NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

How Unresolved Trauma Affects How You Feel About Yourself

Psychological trauma often has a negative impact on how you feel about yourself.  In trauma therapy, like EMDR, the psychotherapist explores the negative beliefs that developed for the client as a result of trauma (see my articles: How EMDR Works: EMDR and the Brain and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

How Unresolved Trauma Affects How You Feel About Yourself

These beliefs often remain unconscious before the client seeks help in psychotherapy.  But these negative beliefs often get enacted in other areas of the client's life without his or her realizing it before therapy.

Depending upon the kind of trauma and the lasting impact, these negative beliefs might include feeling unlovable, unworthy, powerless, weak and so on.  This is especially true if there weren't people who intervened at the time of the trauma on the traumatized person's behalf.

Fictional Clinical Vignette: How Trauma Affects How You feel About Yourself
The following fictional vignette, which is similar to many actual therapy cases, illustrates how trauma can have a negative lasting impact on self perception:

After she experienced herself as being helpless in a situation at work where she was being sexually harassed, Nina sought help in psychotherapy.

Nina explained to her psychotherapist that she had always done well in college and in her prior jobs.  She was able to negotiate whatever challenges presented themselves in all her prior educational and career endeavors.

However, in her new position as a director, she felt undermined by a manager, Alan, who felt that he should have been the one promoted into the new position--not Nina.  Not only did Alan voice his anger about her getting the promotion when he felt he was better qualified, but he also tried to belittle her by making comments with sexual innuendos when no one else was around.

Nina told her therapist that she ignored him at first but, over time, Alan's sexual comments were more brazen and hostile.  She knew he was trying to intimidate her, and she thought about reporting him to her executive director and the human resources department, but she was afraid that no one would believe her because it would be her word against his, and Alan was generally well liked.

At the same time, Nina knew that she needed to do something because Alan's remarks were becoming more outrageous, and it was getting to the point where she dreaded going to work and encountering him alone in the pantry or on the elevator.  She was losing sleep over it, and over time, this problem was taking up more and more of her thoughts.  It was also interfering with her work.

The psychotherapist explored Nina's background and discovered that Nina was sexually abused from the time she was five until she was 18 by a paternal uncle, who was much loved by the family.  The sexual abuse included making sexual comments to her, kissing her on the mouth and fondling her breasts (see my article: Overcoming the Psychological Effects of Sexual Abuse).

With much trepidation, when Nina was seven, told her mother about the uncle's inappropriate behavior. But her mother refused to believe her.  Not only didn't she believe Nina, but she punished her because the mother believed that Nina was lying.

As a result, the sexual abuse continued whenever the uncle found an opportunity to be alone with Nina (similar to her situation at work with Alan), and Nina felt that, somehow, she was at fault for what her uncle was doing.

The only reason the abuse stopped was that Nina went away to college.  Determined to put the sexual abuse out of her mind, she focused on her college work and excelled in her studies.  After college, she shared an apartment with friends, and she never attended family events where she knew her paternal uncle would be there.

Until Alan began sexually harassing her, Nina thought that she had overcome her history of sexual abuse.  But she realized that she was feeling just as powerless in her current situation as she felt when she was a child.

Her psychotherapist recommended that Nina could take the situation at work one step at a time, so if Nina was too afraid to file a formal complaint with her human resources department, she could speak with her human resource manager informally to find out her rights.

Her therapist also told Nina that it appeared that her earlier trauma of feeling powerless was triggering feelings of powerlessness in her current situation.  She explained to Nina that she had an unresolved trauma that was complicating her current situation, and she recommended that they use EMDR therapy to help Nina to resolve the original trauma involving the sexual abuse with her uncle as well as the fact that her mother didn't believe or support her when she told her mother about the abuse (see my article: EMDR Therapy - When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough).

Nina took practical steps to speak with the human resource (HR) manager about what would happen if she filed a sexual harassment complaint.  To her surprise and relief, the HR manager told Nina that she was already conducting an investigation and, based on a complaint from a few other women in Nina's department, she was about to contact Nina to ask her if she was being harassed.

Since Nina had come to her on her own, the HR manager asked her specifically about her experiences with Alan, and Nina was able to tell her about the sexual comments that he made to her.  A few weeks later, based on several women coming forward to complain about Alan's behavior, he was terminated.

At the same time, Nina and her psychotherapist did EMDR therapy to work on the many years of sexual abuse that she experienced by her uncle.  They also worked on how betrayed Nina felt that her mother thought she was lying.

Nina was somewhat surprised that, after all the years that had gone by, she could still be triggered into feeling powerless in her situation at work.

Their work with EMDR therapy was neither quick nor easy but, her therapist explained, EMDR therapy tends to be faster and more effective than regular talk therapy with unresolved trauma.

Over time, Nina was able to work through the unresolved trauma so that it was no longer affecting her.  She no longer felt powerless in relation to her memory of the abuse or in her current life.

In fact, when another male colleague tried to sexually harass her, Nina put him in his place and told him in no uncertain terms that if he did not stop, she would report him.  Startled by her assertiveness, the colleague seemed intimidated by Nina.  He apologized for his behavior, and he stopped making inappropriate comments.

Feeling Empowered After Resolving Prior Trauma

Afterward, Nina felt she had handled the situation well, and she told her psychotherapist that she felt good about herself.

Shortly after that, Nina had a long talk with her mother about the sexual abuse that occurred when Nina was child.  Her mother believed her this time.  She apologized and they began to work on improving their relationship.  Her mother also forbid the uncle from coming to any more family events.  With Nina's permission, her mother also told other family members so that they would be aware of his behavior and prevent any other children from being abused.

This brief fictional vignette illustrates that, even when a client thinks that s/he had suppressed the negative emotions associated with an early trauma, these feelings can get triggered in a current situation.

The unresolved trauma remains unmetabolized just under the surface, and it can remain there for many years until it gets triggered again.

Trauma therapy, like EMDR therapy, can help clients to overcome traumatic experiences in a more effective way than regular talk therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you are struggling with unresolved trauma, you owe it to yourself to get help in trauma therapy (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to overcome unresolved trauma so you can free yourself from your history and lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

As a trauma therapist, I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients to overcome unresolved trauma.  

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.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Emotionally Intimate Relationships Provide An Opportunity to Know Yourself in New Ways

People who are in new relationships are understandably focused on getting to know their partner, but being in a relationship also provides you with an opportunity to get to know yourself better--sometimes in unexpected ways.

Emotionally Intimate Relationships Provide An Opportunity to Get to Know Yourself in a New Way

Although there is always the potential to get to know yourself in all relationships, including friendships and work-related relationships, being in an emotionally intimate relationship brings up core emotional issues that you often don't discover in other relationships.  This is because you're at your most emotionally vulnerable when you're in a relationship that is emotionally intimate.

