NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Letting Go of Hope That is Based on Denial

Being hopeful and optimistic can improve your mood, your outlook on your personal life and the world around you.  But when hope is based on denial, this can only lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

Letting Go of Hope That is Based on Denial

For instance, it can be challenging to allow yourself to know when you're in an unhealthy relationship that isn't going to change.  This is especially difficult when you really love someone and you want things to work out between you.

You naturally want to give the person you're with and the relationship every chance to improve.  But after a certain point, you probably know deep down that things aren't going to change and you're just avoiding the inevitable (see my article: Wishful Thinking Often Leads to Poor Relationship Choices).

The first step to overcoming this problem, especially if this is a pattern for you, is to become aware that you're avoiding seeing the situation objectively.  If you're having difficulty doing this on your own, a trusted friend or family member might be helpful (see my article: Letting Go of Unrealistic Fantasies of a Happy Future in an Unhappy Relationship).

If you continue to avoid dealing with the situation even with the help of loved ones, you could benefit from seeking help in psychotherapy where an objective mental health professional can help you to see what you can't or won't see.

Once you have admitted to yourself that you're in denial about an unhealthy relationship that isn't going to change, your psychotherapist can help you to understand how your current situation might be based on earlier experiences so you can understand why holding on has become so compelling to you.

Having this understanding doesn't resolve your problems, but it helps you to have more self compassion rather than beating yourself up or feeling ashamed.

Then, when you're ready, your psychotherapist can help you to take the necessary steps to get out of a situation where you have been stuck and help you deal with the emotional aftermath (see my article: Overcoming the Heartbreak of a Breakup).

A Fictional Clinical Vignette: Letting Go of Hope That is Based on Denial
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how a skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome your denial about an unhealthy relationship:

Prior to starting psychotherapy, Amy frequently spoke to her close friends over the course of her two year relationship to get advice.  Her friends gave her the same consistent message:  Her boyfriend was mistreating her and, by staying in her relationship, she wasn't taking care of herself.

Amy had spoken to her friends so many times that she knew they were getting tired of hearing from her about the same problems, especially since she would come to them when she was upset about her relationship with Jim, listen to their advice and then disregard what they had to say.  It had become a self destructive cycle, and Amy knew that she needed help.

She told her psychotherapist that she was happy in her relationship with Jim during the first few months, but shortly after that, he became verbally abusive with her when he was drunk.  She said that Jim said mean and hurtful things to her that he didn't remember when he was sober.

When she confronted him about his hurtful comments to her when he was sober, he would apologize and promise her that it wouldn't happen again.  But these incidents were becoming more frequent as he got drunk more often, and he refused to get help.

There was an incident where Jim got drunk and verbally abusive with Amy during a visit to see Amy's family.  Afterwards, Amy's parents told her that she was welcome to come see them, but they didn't want Jim in their home again.

Amy's friends also told her that they didn't like being around Jim when he was verbally abusive with her, and they told her that they would be willing to get together with her, but they didn't want to be around Jim.

Over time, Amy felt more and more caught between Jim and her loved ones.  He was also offended that her family and friends didn't want him around.

Although, on some level, Amy understood her loved ones' reactions to Jim, she also resented her them because she felt they were putting her in a difficult situation. This was another area where Amy was in denial and she was unable to see that they weren't the ones who were putting her in a difficult situation--she was making a choice to be with Jim, despite his verbal abuse, and she didn't see how her choice affected her relationships.

If she spent time with friends or family and she didn't include Jim, he would get angry with her.
From his perspective, she was siding with other people over him. If she tried to convince her loved ones to include Jim, she ended up getting into arguments with them because they were adamant that they didn't want him around.

By the time Amy came to therapy, she said she didn't know what to do.  On the one hand, she loved Jim and she didn't want to leave him.  But being with him meant limiting her time with friends and family because they didn't want him around and he didn't like that he wasn't included.  On the other hand, she could see that his drinking and his behavior were getting worse, and he adamantly refused to get help.

Amy's psychotherapist could see that, as things stood, Amy was in denial about the severity of her problems related to Jim and she was staying in this relationship at a significant cost to her personal well-being and her social support network.  But her therapist also knew that Amy hoped that the problem would somehow get better on it's own, so Amy wasn't ready to let go of the relationship.

Her psychotherapist also sensed that the root to Amy's problems was deeper than the current situation, which is why Amy was having such a problem acknowledging what everyone else could see and why she remained in denial.

