NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Erotic Countertransference: The Therapist's Sexual Attraction to the Client

In an earlier article, Psychotherapy and the Erotic Transference: Falling "In Love" With Your Psychotherapist, I discussed clients' erotic feelings (also known as transference) for the therapist, the struggle that clients often have with these feelings, and how these feelings can be worked through with the therapist in a way that furthers the work in therapy.  As mentioned in the earlier article, a client's erotic feelings for his therapist is a common issue in therapy.  In this article, I'm focusing on the therapist's erotic feelings (also known as countertransference) for the client.

The Erotic Countertransference: The Therapist's Sexual Attraction to the Client

Psychotherapists who have been trained psychoanalytically are aware that they can develop erotic feelings for some clients. Knowing in advance that this will occur at some point and being trained on how to deal with it in an ethical way helps therapists to be prepared for these encounters, and it allows them to handle these issues in a way that isn't harmful to the client or their work together.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that psychotherapists know that it would be a serious boundary violation to get sexually/romantically involved with the client whether that involvement occurred during their work together or even after the client terminated therapy.  Unfortunately, although the vast majority of therapists are ethical, there are some therapists who act unethically.  Fortunately, they are in the minority (see my article: Boundary Violations and Sexual Exploitation in Therapy).

A therapist who has in-depth psychoanalytic experience, knows how to attune to what's going on in her internal world, with the client, and in the intersubjective space between the client and therapist.

She is also able to  momentarily dip into her own subjective experience in a way that's useful for the therapy (see my article: Psychotherapy: A Unique Intersubjective Experience).

For instance, as an example having nothing to do with sexual attraction, while she is listening to the client, a particular song might pop into the therapist's head, and she would ask herself if this song has any relevance to the client or the therapy session. She would ask herself if this is a way for her unconscious mind to give her more information that she might not be picking up on consciously? (see my article: Making the Unconscious Conscious).

There can be many reasons why a therapist might feel sexually attracted to a client.  On the most basic level, some people, including clients in therapy, naturally exude a certain sexual magnetism.  Since part of the therapist's job is to be attuned to the client, she could be picking up on this magnetism.

Another common reason is that the client might be flirting with the therapist as part of a defense mechanism to divert the conversation from things that make him uncomfortable in the session. For an experienced therapist, this is usually easy to see and would need to be addressed by the therapist in a tactful way.

Another issue might be that the therapist might be at a point in her personal life where she is not romantically, sexually or emotionally fulfilled.  As a result, she might experience these unfulfilled needs in the therapy room with the client.  This is why it's so important for psychotherapists to be attuned to their own personal needs so that they don't make ethical mistakes.

The Erotic Countertransference:  The Therapist's Erotic Feelings For the Client
The following fictional vignette is based on many different clinical cases.  It illustrates how the therapist attunes to her own internal experience and how she uses this attunement to discover the meaning of her experience and how it relates to the work with the client.

Gina, who was an experienced psychotherapist, realized that she felt a sexual attraction for Jim, after their first session together.

As a seasoned psychotherapist whose original training was in psychoanalysis, Gina knew that it was common for both clients and therapists to have attractions for each other.

Not only had she learned about the erotic countertransference in her original analytic training and in her extensive supervision, she also experienced this occasionally with other male clients.  She and her colleagues also discussed this phenomenon in their peer supervision group.

Although she was clear that she wouldn't act on her attraction based on ethical and clinical reasons, there was something different about this experience as compared to other earlier experiences that concerned her.

So, rather than ignoring her sexual attraction, she paid attention to it, and after her second session with Jim, she thought about whether there was something familiar about him that might be triggering these feelings.

She also talked to her own psychotherapist about this sexual attraction in her next therapy session.  Since her therapist, Ruth, knew Gina well from having worked with her in her analysis for over 15 years, Ruth listened intently as Gina described the sexual feelings that came over her during the first two sessions with Jim.

As Ruth listened to Gina describe this attraction, she realized that Jim had similar characteristics to Gina's husband, who died several years before.  She knew that even though Gina had gone through a period of grief and mourning, she still missed her husband a lot.  She also knew that Gina had been unable to motivate herself to begin dating again even though several years had passed, which left Gina feeling lonely.

As they talked about the similarities, including appearance, between Jim and Gina's late husband, Gina felt a deep sadness come over her that she had not felt since Jim died unexpectedly.  Although she saw the striking similarities between Jim and her late husband, Gina also saw the differences, and as she began to differentiate the two men and her feelings towards them, she began to feel a little better.

These feelings for Jim were also a signal to Gina that she needed to take better care of herself and that her loneliness signaled that she might be ready to explore dating again--even though she had mixed feelings about it.

During her next several sessions with her therapist, Gina explored her ambivalence about dating.  Part of her hesitation was that she continued to feel loyal to her late husband, and she wasn't sure how she would feel dating someone new.

But she agreed with her therapist, Ruth, that she could take it one step at a time, and she was under no obligation to date anyone.  So, she thought of her foray into dating as a way to explore her own feelings and the next step in her mourning process, which included an acceptance that her husband would never come back.

This acceptance that her husband was gone forever brought a new and deeper wave of grief for Gina. She knew from her own training and clinical experience that this was a normal part of grief and mourning as time went on.  So, she continued to talk to her therapist to address her own emotional needs in her therapy and separate out these needs from her work with her client, Jim.

As Gina took care of herself emotionally by talking to her therapist about her emotions and to her friends, who were also colleagues, about her attraction to Jim, she noticed that her attraction began to diminish.  Her work with Jim continued without interruption to his clinical process in sessions, and the therapy was going well.

A few weeks after Gina started seeing Jim as a therapy client, she noticed that she no longer felt an attraction to him.  She could see the resemblance and similarities to her late husband, but she also saw Jim clearly for himself as an individual.

Four months later, Gina began dating again.  She met a man who was also a widower and who understood her mixed feelings about dating.  As she continued to see him, she realized that her feelings for her late husband would never change, and there was room in her heart for both her late husband and for the new man that she was beginning to really like (see my article: A New Relationship: Understanding the Loyalty Dilemma For Someone Whose Spouse Died).

As her emotional needs were met in her therapy, with friends and colleagues and with the new man that she was dating, Gina felt more emotionally fulfilled.  With time, her client, Jim no longer reminded her of her husband because, although there was a physical resemblance, she could now differentiate more clearly that they were two very different men.

She was glad that she took care of herself and used her resources in therapy and among friends and colleagues to deal with the countertransference issues related to her therapy with Jim.  She recognized that, in many ways, it was similar to what occurred occasionally with other clients in the past, but she also saw why her feelings were so heightened with the similarities to her husband.