Often, these core issues involve aspects of yourself that you haven't encountered before--even if you're been in other relationships--because every relationship is different.  Each dyad is unique and combines the personal histories of each person in a unique way.

Getting to know yourself in a relationship gives you a chance to see yourself in a new light in both ways you like and in ways you might want to change.

Fictional Clinical Vignette:  Emotionally Intimate Relationships Provide You With An Opportunity to Get to Know Yourself in New Ways
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how being in a relationship provides an opportunity to get to know new aspects of yourself and how psychotherapy can help:

After his divorce, Tod waited a year before he started dating.  He had been married for 15 years and, initially, he found the dating world to be daunting.  It was all new to him.  He lacked confidence in himself and he felt discouraged by online dating.  He often felt like he was "doing it wrong" when he met women online or he felt inadequate in some way.  But when he met Nicki through mutual friends, he felt he met someone who was special, and he stopped his online dating activity.

They were both divorced, in their mid-40s, and without children.  Not only did they have similar values and interests, but they both had demanding careers and were both looking to get into a serious relationship.  After dating for several months, they decided to take the next step and move in together.

After living together for a couple of months, Nicki began to express her frustration with Tod's unspoken expectation that she do all of the cooking and housework.

Hearing her complaints, Tod was surprised--mostly at himself--because he always saw himself as believing that men and women were equal in his personal relationships as well as in his work-related relationships.  As a managing director at work, he tended to mentor and promote qualified women, and he encouraged his managers to do so as well.  So hearing Nicki say she thought his behavior at home was sexist was something he hadn't thought about before.  But when he did think about it, he realized that she was right.

As Tod thought about it more, he realized that when he was married, his wife, who didn't work, did the housework, and she didn't mind.  This is what he was accustomed to for 15 years and it was never an issue for them.  He also grew up in a household where his mother stayed home and took care of all the household chores while his father was at work.

The problems that led to Tod's divorce had nothing to do with disagreements about household chores and more to do with their growing apart.  His wife at the time was a perfectionist about housework, and she preferred to do things herself, which suited both of them.

In the last few years of his marriage, Tod started psychotherapy to deal with the loss of his mother to a sudden illness.  While in therapy, Tod learned things about himself that he never realized before.  Getting to know aspects of himself that he never knew before helped Tod to grow and become more psychologically minded, but his wife didn't understand why he attended psychotherapy.  Even when it was obvious to both of them that they were drifting apart, his wife wouldn't even consider going to couples therapy, so the relationship eventually ended with each of them acknowledging the unhappiness in the marriage and opting for an amicable divorce.

Tod began discussing with his psychotherapist how surprised he was to realize that he was behaving in a traditional sexist way at home and even more surprised that he didn't realize it himself before Nicki mentioned it.  Although he agreed with Nicki once she pointed it out, he felt completely inept about doing housework because he had never done it before.  When he lived with his former college roommates after he graduated college, they hired a cleaning person to do the housework and, as previously mentioned, when he was married, his wife preferred to do the housework.

His psychotherapist sensed that there was something more going on for Tod beyond that he didn't like or feel good at doing housework, so she explored this issue with him further.

What eventually came up was that, beyond housework, Tod often felt "not good enough" when he tried anything new, including online dating before he and Nicki moved in together.  This included going away to college, which resulted in him attending counseling through the college counseling center when he was tempted to drop out of college during his freshman year.  It also included when he was new at work after college.

Fortunately, his college counselor helped him to get through that difficult first year so he stayed at college.  And he was assigned to a caring mentor at his company, who helped him make the transition from college to work when he was a new employee, and it also helped Tod to build up his self confidence in his career.

As Tod discussed this problem with his psychotherapist, he realized that new situations still triggered the feelings of not being good enough in many areas of his life, and he wanted to work through this issue since it was bound to come up again and again in his life.

To discover the underlying issues involved with Tod not feeling good enough, his psychotherapist used the current situation with Nicki and the clinical hypnosis technique called the Affect Bridge (see my article: What is Clinical Hypnosis?).

With the Affect Bridge, Tod was able to sense his emotions and where he felt them in his body with regard to his current problem and go back to the earliest time that he felt this way about himself to get to the root of the problem.

Once Tod and his psychotherapist were able to pinpoint the earliest experience where he felt inadequate, which was in his childhood, they used EMDR therapy to help him to resolve the past, present and anticipated future events that could trigger these feelings of inadequacy (see my articles: What is EMDR Therapy?How Does EMDR Therapy Work: EMDR and the Brain, and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Along the way, Tod began taking over half of the household responsibilities that Nicki had been doing, which Nicki appreciated, and after doing EMDR therapy, he no longer felt inadequate with this  issue or other new situations.

Emotionally intimate relationships provide an opportunity for you to get to know yourself in new ways, including both positive and negative aspects of yourself.

When there are issues that are getting triggered in your relationship, these issues often have their roots in earlier experiences.

Experiential therapy, like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and clinical hypnosis are effective forms of therapy that help you to overcome unresolved trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been struggling with unresolved issues, you can get help in psychotherapy (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the problems that are keeping you stuck so you can lead a more fulfilling life, so rather than struggling on your own, get help from a licensed mental health professional (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 people to overcome unresolved problems.

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, May 21, 2018

Why Ghosting Your Psychotherapist is Harmful to You

Ending a relationship can be difficult, and many people try to avoid dealing with endings--whether those endings involve a romantic relationship, family members, coworkers and even psychotherapists. "Ghosting" is a relatively new term to describe when someone disappears from a relationship, regardless of the type of relationship, in order to avoid a conflict or the fear of ending that relationship (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).

Why Ghosting Your Psychotherapist is Harmful to You

Ghosting in Psychotherapy 
Clients in psychotherapy often talk about how emotionally painful it is when someone that they were dating ghosts them.

They talk about feeling abandoned, rejected and confused about why the other person disappeared from their life without telling them why.  And yet, some of these same clients will ghost their psychotherapist even when they have had a good therapeutic relationship with them before they disappeared.

Although ghosting a psychotherapist isn't the norm, it happens often enough for psychotherapists to begin talking about it.  Often, clients who ghost their therapist have a long history of passive-aggressive and avoidant behavior in other personal and work-related relationships.

Why Do Clients Ghost Their Psychotherapists?
With the advent of dating apps where people can swipe right or left for their dating preferences, some people haven't developed the necessary tact and interpersonal skills for interacting with others.

I hear from many clients, who are unhappy with online dating, that for many of the people they are meeting online, there is a feeling that there might be "someone better" one swipe away ("better" is often defined as better looking, sexier, richer, smarter, and so on).  So, these people tend to enter into the dating world lacking the interpersonal skills and motivation to get to know people before ghosting them.

