHow to Stop Pretending to Feel Happy When You Don'tAre You Afraid to Allow Yourself to be Happy?

Whether this "something" is winning the lottery, accomplishing a long-term goal, meeting your soul mate or having a child, it's usually a mistake to place your happiness in the hands of someone else or in some external event (see my article: Living in the State of "If Only".

Are You Waiting For Happiness?

The problem is that whatever you've told yourself that you need in order to feel that you've finally "arrived" or that you'll finally be happy usually only brings the kind of happiness you're imagining for a short time while it's still a novelty, and then the usual dissatisfaction sinks in again.

Why is Happiness Fleeting?
When you fix your sights on some person or event in the future to make you happy, you're placing your happiness at some point in the future (see my article: What is Happiness and Where Do You Find It?).

Are You Waiting For Happiness?

Not only are you giving away your power, but you're also overlooking so many things that are happening right now that you're not appreciating (see my article: Keeping a Gratitude Journal).

The more you convince yourself that someone or something in the future will make you happy, the more likely it will be that you'll go around with blinders for the great things that are in the present.

It's not that you wouldn't be happy if you entered into a new relationship or accomplished a long-term goal or got a great job.  It's just that these things are external, and you're telling yourself that you're not enough.

It's like you're constantly waiting and, meanwhile, life is passing you by.

Having the mindset that you're waiting for something outside yourself for you to be happy sets up a pattern where you can keep thinking that you're waiting for the next thing and the next thing, and so on.

Also, you can be happy in the moment and still feel that your life lacks meaning, direction and purpose, which can lead to a shallow life.

A Fictionalized Vignette 

Mary lived her life as a very goal oriented person.

She worked a full time job and went to college at night.  Because of her busy schedule, she didn't have a lot of time to socialize with friends.  Although this was lonely for her, she told herself that once she graduated college, she would be happy.

When she graduated college at the top of her class, Mary felt proud of herself for her accomplishment.  But, after a while, she realized that she didn't really feel happy, and the pride she felt wore off after a short time.

Are You Waiting for Happiness?
This was disappointing to her, but then she told herself that she would be happy once she got a good job, so she put all her time and effort into the job search.  Once again, she postponed being social and seeing friends because she thought that her happiness hinged on finding a great job.

After searching for a few months, Mary landed exactly the kind of job that she always dreamed about.  Once again, she was proud of herself for working so hard to get this job.

But after a few months, whatever positive feelings she felt wore off.  She realized that her job, although allowing her to be creative and being a good paying job, didn't really bring her happiness.  In fact, she felt a little empty inside after a while, which was disappointing.

Then, she decided that in order for her to be happy, she needed to be in a relationship with a man that she really loved, so she spent a lot of time on dating sites and she went out more on dates.

Dating was a little discouraging at first, but then she met a man that she really liked.  They dated for several months, realized that they were in love and made a commitment to be monogamous.

Mary was thrilled with her new boyfriend and looked forward to seeing him.  But a couple of years later, when she asked herself if she was really happy, she realized that some of the initial excitement that she felt had worn off.

Although she loved him and she knew that he loved her, she wasn't as happy as she thought she would be, and this was very disappointing to her.  She couldn't understand it--she had all the things that she thought she would need to make her happy, but she still wasn't truly happy. Something was missing.

Mary's awareness that she wasn't feeling as happy as she had anticipated threw her into a tailspin.  She felt that something must really be wrong with her if she didn't feel happy now.

It wasn't that she was unhappy--she just didn't have that feeling that she thought she would have that she "arrived" in her life.

 Soon after that, Mary started therapy to deal with the emotional crisis she was struggling with.

After a few months in therapy where she explore her feelings, Mary realized that she had a narrow definition of happiness and that in most people's lives happiness is fleeting.  She also realized that there isn't any one thing or person that will create the feeling of happiness in her.

"So," she told her therapist, "if happiness is fleeting, what is it that I really want?  What makes a good life?"

Over time, as Mary continued to explore and reflect on her feelings, she realized that what she really wanted was to have a meaningful life, but she wasn't sure what that meant (see my article: A Search For a Meaningful Life).

Mary and her therapist continued to explore what that meant for Mary.  It wasn't a quick or smooth process, but Mary felt like she was finally focusing on what really mattered to her.

Are You Waiting For Happiness?

Gradually, Mary began to define her core values and what she considered to be meaningful.  She also started to see the difference between having a "happy life" and having a "meaningful life."

She realized that it wasn't realistic to expect to feel happy all the time, but she could strive to live a meaningful life by being true to her core values.

She also learned to develop an appreciation for the here-and-now rather than always focusing on the future.  In doing so, she realized that she had a lot to be grateful for and this was a lot more meaningful to her than waiting for an illusive sense of happiness at some point in the future.