Both clients and therapists can develop sexual attractions for each other.  It's usually related to transference for the client and countertransference for the therapist.

Therapists have an ethical responsibility to be aware of their feelings and, for the sake of the client and the integrity of the therapy, not to act on their feelings.

Occasionally it happens that a therapist, who sought help in her own therapy, in supervision and among colleagues, is still unable to handle the countertransference, she has a ethical responsibility to refer the client to another therapist rather than act on her feelings or continue to be in conflict about them.

It's of utmost importance that therapists have a strong sense of self awareness and engage in self care so that they don't compromise a client's therapy.  As in the fictional scenario above, this means that the therapist must have the necessary skills and training to self reflect on her own internal process and do what she needs to do to take care of herself.

Although it was not discussed in this article, there are times when both the therapist and the client have a sexual attraction for each other.  In those cases, even if the client behaves in a seductive way, it's the therapist's responsibility not to cross a boundary with a client.  She must analyze her own feelings as well as the clients to understand the root of the issue for each of them and then proceed in an ethical manner to do what's best for the client while taking care of herself.

Getting Help in Therapy
Most well-trained psychotherapists are aware that they will occasionally feel an attraction for a client.      This is a common experience.  Most of them will also know that this probably has less to do with the client than it does with whatever is or isn't going on in their life.

Although sexual boundary violations do occur from time to time, most therapists take their Code of Ethics, which states that therapists cannot be in a dual relationship with a client, seriously.  They know it would be devastating to the client, their work together and it would also jeopardize their professional license if they crossed this ethical boundary.

If you're already in therapy and some of the issues in this article resonate with you, you would probably benefit from discussing them with your therapist or, if you're not comfortable with that, seeking a consultation with a different therapist to discuss what's going on in your therapy.  Most of the time these issues can be worked out, but if you tried and they can't be resolved, you can also seek help from another licensed therapist.

We all need help at some point in our lives.  If you're not in therapy and you're struggling with unresolved issues that are creating obstacles in your life, you deserve to get help from an experience licensed mental health professional.

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

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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Why Do Core Emotional Issues Get Triggered in Romantic Relationships?

When you're involved in a serious romantic relationship, you are at your most emotionally vulnerable.  So, it's no surprise that core emotional issues often get triggered when you're in love (see my article: Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable).

Why Do Core Emotional Issues Get Triggered in Romantic Relationships?

Of course, there are usually many positive emotions that come up too when you feel loved and cared about and when you feel the same way for someone else.  But many people discover that several months into the relationship (and sometimes even before that) they begin feeling vulnerable as they realize just how important their partner is to them and how hurtful it would be if it didn't work out.

This emotional vulnerability is usually felt even more acutely when either one or both people have experienced emotional trauma from the past, including family of origin issues, prior breakups or earlier losses.  These old wounds tend to get triggered in the current relationship--even though the relationship might be going very well.  And, if it isn't going well, the current problems can trigger old emotional wounds even more.

Many people find the periods of time in a relationship when it's unclear if the relationship will go to the next level the most anxiety provoking.  These transitional times can include going from casual dating to a monogamous dating, from monogamous dating to being in a committed relationship and the period from a committed relationship to living together or getting married.

If one of both people are ambivalent about the next step, it can be unnerving as each person weighs the risk of remaining emotionally open to the other.  It helps a lot if the couple can talk about it openly.  But if they can't or if their talks are unproductive, they could benefit from couples therapy.

Clinical Vignette:  Why Do Core Emotional Issues Get Triggered in Romantic Relationships?
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how core issues are triggered as a romantic relationship transitions from casual dating to a more committed relationship:

Ann and Ted
After they met at a party, Ann and Ted, who were both in their mid-30s, began dating casually about once a week.  During the initial few weeks, they enjoyed each other's company, especially since they had so many common interests.

Two months into the relationship, Ann realized how much she cared for Ted, and she wondered if he was seeing other women.  She wasn't sure how to bring this up. On the one hand, she didn't want Ted to think she was being too demanding of his attention but, on the other hand, she was becoming increasingly worried that as she began to really like him, he might become interested in someone else.

When her worries became greater than her fear of appearing demanding, she broached the topic with Ted over dinner.  Initially, she felt anxious and she feared taking the emotional risk of making herself vulnerable when he might not feel the same way.  But she knew she needed to address this issue, so she told Ted she thought they needed to have a talk about their relationship (see my article: Dating: Is It Time to Have the Talk?).

Upon hearing Ann's words, Ted's expression shifted and Ann could see that he looked worried, "Is everything okay between us, Ann?"  In response, Ann took the risk and told Ted that she really liked him and she would prefer it if they could date each other exclusively rather than dating other people.

When she heard Ted laugh, Ann was confused until he said, "Oh...You looked so serious--I was worried that you were going to say that you didn't want to see me anymore. I'm not dating anyone else and I feel the same way that you do."

During the next few weeks, after they talked about how much they both cared for one another, their relationship deepened, and they spent more time together than before.  With the deepening of their relationship, they enjoyed each other's company even more and made vacation plans for the summer.

However, soon after that, Ann became worried again because she realized she had fallen in love with Ted, and she worried that if their relationship didn't work out, she would be devastated.  She thought about her last long term relationship where she and her fianc√© had plans to get married, but their relationship fell apart just a few months before the wedding after he got "cold feet" and ended the relationship.

Even before that engagement, Ann tended to be skeptical about relationships.  Her parents divorced when she was only six months old.  Since her father disappeared from her life after the divorce, Ann never had a relationship with him.  Her mother, who never remarried or even dated after she and Ann's father were divorced, had very negative views of men.  She would constantly warn Ann not to trust men, and she even tried to discourage Ann from dating.

Although Ann rebelled against her mother's negative views about men and began dating in high school, she never felt completely free of her mother's views.  Even though she liked boys and she wanted to be in a relationship, she feared that her mother might be right.

When her fianc√© left her, Ann couldn't help feeling that this was a sign that her mother might be right that she shouldn't trust men.  It took Ann a couple of years to overcome the pain of that loss. She was very hesitant to get involved again, but she didn't want to resign herself of a life of being alone.  So, when she met Ted, she decided to give dating another chance.

But as her feelings for Ted grew, her fear also continued to grow.  Aside from this, she wanted to have children, and she feared that if she waited too long, she might have problems getting pregnant.

There were days when she almost wanted to end the relationship rather than face the possibility that at some point in the future he might leave her.  On a rational level, she knew that there were no signs of this but, on an emotional level, her fear became overwhelming.

They were now dating exclusively for six months, and Ann knew that Ted wouldn't initiate a conversation about where they were in their relationship.  He seemed to be content with the way things were going between them.  So, she knew she would have to do it, but she was even more fearful than she had been the first time they talked.

