NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Fear of Anger is Often Coupled With Shame and Guilt: Part 2

In my prior article, Fear of Anger is Often Coupled With Shame and Guilt - Part 1, I discussed how anger is part of healthy aggression and starts at birth.  I also discussed how problems develop when healthy aggression is short circuited at a young age and continues into adulthood.  In this article, Part 2 of this topic, I'm providing a fictional clinical vignette to illustrate those issues.

Fear of Anger is Often Coupled With Shame and Guilt 

Fictional Clinical Vignette: Fear of Anger is Often Coupled With Shame and Guilt
Beth began attending psychotherapy after she was passed over for a promotion that she felt sure she was going to get but didn't.  Instead, a colleague, Karen, who used Beth's ideas and presented them to their director as if these ideas were her own, got the promotion that Beth wanted so much.

Beth told her psychotherapist that other colleagues, who knew that Karen took Beth's ideas, told Beth that she should speak with her director and let him know what happened.  But Beth felt too uncomfortable doing that.  She didn't want to "make waves" at the office, so she remained silent.

Beth also told her therapist that other colleagues, who were on the same level as Beth, often dumped projects they didn't want onto Beth to free themselves up for more interesting projects--projects that Beth would like to work on but couldn't because she was weighed down with the less interesting projects.  Friendly colleagues urged her to speak up, but Beth said she was too uncomfortable to assert herself, so she did nothing.

She had been with her company for a little over a year, and she was aware that she was getting a reputation for being a doormat--someone that certain colleagues could take advantage of because they knew she wouldn't stand up for herself.

She was also aware that if she continued to allow others to take advantage of her, her situation at work would only get worse.  She told her psychotherapist that she didn't know how to change these situations, but she wanted to learn how to do it.

As Beth and her psychotherapist explored her family history, Beth revealed that she was raised by a single mother who controlled almost every aspect of Beth's life until Beth moved out five years ago when she turned 25.  Even now that she was living on her own, Beth said, her mother still tried to control certain areas of Beth's life.

She told her therapist that when she told her mother that she was moving out five years ago, her mother was upset.  Her mother told her that she could save so much more money if she continued to live at home.  Beth told her that she wanted to have her own place.  Her mother knew there was nothing she could to stop Beth, but she told Beth, "Okay, go ahead and move out, but you might not find me here one day.  I'm not going to live forever, you know."

Beth was alarmed to hear her mother say this.  She also felt ashamed of her desire to be on her own and guilty for hurting her mother.  This made moving out so much more difficult, but Beth knew it was time to be on her own.  She didn't know how she did it, but she found the courage to move out, even though she felt ashamed of her need to do this and guilty for hurting her mother.

As she recalled her childhood, she told her psychotherapist that she remembered so many other memories of her mother being very uncomfortable when Beth tried to be more independent--from the time she was a young girl wanting to pick out her own clothes to wear to her mother's dismay when Beth told her that she wanted to learn to drive when she was 17.

She told her therapist that her close friends from adolescence, who remained her close friends now, always urged her to stand up to her mother, but Beth felt too guilty to confront her mother.  She was so aware that as single mother, her mother sacrificed a lot for her.  She felt it would be a form of betrayal if she confronted her mother, and she knew her mother would see it that way too.

And, yet, there was another part of her that wanted to be able to stand up to her mother so she wouldn't feel so dominated by her mother.  She would often imagine herself telling her mother that she needed to feel more independent, especially now that she was 30.  But whenever she imagined speaking to her mother about this, she could see how hurt and disappointed her mother looked, and she felt she couldn't risk hurting her mother.  So, her dilemma remained (see my article: Ambivalence and Codependence in Mother-Daughter Relationships).

Beth's psychotherapist listened empathically and understood that Beth was very ambivalent about what to do.  On the one hand, Beth wanted to feel more autonomous and in control of her life.  But on the other hand, Beth worried that she would hurt her mother.  She felt like she had to either choose to honor her own needs or honor her mother's needs, and she didn't know what to do.