In my next article, I'll discuss the difference between happiness and meaningfulness and why it's important to understand the difference for your sense of well-being.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've lived your whole life waiting to be happy, you can find it challenging to understand why the things you thought would bring you lasting happiness don't.  It can also be difficult to change your way of thinking.

Getting Help in Therapy
Working with a skilled psychotherapist can help you to explore your way of thinking, the patterns you have developed over time, and how to make changes to lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

This is a common problem that many people have, which is reinforced by our culture, so it is often deeply ingrained.

Stepping outside your normal way of thinking can be difficult, but with the help of an experienced mental health professional, you can develop a more meaningful 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 business hours or email me.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Overcoming the Insecurity and Jealousy That's Ruining Your Relationship

Adults, who have unresolved childhood trauma, are often insecure and jealous in their adult relationships.  They can make demands on their spouse or partner for constant reassurance, and they often perceive threats to the relationship where none exist (see my article: Overcoming Jealousy).

Overcoming Insecurity and Jealousy That's Ruining Your Relationship

Sadly, these adults may bring about the demise of their relationship by these demands and their emotional reactions to outside threats that don't exist.  These reactions take a toll on the relationship and erode its stability.

So, if the other partner is faithful, why does the partner who is jealous and insecure perceive threats where there are none?

Assuming there has been no history of infidelity, the answer is often found within the unresolved childhood trauma that is still playing out in adulthood (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past).

Even though the trauma might have occurred many years before, it can get triggered again and again in the present, especially if the trauma was never addressed in therapy (see my article: Healing Old Emotional Childhood Wounds).

The psychological effect of the trauma remains within the traumatized brain and comes alive again under certain circumstances.  

An Example of How Unresolved Childhood Trauma Can Create Problems in Adult Relationships:
The following is a fictionalized vignette that demonstrates these dynamics:

Alice and Ted were married for five years when they came to couples therapy at Ted's suggestion.  He told the therapist that he was at his wit's end trying to deal with Alice's jealousy and frantic need for reassurance that he loves her.  

Ted told the therapist, "No matter how many times I try to reassure her, it's never enough.  I just don't know if I can do this much longer.  It's driving me crazy.  I've never cheated on her and there's no else in my life, but Alice becomes obsessed with jealousy and she can't stop crying and yelling at me.  She becomes inconsolable."

Overcoming the Insecurity and Jealousy That's Ruining Your Relationship
Alice agreed that she tends to get emotionally overwrought and she only realizes after the fact there's no reason to be upset.

She said, "I don't know what comes over me.  I feel like these waves of jealousy, fear, sadness and anger take control of me and I can't stop myself.  I really do know that Ted isn't cheating on me, but when these emotions get the best of me, my fear feels real.  Afterwards, I feel so ashamed and guilty and I tell Ted that it won't happen again, but then it happens again, even though I don't want it to.  I don't want to ruin my marriage."

Their childhood histories could not have been more different.  Whereas Ted grew up in a loving, stable home, Alice grew up in a chaotic family where her single mother was in and out of her life.  Her mother would often disappear unexpectedly and leave Alice in the care of a sibling who was only a few years older than Alice.

Making matters worse, Alice was removed from the home by the child welfare bureau and placed in foster care homes where she was physically abused.  This went on until Alice turned 18 and she moved out on her own.

Alice understood that the emotional upheaval that she experienced as a child caused her to feel insecure and it was difficult of her to trust people, especially in close relationships.

When she met Ted, one of the things that attracted her to him is that she knew he would be honest and trustworthy.  She knew he would be a good husband--and yet, five years in, she would regress to feeling like the insecure, scared child that she had been in the past.

The last argument that occurred between Alice and Ted a few days before they came for therapy.  Ted was talking about a project that he was working on with his colleague, Ellen.  In the course of the conversation, Ted mentioned that he had lunch with Ellen to go over a presentation that they were giving to senior management.  

"Right after I said it, I realized that it was a big mistake.  I could see the fear and anger in Alice's face, and I regretted mentioning it.  There's nothing going on between Ellen and I, and I think that deep down Alice knows this.  But in that moment, she started crying and accusing me of being unfaithful.  Then, she kept asking me to reassure her that I only wanted to be with her which, of course, I did.  But it didn't matter.  She kept crying and making accusations.  I got fed up and went to stay with my brother.  Even then, she was calling me and texting me.  She was desperate to talk to me, but I knew we would only continue to argue.  I knew I had to wait until she calmed down.  Then, she kept apologizing to me, but this keeps happening over and over again."

The therapist worked with Alice individually for a while to help her to become aware of her emotional triggers before these triggers overwhelmed her (see my article: Coping With Trauma: Becoming Aware of Emotional Triggers and Working on Emotional Trauma: Separating the Past From the Present).