One night when they were out to dinner, Ted noticed that Ann was much quieter than usual, and she was just pushing the food around her plate, so he asked her, "Is something wrong, Ann?"

Ann's initial inclination was to try to smile and say that there was nothing wrong, but she couldn't do it.  She was barely holding back tears.  She knew that Ted was aware of how devastated she felt when her engagement ended suddenly because they talked about their history of relationships soon after they started dating.  But she wasn't sure if he knew about the lasting effect it had on her and how it was affecting their relationship.

With much effort, Ann told Ted about her fears of getting hurt in their relationship and how it was becoming increasingly difficult for her to cope with those fears.  While she was telling him about this, she could barely look at him because she felt so ashamed.  She was sure that he would think she was being ridiculous and that her fears would push him away.

But, to her surprise, Ted listened and he was very understanding.  Although he had never experienced the kinds of losses that Ann experienced, he was deeply moved by her fears and sadness.  He gave her the time and space she needed to express her feelings without being judgmental.  Then, he assured her that his feelings for her had deepened over time and he had no intention of leaving her.

Ann was momentarily relieved to hear this, but her fears continued to mount.  She was afraid that her fears would bring about the end of the relationship, so she suggested that they go to couples therapy.

At the recommendation of a friend, who attended Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, Ann and Ted began couples therapy.  With the help of their EFT couples therapist, they developed a better understanding of their attachment styles and how these attachment styles affected their relationship (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples?).

After the EFT couples therapist recommended that Ann attend her own individual therapy to deal with the loss of her father, which was getting triggered in her current relationship, Ann started individual therapy.  In her individual therapy, Ann was able to separate out her family of origin experiences and losses (including the negative views about men that her mother attempted to impart on Ann) and her current experiences with Ted.

Both Ted and Ann discovered in EFT that they had different communication and attachment styles, and they learned how to communicate better (see my article: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).

Most importantly, they learned how to be emotionally vulnerable with each other in order to ask for what they needed from one another and to enhance their relationship (see my article: EFT Couple Therapy: Learning to Ask For What You Need From Your Partner).

At the same time, Ann got more comfortable with trusting that, even though she knew there were no guarantees, things would work out between them, especially once she was no longer triggered.

Core issues, including emotional insecurities, old emotional wounds, and negative beliefs about oneself, often get triggered in romantic relationships because people are most vulnerable when they open themselves to loving another person.

When there is a history of loss and emotional trauma, it's not unusual for these issues to enter into the relationship and cause one or both people to become fearful of getting hurt.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples, which has been well researched, is an effective couples therapy to work out these and other relationship issues.

When one or both people have previous trauma that is affecting the current relationship, it's often beneficial to also seek help in individual therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
Fear due to previous losses and trauma often have a significant negative impact on romantic relationships.

Being able to separate out the trauma from the past from the current relationship is difficult to do when someone is being triggered.  It takes the expertise of a trained trauma therapist or EFT couple therapist to begin to help people to uncouple these issues.

Understanding that you and your partner might have different attachment styles and how these attachment styles affect your relationship is an important component of EFT couples therapy.

If you're having problems in your relationship, rather than allowing your relationship to deteriorate, you owe it to yourself and your partner to get help so you can have a more fulfilling, loving relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I am trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples and I have found it to be an effective modality for helping couples to overcome their 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.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Acceptance and Self Compassion

In a prior article, I discussed the concept of self compassion (see my article: Psychotherapy and Compassionate Self Acceptance).  In this article, I would like to expand on this topic and explore why self compassion is so important.

Acceptance and Self Compassion

As I mentioned in the prior article, many psychotherapy clients come to therapy being harsh and punitive with themselves.  This harsh sense of self usually develops at an early age due to traumatic childhood experiences and, without therapy, continues into adulthood.

If this harsh sense of self goes unaddressed by the psychotherapist, it will become an obstacle in the therapeutic work.  This is due to the fact that a harsh sense of self often comes with a negative belief  of "I don't deserve to feel better."

If this negative belief of not deserving to feel better goes undetected and unresolved in therapy, it will undermine the client's and therapist's work together.

Even though, initially, clients might be unaware of feeling undeserving of compassion, if a therapist explores this possibility with clients, most clients, who have this unconscious negative belief, are able to identify it.

Identifying a negative belief about oneself is only the first step, but it's an important step.

Certain forms of experiential therapy, like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, ask the client for the negative belief with regard to the presenting problem.  Discussing the negative belief about oneself is an essential part of the therapy (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs and Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

However, if the negative belief about oneself remains unconscious, the therapist needs to use therapeutic techniques to get to this unconscious level because just asking some clients won't be enough.  This is because talking about the negative belief is addressing to the client's prefrontal cortex, which is the logical part of the brain.  But trauma "lives" deeper in the brain in the limbic system of the emotional part of the brain, so the therapist needs a method of getting to this unconscious level if the client is unable to access it through a discussion.

In those instances, the therapist needs to use a form of experiential therapy to get to a deeper level.  The Affect Bridge is one technique to get to this deeper unconscious level (for an explanation of the Affect Bridge and how it works, see my article: Bridging Back to Heal Old Emotional Wounds).

The next step is working directly with this negative belief and its associated emotions.  In doing so, the therapist provides the client with the psychoeducation that the negative belief/emotions are just one part of him or herself--not the whole self (see my article: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are and Parts Work in Therapy).

It's usually a relief to clients to realize that this problem is only one aspect of themselves and that they continue to have access to the healthier parts of the self to do the therapeutic work.

Once the negative belief/emotions have been worked through in therapy, the client usually has a greater capacity for self compassion, which contributes to the healing experience and the working through of the trauma.

A lack of self compassion is usually indicative of early unresolved childhood trauma.

The child internalizes the negative beliefs/emotions that his or her caregiver imparts--whether this is done consciously or unconsciously.

Unless the child receives therapy to overcome the trauma, these negative beliefs/emotions will follow him or her into adulthood and have a significant negative impact on self perception as well as interpersonal relationships throughout life.

When negative beliefs/emotions present themselves as an obstacle in adult trauma therapy, the trauma therapist must have the necessary therapeutic tools and techniques to identify and work through them.

Whereas experiential therapy, like EMDR therapy, gets to the deeper part of the brain, the limbic system where the trauma "lives," talk therapy usually does not get to this level.  Even though talk therapy can provide intellectual insight into unresolved trauma, it often doesn't result in healing or change on an emotional level.

When the client is able to develop self compassion, this becomes part of the healing and working through of the trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
Unresolved psychological trauma is very difficult, if not impossible, to resolve on your own.

