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Monday, November 30, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Fear of Intimacy Can Lead to Fault-Finding, Which Destroys Relationships

In a prior article, Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable, I discussed the topic of fear of intimacy in relationships.  To continue the topic of fear of intimacy, I'm focusing on a particular manifestation of this fear, which is when one or both partners engage in fault-finding as a way of creating emotional distance in a relationship.

Fear of Intimacy Can Lead to Fault-Finding Which Can Destroy a Relationship

People who are fearful of emotional intimacy are often unaware of it.  They can enter into a relationship  and seem committed during the heady early stages of falling in love.  But, with time, as the relationship becomes more emotionally intimate and their core issues about intimacy come up, fear sets in.  At that point, many people will begin to find "faults" with their partner, which can destroy a relationship.

When I refer to "faults" in these cases, I'm not referring to major problems like physical or emotional abuse or substance abuse.  Instead, I'm referring to petty issues that, when compared to everything else about the partner, might be annoying to some people but become magnified out of proportion.

In other words, the fault-finding is blown out of proportion, and it is an unconscious strategy to create emotional distance because of a fear of intimacy.

What Does Fault-Finding Look Like in a Relationship?

Here are some examples:

  • recurring negative thoughts about petty issues relating to the partner
  • expressions of criticism, blame and resentment where the person who is engaging in fault-finding actively criticizes and belittles the partner about small issues
  • sudden expressions of doubt about the partner and the relationship based on petty issues where there was no doubt before
  • bringing up old arguments and petty issues and re-arguing them

And so on

The partner, who is on the receiving end of the negativity about petty issues, is often taken by surprise by the complaints.

Fear of Intimacy Can Lead to Fault-Finding Which Can Destroy a Relationship

Partners, who are more psychological-minded, might detect a false note in the criticism, especially if it seems to come from nowhere, and sense that their partner has underlying issues that are at the root of the fault-finding.

But if neither person realizes that the fault-finding is an unconscious strategy to ward off emotional vulnerability, the couple could get stuck in an endless cycle of arguments and hurt feelings until the relationship becomes too toxic and one or both people want to end it.

What Are Some of the Petty Issues That Are Part of Fault-Finding?
There are countless petty issues that are used as part of fault-finding and most of them are issues that were non-issues before, including:

  • a critical view of a particular aspect of the partner's anatomy ("her nose is too big," "his penis is too small," "her big feet are ugly," "he's too short," etc.)
  • a sudden dislike for a partner's habit ("I don't like the way he eats," "I don't like the way she laughs," "I can't be in a relationship with someone who throws his socks on the floor")
  • a sudden change of view about something that seemed endearing and now seems annoying ("I used to like the way she crinkled her nose when she laughed, but now I think it's annoying," "I used to like his sheepish grin, but now it irritates me")
What to Do If You're on the Receiving End of Fault-Finding
Being on the receiving end of fault-finding can be very hurtful and, in the long run, it can erode your self esteem, especially if you believe the criticism.  

This isn't to say that you should never listen to your partner when s/he expresses things that s/he finds annoying.  

What If You're the One on the Receiving End of Fault-Finding?
But when you sense that you're suddenly on the receiving end of criticism or contempt for small issues and there might be more going on for your partner than s/he realizes, here are some tips that might help:
  • Recognize that your partner probably doesn't realize that s/he is finding fault as a defense mechanism that usually comes out of fear and his or her actions are probably unconscious.
  • Don't retaliate by criticizing your partner to get even.  This will only make the situation worse.
  • Talk to your partner about the way that his or her criticism is affecting you and how you feel it is affecting the relationship.
  • Address fears of vulnerability (both yours and your partner's) and what each of you can do to make the relationship feel safer.
  • If your partner refuses to get help in therapy, seek help for yourself to deal with the negative impact the criticism is having on you.
What to Do If You're the One Who is Engaging in Fault-Finding?
Being able to take a moment to step back and reflect on what you're doing can save you and your partner a lot of heartache.  