Why Ghosting Your Psychotherapist is Harmful to You
Unfortunately, this phenomenon has carried over into the realm of psychotherapy with some clients opting to disappear from therapy rather than talking to their psychotherapist about whatever is bothering them (see my article: How to Talk to Your Psychotherapist About What's Bothering You About Your Therapy).

For people who ghost their psychotherapist, there is often little to no recognition that they have a  relationship with their psychotherapist--a therapeutic relationship, which is, of course, different from a personal relationship, but a relationship nonetheless, and that relationship deserves the respect of any other type of relationship.

As to why clients ghost their psychotherapist, there can be many reasons, including:
  • A History of Avoidant Behavior: Some people just haven't learned how to end a relationship in a way that is respectful to the other person and respectful to themselves.  They might have an avoidant attachment style or aspects of that attachment style.  In most cases, they want to avoid any kind of unpleasantness or conflict--even when they know, logically, that their psychotherapist is trained to deal with endings.  
  • A Problem With Interpersonal Skills: As mentioned before, some clients haven't developed the necessary social skills for interacting with others.  Either due to inexperience with relationships or a lack of recognition of the importance of relationships, they don't know how to talk about what's bothering them in a relationship and how to end a relationship that's not working for them, including a therapeutic relationship (see my article: How Psychotherapy Can Facilitate Emotional Development in Adult Clients).
  • A Fear of Emotional Intimacy: A client-therapist relationship is one of the most emotionally intimate relationships that many people have.  For some people, it's the only emotionally intimate relationship they have in their lives, especially if they're not connected to family member, friends or in a romantic relationship.  For clients who have never been in therapy before or who have skipped around to many different therapists without developing a therapeutic relationship, the emotional intensity of the therapeutic relationship can be uncomfortable.  If they have never developed a good therapeutic relationship with a psychotherapist, they might not have anticipated what opening up to a therapist would be like.  For some clients, when the therapy sessions become deeper than they anticipated, they bolt (see my article: Fear of Emotional Intimacy).
  • An Early History of Traumatic Endings:  Often ghosting is related to unresolved trauma where there were one or more early traumatic endings.  This might include: being abandoned by a parents early in life, experiencing marital separation or divorce where the parents didn't take the time to talk to the children about the change, sudden evictions from a home, etc.  Someone who has experienced traumatic endings has inadvertently learned that endings are dangerous and should be avoided, so rather than letting their therapist know that they are thinking about leaving therapy, they become too anxious about the ending and just leave (see my article: Fear of Abandonment and Adults Who Were Traumatized As Children Are Often Afraid to Express Their Feelings).
Why is Ghosting Your Psychotherapist Harmful to You?
While it's true that no psychotherapist likes to be ghosted by a client, when clients ghost their psychotherapist, they are mostly harming themselves for the following reasons:
  • Your Therapy Often Doesn't Go Beyond the Surface: When you disappear from your therapy, you often cheat yourself from having the experience of going beyond the surface in therapy.  Clients who leave therapy prematurely will often say to their next therapist that they didn't know what else to talk about once they talked briefly about the presenting problem.  A skilled psychotherapist will usually recognize that the client might have been defensively warding off delving deeper into their problems (see my article: Beyond the "Band-aid" Approach to Resolving Your Problems in Therapy).
  • You Might Be Avoiding Dealing With Your Problems:  Most, if not all, people begin psychotherapy with a degree of ambivalence.  Even the most motivated clients, who are serious about working on their problems, have some mixed feelings about being in therapy.  So, when you have an urge to disappear from your therapy sessions, you would be wise to ask yourself what you might be avoiding.   You might feel a temporary sense of relief by leaving therapy prematurely, but sooner or later your problems will resurface (usually, it's sooner), and you might be returning to your therapist or looking for another therapist.  If this is a pattern for you, you could reenact this ghosting pattern many times with different therapists and not resolve your problems (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).
  • You Don't Feel Good About Yourself After Ghosting Your Psychotherapist:  Except in rare cases of the most callous or narcissistic people, most people who have a pattern of ghosting their psychotherapists will often say that they feel shame and guilt afterwards for leaving in such a passive-aggressive way.  If this occurs with one therapist after another, they develop a sense of failure or the misconception that "therapy doesn't work for me."  Before disappearing from therapy, take some time to first reflect upon what you will feel like after the initial sense of relief, especially if you have skipped around a lot from one therapist to another.  
  • You Don't Learn to Assert Yourself in a Healthy Way:  Even when it's clear that you and your psychotherapist aren't a good match, rather than disappearing from therapy, you owe it to yourself to assert yourself so you can have a good ending in therapy.  If you have never learned to end a relationship in a healthy way, discussing termination with your psychotherapist is an opportunity to learn how to have a healthy ending.  This means having at least one session to end the therapy--not texting, emailing or leaving a voicemail message telling your therapist that you're ending therapy.  
What Can Psychotherapists Do to Help Clients With a Pattern of Ghosting?
Psychotherapists who recognize that a client has a pattern of ghosting people in relationships can help by doing the following:
  • Bring Up the Topic of Ghosting Early On in Therapy For Clients Who Have a Pattern of Ghosting:  Very often, whatever problem a client is having in his or her personal or work life also becomes a problem in therapy.  That's why it's important for a therapist to address the ghosting issue early on in therapy when she hears that a client has a pattern of doing this in relationships.  By bringing up this topic, the therapist lets the client know that she is receptive to hearing any complaints about the therapy or what the client thinks isn't working, so the client knows it's safe to talk about these issues and s/he doesn't have to disappear from therapy at the first sign of a problem.  This provides an opportunity for the client and therapist to talk about other ways of handling uncomfortable feelings, conflict or whatever might be causing the client to want to disappear.  For some clients, this might not be enough to keep them from bolting from therapy when they're uncomfortable, but at least it has been addressed.  It increases the chance that these clients might remember the discussion even after they leave, and they might consider returning (see my article: Starting Where the Client is in Psychotherapy and Why It's Important For Psychotherapist to Provide Clients With Psychoeducation).
  • Don't Take It Personally:  Most experienced psychotherapists are trained not to take abrupt endings in therapy personally.  This doesn't mean that the therapist might not have contributed to the abrupt ending in therapy.  It could mean that, even when the therapist made mistakes and had no opportunity for repairing the rupture, this isn't a personal abandonment (although it never feels good to be ghosted).  But if, as a psychotherapist, you experience it as a personal abandonment or if it triggers abandonment issues in you, you would do well to seek help in your own personal therapy to work out these unresolved issues.  Self care is important. You would also probably benefit from working with an experienced supervisor or colleagues who can help you to deal with this issue (see my article: Psychotherapists' Reactions to Their Clients).
  • Contact a Client Who Has Disappeared From Therapy: It can be very helpful to a client, who is fearful and avoidant, to hear from his or her therapist that the door remains open to returning.  This is especially true for clients who have been traumatized by unhealthy endings in their family where there was no opportunity to return to repair relationships.  The client might not come back soon or ever, but knowing that the therapist is open to discussing the reasons for leaving, even if the client still wants to end therapy after the discussion, can be a healing experience.  Some clients, who disappear from therapy, return months or years afterwards based on the therapist letting them know that her door remains open to them.  Also, let them know your policy regarding inactive cases (e.g., a client's case would be considered inactive after a month or whatever your policy is).
  • Help Clients to Work Through the Issue of Abrupt Endings If They Return: As previously mentioned, some clients return after they have heard from their psychotherapist that they can come back.  For those clients, who might still feel uncomfortable, guilty or ashamed, it's important to address their disappearance from therapy.  This can be a healing experience for the client and the therapeutic relationship (see my article: Ruptures and Repairs in Psychotherapy).
Ghosting is phenomenon which occurs for a variety of reasons, in personal relationships, work relationships and therapeutic relationships in psychotherapy.