To overcome traumatic experiences and develop self compassion, you need the help of an experienced trauma therapist.

Once you have worked through the trauma, you can free yourself of your traumatic history and lead a more fulfilling life

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing, EFT and Sex 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.

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.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Are You Thinking About Canceling Your Therapy Session Because You're Having a Good Day?

In a prior article, I discussed scenarios where clients left therapy prematurely before they completed their work in therapy (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).  In this article, I'm focusing on clients who think about canceling their therapy session when they're having a good day.

Are You Thinking About Canceling Your Therapy Session Because You're Having a Good Day? 

You might wonder why it would be a problem to cancel your therapy session when you're feeling good, and this is a legitimate question, especially for people who are new to therapy.

The following factors will help you to develop a deeper, more comprehensive perspective about therapy, which goes beyond being in crisis, and why canceling when you're feeling good might not be a good idea:
  • Many people only seek help in therapy when they're in an emotional crisis.  Once the crisis is over, they leave therapy.  But even though you might not be in an emotional crisis anymore, if you have only focused on the latest crisis, you've only touched the surface of the problem.  Beyond developing insight into the problem, you need time and help to integrate and consolidate what you've learned about yourself and the situation.  You also need assistance to maintain new healthy coping strategies that you just learned in therapy.  If not, you're likely to find yourself in a similar (if not exact) emotional crisis again soon.  The people, places and particular circumstances might be a little different with the new crisis, but the underlying issues, which haven't been resolved, are probably the same (see my article: Remaining in Therapy Beyond the Immediate Crisis).
  • When you consider canceling a session, you might be avoiding issues in therapy that are emerging and that are frightening to you.  Rather than avoiding these issues, speak to your therapist about it.  A discussion with your therapist could help you to understand what's frightening you.  It will also help your therapist to understand that you might not be ready to tackle these issues head on but, instead, you might need some preparation and the development of additional coping skills to be able to, eventually, work through the issues that are frightening you.  If your therapist is a trauma therapist, she can help you to break down the work into manageable pieces so that you're not delving too deep into the worst aspects of the problem before you're ready.
  • Having a "good day" is often a welcomed relief, especially if you've had many emotionally challenging days before that.  However, one "good day" doesn't mean that your problems are all worked out, and "feeling good" isn't a good measurement by itself of your progress in therapy.  Change often comes by taking two steps forward and one step back, so a "good day" or two is often followed by a setback.
If you think you have worked through the problem that brought you into therapy, discuss this with your therapist rather than just leaving without telling her (see my article: Why Ghosting Your Therapist is Harmful to You).

Of course, the decision to stay or go is up to you, but your therapist can shed light on the process and help you to terminate therapy in a way that's healthy and helpful to you.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people have outdated views of the therapy process (see my articles:  Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're Weak and Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy Takes a Long Time).

Although there are certain people who enjoy coming to therapy, learning about themselves and having a time and place that's dedicated just to them to talk about what's going on in their lives, some people come to deal with a specific issue.  They might want to remove obstacles that are getting in the way of making changes, develop insight into certain emotional patterns or deal with an unresolved trauma that is affecting them now.

Psychotherapy has evolved over the last decade, and there are now experiential therapy modalities, like EMDR therapy, AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), Somatic Experiencing, clinical hypnosis and other experiential therapies that tend to be more effective than regular talk therapy.

If you're unfamiliar with these newer experiential therapies, feel free to browse the articles in my blog that discuss how and why these types of therapy are more effective (see my articles: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Rather than waiting until a problem develops into an emotional crisis, you owe it to yourself to seek help from a licensed mental health professional.

Once you have worked through your problems, you will have freed yourself from your history, and you will be free to live a more fulfilling life.

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

I work with individual adults and couples (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

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.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

What's the Difference Between Healthy Anger and Unhealthy Anger?

Anger often gets a bad rap because people consider anger to be "bad" or "unhealthy."  While it's true that there are instances when out of control anger can be expressed in an unhealthy or maladaptive way that's destructive and hurtful, a healthy sense of anger can be adaptive in terms of it mobilizing you to defend yourself or to make positive changes in your life (see my article: Using Your Anger to Mobilize Yourself to Make Positive Changes).

What's the Difference Between Healthy Anger and Unhealthy Anger?

Anger can also act as an internal cue as to what's going on for you emotionally below the surface because anger is often a secondary emotion that covers up sadness, shame or emotional vulnerability (see my article: Anger as a Secondary Emotion).

Healthy Anger vs. Unhealthy Anger
Unhealthy anger is often unregulated and used to intimidate or dominate others.  It can be triggered easily or can be chronic.  It's usually destructive to the self, others or both.  It's also often verbally or physically aggressive.

Healthy anger can be triggered easily in some instances, but the difference between healthy anger and unhealthy anger is your behavior.  For instance, if another driver cuts you off on the highway, you might feel a flash of anger, but what you do next with that anger will determine if it's healthy or unhealthy.

If you pursue the other driver aggressively, curse at him or give him "the finger," this is out of control, unhealthy anger.  But if you're able to calm yourself and eventually brush it off or reframe the incident for yourself (e.g., maybe the other driver had a sick passenger and needed to get to the hospital quickly), this is a more adaptive way of coping with your anger.

When you can use anger to make positive changes in yourself, this is adaptive.  On the other hand, if you're consistently angry and blaming other people for things you don't like in your life and you're not making an effort to take positive action, this is maladaptive.

Fictional Clinical Vignette: Healthy Anger vs. Unhealthy Anger
The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how a person can learn to change his mode of behavior in therapy from using anger in an unhealthy way to a more healthy and productive way of coping and behaving:

After his wife gave him an ultimatum that he either seek help in therapy or she would leave him, Joe went to see a psychotherapist recommended by a friend.

During the initial consultation with the therapist, Joe focused on his wife's complaints about his anger.  He said he didn't see a problem with his behavior, but his wife had been telling him for years that she didn't like his temper, and after a recent incident of "road rage" in which she felt Joe placed their lives in danger based on his reaction to the other driver, she gave him the ultimatum.

The therapist noted to herself during the initial part of the consultation that Joe took no ownership of his behavior in the "road rage" situation, so she asked him to reflect upon it.

What's the Difference Between Healthy Anger and Unhealthy Anger?

Joe responded that he hadn't really thought about it before, but he said he could see where his wife had some concerns.  At the same time, he showed his ambivalence about his behavior because he tried to justify it by saying he thought "anyone in my shoes would have been angry."

As Joe recounted other incidents where he lost his temper with his wife, his adult children, his friends and his subordinates at work, a pattern emerged of sudden outbursts of anger.