It's not unusual to feel vulnerable as you and your partner develop a deeper, more intimate relationship.  But if you're unconsciously trying to sabotage the relationship because you're afraid of getting closer, you're doing damage to your partner, your relationship and yourself.

If You're the One Who is Finding Fault With Your Partner, Take Some Time to Reflect 

Here are some tips that might help:
  • Take some time alone to think about these so-called "faults" that never bothered you before and that now loom large in your mind.  
  • Use journal writing as a way to sort out your feelings and reflect on them.
  • Put those "faults" in perspective in the context of the totality of who you know your partner to be and the relationship as a whole.  
  • How do these "faults" compare to what you value in your partner and in the relationship?
  • Are you repeating a pattern that you internalized as a child from your family?
  • Listen to what your partner tells you about how s/he experiences the criticism.
  • Ask yourself if you're willing to destroy the relationship by continually criticizing your partner.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people who recognize that they're engaging in fault-finding want to stop, but they don't know how.  

Their fear of intimacy is so great that fault-finding is the only way they know how to create enough emotional distance for them to feel safe, so they keep doing it--even when they know it will destroy the relationship and they don't want the relationship to end.

If you recognize these traits in yourself and you've been unable to stop on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you get to the root of the problem and develop other strategies for overcoming your fear of intimacy.

Before you destroy an otherwise good relationship, get help so that you can overcome your fear and you and your partner can have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing 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 (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Understanding the False Self - Part 2: Getting Help in Therapy

As I mentioned in the first part of this article, Understanding the False Self, the false self is a phenomenon that develops early in life for some children, usually in response to the demands of dysfunctional family.

Understanding the False Self: Getting Help in Therapy 

Unable to reveal his genuine self, the child learns to ward off emotional or even physical reprisals by appeasing the family and being who they want him to be.

As I stated in the prior article, this is an unconscious defense mechanism that is adaptive in terms surviving emotionally in a dysfunctional family.  But as the child becomes an adult and forms other adult relationships, this defense mechanism is no longer adaptive.  It gets in the way  of the adult knowing what he truly feels and will often keep others at a distance because they sense that he isn't being genuine.

The adult who has a false self defense mechanism usually comes into therapy when either he feels alienated from himself (i.e., he realizes that he's cut off from his feelings) or someone close to him, either a girlfriend or a spouse, complain that she feels unable to get close to him emotionally.

How Therapy Can Help a Client to Overcome a False Self
In my prior article, I mentioned that the therapist, who is helping a client to overcome a false self so he can live more authentically, must work in a way that is gentle and tactful.

Of course, tact and a certain gentleness is required with many clients, but the client who comes in with a false self presentation, even a highly motivated client, usually has a strong underlying fear of letting go of the false self defense mechanism that helped him to survive early in life.

A Client Might Be Afraid to Let Go of the False Self Defense Mechanism

So, even more than usual, a therapist must be especially attuned to what is going on with the client, who might not be aware himself of what he's feeling (see my article:  The Psychotherapist's Empathic Attunement).

Often, clients, who come to therapy after they recognize that they have a problem that is an obstacle in their lives, are in a hurry to "get rid of" the problem as quickly as possible.

While this is understandable, an experienced therapist knows that she must get to know the client before she delves too quickly or too deeply too fast.

A client, who has used a false self defense for all of his life, is often more emotionally vulnerable than he realizes because he has relied on this defense to survive.

Although most people are fairly resilient, a client with a false self defense can become too fearful of doing the work if the therapist proceeds too quickly.  Everything will depend upon the particular client and how strong the defenses are.  It's important that the therapist is empathically attuned to the client
Depending upon the client and what he feels comfortable with, I will often suggest a mind-body oriented approach to help him to begin to feel his genuine feelings.

Learning the Safe or Relaxing Place Meditation

I usually start with helping the client to develop the internal resources and coping strategies that he will need so that he will feel relatively safe in do the work in therapy.  This might include self soothing techniques, like the Safe or Relaxing Place Meditation or breathing techniques like Square Breathing as well as other coping strategies depending upon the client's needs.

I also encourage clients to keep a journal (see my article: Journal Writing Can Help Relieve Stress and Anxiety).