As a first step, she taught Alice how to use mindfulness to keep herself centered and bring about increased awareness to her emotional reactivity, so Alice could keep herself from overreacting (see my article: Developing Coping Skills).

By using mindfulness and being aware of the triggers that caused her reactivity, over time, Alice gradually learned how to stop herself from going into an emotional tailspin and arguing with Ted.  This was a good first step and it worked for her most of the time, but she was still struggling with her insecurities and it took a lot of effort to stay calm.

Once Alice developed better coping skills and began practicing mindfulness, the therapist helped Alice to work through the unresolved childhood trauma using EMDR Therapy (see my articles: Overcoming Trauma With EMDR Therapy: When the Past is Affecting the Present and EMDR Therapy: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough).

EMDR therapy got to the root of Alice's unresolved childhood trauma so that, gradually, she was no longer triggered.  She worked through the loss, overwhelming fear and sadness that she experienced as a child, and she no longer got triggered with her husband.

Getting Help in Therapy
You might not understand the underlying issues that contribute to your emotions, but a skilled psychotherapist can help you to understand and overcome these problems (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than allowing your insecurity and jealousy to ruin your relationship and erode your self esteem, get help in therapy.  It could make all the difference for you and your partner.

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, June 12, 2017

Using Your Anger to Mobilize Yourself to Make Positive Changes

I've written about anger from different perspectives in prior articles: 

In this article, I'm focusing on how to use anger to help mobilize you to make the changes you want in your life.

Anger Can Mobilize You To Make Positive Changes

Anger Can Mobilize You to Make Changes That Are Difficult For You
Many people see anger as negative.

Part of the reason for this is that children are often raised to believe that they're "bad" if they're angry and if they express their anger.  This is especially true for girls.  This is one of the reasons why so many people have problems recognizing, experiencing and expressing their anger in a constructive way.

But there's another way to look at anger, which is that anger can help to propel you to make major changes in your life, especially changes that you might be procrastinating about.

Making major changes in your life can be difficult.  It's rare to approach a major change without feelings of ambivalence.  So, part of you might really want to make a major change, but another part might be fearful of taking the necessary steps.

Becoming Aware of Your Anger
Before you can use your anger to propel you to change, you first have to be able to recognize that you're angry.

The fear and shame of being angry can be so great that many people will deny that they're angry even when it's obvious to everyone around them.

Anger Can Mobilize You to Make Positive Changes

For people who deny ever feeling angry, their fear of their anger has affected them to the point where they unconsciously numb themselves emotionally.  Even if they're shaking with rage, shouting, red in the face, and their heart is pounding, they're so cut off from their body and their emotions that they really have no awareness that they're angry.

Before they can use their anger in a constructive way, they need to slow everything down in order to become aware of their bodily sensations.  Depending upon how dissociated they are from their body and emotions, it can take a while before they can allow themselves to experience their anger physically and emotionally.

Recognizing There's No Need to Feel Ashamed or Afraid of Being Angry
Part of the reason why people dissociate from their anger is that they associate anger with fear and shame.  After they become aware of their anger, they need to develop the capacity to tolerate the underlying feelings associated with their anger.

Even when adults know that their fear and shame stem from what they were told as children, this intellectual understanding isn't enough for them to feel comfortable with accepting their anger.

For many people, getting to the point of feeling comfortable with anger is a process that can take a while to accomplish.

Recognizing Anger as a Secondary Emotion
Anger is often a secondary emotion.  It can mask other emotions that are much more uncomfortable for some people than anger.  One of those emotions is sadness.

People who are uncomfortable with allowing themselves to feel their sadness often fear that they will drown in their sadness--that it will be too overwhelming.

But this usually isn't the case.  If anything, the energy that it takes to suppress these underlying feelings is what's overwhelming and tiring.

Using Your Anger to Take Positive Steps to Change
You don't have to work through all your underlying feelings about anger in order to make positive changes in your life.

In order to use anger in a positive way, you need to be able to focus on your own needs rather than the external circumstances are that arouse your anger.

Examples of How to Use Anger to Make Positive Changes By Focusing on Your Needs:
  • Rather than focusing on how, once again, your boss took credit for your ideas, focus on what you need to do for yourself:
    • Do you need to communicate with your boss?  
    • Do you need to start documenting your ideas? or do you need to start looking for another job?
  • Rather than being focusing on how you can change your spouse, who refuses to change, ask yourself what you need to do for yourself in order to be happy.  
  • Rather than focusing on your friend, who divulged personal information about  you that you asked her not to reveal, ask yourself what you need to do to take care of yourself.
  • Rather than being annoyed with your doctor who just told you that you need to lose weight for health reasons, ask yourself what you can do to get healthy.
These are just a few of many everyday circumstances that come up that often immobilize people.  I'm sure you can think of many more.