When the therapist asked Joe about the consequences of his behavior, Joe thought about it for a while, and then he admitted, "My anger has created problems in my relationships--both personal and professional, which surprises me, because anyone who knows me well knows that I don't really mean the things that I say in the heat of anger."

As they continued to talk about the consequences of his anger, Joe became sullen, "My sons aren't as close to me as they used to be.  They're close to my wife, but they seem to avoid me because of my outbursts of anger.  At my company, a few managers who worked under me left because I lost my temper with them.  These were people that I hired, groomed and I hoped to continue to groom for higher positions in my company, so it was a terrible loss.  And now my wife is fed up with me.  So, as I think about it, I guess she's right."

His therapist saw his acknowledgement of his problem to be a healthy sign.  They agreed to meet once a week for therapy sessions to get to the root of the problem and to help Joe to learn healthier ways of coping with and expressing his anger.

During their weekly sessions, Joe talked about his father's temper tantrums and his perfectionism, which he imposed on Joe.  Joe said he tried to be "perfect" for his father because he knew his father expected nothing less.  But, inevitably, he made mistakes and felt very ashamed because he knew he was letting his father down.  Although his father was tough, his mother was easygoing, but she was also intimidated by Joe's father, so she didn't stand up to him when he lost his temper with Joe and criticized him.

His therapist helped Joe to see that, as a child, he was traumatized by his father's anger and unrealistic expectations.  She explained that most children would have reacted the same way that he did, but the way he learned to cope as a child was no longer serving him because he was imposing his perfectionism on others, he was reacting in much the same way as his father did, and he was ruining his relationships (see my article: Looking at Your Childhood Trauma From an Adult Perspective).

Gradually, Joe realized that when things happened that he couldn't control--whether it was a mistake that one of his sons made, a problem with a subordinate or a problem driver on the road--Joe felt "out of control," which he identified as one of the worst feelings he could experience.  Feeling out of control frightened him, and he realized that underneath the anger, there was fear.

His therapist recommended that they use EMDR therapy to process his childhood traumatic memories of feeling ashamed for disappointing his father and the ongoing fear he had as a child of losing his father's love (see my article: How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain).

Over time, Joe realized that the current situations that caused him to lose his temper triggered his earlier fear, sadness, and shame, so he and his therapist processed the current and past memories as well as his fears for the future.

The work in EMDR therapy, although faster and more effective than regular talk therapy, wasn't quick.  However, after several months, Joe could recall his childhood memories without feeling the negative feelings he usually experienced.

Through his work in therapy, Joe had a lot of compassion for the traumatized child that he had been (see my article: Having Compassion For the Child That You Were).

He realized that his father had grown up with a father who was also a perfectionist, and Joe developed compassion and a sense of forgiveness for his father (see my article: Trying to Understand Your Father).

In addition, as he progressed in therapy, Joe also realized that he was no longer overreacting with inappropriate anger to current situations, and his relationships with his wife, sons, friends and employees were improving.

Unhealthy anger often hides shame, sadness and other related emotions from the past, and it's often related to unresolved trauma.

It's not unusual for there to be a history of unhealthy anger in a client's family of origin due to intergenerational trauma (see my article: Intergenerational Family Dynamics).

Trauma therapy, like EMDR therapy, helps to process unresolved trauma and related emotional triggers (see my article: Coping With Trauma and Trauma-Related Triggers).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've been struggling with anger and this article resonates with you, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Resolving the underlying issues that contribute to your angry behavior and learning new ways of coping can help you to have better relationships and a more fulfilling life.

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

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.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Relationships: Coping With the Stages of a Breakup

Anyone who has ever gone through a breakup knows that it's hard and that, in most cases, it's a process. That will mean different things to different couples.  For some couples it might mean that they go back and forth, breaking up and getting back together several times before they completely end it. Other couples might try to change their relationship from being monogamous to opening up the relationship so they can each see other people.  Some couples might want to transition from being lovers to being friends (see my articles: Overcoming the Heartbreak of a BreakupBeing Honest About Your Relationship: Are You Really "Taking Time Apart" or Are You Breaking Up? and Can You and Your Ex Transition From Being Lovers to Being Friends?).

Relationships: Coping With the Stages of a Breakup

The emotional attachment that each person feels for the other usually doesn't end on the day they break up--even if it's a final decision after much going back and forth.  Instead, over time, the feelings usually decrease gradually.  But for many people, if the relationship was significant and there wasn't a major betrayal, feelings of love often remain, and many people say, "My ex will always have a special place in my heart."

No one wants to go through the emotional pain of a breakup, but go through it you must if you're going to remain true to your feelings and not shutdown emotionally.

Even if you're the one who initiated the breakup and know that it's best for both of you, it's still a major loss to contend with and usually brings up emotions about prior significant losses.  Sometimes it's hard to distinguish the emotional pain from the current loss from whatever it's triggering from the past (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past).

Many people remain in a relationship that has, for all intents and purposes, ended on an emotional level because they don't want to go through the pain of the loss or go through the process of trying to meet someone new.  Their attitude is, "The devil I know is better than the devil I don't know."

But there is a price to pay for remaining in a relationship that has already run its course because in order to remain in that kind of relationship, people often need to numb their feelings.  Also, the dissatisfaction of being in the relationship can get displaced in other ways with irritability, anger, feelings of being stuck, and so on.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are people who are quick to end a relationship because they're obsessed with the idea that there might be "someone better" for them.  This is a particular mindset that some people have that's exacerbated by the many dating apps where there are thousands of choices for a potential "better" partner (whatever "better" means to the particular person).

This can lead to an overall devaluing of an existing partner and the idea that romantic partners are expendable and exchangeable for an "upgrade" at any time.  So, it you're unhappy with something in your relationship, rather than trying to work on it, you can just search for someone new.

