NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, January 12, 2018

How Psychotherapy Helps to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness

Most people have some degree of awareness of their inner emotional experience, but some people just naturally have more awareness than others.  One of the benefits of attending psychotherapy is that psychotherapists can help clients to expand their inner emotional awareness (see my articles: Developing Emotional Intelligence and The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

How Psychotherapy Helps to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness

How Do Psychotherapists Help Clients to Expand Their Inner Emotional Awareness?
In order to get along with people in your personal life and at work, you need to have an awareness of what you're experiencing in your internal emotional world and also a sense of what's going on with other people on an emotional level.  People who lack this awareness often have problems in their relationships and might not understand why.

Not only do they lack awareness of what they're experiencing emotionally, but they also don't pick up on social cues from others, so they don't understand what's going on emotionally with the people around them.  This is often what brings them into therapy.

Every psychotherapist works differently.  When clients come to see me in my private practice in New York City because they're having problems understanding their own and others' emotions, I find that it's often useful to help them to get emotionally attuned by using the mind-body connection.

Tapping Into the Internal Emotional World With the Mind-Body Connection
The body offers a window into the unconscious mind, which includes emotions (see my article: The Body Offers a Window Into Unconscious Mind).

Even clients are who fairly cut off from awareness of their bodies can learn over time how to recognize their emotions based on what they're sensing in their bodies.

For clients who are especially cut off, a psychotherapist who uses mind-body oriented techniques in therapy, like Somatic Experiencing or some other type of somatic psychotherapy, can help clients to get oriented to what they're experiencing in their bodies and what emotions are involved with their physical sensations.

Fictional Vignette: How Psychotherapy Helps to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness
Ted was having problems getting along with his girlfriend and his coworkers, which is why he began therapy.

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness

His girlfriend, Jan, had been complaining to him for a while that, after the initial stage of their relationship which was passionate, he seemed emotionally detached.  She also complained that he seemed to have no awareness of how his emotional detachment affected her, even though she tried to explain it to him numerous times.

Ted dismissed her complaints by telling her that she was "making a big deal out of nothing."  But when his director told him that a few of Ted's colleagues complained that Ted was aloof and he wasn't  being a team player on a project, Ted worried that he might lose his job, so he decided to seek help in therapy.

When he talked to his new therapist about his family history, he described a lonely childhood as an only child where he spent most of his time by himself.  If anything bothered him, he knew not to go to either of his parents because they dismissed his complaints, so he kept his emotions to himself (see my articles: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect? and What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Problems Later in Adult Relationships?)

He was relieved to go to college to get away from his family, and he quickly fell in with a drinking crowd.  Although he had many drinking buddies, he had no close friends at college and none at home.

By the middle of his first year in college, Ted wasn't doing well, so he knew he had to cut back on his drinking to work on his grades.  It was during that time that he met Jan on campus, and they hit it off immediately.

Once he was out of college, he and Jan moved to New York City to live together and begin their new careers.

Although he resented Jan's complaints that he was emotionally detached, he recognized that  he wasn't as passionate about the relationship now that they were together for several years.  He felt guilty that she wasn't getting what she needed from him emotionally, and he wanted to change that.  He also wanted to show his director and his colleagues that he could be more approachable and a team player.

When his psychotherapist explored with Jan what internal emotions he was aware of, he said the only emotion that he had any awareness of was anger, and he frequently felt angry and didn't know why.  Anger was also the only emotion that his parents displayed when he was growing up.

Ted expressed some concern about delving into his emotions, so he and his psychotherapist agreed that they would work slowly so Ted would feel safe in therapy (see my article: Starting Where the Client is in Psychotherapy).

Since Ted knew when he was angry and he frequently felt this emotion, his therapist helped Ted to recognize where he felt his anger on a physical level.

Initially, this was difficult for Ted because he wasn't accustomed to connecting his emotions with his body sensations.  But, gradually, Ted was able to identify that when he was angry, he felt the anger in his forehead around his eyebrows; he felt a tightness in his jaw and tension in his shoulders, arms and hands.