When ghosting occurs in psychotherapy, it's harmful to the client, who might be perpetuating a pattern of disappearing from relationships or unconsciously recreating trauma from the past.

Psychotherapists, who recognize a pattern of ghosting with particular clients, can help these clients by providing psychoeducation about why ghosting is harmful to them and how to deal with problems directly rather than avoiding them.

When clients, who tend to bolt from relationships, learn to confront their fears in psychotherapy (rather than disappearing from therapy), they can take pride in achieving an important goal.  Learning to deal with problems related to psychotherapy can help clients to develop the necessary skills to deal with problems in their personal relationships and in their career.

Getting Help in Therapy
Rather than struggling alone, you could benefit from seeking help in psychotherapy (see my article:  The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Finding the psychotherapist that's right for you might take time and effort (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Freeing yourself in therapy from a traumatic history can allow you to lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City 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 unresolved trauma.

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.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Trying to Decide Whether to Salvage Your Relationship With Your Parents

In my previous article, Now That You're An Adult, Your Parents Have Changed Into the Parents You Wanted As a Child, I began a discussion about the experiences of adult children whose parents were abusive when they were younger but who changed into the parents that these children wanted all along since childhood.  In this issue, I'm focusing on a decision that many adult children are faced with--whether to try to salvage their relationship with their parents (see my articles: Ambivalence and Codependency in Mother-Daughter RelationshipsGetting Help in Mother-Adult Daughter Therapy, and Deciding Whether or Not to Reconcile Your Relationship With Your Father).

Trying to Decide Whether to Salvage Your Relationship With Your Parents

Why Do Adult Children Become Estranged From Their Parents?
Deciding whether to try to salvage a relationship with one or both parents isn't easy, and many adults seek help in psychotherapy to grapple with this issue.  There's no one answer that will suit everyone, and each person will have to decide what's best for him or herself and family members.

From the adult children's perspective, there are many different reasons why they and their parents become estranged.

Most of the time adult clients in psychotherapy indicate that the estrangement developed due to physical abuse or neglect from childhood (see my articles: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect? and What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Problems Later On In Adult Relationships).

In order to take care of themselves emotionally and physically, these adult children made a decision to part ways with their parents because there was no way to continue to have a relationship without it being harmful to them.

Often this type of estrangement occurs gradually over time. But if even limited contact with parents is still hurtful, these adult children might cut back even further in terms of contact--until, in some cases, there is no contact.

For most adult children this is an agonizing decision to make.  It might not start out being a decision to end all contact but, as time goes on and neither the adult child nor the parents reach out, it can develop into complete estrangement with little incentive to reach out.

The Problem With Cultural Myths About All Parents Always Being Loving
Aside from the emotional difficulty with reducing or eliminating contact with parents, adult children are often stigmatized for having less or no contact with parents due to cultural myths.

These cultural myths are all around us and perpetuated in songs, stories, movies, and Mother's Day and Father's Day cards:  All parents, especially mothers, are presumed to be loving, nurturing and self sacrificing towards their children.

While there are many loving and nurturing parents, by no means are all parents loving and nurturing. There are families where one or both parents are emotionally and physically abusive behind closed doors where no one, except the children, see and experience what's going on (see my article: Breaking the Family Code of Silence in Dysfunctional Families).

Cultural myths about all parents being loving makes it that much more guilt and shame producing for adult children to make decisions about reducing or eliminating contact with their parents.

In many cases, these adult children are stigmatized by well-meaning others who need to believe in the cultural myth.  In some cases, these same people are in denial about their own families and haven't dealt with their own ambivalence about their parents.

Many clients in psychotherapy tell their psychotherapists that when they decided to reduce or eliminate contact with one or both parents, other family members, friends and acquaintances didn't understand how these adult children could "do this to the parents."

There is often an implicit message that if adult children are reducing and eliminating contact with their parents, the problem must somehow be the adult child's fault.  These adult children might hear others say, "But their your parents.  How can you cut them off" or "You know your parents did the best they could at the time" or other platitudes.

I think that people who say these things often don't realize how damaging these statements are to the adult children, especially for adult children who might have grown up feeling emotionally invisible to  their parents and others (see my article: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated).

When they have to also endure others' scorn for taking care of themselves, this can make their decision-making process that much more lonely, and it can continue to make them feel invisible and undeserving of self care (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

Rather than trying to guilt or shame adult children for taking care of themselves, it would be much more helpful for others to realize that they might not have the whole story and to use empathy and understanding before making judgments.

Obstacles For Adult Children to Salvaging a Relationship With Parents 
The obstacles to salvaging a relationship with one or both parents can be formidable, including (but not limited to):
  • Parents' Denial, Lack of Acknowledgement and Refusal to Take Responsibility For Abuse: Chances of salvaging a relationship between adult children and parents are usually better if the parents can acknowledge and try to make amends for a history of abusing or neglecting the child.  Although they can't change the past, if parents can take responsibility and they are sincere about their remorse, this makes it somewhat easier for the parents and adult child to try to develop a better relationship.  It doesn't erase the past, but it provides a basis for reconciliation for many people.  But when parents either deny or minimize the abuse ("That happened a long time ago.  You should be over it by now"), this can be a major obstacle to a reconciliation.
  • Ongoing Abuse or Manipulation:  When one or both parents continue to be abusive with an adult child, this is a major obstacle to salvaging the parent-adult child relationship.  The adult child must decide if it's better to try to have some form of relationship rather than none.  If the abuse or manipulation continues, it makes it that much more difficult to sustain a relationship.
  • The Adult Child's Relationship With Parents Is Beyond Repair:  In some cases, the relationship between adult children and their parents is so damaged that it is beyond reconciliation.  This can include a history or the ongoing perpetuation of severe forms of abuse, including (but not limited to)  sexual or physical abuse. Where there is no hope of change and maintaining a relationship with parents would only mean continued abuse, adult children often have no choice but to abandon any hope of having a healthy relationship with one or both parents.  
Developing a Compromise to Maintain a Relationship With Parents (if possible)
The bond between most parents and children is strong and, even in cases where the actual bond isn't strong, there is often a wish for repair on both sides in order to develop a stronger bond.

