NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Overcoming Your Discomfort With Asking For Emotional Support

There is a Swedish proverb that says, "Shared joy is double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow."  This proverb reminds us that we're hardwired for attachment with others, including sharing our joy and sorrow with people who are close to us, and that joy and sorrow are affected in a positive way by the emotional support that we receive (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help).

Overcoming Your Discomfort With Asking For Emotional Support

Sharing joy is usually easier for most people than sharing sorrow.  Many people think that if they share their sadness, they will be judged critically by others.

Often, this is because they were judged harshly in their family of origin, and they received the message from an early age that no one wants to hear about their sadness.

As a result, they learn to pretend to be happy when they're not, they keep their sadness to themselves and don't receive the emotional support that they need (see my article: How to Stop Pretending to Be Happy When You're Not).

Clinical Vignette: Feeling Uncomfortable Sharing Sadness With Loved Ones
The following clinical vignette, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information omitted, illustrates how difficult it can be to share sadness as an adult when, as a child, someone is told that he isn't entitled to feel sad:

After going through a series of significant losses, including the breakup of a relationship and the loss of a close friend who moved away, Tom decided to start therapy because he felt overwhelmed by sadness, which he didn't understand.

After his psychotherapist heard from Tom about his losses and normalized his sadness, Tom told her that he still couldn't understand why he felt so sad.  He told her that he knew several other people who were going through more difficult problems than he was, and he felt it was "selfish" to feel sad, "Why should I feel sad when so many other people have it much worse than I do?"

Since she had a lot of experience working with clients who didn't think they were entitled to feel sadness, his psychotherapist asked Tom to tell her how his parents handled his sadness when he was a child.

Tom responded, "I stopped trying to get comfort from my parents when I was sad after my father told me when I was five that he would give me something to really feel sad about if I didn't stop saying that I was feeling sad" (see my article: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated).

Tom explained to his therapist that both of his parents had been through many serious hardships when they were children and they grew up to be "stoic" people ("They didn't believe in feeling sad.  They just believed that, rather than dwelling on your sadness, you needed to do whatever you could to resolve your problems, and that was the end of it").

When his therapist asked Tom if he sought emotional support from his close friends when he was feeling down, he said that it would never occur to him to talk about his sadness--except in therapy--and even then, he usually looked for "a solution" rather than dwelling on his sadness in therapy.

As he thought about it, Tom said that his girlfriend ended their relationship because she didn't like that he couldn't express his sadness to her.  He said that she told him that it bothered her that, after three years, he still wasn't comfortable confiding in her when he was sad.  She also said that it made her feel uncomfortable to share her own sadness, so she ended the relationship.

Before coming to therapy, Tom told his therapist, he tried to "find solutions" to overcome his sadness, but nothing worked, and this confused him.

In response, his therapist provided Tom with psychoeducation about why it's important to share emotions, including sadness, with people who are part of his emotional support system (see my article: Emotional Support From Your Family of Choice).

Over time, Tom was able to see that he held himself to a much harsher standard than he did for his close friends.  He had no problems listening to his friends when they were sad, but he didn't feel entitled going to them with his sadness.

He began to understand in therapy that his experiences with his parents affected how he related to friends and romantic partners.  He also began to see that he felt much more emotionally vulnerable sharing his sadness with loved ones.

Gradually, Tom learned to allow himself to be more emotionally vulnerable with his close friends. Several months later, when he entered into a new relationship, he began to open up more to express his sadness so that he would be more emotionally authentic with his girlfriend.

As he received positive feedback and emotional support from his friends and girlfriend, Tom felt more comfortable opening up more to express the sadness that he never felt entitled to before.

He also realized that when he shared his sorrow with people close to him, he had such a sense of relief because his sadness diminished as he shared it.

Early childhood emotional experiences often affect adult relationships.

If a child receives a message from his parents over and over again that expressing sadness isn't acceptable, this child will grow up to be an adult that has problems expressing sadness.