Beth had a lot of insight into her problems, even before she came to therapy.  She knew that her problems with asserting herself were related to her lifelong avoidance of confrontations which were rooted in her relationship with her mother.  She knew, on some level, that she was suppressing her anger, but she couldn't feel it.  She was insightful, but she just didn't know how to make changes.

Listening to Beth, her psychotherapist recognized that there were times when Beth asserted herself, like when she moved out of her mother's place.  So she explained to Beth that everyone is made up of different, and sometimes contradictory, aspects of themselves.  And, her therapist explained, Beth had a part of her that knew how to assert herself--she just didn't know how to access this part of herself (see my articles: Why It's Important For Psychotherapists to Provide Clients With Psychoeducation and Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

Using a combination of clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, Beth's therapist helped Beth to go back into the memories of the times when she was able to assert herself with her mother.  At the same time that her psychotherapist helped Beth to access that assertive part of herself, she also helped Beth to manage the guilt and shame that also came up.

Over time, Beth was able to access this more assertive part of herself on her own.  As Beth got more comfortable calling on this more assertive part of herself, her psychotherapist recommended that she practice using this in ways that didn't feel too difficult.  She taught Beth how to put her shame and guilt aside in order to assert herself in small ways at work.

Then, when Beth was more comfortable, her psychotherapist urged her to be more assertive in other more complicated situations at work--like when her colleague tried to use more of Beth's ideas and say that they were hers.  This was more challenging for Beth, but she did it anyway and felt good about herself afterwards.

Over time, Beth was also getting more comfortable and confident with presenting her ideas to her director, especially after she received very positive feedback from the director.

The most challenging ordeal was asserting herself with her mother, who would often come over to Beth's apartment unannounced.  One day, Beth's mother came over when Beth was having dinner with a man she started dating.  Her first inclination was to let her mother in, but then she realized that this would be awkward and it would ruin her date with this man.

So, gathering her courage, she told her mother that she had come at a bad time and she would call her tomorrow.  Her mother, who refused to accept that Beth was an adult--much less as a sexual being, got angry and she left abruptly.  After her mother left, Beth calmed herself and she went back to be with her date.

During her next psychotherapy session, Beth told her therapist that she was able to set a boundary with her mother, but she felt very guilty and ashamed.  She said that she almost called her mother the next day to apologize, but when she thought about how her therapist would respond to this, she decided not to do it (see my article: How Clients Internalize Their Experience of Their Psychotherapist).

Beth's psychotherapist understood that there was still much unfinished business from Beth's early childhood, so she recommended that they use EMDR Therapy to work on Beth's unresolved trauma (see my articles: How EMDR Works: EMDR and the Brain and What is Adjunctive EMDR Therapy?).

Several months later, Beth was able to work through her childhood trauma with EMDR therapy.  She felt a lot of compassion for her mother, but she no longer felt shame for having her own needs or guilt for asserting herself with her mother.

She also continued to assert herself at work, and she was promoted a year later into a senior position with a substantial raise.

Fear of Anger is Often Coupled With Shame and Guilt

Most important of all, Beth no longer feared her anger.  She understood that her anger and its related healthy aggression could be used to mobilize herself to be assertive (see my article: Using Anger to Mobilize Yourself to Make Positive Changes in Your Life).

Fear of anger is often coupled with shame and guilt, and these problems are often rooted in early childhood when parents don't allow children to use their healthy aggression to be more autonomous in an age-appropriate way.

Without help, these problems continue into adulthood and usually have a negative impact on your career and personal life.

No matter what kinds of problems you might be having, like everyone else, in order to survive, you have positive internal resources, including various aspects of yourself that have helped you throughout your life.  You might not be aware of these aspects or, if you are, you might not know how to access them on your own to use them now.

Getting Help in Therapy
A psychotherapist who uses clinical hypnosis and a mind-body oriented modality, like Somatic Experiencing, can help you to access the positive aspects of yourself so you can overcome your problems(see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

In addition, EMDR therapy can help you to overcome unresolved trauma from the past that keeps you stuck now.

Rather than struggling on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional so you can overcome your history and live a more fulfilling life (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

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, and I have helped many clients to overcome problems that keep them from maximizing their potential.

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.