Coping With the Stages of a Breakup:
The following stages of a breakup are the some of the same basic stages of any loss.  Although these stages are listed in a particular order, you might experience them in a completely different order.  Also, it's likely that you'll go back and forth between the stages rather than going through each one in a linear manner.
  • Shock:  Even if you're the one who wanted to break up, the reality of the breakup and how it affects you can come as a shock.  Except for the most extreme cases, you might initially feel some ambivalence about breaking up, especially as you go through painful emotions.  If you're not the one who wanted the breakup, you might really be shocked when your partner lets you know that s/he wants to end it.  You can go through a period when the breakup feels unreal or like you're dreaming because you're so shocked.
  • A Need For Answers and "Closure": Whether the breakup is mutually agreed to, you wanted it or your partner wanted it, there are often many unanswered questions about why things didn't work out between the two of you.  Many people mistakenly think that if they could only understand what happened, they would feel better about the breakup.  While it might help somewhat, going through a breakup isn't a cognitive process so much as it's an emotional process.  So, even if you have all the so-called answers to your questions, it still might not make sense to you on an emotional level.  For some people this becomes an obsessive quest for "closure" which often doesn't help because the breakup still doesn't make sense to you emotionally, and a conversation for closure often just leads to other questions: "But why?" "Why don't you love me anymore?" (see my article: Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible and When the Need for Closure Turns Into Harassment).
  • Denial:  If the breakup is very hard for you to deal with, especially if you didn't want it, you might go through a phase of denial where you tell yourself that your ex isn't really leaving you.  You might convince yourself that your ex is going through a phase and s/he'll come back when s/he realizes how awful it is to be without you.  At this point, it's too painful for you to accept that the relationship is over and you would rather believe that there is some mistake than accept the end.
  • Bargaining: If you didn't want the breakup, rather than face the pain of the breakup, you try to bargain with your ex that you'll make everything right in the relationship--whatever it takes.  Things that you weren't willing to do before now seem palatable to you as compared with dealing with the pain of loss.  In most cases, this is a way of delaying acceptance and facing the unknown.  This is especially true for people who don't like to be alone and would rather remain in an unsatisfactory relationship than be alone.
  • Anger:  If you didn't want the breakup, you might feel very angry with your ex because you feel s/he caused you to feel pain.  You might experience the end of the relationship as something that is being "done" to you rather than an acknowledgement that things weren't working out.  Depending upon your temperament, you might take out your anger on your ex, your other loved ones or yourself.  Anger often hides profound sadness, and many people would rather feel anger than sadness.  But anger can also be used to mobilize yourself to make healthy changes for yourself when you're ready to do it (see my article: Anger as a Secondary Emotion).
  • Acceptance:  Unfortunately, not everyone gets to this stage.  While there is no denying the fact that the relationship is over, on an emotional level, many people remain in a limbo state hoping that they will reunite with their ex--despite significant evidence to the contrary.  These people can neither go back nor move forward and remain stuck.  However, most people go through an initial stage of acceptance.  They might not be happy about the breakup, but after a while, they begin to see new possibilities for themselves.  As time goes on, acceptance takes on new meaning and most people begin to feel hopeful again.
Whether you initiated the breakup, the breakup was mutually agreed to or your partner ended the relationship, breakups can be challenging, especially if they trigger earlier losses.  

The stages of a breakup and the feelings of loss aren't sequential or linear.  Some people go back and forth between the different stages many times before they reach an initial level of acceptance.  

Acceptance doesn't come all at once.  After the shock, denial, anger, bargaining and need for answers and closure stages, acceptance might be paper thin.  It might start with accepting the fact that the breakup is real and you're not getting back together again.  As time goes on, acceptance can take on new meaning and can lead to feeling hopeful again.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with the loss of a breakup, being kind and patient with yourself will help you.  But if you find that after a period of time, you're still struggling, you could benefit from the help of a licensed mental health professional.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to go through the loss so you can accept the end and come out on the other side feeling hopeful (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling on your own, seeking help when you're in an emotional crisis can help you to mourn the breakup so you can move on and lead the fulfilling life that you deserve.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and AEDP therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, which is a well researched, evidence-based therapy that is effective in helping people deal with relationship 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, July 1, 2019

Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players" - Part 2: A Clinical Vignette

In Part 1 of Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players," I described the typical emotional dynamics and behavior of players (also known as pick-up artists), including the their manipulative and emotional abusive behavior towards women.

Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"

I described a behavioral dynamic that is on a continuum and, in some cases, can include sociopathic behavior where there is a lack of empathy for how their behavior affects the women they're attempting to seduce (see my article: What Makes So-Called "Bad Boys" So Irresistible to So Many Women? Brain Chemistry Might Have the Answer).

Also on that continuum are men who eventually find being a player to be unsatisfying, lonely and, despite the conquest of many women, unsatisfying because it feels empty and meaningless.

Often these same men find themselves in an emotional crisis because they can neither remain a player nor can they move forward to a more meaningful life because they don't know any other way to be.

The focus of the this article, including the clinical vignette, will be on this subset of men.

As previously mentioned in the prior article, players can be either men or women, gay, bisexual or heterosexual.  But, generally speaking, the term is usually associated with heterosexual men, which is what this article is about.

Clinical Vignette: The Emotional Crisis of a Man Who is a Player
The following fictional vignette illustrates a typical scenario for a man who learns to develop a persona as a player but who eventually discovers that he wants more than casual hook ups with women--he wants a relationship, but he doesn't know how to be genuinely himself or how to have a committed relationship.

When John was in his teens, he wanted more than anything to date women, but he lacked the necessary self confidence to approach them.  Since he was very good looking, many girls were drawn to him and they approached him, but even when he knew that these girls liked him, he felt awkward and shy.

His first sexual experience was with a teenage girl, Jane, from his class who invited him over to her house while her parents were out.  He was highly anxious before going to her house because he feared that this girl would laugh at him due to sexual inexperience.  But rather than laugh at him, Jane, who had prior sexual encounters, led him into the bedroom and patiently initiated him into his first sexual experience.

Afterwards, realizing how pleasurable sex could be, he wanted to have sex with other girls too.  But throughout high school and even in college, he continued to feel shy and lack self confidence, so the only time he had sex was when girls or young women came onto him.

After college, John was at a total loss about how to meet women.  It was much easier for him when he was surrounded by young women in college who took the lead in initiating sex.  But after he graduated from college, he was no longer around women all the time, and he didn't like using dating apps, so he wasn't sure what to do.

Sometimes, he and his friends would go to singles bars and his friends would meet women and take them home  but, more often than not, he remained standing alone against the wall.  Occasionally, an attractive assertive woman would approach him and take him home, but this wasn't usually the case.

One day, feeling disappointed and discouraged, John turned down his friends' invitation to go out to a singles bar.  Although his best friend, Bill usually laughed at John's awkwardness and lack of confidence, when he realized how miserable John was, he told John that any man could learn to pick up women in a bar--he just needed to learn a few simple techniques and strategies and practice them.

Then, Bill recommended that John attend a three-day pick-up artists' boot camp where part of the training would be to stand side by side with a "dating coach" and observe the "dating coach" pick up women at various venues in New York City, including singles bars.

Bill also explained that John would get classroom instruction and drills that he would practice when John would go out with an experienced "dating coach" to apply what he learned in class while the coach stood nearby to observe John and give him feedback later.

In response to Bill, John laughed, but Bill urged him on, "What do you have to lose, man?  By the end of the training, you'll feel confident meeting and picking up women anywhere.  That's how I learned.  This training is foolproof."