Finding the compromise that works for everyone involved can be challenging, especially if parents are in denial or refuse to take responsibility for or minimize a history of abuse when their adult children were younger.

Sometimes, adult children decide to have limited contact with their parents on holidays and birthday.  Other times, adult children move to another part of the country and try to maintain some telephone contact.  This can be a trial and error process with both sides discovering what works for everyone--if there, in fact, is a solution that works.

An adult child might decide that, even if it's emotionally triggering to see his or her parents occasionally, this is the lesser of two difficult situations when considering a complete cut off and limited contact.

When they see each other, there is often an unspoken agreement to avoid certain topics that would create conflict.  This might cause some regret for both parents and adult children that their relationship isn't as emotionally intimate as they wished it could be, but it's part of the compromise to maintain some contact and minimize damage.

When No Compromise is Possible
As previously mentioned, in some cases, due to numerous factors, including severe abuse or neglect or ongoing abuse, a compromise isn't possible.  This is a painful, but often necessary, decision for the health and well-being of the adult child.

As An Adult Child, Trying to Decide Whether to Salvage Your Relationship With Your Parents

Getting to this decision can be a long, painful road with many attempts at compromises along the way.

In addition to dealing with possible guilt and shame, there is grief involved because cutting off complete contact often involves giving up any hope that the relationship can be repaired and the hope of ever having a loving parental relationship at all.

This article focused on adult children, but there are also circumstances where parents have to decide whether or not to salvage their relationship with their adult children when to do so would be to perpetuate emotional and/or physical pain for them.  This decision is also usually agonizing.

From the adult child's perspective, cutting off a relationship with one or both parents is almost never taken lightly.  There is often guilt and shame involved--even when the adult child knows that to maintain a relationship would involve ongoing abuse.

Some adult children decide to compromise and maintain limited contact with parents.  Often, there is an underlying hope that, eventually, a time will come when the adult child and the parents can reconcile their relationship--even if it seems impossible at the current time.

Is maintaining hope for a full reconciliation in the future a form of denial?  There's often no way to know in the present.

For many people a complete reconciliation never happens, and they live their lives with an open emotional wound waiting for that day.

For other people, as they and their parents get older, there might be a new perspective and the possibility of a reconciliation where it never seemed possible before.

This might also involve a time when the adult children have their own children and the parents are motivated to repair the relationship because they want to be involved in their adult child's and grandchild's lives.  It might involve a parent who is very sick or close to death with a final wish for reconciliation and healing.

Getting Help in Therapy
Psychotherapy clients, who decide to have limited or no contact with parents, often work with their psychotherapists to resolve a traumatic history of abuse or neglect and work through their current decision-making process (see my article: The Benefit of Psychotherapy).

Unresolved childhood trauma often gets triggered in the present, so working with a skilled trauma therapist can help to resolve developmental trauma (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

If you have been struggling on your own with unresolved problems, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who is a trauma therapist (see my article: How Trauma Therapy Can Help You to Overcome Trauma and Develop a More Accurate Sense of Self).

By working through unresolved trauma, you can free yourself from the effects of your traumatic history so you can have a chance to lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City trauma 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 with unresolved trauma.

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.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Now That You're An Adult, Your Parents Have Changed Into the Parents You Wanted As a Child

As a psychotherapist in New York City, I hear many adult clients tell me that they have problems reconciling who their parents were in the past to who their parents are now.

In these situations, psychotherapy clients often say something like, "My mother was so abusive when I was growing up, but now she's a sweet, kind lady. I can't believe she's the same person. I'm glad she's changed, but I'm having problems reconciling that the mother from the past is the same mother in the present.  Why wasn't she kind to me when I was a child?" (see my article: Looking at Your Childhood Trauma From An Adult Perspective).

Now That You're an Adult, Your Parents Have Changed Into the Parents You Wanted As a Child
This change often presents a dilemma for clients attending psychotherapy.  They are traumatized, they are affected in their current life by the childhood abuse.  But many of these clients also feel a sense of guilt for complaining about their parents' past behavior because their parents are no longer like that.  Not only do they experience guilt, but they also feel confused about the change.

On an intellectual level, most clients understand that people often change and who they were in the past is no longer who they are in the present.  But on an emotional level, especially if the past trauma is getting triggered in their current circumstances, it's hard to reconcile the change (see my article: Coping With Trauma: Becoming Aware of Emotional Triggers).

These clients often experience anger, sadness and resentment for the love and nurturing they didn't get as a child.  Many of them also express surprise to discover that their parents have changed because they never thought their parents would ever change.

In many cases, the change becomes evident when these adult clients have their own children and their parents, as grandparents, interact with their grandchildren in a much more nurturing way than they ever did with these clients when the clients were children.

This sometimes creates a dilemma for these clients because, on the one hand, they feel somewhat envious that their children are getting the love and nurturance from the clients' parents that these clients wanted for themselves as children.  But, on the other hand, even though these clients' feelings are understandable, no one wants to feel envious of their own children.

A Fictional Clinical Vignette: Your Parents Today Have Changed Into the Parents You Wanted As a Child:
The following fictional clinical vignette is typical of this issue and illustrates how psychotherapy can help:

Describing a horrific childhood with both physical abuse and neglect, Beth, who was in her 40s, told her psychotherapist that, she recently gave birth to a baby girl, Cindy.  She said that, after being estranged from her parents for many years, she and her husband were considering whether or not to contact her parents about Cindy's birth.

Beth described a traumatic childhood where she and her younger sister, Sandy, often cowered in their room when one or both parents lost their tempers and hit them with a belt.  Other times, her parents would leave them alone at home over the weekend with no food as the parents went to a resort in Upstate New York.

Beth said that neither she nor Sandy ever told anyone about the abuse or neglect because they were both too afraid of the repercussions.  As a result, they endured the abusive and neglectful behavior until they were old enough to leave the household.  Beth even delayed going to college for a year so that she and Sandy could leave the household at the same time.  She feared that if she left Sandy alone with their parents, they would unleash all their anger on her after Beth was gone.

Beth's husband, John, who had heard the horrific stories of Beth's childhood, would have preferred that Beth not contact them at all.  He feared that they might want to be involved with Cindy, and he definitely felt uncomfortable with that.  But he left the decision about contacting her parents up to Beth.

Ultimately, Beth decided to send her parents a note.  She would rather that they hear about Cindy directly from her rather than hearing it from other relatives who were still in Beth's life.

Based on their experiences with their parents, Beth and Sandy both doubted that their parents would want to be involved in Cindy's life.  So, Beth, Sandy and John were shocked when her parents wrote back that they were thrilled to hear that they were grandparents and they wanted to reconnect with Beth and Sandy and see the new baby.

