NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Are You Approaching Your Problems From Your Adult or Your Inner Child's Perspective?

As I've discussed in prior articles, everyone maintains within themselves various internal parts of themselves throughout the course of a lifetime, including a child self, a teenage self and an adult self.  At any given time, one of your self states might dominate a particular situation without your being aware of it.  So, it's important to know "who's in charge" at certain times, and how to shift from one self state to another in order to manage your life more effectively (see my articles: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are and How Your Shifting Self States Affect You For Better or Worse).

Are You Approaching Your Problems From an Adult or Child's Perspective?

While there's a time and place to enjoy your younger self states, like when you're having fun, you don't want a younger self state in charge when you have to deal with adult problems.

Not only will that younger self state feel overwhelmed by trying to deal with an adult problem, but it won't be mature enough to handle the problem and it won't make the best possible decisions.  For instance, we would ever intentionally ask a three year old to make an important decision about an adult relationship?  Of course not.

But, as I mentioned in prior articles, when a younger self state steps in to try to handle an adult problem, it's an unconscious process.  Often, you're emotionally triggered into this younger self state without even knowing it.

Other people might recognize that you're not approaching your problem from a mature perspective, but it's often hard for you to see it yourself.

When you realize that your three year old self is trying to resolve an adult problem, you can understand why you're having difficulty overcoming your problem.

The important thing is, first, to recognize it and, second, to make the switch in a way that's respectful and compassionate to your various selves (i.e., without berating or denigrating any of the self states).

In my psychotherapy private practice in New York City, when I have clients who tend to approach certain problems from a younger self state which isn't helpful, I teach them how to shift into their adult self state.  I do this by helping clients to be aware of what's happening and then teaching them how to make the switch in a healthy way.

Fictional Clinical Vignette:
Learning to Switch From a Younger Self State to An Adult Self State
The following fictional clinical vignette demonstrates how to recognize when a younger self state is trying to resolve an adult problem and how to switch into your adult state using Ego States therapy:

Tania, who was in her late 20s, started therapy because she was having problems with her supervisor at work.

Are You Approaching Your Problems From Your Adult or From a Child Perspective?

Although she liked her job as a sales representative, she didn't like getting directives from her supervisor, especially since he tended to be abrupt with her when he was under pressure.  At those times, Tania reacted negatively to him, but she only recognized it after the fact when he pointed it out to her.

Although he acknowledged his part in their dynamic and he said he would try to be more aware of how he came across, her supervisor told Tania that she also needed to change her behavior.

Tania explained to her therapist that when her supervisor was abrupt with her, she would lose her motivation and take off days from work.  Lately, this was more problematic than usual because everyone at work was under additional pressure to meet their sales goals, which was challenging.

Tania told her therapist that her pattern was that after she took off a few days from work, she recognized in hindsight that she was only making things more difficult for herself because she would have to work that much harder to meet her goals.

She was also afraid that, if she kept taking off days from work, she might be fired from her job, so it was critical that she learn how to deal with her problems in a healthier way.

Tania's psychotherapist asked her to describe in detail what happens to her when her supervisor is abrupt.  In response, Tania thought about it for a while and then described a typical scenario:

When her supervisor was under pressure from his director, he would be abrupt with her and the other sales reps.  In hindsight, she realized that her supervisor's behavior stemmed from his own anxiety and he was trying to change, but he wasn't always successful.  Whenever he was abrupt with her, she had an immediate reaction.  She felt angry and resentful and she wouldn't want to be at work.  Then, rather than communicating with her supervisor or looking for another job, she would call out sick for a few days to get away from the situation.  She would spend those days in bed and tell herself that she couldn't deal with her supervisor's attitude when he was under stress.  Generally, this made things worse for her in the long run.

In the next few sessions, Tania revealed that when she was growing up, her father, who was a retired Marine, tended to give her and her siblings "orders" in an abrupt manner, which Tania resented.  When she became a teenager, she rebelled against both of her parents by cutting classes in high school, and her grades suffered.  Fortunately, she was able to improve her grades so she could go to college.

As they continued to discuss these issues, her psychotherapist pointed out to Tania that she was reacting to her supervisor in a similar way to how she behaved when she rebelled against her parents. She explained Tania that it seemed that those old memories of her father being authoritative and abrupt were getting  triggered at work.  Tania thought about it, and she agreed that her behavior with her supervisor was adolescent behavior, and she wanted to change it.

Her psychotherapist provided Tania with psychoeducation about how it is common for people to shift into different self states without being aware of it, especially when they get triggered (see my article: Why It's Important For Psychotherapists to Provide Clients With Psychoeducation).