With some reluctance, John signed up for the Attractions Method training, and he was amazed that he was able to develop the persona of a player that allowed him to feel the confidence that he lacked with women.  Soon after that, whenever he went out, he psyched himself up and took on this persona.

The strategies that John learned led to his hooking up with hundreds of women over the next several years.  He became so good at being a pick-up artist that he always had a sexy, beautiful woman on his arm, and his friends expressed envy, "John, where do you meet these women!?!  One is more beautiful then the next!"

But whenever one of the women wanted a more serious relationship, John would panic.  He had mastered taking on the persona of a confident pick-up artist and the techniques for picking up women for casual sex, but he was too afraid of allowing any emotional intimacy to develop between him and any of these women.  So, whenever a woman expressed wanting more from him, he would stop seeing her and focus on the many other women he was seeing simultaneously.

At the same time, John discovered that some of the techniques he learned to pick up women also worked in his sales career.  He was able to charm his female boss into giving him the best sales territory in the company.  He was also able to charm customers into buying the company's services.

With all the money he was earning, he attracted even more beautiful women who admired his success, his new sports car, and the way he generously spent money on them.  They were fascinated by him and they wanted to be around him.  He also enjoyed the admiration of his friends and colleagues who not only admired him--they wanted to be him.

But over time, when John was in his mid-30s, he realized that he no longer derived as much pleasure from sleeping with one beautiful woman after the next.  He found most of these women to be narcissistic and shallow, and he felt bored.  Deep down, he also knew that he was just playing a role and, even though he was convincing in this role, this wasn't really how he felt.

His friends were all getting married, some of them were starting families, and he realized that he felt lonely, especially because the only relationships he had with women were shallow and very short term. He never had a substantial monogamous relationship.

Gradually, John realized that there was something missing in his life.  Other than being with beautiful women, having sex with as many of them as possible, and making a lot of money, his life lacked meaning and substance and this was increasingly worrisome to him.

There was one woman, Sara, that he was dating who wasn't narcissistic or shallow.  He really liked her and thought he might like to be in a relationship with her, but he was afraid to be himself.  He feared that, even if he knew what it meant to be himself, Sara wouldn't like him if she knew the real him (see my article: Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You If They Knew the "Real You").

He realized that he had spent so much time taking on the persona of a player that he wasn't even sure who he was anymore.  Although he would have liked to talk to one of his friends about it, he was afraid that he would lose their admiration for his success with having so many women.

When he attempted to talk to Bill, who was married for several years, Bill just brushed him off, "What do you mean you feel lonely?  You're always with a sexy, beautiful women.  I envy you.  Don't get me wrong--I love my wife, but do you have any idea how boring it is to wake up to the same woman every day?  Enjoy yourself and, whatever you do, don't get married.  It's totally overrated."

After John got a similar response from his other close friends, he felt increasingly depressed and isolated.  He began having problems sleeping and getting up in the morning.  It took a lot more effort for him to take on the confident persona and to charm his customers into buying the company's services.  He also began to isolate and stopped seeing many of the women he had been hooking up with.

Soon his sales performance went from being the highest in the company to being one of the lowest.  His boss called him into her office to find out if there was anything wrong, but John didn't feel comfortable confiding in her, so he made up some excuse and told her that he would do better.

Although he managed to fake his way through that meeting with his boss, he knew that all his pretending was sapping him of energy and he felt a big disconnect between how he felt inside and the persona he was trying to project on the outside.  He wasn't even sure why he was doing it anymore--except that he didn't know what else to do.

As he became increasingly depressed, John knew he needed to seek help from a licensed mental health professional.  Admitting this to himself was hard, but he knew it would be much harder if he descended deeper into depression.

During his first session with a female psychotherapist, John was tempted to take on the same persona he used to charm so many women.  It was hard for him to let down his guard to show the therapist just how bad he felt about himself.  At the same time, he knew that, if he was going to overcome his problems, he would need to be honest (see my article: The Importance of Being Honest With Your Therapist).

Gradually, over time, John opened up to his psychotherapist and told her about his history of being a shy, awkward young man and how he learned to be a player with women.  He explained that for a long time he felt like he was on a "high" when he slept with hundreds of beautiful, sexy women and all his friends envied him.

Then, he described the slow descent into his current emotional crisis, his feelings of being a fraud, his loneliness, his yearning to be himself (although he didn't know anymore what that meant), his guilt for the emotional pain he had caused the many women he manipulated, and his fear of developing a relationship with Sara.

Over time, John realized that the more he opened up to his therapist, the more genuine he felt.  Often, he would have realizations about himself in the therapy that he never had before.

As he became more comfortable with his psychotherapist, John allowed her to see more of the frightened, emotionally vulnerable side of himself.  To his surprise, he revealed his shame, which  was a big part of his lack of confidence of awkwardness (see my article: Healing Shame in Psychotherapy).

As he continued to talk in therapy, he also realized that he felt like he was basically an unlovable person who didn't really deserve to be happy with anyone.  It was only when he took on the persona of being a player that he felt confident, but he realized now that this wasn't genuine confidence--it was all a sham (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

His therapist used a technique in clinical hypnosis called the affect bridge so that John could go back to the earliest time when he felt unlovable.  In a relaxed hypnotic state, where John had the dual awareness of being in the here-and-now in the therapist's office as well as being in his earliest memory of feeling unlovable, John recounted how he was constantly and severely criticized and belittled by both of his parents who told him that he would never amount to anything and he would fail at everything.

As he recalled these early memories, John felt a wave of tremendous grief and anger for the way his parents treated him.  He knew that his parents thought they were trying to make him "tough" to face a difficult world, but he also realized how misguided they were.

Having gotten to his earliest memory of feeling unlovable using the affect bridge, his therapist recommended that they use EMDR therapy  to help him overcome the traumatic effect of his early childhood history (see my articles: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

Gradually, John began to feel better about himself.  The work with EMDR therapy wasn't the quick fix he hoped that it would be, but he discovered that he was slowly overcoming the trauma that had been an obstacle for him for so many years.

As John felt more confident and more genuinely himself without relying on a persona, over time he developed a relationship with Sara and discovered that she actually liked him for who he was and not for the person he was pretending to be when they first met.

Overall, he was happier in his relationship with Sara and in his career once he was able to overcome his traumatic history and allow himself to be genuine.

Men, who are players, are on a continuum.  With the exception of the most narcissistic or sociopathic male players, many men who engage in this deceptive, manipulative behavior with women eventually find this lifestyle to be hollow and meaningless.

Over time, they long for deeper, more substantial relationships, but they're so caught up in acting the part of a player that they don't know anymore (if they ever did) who they really are.  Giving up the persona would also mean giving up a way that they have come to successfully rely on to have attractive women as well as giving up the admiration they receive from their male peers.  It would also involve showing a more vulnerable part of themselves which they are ashamed of.