For many clients, it's a matter of helping them to connect to their feelings and where they feel those feelings in their body.

For clients who have strong defenses against feeling their emotions, they might experience a dissociation from their body and might not realize it until they come to therapy.

For instance, if the therapist notices that a client's legs appear tense, she might ask him to feel into his legs and notice what he's experiencing.  For clients who are especially dissociated from their bodies, they might not feel their legs at all.

Since it's always important for the therapist to start where the client is, if the client is dissociated from his body to the point where he is physically and emotionally numb, I often find that using Somatic Experiencing helps the client to reconnect to his body (see my article: Somatic Experiencing: Overcoming the Freeze Response).

So, for instance, if the client tells me that he can't feel his legs from the knees down, I would ask him to notice where he can feel his leg from the knee up.  If he notices that he can sense into his legs just above the knee, I would help him, using Somatic Experiencing, to bring feeling from above his knee to below his knee to help him to reconnect feeling to the dissociated part.

Helping a client to get comfortable with himself is an individual process (see my article: Learning to Feel Comfortable With Yourself).

One of the things that I really like about using a mind-body oriented approach in therapy is that it's easier to titrate the work to the needs of the individual client.

Along the way, the client usually needs to mourn for what he didn't get when he was younger and deal with the trauma of being part of a dysfunctional family.

What Keeps a Client Motivated to Continue to Do the Work in Therapy
Most clients come to therapy with varying degrees of ambivalence (see my article:  ).  This is understandable since change can feel frightening, even when it's a change that a client really wants.

A client with a false self as a defense mechanism might be more ambivalent than he realizes initially because he has relied on this particular defense mechanism, usually, for all of his life.  So, letting it go can feel be scary.

Learning in Therapy to Develop an Authentic Sense of Self

What motivates most people in this situation is that they gradually begin to feel a greater sense of authenticity within themselves and in their dealings with others.  Even though this sense of authenticity might come with fear, it can feel very freeing to be in touch with genuine feelings.  So, this will often motivate clients to stick with the work.

Getting Help in Therapy
Change can be challenging, but living your life detached from your emotions and with a defense wall around you to ward off fear usually leaves you feeling alienated from yourself as well as others.

If you feel you might be emotionally disconnected from yourself and others due to a false self defense mechanism, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional.

Finding a psychotherapist that you feel comfortable with is very important (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Psychotherapy can help you to feel reconnect to your true self and to live in a more authentic and fulfilling way.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing 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 (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Understanding the False Self - Part 1

At times, all of us put on a front, to a certain extent, that is part of self preservation and that we use consciously to protect ourselves in situations where we can't be completely ourselves or say what's really on our mind.

Understanding the False Self

For instance, in certain situations, we need to be able to hide our feelings rather than put ourselves at risk.  Even though we might be masking our feelings externally from others, we still know what we actually feel inside.

In other situations, people, who have a low sense of self, might deliberately lie about who they are or what they have, as I discussed in my prior article, as a way to fit in or get others to admire them.

Understanding the False Self

As opposed to the front that we might consciously present in these situations or the deliberate lie to impress others, the false self that I'm referring to in this article usually develops unconsciously at an early age as a defense mechanism to survive emotionally in a dysfunctional family.

Usually, the child develops the false self at an early age in a family where the child can't be his (or her) genuine self because the family demands the child to behave in a different way.

The Development of the False Self at an Early Age

The term "false self" was originally coined by British psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Winnicott.

This unconscious construction of the false self by the child develops as a way to survive and to ward off the anxiety brought on by the emotional demands of a dysfunctional family.  The child knows on an unconscious level that to be accepted and loved in his family, he must behave in a way that is acceptable to the family.

If the child didn't develop the false self, the child would be overwhelmed emotionally.  The family would also probably retaliate against him by labeling him as the problem.

So, the development of the false self as a child is adaptive for the child's emotional survival.  Although it's adaptive for emotional survival, the development of the false self also comes at a great sacrifice to the child, who becomes more and more disconnected from his authentic self.