Then, she spoke with Tania about Ego States therapy and how Tania could learn to become more aware of her shifting self states before she reacted and, if she became aware that she was reacting in an adolescent way, how she could shift into an adult self state.

Since Tania tended to approach most areas of her life as an adult, she had many memories of handling tough situations in a mature and effective way.  Using those memories of being mature, Tania's therapist helped her to relax into a light hypnotic state so Tania could go back into those memories and become more aware of how she felt emotionally and physically when she approached challenges from an adult self state.

As Tania thought about a particular memory where she felt proud of how she handled a challenging situation, she was able to feel a sense of pride and satisfaction.  When her therapist asked Tania where she felt this in her body, Tania said she felt an expansiveness in her chest.

Over time, they went over several other similar memories, and Tania became sensitized to what it felt emotionally and physically in her body to approach challenges from an adult self state.

Then, her psychotherapist asked Tania to think about a prior memory where she approached her problems with her current supervisor from an adolescent self state.  This was relatively easy for Tania because it happened several times lately, so she had recent memories she recalled.

When Tania sensed into what she felt on an emotional level when she thought of her response to her supervisor, she said she felt angry, resentful and indignant.  She felt these emotions as a tightness in her jaw, throat and shoulders.  She felt her old sense of rebelliousness similar to how she felt when her father gave her "orders."

Her psychotherapist asked Tania to stay with those feelings and, at the same time, to picture her compassionate adult self sitting next to her wanting to help her adolescent self.

At first, Tania imagined her adult self saying to her adolescent self, "Grow up and stopping acting so immature!"

When her psychotherapist asked Tania to sense into how her adolescent self felt when her adult self spoke to her this way, Tania said that it only made her adolescent self feel more angry and alone.  It also made her adolescent self feel like she wanted to rebel even more.

Her psychotherapist explained that this is why it's important for the adult self to be nonjudgmental in its approach to the younger self state.  Then, she asked Tania to try again with more compassion (see my article: Having Compassion For the Child That You Were).

Although this was challenging for Tania, she was able to put aside her judgmental attitude to feel compassion for an adolescent self who felt alone and needed help.

Her therapist asked Tania what her adolescent self needed from her adult self, and Tania said her adolescent self needed love and kindness.  She also needed to feel that she was not alone.

Are You Approaching Your Problems From Your Adult or Child Perspective?

As they continued to do Ego States therapy, Tania discovered ways that she could imagine showing kindness and love to her adolescent self.  Over time, she learned to be more emotionally reassuring to her adolescent self.  She also learned to allow her adult self to gently take over when it was necessary.

At the same time, she didn't berate or try to completely suppress her adolescent self in all situations.  She allowed her adolescent self to dominate in situations where that self state could feel alive when she was having fun.

Gradually, Tania practiced in her psychotherapy sessions going back and forth between these two self states so that she learned to make the switch on her own when she needed to do it.

So, for instance, when she sensed herself beginning to feel rebellious with her supervisor, she knew that her adolescent self was trying to take control of the situation, and she consciously made a choice to reassure her adolescent self that her adult self would take over.  Then, she would consciously make the choice to approach her problem from a mature stance.

Once Tania was no longer unconsciously reacting in a negative way to her supervisor, she and her psychotherapist worked on helping her to overcome the underlying issues related to her history with her father so that Tania wouldn't keep getting triggered at work.

Over time, they used EMDR therapy to work on the earlier issues that were at the root of the problem (see my articles: What is EMDR Therapy?How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain, and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Being able to approach her problems from a mature perspective also allowed Tania to be proactive about finding another job where she was happier.

We all carry within ourselves the various self states from infancy to adulthood.

When we use a younger self state unconsciously to approach a problem that requires an adult self state, this causes problems for us.

Ego States therapy helps clients to become aware of their various self states.

The goals of Ego States therapy is to help clients to become aware of their self states, when they're switching to a self state that isn't helpful and how to make a conscious choice to use a more effective self state for the particular issue at hand.

Once clients become aware of their self states, how they choose them unconsciously in ineffective ways, and how they can make the switch to a more effective self state, many problems can be resolved.

Getting Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help at some point in his or her life.

Having a good emotional support network of family and friends is important to maintain an emotionally healthy self, but there are times when your problems might be beyond what you or your support network can handle (see my article: How Talking to a Psychotherapist is Different From Talking to a Friend).

Working with a skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome your problems by working through traumatic experiences and finding new ways of coping (see my articles: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional.

Being able to work through challenging problems can help you to lead a more fulfilling life.

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to come from their best possible self to resolve their problems by using Ego States therapy.

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

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