This often precipitates an emotional crisis for them, which is difficult to overcome on their own or with the people in their lives.  So, when the pain of being in an emotional crisis becomes greater than their shame, they often seek help in psychotherapy.

In an experiential therapy where the therapist knows how to help clients to trace back the origins of these men's problems, there is an opportunity for them to work through the current issues as well as the underlying issues that caused them to feel inadequate in the first place (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Regular Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Getting Help in Therapy
If this article resonates with you, you could benefit from getting help from a skilled psychotherapist.

An emotional crisis is painful, but it can also be an opportunity to resolve emotional problems that you might not otherwise feel motivated to address.

Once you have freed yourself from the burden of these emotional issues, you can lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I use Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, which is an evidence based therapy which research has shown to be effective for relationship issues.

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 or email me.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are Players

In my recent articles, I focused on "breadcrumbing," a form of manipulation that is used by one person to string along, control and dominate another in a relationship in order to take advantage of them (see my articles:  Relationships: Is Your Partner "Breadcrumbing" You? - Part 1Breadcrumbing - Part 2: A Clinical Vignette, and Breadcrumbing - Part 3: Getting Help in Therapy).

Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"

In those articles, I focused on the person who is being manipulated.  In this article, I'm focusing on the person who is normally called the "player" (or pickup artist) to get beyond surface appearances and to take a deeper look at the underlying emotional issues involved.

Although this is a nonjudgmental look at men who are players, it should in no way be construed as condoning manipulative and deceptive behavior at someone else's expense.  Nor should it be interpreted as encouragement for anyone who is involved with a player to remain in a situation where you are being emotionally abused.

What is a "Player"?
A player can be either a man or a woman, heterosexual, gay or bisexual.  But, generally speaking, the term refers to a heterosexual man, who is unlikely to be faithful, honest or respectful in a relationship.    

He usually presents himself as someone who is the opposite of a player--a man who is kind, thoughtful, and interested in being in a monogamous relationship with a woman.  But his outward presentation hides a more seductive and manipulative person who only pretends to be interested in a relationship so he can fool women into having sex with him.   Usually, his main goal is to sleep with as many women as possible in short term hook ups.

Someone who is a "successful player" has mastered the pickup lines, demeanor, and strategies for deceiving a woman into thinking he is serious about a potential relationship with her.  He is often able to quickly assess her emotional vulnerabilities in order to get what he wants (see a fictional vignette from a prior article).

If a player has chosen a woman who is especially vulnerable, he can continue to manipulate her even after she realizes that she is being manipulated.  As in the case of the fictional vignette in my prior article, there are often unconscious issues involved for the woman who becomes aware that she is being manipulated and who remains with a player--even though she realizes that she's being played.

There are numerous books, manuals, workshops and boot camps for men who want to learn to be players.  These sources usually promise men that they will develop the necessary skills to seduce and sleep with as many women as possible.

Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players"
Needless to say, these men are often young and there is usually a level of emotional immaturity and arrested development for men who engage in this behavior.

Just like any other dynamic, the underlying personality dynamics for a player are on a continuum.  This often includes a fair amount of narcissism that vacillates between grandiosity and shame (see my article: Narcissism: An Emotional Seesaw Between Grandiosity and Shame).

If someone's narcissism is on a sociopathic level, he will usually be completely self serving without any real shame or regret because he lacks the ability to be empathic towards the women he is deceiving and manipulating.

At the same time, there are many men who gravitate towards being players because they lack the necessary social skills and genuine confidence (as opposed to faked confidence) to be real with women.

They think that being a player or a "bad boy" will get them more women.  To an extent they're right about being fascinating towards certain women (see my article: What Makes So-Called "Bad Boys" So Irresistible to So Many Women? Brain Chemistry Might Have the Answer).

Another aspect that makes becoming a player attractive to some men is they believe they will gain the admiration of other men.  They believe that when other men see them with a beautiful, sexy woman on their arm, these men will see them as masculine and desirable to women and buy into the image the player is trying to project.  The fact that this often actually does happen among men only reinforces players' dynamics.

These men often grew up in homes where they didn't see loving relationships modeled for them in their household.  They might have grown up in homes where the father dominated a subservient mother and ruled the family, so these men get a distorted view of masculinity and what it means to be a man.  Also, many of them feel constrained by societal stereotypes of masculinity that are neither realistic nor attainable.

Many of these men, who project an air of confidence and charm, are really emotionally insecure.  They think they've found quick-fix techniques for attracting and manipulating women.  Underneath  their show of confidence is a fear that the women they're meeting will see how insecure and inferior they really feel (see my article: Looking Happy on the Outside But Feeling Broken on the Inside and     How to Stop Pretending to Feel Happy When You Don't).

While players, who succeed in obsessively seducing and sleeping with many women, might appear to be happy with their conquests, there are certain men for whom these mind games become old. As they age, the novelty and dopamine rush of conquering one woman after another becomes empty and makes them feel lonely.  And the thought of aging and becoming an old player, who is alone, begins to feel pathetic.

These men often face an emotional crisis because they really don't feel genuinely confident in being themselves and they haven't developed the necessary skills to pursue a more substantial relationship with a woman.  So, they can't go back to their old strategies, but they don't know how to move forward either.

The emotional crisis, while being painful, can be the first step for these men to seek help so they can change.

More about these issues in my next article (see Part 2: Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are "Players" - A Clinical Vignette).

Players or pickup artists are usually heterosexual men who engage in manipulative and deceptive strategies to hook up or have sex with as many women as possible.  Their behavior can be emotionally devastating for a woman who is vulnerable to being manipulated.

Underneath the confident and charming facade of a player usually lies a fearful, emotionally immature man who hasn't developed psychologically and interpersonally.  Instead, he has learned various techniques and strategies through books and workshops that promise him success with women.

Over time, some men, who consider themselves to be players and who aren't sociopathic, realize that they're tired of these mind games and want a more substantial relationship with a woman.  But they haven't developed the necessary skills to form a mature relationship.

This often leads to an emotional crisis with feelings of emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness. At that point, they usually feel that they can neither go back to their usual ways of being a player nor can they go forward to form stable, monogamous relationships.

Many men, who are in this emotional crisis, find their way forward by seeking help in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with feelings of emptiness, loneliness, insecurity and lack of self confidence, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

When you feel stuck in a dynamic that no longer works for you and you can't find your way forward, a skilled psychotherapist can help you to get through this emotional crisis so you can discover a more authentic part of yourself to form a stable relationship.

Rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist (see my article:

I am a sex positive therapist who works 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.