Amy talked in therapy about wanting to "be there" for Jim and hoping that she would one day be able to convince him to get help.  She felt that if she left him, she would be abandoning him when he was at a low point and she couldn't do this (see my article: Overcoming Codependency: Taking Care of Yourself First).

As Amy and her therapist continued to explore her current situation, her therapist asked Amy if she had ever felt this way before.  In response, Amy thought about her therapist's question, and she said that when she was younger, her paternal grandfather lived with the family and he had a serious drinking problem.

When he was sober, he was a kind, gentle man.  But when he was drunk, he was mean and nasty.  Unfortunately, his drinking progressed and he refused to get help.  Her parents, who were fed up, asked the grandfather to leave the household, which upset Amy.  She was afraid that if her grandfather was on his own, his problems would get worse.

So, even though she was only 17 at the time, Amy took the problem on her shoulders and decided that it was up to her to help her grandfather.  In hindsight, Amy realized that her grandfather only gave lip service to getting into alcohol treatment.  But at the time, she took him at his word and she was relieved.

A few weeks after her grandfather agreed to get help but failed to do so, he had an alcohol-related stroke, and he never recovered.  Amy explained to her psychotherapist that this was a devastating experience for her, and she blamed herself for not convincing her grandfather to get help earlier.

Until Amy discussed this with her psychotherapist, she never made the connection between how she reacted to her grandfather's problems and how she related to Jim's problems.  After she saw the connection, she was stunned, and it was the subject of the next several psychotherapy sessions.

At her current age of 32, Amy was able to look back on her experiences with her grandfather when she was 17, and she saw that she had been naive and in denial all along about her grandfather's problems and his willingness to get help. She also saw that she couldn't possibly be responsible for her grandfather at 17 or at any age.  This was the beginning of Amy developing insight into her current problems.

After that, two new incidents with Jim were pivotal in Amy's decision-making process.  The first incident occurred when Jim was arrested for drunk driving and his license was revoked.  At first, Amy couldn't understand why his license was revoked and not temporarily suspended, but then he revealed what he had never told her before--he had several arrests in the past for drunk driving that he was too ashamed to tell her about.

The second incident occurred shortly after Jim's arrest when he tried to reach Amy at work while he was drunk.  When he was unable to reach Amy directly, he became verbally abusive with the receptionist, who put the director on the phone.  In his drunken state, Jim cursed the director and threatened him.

Later that day, when the director called Amy into his office, he told her what happened and she was humiliated.  He told her that he was concerned for her and asked her if she wanted him to give her information about the company's employee assistance program so she could get help for herself. She told him that she was already in therapy and would speak with her psychotherapist about what happened.

Amy spoke about these two incidents with her therapist.  She realized that she couldn't remain with Jim anymore.  She would need to ask him to leave her apartment.  But this was very difficult for her because it was so similar to the situation with her grandfather when her parents wanted him to leave their home.

Amy talked to her psychotherapist about her dilemma.  Her psychotherapist recommended that they use EMDR therapy to work through the current situation and the original trauma related to her grandfather (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

As they began using EMDR, Amy began letting go of any false hope that she had been holding onto, and she eventually told Jim to leave.

Once Amy was out of the relationship, she was able to see clearly how deep her denial had been.  Along with dealing with the aftermath of the breakup and the loss of her grandfather in therapy, she also dealt with the shame she felt for remaining in a verbally abusive relationship with someone who was unwilling and/or unable to change.

Therapy was neither quick nor easy, but Amy felt herself gradually becoming more confident that she made the right decision by ending her relationship with Jim, and she deserved to be treated better in her next relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
Letting go of hope that's based on denial is challenging.  The current problem often has roots in earlier problems.

Loved ones might see clearly what you're not allowing yourself to see, even though you might know on some level that you're in an unhealthy situation.

What often happens is that loved ones get tired of hearing you complain and might ask you to stop talking to them about your problems.  This can damage your relationships with friends and family, and you might feel ashamed.

Rather than suffering on your own, you owe to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Although a psychotherapist won't tell you what to do, a skilled therapist can help you to deal with your denial, make connections to earlier experiences and assist you to take the necessary steps for your own well-being (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Once you're free from an unhealthy situation, you can work on restoring your self esteem in therapy and reconnecting with family and friends.

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 work through difficult problems so they can live more fulfilling lives.

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

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