A few sessions later, Ted and his therapist focused on the emotion of fear.  Ted had a recent memory of feeling fearful when his director called Ted into his office to tell Ted that coworkers complained.  He thought he was about to lose his job, but his director told him that his work was good and he needed to find a way to connect with his coworkers.

As he remembered this memory of being fearful, Ted sensed his fear as a tightness in his gut.  Even just remembering that memory when he thought he was going to lose his job made his stomach feel queasy in his therapy session.

A few sessions later, Ted and his therapist worked on helping him to connect the emotion of  sadness with sensations in his body. She asked Ted to remember a sad memory.

At first, Ted couldn't think of any sad memories, but then he remembered feeling sad when Jan told him recently that she didn't know if she could stay in their relationship if he remained so emotionally disconnected.

As he went back into that memory in his therapy, he felt a sense of sadness in the back of his eyes and in his chest.  He also felt a queasiness in his stomach that he could now associate with fear.

Between sessions, as his psychotherapist recommended, Ted kept a journal to write down whatever emotions he sensed and where he felt them in his body (see my article: The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions).

His therapist also taught Ted how to de-escalate and ground himself emotionally and physically when he felt overwhelmed, especially since becoming aware of his emotions was new to him (see my articles: How to Stay Emotionally Grounded During Difficult Times and Self Soothing Techniques to Use When You're Feeling Distressed).

Although it was difficult for him at first, Ted also practiced being friendlier with his colleagues.  He invited them over his apartment to watch sports on his big screen TV and made sure they had plenty to eat and drink.  Jan, who knew that Ted was trying to improve his relationships with his colleagues, went out with her friends to allow Ted and his colleagues time to themselves.  Soon after that, Ted and his colleagues were bonding and getting along better at work.

Allowing himself to be more emotionally vulnerable with Jan was more difficult compared to bonding with his colleagues over sports.  Jan knew that he was trying, so she was understanding and encouraging.

Ted's difficulty with allowing himself to be more emotionally vulnerable with Jan was related to his earlier childhood experiences with his parents.  In his therapy sessions, he realized how hurt he was by his parents' emotional neglect and how he had unconsciously and how this affected him as an adult.

The relationship with Jan was easier at the beginning because they were both at the height of their sexual passion for each other.  But now that they were together for a while, they were at a different stage in their relationship and Jan wanted more emotional intimacy, which frightened Ted.

His therapist recommended that they work on his history of early emotional neglect with EMDR therapy (see my articles: What is EMDR Therapy? and EMDR Therapy For Big T and Smaller T Trauma).

At the same time, she encouraged Ted to express his affection for Jan in ways that felt the least threatening to him.

Initially, Ted began by buying Jan flowers and giving her other small gifts.  Jan was touched by these gifts, especially since she knew that Ted was struggling to express his love for her.  She told him how thoughtful and kind it was of him to give her these gifts.

How Psychotherapy Helps to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness

Getting Jan's positive feedback encouraged Ted to tell Jan that he really loved her.  Although he stumbled over his words, when she gave him a big hug and kiss, he was making progress and he felt good about himself.

In the meantime, Ted and his psychotherapist continued to do EMDR therapy to work through his traumatic history of emotional neglect.

Over time, Ted was able to work through his traumatic past, and this allowed him to be more emotionally vulnerable and expressive with Jan.  He also continued to cultivate better relationships at work.

Psychotherapy can help you to expand your inner emotional awareness.

In my professional opinion as a psychotherapist for more than 20 years, the mind-body connection is the easiest and most effective way to help clients in therapy to become aware of their emotions through the connection to the sensations in their bodies.

Often, people become emotionally and physically disconnected from their bodies due to unresolved trauma.  So, usually part of the work in therapy is to help clients to work through unresolved trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
People who lack awareness of their internal emotional world often don't realize that this is a problem until there are consequences for them in their personal relationships or their relationships at work.

A skilled psychotherapist will go at a pace that feels safe for the client so the client isn't overwhelmed in therapy (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

If you realize that you're somewhat emotionally shut down and this is having negative consequences for you and your relationships, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to come alive again so you'll have a more meaningful life and more fulfilling relationships.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome traumatic experiences.

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to connect and expand their inner emotional awareness so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.

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

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