At first, Beth wasn't sure what to do.  Before she contacted her parents, she knew there was a possibility that they might want to meet Cindy, but she thought of it as a very remote possibility.  She was shocked that her parents would even care enough to want to reconcile and meet Cindy.

When she talked it over with John, she understood his reluctance.  He had never met her parents and, after hearing about Beth's traumatic childhood, he hoped he would never meet them.  He was angry for the hurt that they caused Beth and Sandy.

After they talked it over and Beth discussed it in several therapy sessions with her psychotherapist, Beth and John decided to have a short visit with her parents in a nearby park rather than inviting them over to their apartment.  Sandy decided that she didn't want to see her parents, so she told Beth that she wouldn't go.

With much trepidation, Beth and John waited for Beth's parents at the area they designated in the park.  While they waited for Beth's parents to show up, they both wondered if they were making a big mistake.  But it was too late to back out at that point.

During her next psychotherapy session, Beth told her psychotherapist that she was amazed at how pleasant and nurturing her parents were with Cindy and with her and John.   Not only were they thrilled that they were now grandparents, they both said how much they missed Beth.

Afterwards, Beth was so surprised that she could hardly believe that they were the same parents who were abusive and neglectful with her and Sandy.

Her amazement was so great Beth told Sandy that when she was with their parents, for a second, she wondered if the abuse and neglect had ever happened.  She wondered: How could these be the same people?  But she was relieved that Sandy, who was also shocked to hear that their parents were pleasant, confirmed Beth's sense of reality about their childhood.

John was also surprised.  After hearing about Beth's childhood, he wasn't sure what to expect when they met for the first time.  But he wasn't expecting such a warm response from them.

Aside from needing help to reconcile her parents of today with her parents from the past, Beth also started therapy because she wanted to work on her unresolved childhood trauma.  But, after reconnecting with her parents, initially, Beth had difficulty processing the earlier trauma because she felt like her parents were such different people now, and she continued to have doubts regarding her perceptions of her childhood.

She felt a guilty complaining to her therapist about her parents when they were now behaving in such a loving and nurturing way with Cindy.  Even though Sandy confirmed her sense of what happened when they were children and she knew, on an intellectual level, what happened, there were still times, on an emotional level, when Beth felt like she might be "exaggerating" or "making a big thing out of nothing."

Beth's psychotherapist provided her with psychoeducation about how adults, who were abused and neglected as children, often have doubts about their childhood history--especially if their parents had changed.  Knowing that this was a common experience for many clients, Beth felt somewhat relieved to know that other people had similar experiences.

In addition, Beth had many mixed feelings about her parents.  She told her therapist that, when she was a child, she longed to have parents who were as loving as her parents were now to her daughter.  Although she was glad that they were able to be loving towards her daughter, she also felt a lot of grief for what she didn't get emotionally from her parents when she was a child.  She told her therapist that she was felt guilty to admit that she sometimes envied Cindy because her parents could be so loving towards Cindy.

Her psychotherapist used EMDR therapy to help Beth to process her traumatic childhood (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

The work was neither quick nor easy.  As part of her trauma work, Beth grieved for the love she didn't get as a child.

In the meantime, as Beth was resolving her childhood trauma, she and her husband were making decisions about how much contact they wanted Cindy to have with Beth's parents.

People are often amazed when parents, who were abusive to them when they were children, can now be kind and loving as grandparents.

There can be many reasons for this, including:
  • Abusive parents often mellow with age.  
  • Grandparents are usually under less pressure with their grandchildren than they were as parents.  Often, they can have a good time with their grandchildren without the stress they felt when they were rearing their own children.
  • People change, and abusive parents might have regrets about their behavior.  
  • Grandparents, who have regrets about being abusive parents, often see grandparenting as a way to make up for the abusive way they treated their own children.
Of course, every situation is different, and each person needs to make his or her own decision about whether to allow a formerly abusive parents back in his or her life.

It's also true that, even when there aren't grandchildren involved, abusive parents can change over time, and their adult children have many of the same problems reconciling the parents of the past with the current parents.

Getting Help in Therapy
Coping with a history of unresolved childhood trauma is difficult, especially when, as an adult, unresolved trauma gets triggered in the present.

Psychotherapy with a skilled trauma therapist can help you to overcome unresolved trauma, so you can free yourself from your history and live a more fulfilling life (see my articles: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and 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 am a trauma therapist who works with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients to overcome unresolved trauma.

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.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Memories of Your First Love Can Have a Profound Effect on Later Relationships - Part 2

In the first article about this topic, How Memories of Your First Love Can Affect Later Relationships, I gave examples of how characters in books and movies are often affected by their experiences with their first love--in some cases to the point of obsession.  In this article, I'll provide a fictional clinical vignette, which is a composite of many psychotherapy cases with all identifying information

Memories of Your First Love

Fictional Clinical Vignette: How Memories of Your First Love Can Affect Later Relationships:
By the time Sam turned 55, he had been struggling for several years because he felt his life had lost meaning and purpose, which is why he began psychotherapy.

Sam told his psychotherapist that he was aware that he had a lot to be grateful for: He had a kind, loving wife, his adult children were doing well, he was healthy, he was successful in a career that compensated him well, and he had good friends.  But, somewhere along the way, he felt he lost his way (see my article: Is That All There Is? When Having It All Leaves You Feeling Empty and Are You Feeling Lost?).

He accomplished the goals that he set up for himself when he was younger, and he felt that his life wasn't fulfilling any more.  He had plenty of hobbies and interests, and he and his wife traveled a lot, but none of that seemed to matter any more, and he wasn't sure why (see my articles: Midlife: Transitions: Reassessing Your Life and Midlife Transitions: Living the Life You Want to Live).

When he was younger, he approached each day as a happy challenge.  He loved his wife, Sandy, and he enjoyed raising his children.  But now, married for 30 years, he and his wife lived in New York City and his adult children lived on the West Coast, so he hardly saw them.  And after he accomplished his career goals, he was no longer excited by his career.

He told his therapist that he could retire if they wanted to, but he felt that, in his current state of malaise, he would feel even worse if he didn't have at least the structure of his work.  He was also increasingly aware that he was aging and he had more years behind him than in front of him.  He didn't want to just continue to "drift."  He felt he needed something new and exciting, but nothing seemed to excite him.

Sam and his psychotherapist continued to explore these issues in therapy.  Then, one day, Sam came in and he seemed happier and more energetic than usual.  When his psychotherapist asked him about the difference in his demeanor, he said that his former girlfriend, Becky, from college contacted him through a social media network for former college classmates, and this brought back memories of a time when he felt happy and excited about life (see my article: Romantic Reconnections).