Since emotional support is important for our overall well-being, when someone has problems expressing sadness, he doesn't experience the emotional relief that comes with getting emotional support.

Getting Help in Therapy
Being unable to express certain emotions, like sadness, is more common than most people think.

Well meaning parents, who have problems feeling their own sadness, can unwittingly create emotional problems for their children by not allowing them to express their full range of emotions.

Most experienced psychotherapists, especially trauma therapists, have experience helping clients to overcome feelings that they're not entitled to express certain emotions.

Working through this problem is usually a big relief for most clients because it allows them to ask for and receive emotional support from loved ones when they need it.

If you're having problems asking for emotional support, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist, who can help you to overcome this problem.

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome trauma so they can feel and express their full range of emotions.

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, December 5, 2018

Working Through Painful Emotions in Therapy

People often start therapy because they can no longer cope with painful emotions related to the past or to current events in their life.  In many cases, initially people avoid dealing with painful emotions for a period of time because they hope that these emotions will go away on their own over time.  But as I mentioned in a prior article, time often doesn't heal all wounds (see my article: Time Doesn't Heal All Wounds).

Working Through Painful Emotions in Therapy

So, when people see that they can no longer bury these emotions and that, in fact, these emotions are having an adverse impact on their life, they decide to come to therapy.

As I mentioned in an earlier article, it's common for most people to feel some degree of anxiety and ambivalence as they anticipate the start of therapy (see my article: Starting Therapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).

Often, people are afraid that they will feel overwhelmed in therapy by the painful emotions that they tried to avoid for so long.  However, psychotherapists who are trained to work with emotional trauma usually know how to titrate the work so that it isn't overwhelming for the client.  In addition, they are usually trained to help the client to de-escalate emotions so that these emotions are more manageable, as opposed to being overwhelming.

Most trauma therapists also prepare clients beforehand to deal with painful emotions that come up, so that they can usually manage their emotions between sessions.

Of course, this doesn't mean that working on a traumatic history will be completely pain free.  But once they begin therapy with a trauma therapist, most clients notice that, in addition to working on trauma in a titrated way, most emotions come in wave patterns with a beginning, middle and end within the same session.  So, the experience usually isn't unrelenting pain.

Also, many trauma therapists will include time to debrief to make sure that clients are feel relatively put together to face the world outside the therapy room after the session is over.  So, even though clients might anticipate that whole sessions will be intolerably painful, they are often surprised to discover that the sessions aren't as painful as they originally anticipated.

Part of the problem for many clients is that they remember what they felt when they were going through the traumatic event and they think they will feel the same way again.  But this usually isn't the case, especially in the case of unresolved childhood trauma.

One of the reasons for this is that, as adults, most people have a greater emotional capacity to deal with difficult emotions as compared to when they were children.

Also, when they're working on unresolved trauma, they are doing it in the presence of a therapist who is empathetic and trained to help the client to maintain dual awareness, which means that while clients are remembering the past, they are also aware that they aren't still in the past--they know that they're sitting with a skilled therapist in the present.  So, the past, even if it's the recent past, usually isn't experienced as being as disturbing as when the trauma originally occurred.

Clients will often comment that working through painful emotions in therapy is a relief because a heavy burden has been lifted from them.  They also begin to notice over time that they are gradually feeling better, experiencing themselves in a new way, and interacting with their loved ones and their environment in a better way.

Many clients have remarked in our sessions that if they had known that dealing with unresolved trauma wasn't as painful as they anticipated, they would have come to therapy much sooner rather than avoiding these issues.

Getting Help in Therapy
While it's understandable that no one wants to feel the pain related to unresolved trauma, these emotions rarely, if ever, resolve on their own and, in fact, these emotions often manifest in other ways, including in physical symptoms.

Working through painful emotions in therapy is a healing process, and healing helps to restore you to your true self (see my article: Becoming Your True Self).

If you have been avoiding dealing with a traumatic issue, you could benefit from working with an experienced trauma therapist.

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

I specialize in working with trauma.

I work with individual adults and couples.

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.