The point is that you can shift your focus from the external circumstances and focus on your own emotional, physical or spiritual well-being.

Of course, there are times when external circumstances warrant being addressed directly, as in the case, for example, of social injustice.  Under those circumstances, you can still use your anger to make positive changes for yourself as well as for systemic problems.

Rather than allowing anger to eat away at you, you can use your anger to be creative in coming up with positive solutions to the problem.

Getting Help in Therapy
Everything that I've discussed so far is about non-violent anger.  It's about anger that can be self destructive or even emotionally destructive to others, but it's not about physical violence.

If you or someone that you love has problems where s/he gets physically violent, that's a much more serious problem and requires professional help from a licensed mental health professional.

Working with a licensed psychotherapist can also help you if you have tried to shift your anger to your own needs and you've been unable to do it--for example, when your anger is related to emotional trauma that is overwhelming you.

Getting Help in Therapy
You're not alone.

Help is available.  A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the psychological obstacles that are hindering  you from having the life 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, June 5, 2017

The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions

In prior articles, I discussed how journal writing is beneficial for coping (see my articles: Journal Writing Can Relieve Stress and Anxiety and Writing to Cope with Grief).  In this article, I'm focusing on the benefits of journal writing between therapy sessions.

The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions

I usually recommend journal writing between therapy sessions to my clients, especially clients where we are doing experiential mind-body oriented therapy like EMDR Therapy, clinical hypnosis or Somatic Experiencing because so much comes up for them in session and between sessions.

What Comes Up Consciously and Unconsciously Between Therapy Sessions
Just because the therapy session has ended doesn't mean that the psychological processing has ended.  Whether you realize it or not, you continue to process in your mind what came up in your therapy session consciously and unconsciously after the session ends.

What you process psychologically on a conscious level is easier to remember--thoughts, memories, reactions to your session, and so on.  Although if you're very busy, you can forget or dismiss whatever comes up.

What you process on an unconscious level usually comes up in dreams, daydreams and in other ways, including songs or "ear worms" that play in your mind.

The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions

At first, you might not be aware of the relevance of what comes up between sessions to what you and your psychotherapist are working on.  You might also forget the unconscious material that comes up before your next session.

But if you write down your thoughts, dreams, daydreams, associations or whatever else comes up, you have access to this material to discuss at your next session and possibly for the next few sessions since a lot can come up between sessions.

Journal Writing to Keep the Therapeutic Dialogue Going
Aside from helping you to remember what comes up for you between sessions, journal writing can act like an internal dialogue that you have with yourself or with the various aspects of yourself that might be in conflict about a particular problem (see my article: Understanding the Many Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions

It's also a good way to continue an internal dialogue with your therapist, even if you bring up the material to her during your next session.

If you've been working with your therapist for a while, you have probably internalized your sense of your therapist and you can imagine how she would respond to whatever comes up.

This is a great way to extend whatever you were working on in therapy.  It's similar to a continuation of the session and helps you to integrate and deepen your insights and emotions.

Journal Writing Between Sessions Can Lead to Emotional Breakthroughs
It can also lead to a breakthrough in your work because it can lead to your making new connections between the past and the present or to various other parts of your life.

Allow Your Writing to Flow Without Judgment
For this kind of journal writing, I find that it's best just to allow yourself to get into a flow with your writing.  Just allow what comes up to come up without judging or analyzing it before or after you write it down.

By writing in this free form way, without judgment or analysis, you're more likely to be able to turn off the internal critic in your mind so that your thoughts and emotions flow (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

This allows you to get to thoughts and emotions that you probably wouldn't get to if you were judging yourself or judging your writing.

Self Care: Take Time For Yourself
To be able to do this type of writing, you need some quiet time to yourself--even 10 or 15 minutes would be beneficial, possibly before other family members wake up or after they go to sleep to ensure that you have quiet and privacy (see my article: Reconnecting With Your Inner World Without Distractions).

Becoming Aware of Your Progress in Therapy
Another advantage of journal writing between sessions is that, over time, you get to see the progress you've made in your therapy.  It's easy to forget how you were feeling when you first came to therapy, so if you have a journal to look back on, you can see your progress as compared to when you first started.

It's also important not to be a perfectionist about your journal.  Write it for yourself and decide afterwards if you want to share it with your therapist.

Getting Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help at some point in his or her life (see my article: The Benefits of Therapy).

Supportive friends and family members are important, but sometimes you need the help of a skilled psychotherapist to help you overcome your problems (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than suffering on your own, seek out an experienced psychotherapist who can help you to overcome your problems and lead a more fulfilling life.

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