It also brought back memories of being head-over-heels in love in his first relationship.  Just remembering that time lifted his spirits and made him feel young again.  Then, Sam remained quiet for a few moments and when he looked up, he had a sheepish look, "I have plans to meet Becky in a few days."

From the look on Sam's face, his therapist could tell that he expected her to disapprove and tell him not to do it.  But psychotherapists usually don't tell clients what to do, so she suggested that they explore this further.

"There's nothing to explore," Sam said adamantly as he looked away, "She contacted me.  She's going to be in New York City for a few days and we decided to see each other.  We haven't seen each other in over 30 years."

His psychotherapist clarified that she wasn't telling him what to do--only he could decide what he wanted to do.  She wanted to explore with him what this former relationship meant to him, what he hoped to get out of having dinner with Becky, and how he thought it would affect his relationship with his wife.

Sam thought about these questions, and then responded, "Becky was the love of my life.  Don't get me wrong--I love my wife, Sandy, but Becky was my first love.  We lived together off campus, and we were planning to get married a few months after we graduated from college.  We got an apartment together after graduation and we were in the planning stages of our wedding when I got cold feet.  I realized that I wasn't ready and that broke Becky's heart.  Soon after that, she broke up with me and moved back home with her parents.  A couple of years later, I heard from mutual friends that she married someone else, and I was devastated.  But then, my life moved on.  I met Sandy and we eventually got married.  Over time, I lost touch with my college friends, and I never heard anything more about Becky--until now...But I never stopped thinking about her.  In a way, Becky was like a ghost that hovered around even after I got married.  I would often think about her, how things could have been between us if we had gotten married, and how different my life might have been."

Sam said he wasn't sure what he wanted from his upcoming dinner with Becky. He just felt he needed to see her.  Ever since she contacted him and they spoke on the phone while he was at work, he felt happy and invigorated.  Suddenly, life felt exciting and new.  He didn't want to forgo an opportunity to see Becky.  

When his psychotherapist asked him if his wife and Becky's husband were coming along to this dinner, Sam admitted that he hadn't mentioned the call to Sandy, and Becky told him that she was divorced and single again, "I need to do this for myself.  I don't think Sandy would understand.  I told her all about Becky when we first got together, and she knows that Becky was the love of my life.  She wouldn't be comfortable with the idea of my seeing Becky again.  Anyway, I don't plan to get romantically or sexually involved with Becky.  It's just dinner."

In response, his psychotherapist asked him why he was keeping Becky's call and the upcoming dinner a secret from Sandy if he didn't plan to get involved with Becky.  Sam responded, "That's a good question.  I think I just want this for me without anyone telling me not to do it."

Then, Sam dug his heels in, and he resisted any further exploration that his therapist attempted.   

At his next psychotherapy session, Sam told his therapist that he had dinner and drinks with Becky at her hotel and they got sexually involved that night, "I didn't mean for it to happen, but we were both drinking and, before I knew it, one thing led to another...But I'm not sorry.  I realized that, more than ever, I still have strong feelings for her and she feels the same way about me.  It was as if no time had passed.  We had a passionate sex life when we were together in the past, and it felt like we just picked up where we left off.  I've been walking on air since that night.  I feel like a new person--or like the person I used to be when I was in college."

Sam told his psychotherapist that he wasn't sure what he wanted to do, but he knew he didn't want to lose Becky again.  Becky told him that she was moving to New York City for a new job, and they agreed to continue to see each other, "She knows I'm still with my wife, so we agreed--no strings attached."

As Sam heard himself say these words, he hesitated, "I know it sounds like I'm having a cheap affair, but it's not--we really love each other.  Being with Becky brought back so many memories of when I was happy and carefree.  I don't want to hurt Sandy, but I can't give Becky up again.  I just can't..." (see my article: Love: Is It Really Better the Second Time Around?).

For the next few weeks, to the extent that he would allow it, Sam and his psychotherapist continued to explore these issues while he had the affair with Becky.  He acknowledged that if, somehow the affair came to light, he could ruin his marriage, but he didn't want to talk about that.

Instead, Sam talked excitedly about his memories with Becky when he was younger and how happy he was back then, "It was the happiest time of my life, and since I reconnected with Becky, I feel happy and alive again" (see my article: Feeling Alive Again After a Period of Stagnation).

His psychotherapist didn't doubt that Sam was in love with Becky, but she thought that Sam was in denial and trying to recapture a time in his life that was gone. She thought that Sam would normally feel guilty about cheating on his wife, but he was defensively keeping this new part of his life compartmentalized in his mind so he wouldn't feel the guilt.  She also knew that Sam would only become more defensive and possibly leave therapy prematurely if she brought this up to him (see my article: When Clients Leave Psychotherapy Prematurely).

One day, Sam came in brimming over with his new found excitement and told his therapist that he and Becky were talking about living together, so he was thinking about leaving his marriage.  He emphasized that nothing had been decided yet, but even considering this possibility was exciting to him.  

Sam was so caught up in his fantasy about living with Becky that he forgot to turn off his phone while he was in his therapy session.  When he heard the cellphone tone that he had a text message, he saw that the text was from Sandy that made him turn pale.  He showed his therapist the text message, which read, "I know about Becky.  We need to talk when you come home tonight."

Sam was very shaken up by the text from his wife.  It was as if the bubble had burst for him, "I can't believe she found out. I never wanted to hurt her.  It's like I was living in an alternate universe for a while and now my two worlds have collided."

For the first time since Sam began the affair with Becky, he could no longer compartmentalize his behavior and he expressed remorse in his therapy session for cheating on his wife.  Suddenly, he realized that he had made a terrible mistake and he didn't really want to lose his wife, "I've been so selfish.  I don't want to throw away a 30 year marriage."

When Sam came in for his next therapy session, he told his therapist that his wife found a hotel key that he forgot in his pants pocket.  This led to Sandy looking through his email and she put everything together.  They had a long talk, and Sandy told him that she wouldn't stay if he continued to see Becky.  She was deeply hurt and told him that she would only consider staying in the marriage if he agreed to go to couples therapy, which he readily agreed to do.  He also called Becky in front of Sandy and told her that they couldn't see each other any more.

During the next few months, Sam did a lot of soul searching in his individual therapy and attended couples therapy to repair the damage to his marriage and rebuild trust.  Until he was faced with the loss of Sandy, he didn't realize how much she continued to mean to him, "She's right when she says that I take her for granted.  I still love her and I don't know what I would do without her" (see my article: Rebuilding Trust After an Affair).

This led to Sam exploring more deeply in his individual therapy what was meaningful to him, and he realized that nothing was more meaningful to him than his marriage and his children, "I don't know how I lost sight of that."

He said that Becky tried to reach him a few times, but he didn't take her calls.  Eventually, he blocked her number.  He felt remorse for hurting both Sandy and Becky.  He explained that when he was thinking of leaving his wife for Becky, he really fantasized that he might do it--until he was faced with the actual demise of his marriage.

Several months later, Sam decided to retire and spend more time with his wife, who had already retired.  They talked about rekindling their relationship, and they planned to travel for several weeks. They were still attending couples therapy and trying to rebuild trust.

In his individual therapy, Sam talked about how, in the past, he felt that "something was missing in my life" and "Now I know I'm what was missing in my life."  He realized that he wasn't going to revive his life by going back to old memories or a former relationship.  He also realized that, without even knowing it, he had become emotionally disengaged from his life in the last several years, and he needed to reengage, especially in his marriage, "Maybe I needed to go through this crisis to realize that."

It's not unusual for memories of a first love to have a profound affect on subsequent relationships.  As I mentioned in my prior article, these memories, which can even affect an otherwise good current relationship, can act as a shadow on the current relationship.  It's as if the ghost of that former relationship hangs over the current relationship.

Given the powerful nature of these memories and access to social media, more people are reconnecting with former lovers, with old and new fantasies of what was and what could still be between them.

Sometimes, the reconnection can lead to a meaningful relationship after many years of separation.  This is more likely to occur if the two people don't expect to recreate exactly what they had in the past.

For other people, as in the fictional vignette above, this often leads to an extramarital affair as a way to try to recapture a sense of self from the past.  If one or both people defensively compartmentalize the affair as a separate part of each of their lives, the affair can go on for a long time without remorse.  The compartmentalization wards off guilt.

But if the affair comes to light, it can have disastrous effects for current relationships.  This often takes people out of their compartmentalized fantasies to deal with the crisis.  Where it goes from there depends on the people involved.  Sometimes, this will mean the end of one or both relationships.  Other times, the crisis can bring positive change (see my article: How a Crisis Can Open You to Positive Change).  Either way, there will be a lot to work through for everyone involved.

Getting Help in Therapy
Powerful memories of a first love can come back with an unexpected force which upends your life and your current relationship.

If you're open to it, psychotherapy can help you to explore the effect of these memories and your decision-making process before you take steps based on memories (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Although a psychotherapist can't tell you what to do, a skilled therapist can help you to understand what is going on in your inner world if you're willing to explore these issues (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

If you feel stuck and confused about a problem in your life, you owe it to yourself to get help in psychotherapy.  Being able to work through an unresolved problem can free you up so you can lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City 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 work through unresolved problems.

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.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Memories of Your First Love - Part 1

Memories of your first love can have a profound effect on subsequent relationships.  It doesn't matter how old you are or if you're happy in your current relationship or not.  Your first experience of love can leave a lasting imprint on you (see my article: The One That Got Away).

Memories of Your First Love

Books and Movies About the Lasting Effect of a First Love on Later Relationships
Since this is a common experience for many people, this theme often comes up in popular books and movies:

     Call Me By Your Name:
In the book, Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, Elio is a 17 year old boy who falls in love with Oliver, a graduate student who comes to stay with Elio's family in their summer home in Italy for six weeks.  Throughout his life, Elio has other romantic relationships, but his first experience of love with Oliver has a profound effect on him and his subsequent relationships.

The book, which goes 20 years beyond the movie, illustrates how memories of a first love remain imprinted on the protagonist, who experiences an enduring love and a longing for Oliver throughout his life (see my articles: Call Me By Your Name - Part 1: "Is It Better to Speak or to Die?" and Call Me By Your Name - Part 2: The Concept of Parallel Lives).

     The Sense of an Ending:  
The Sense of an Ending is a book by Julian Barnes which was made into a movie.  The protagonist, Tony, has memories of his first relationship that create an obsession to find out what really happened to his first love.  He is now in his 60s, retired, divorced, and on amicable terms with his ex-wife and his adult daughter.  But he is driven by an unsolved mystery involving a memory about his first love, Veronica, and a love triangle from his early 20s.

     45 Years:
In the movie, 45 Years, memories of a first love come to haunt a husband, who is happily married to his wife for 45 years.  They are about to celebrate their 45th anniversary when he receives a letter which brings him back to his youth and his experience with his first love.  These enduring memories begin to threaten his well-being and the equilibrium of his otherwise happy marriage (see my article: An Old Secret Haunts a Happy Long Term Marriage).

     The Reader:
In the book and the movie, The Reader (book by Bernard Schlink), which take place in post-war German, 15 year old Michael meets Hanna, an enigmatic older woman.  His experiences with Hanna have a life-changing effect on him that endure long into his adulthood.  The book and the movie show how much he changes from the loving and open teenager that he was at the beginning of the story to an emotionally distant man who has superficial relationships with women--someone who is struggling to make sense of his first relationship with Hanna.

I could go on with many more examples, but these books and movies, which are part of our popular culture, illustrate how people are often changed forever by their early romantic experiences.

Memories of a First Love For Clients in Psychotherapy
As a psychotherapist in New York City, I often see clients who are still very attached to their early memories of their first love--even though they are in stable relationships.  There is something very powerful about these experiences that often take over their imagination.

And now it's relatively easy and so tantalizing to contact a first love on social media (see my article: Romantic Reconnections).

For some people, this is really more about themselves than it is about the other person.  They're remembering their youth and who they were back then.  In addition to a wish to recapture their youth,  for other people it's also about their wish to realize a fantasy of what it would be like to be in that relationship again.

Needless to say, if people allow themselves to get caught up in the fantasy, it could work out or it can have disastrous consequences when reality doesn't live up to the fantasy and a spouse leaves an otherwise happy marriage to pursue his or her first love (see my article: Relationships: The Ideal vs. the Real).

This is often a topic of discussion for many clients in psychotherapy, especially clients who are in midlife and looking back on their lives (see my articles: Midlife Transitions: Reassessing Your Life and Midlife Transitions: Living the Life You Want to Live).

In a future article, I'll continue to discuss this topic.

Memories of your first love can remain with you throughout your life.  Beyond nostalgia, these romantic memories can revive an old relationship or they can create upheaval in your life as well as the lives of your loved ones.

Many people reach out to their first love on social media in an effort to recapture what they once felt or to relive a part of their lives that has been over for a long time--often with mixed results.

Books and movies about this subject have become popular because this experience is so ubiquitous and can be all consuming.

See Part 2: Memories of Your First Love Can Have a Profound Effect on Later Relationships - Part 2

Getting Help in Therapy
Separating reality from fantasy can be difficult when you're caught up in memories of a first love from the past.

If you're struggling with these memories or the possibility of rekindling a relationship from a long time ago, you could benefit psychotherapy (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Although a psychotherapist won't tell you what to do, a skilled therapist can help you to work this issue through for yourself (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling on your own, you can take the first step by setting up an appointment with a psychotherapist for an initial consultation.

Being able to work through these issues can help you to make important decisions and to regain a sense of well-being.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City 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 who are struggling with midlife and other big decisions in their 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.