By the time the child becomes an adult, this false self, which is now so ingrained, unconscious and compulsive, is no longer adaptive and hampers his relationship with himself as well as with others outside the family.  The unconscious false self also stifles the growth of the authentic self.

The dysfunction in the family might be due to alcoholism, drug use, domestic violence or a family that has other family secrets.  The child learns to suppress his feelings in order to fit in and to not get attacked emotionally and, in some cases, physically.

It's not just a matter of the child not expressing his feelings.  The child learns to hide his feelings from himself, so that he reacts in ways that are considered acceptable to the family.  The longer he does this, the more out of touch he is from his own feelings.

People Who Have a False Self Often Have Problems in Relationships
As an adult interacting with other adults outside the family, the person who has a false self presentation usually develops problems in relationships.

While he was a child, the family encouraged him to maintain this false self for what they believe is the emotional survival of the family.  They would have felt threatened by the child who expressed anger at an alcoholic father or who even pointed out that there was anything wrong in the family because this type of family wants to keep up appearances that everything in "normal" within the family.

But an adult who is still maintaining a false sense of self, who is interacting with other adults, is bound to have problems because other adults can usually sense the lack of authenticity.

They might feel like the person with the false self presentation is deliberately trying to fool them in some way.  Or, others might say that the person seemed "nice," but it feels likes there's something "missing" in him.

If anyone were to confront this person that he was coming across as less than genuine, he would probably be surprised and wonder why this other person was criticizing him.  He might feel confused because he's just continuing to behave in a way that he always has and his actions are unconscious.

In romantic relationships, a partner or spouse might feel that she isn't getting to know this person very deeply or that he wasn't allowing her to get close to him emotionally.  And she's probably right because the false self hides the true self, and this is why the person with the false self comes across as inauthentic.

Getting Help in Therapy
People who have lived all their lives with a false self presentation often come to therapy when they're having problems in romantic relationships.  Their partners or spouses usually express feeling dissatisfied or alienated because the false self gets in the way of genuine feelings.

People, who have some insight into what's happening with them, will sometimes express feeling disconnected from their emotions or they feel like they're just going through the motions in life and they feel cut off from themselves and others.

Psychotherapists, who work with individuals who have this problem, must work in a tactful and gentle way because the person who has relied on a false self for all of his life usually comes to therapy in a highly vulnerable state.

Even if someone is feeling dissatisfied and longs to be more authentically connected to himself and others, this defense mechanism is ingrained and not easily given up.

The therapist helps the client, as he learns to gradually give up the false self presentation, to cope with the feelings that come up that were being warded off by the false self.

Getting Help in Therapy to Discover Your Authentic Self

This can be challenging, but being able to live authentically is ultimately a freeing experience and usually leads to a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR 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 (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Are You Lying to Yourself and Others About Who You Are

In an earlier article, When Trust Breaks Down: Lies of Omission, I discussed a particular type of lying that can ruin a relationship, lies of omission, because it creates mistrust.  In this article, I'm focused on how lying can become a way of life where you're lying to yourself as well as to others, and along the way, you become more and more alienated from your authentic self.

Are You Lying to Yourself and Others About Who You Are?

Most people will admit that they lie now and then. Most people say that they tell lies to keep from hurting other people's feelings.  This isn't the type of lying that I'm focusing on here.

The lying that I'm referring to often starts out of a deep-seated fear that you're not "good enough" compared to other people.

I'm not referring to what con men or sociopaths do for criminal activity.

What I'm focusing on is much more common.

It might start out by exaggerating certain things about yourself, like what you do for a living, how much money you make or other exaggerations about other aspects.

It can be a slippery slope from exaggerating to telling out right lies, especially if you get the attention and admiration that you might be seeking.

Are You Lying to Yourself and Others About Who You Are?

In my opinion, there is more pressure today than in the past to be seen as "successful" and as a "winner" and, as a result, more common to present a false self.  As compared with 20 years ago, "success" seems to be viewed in narrow terms, mostly to do with financial success.

With the advent of social media sites, like Facebook, where friends are posting happy pictures of their relationships, their vacations, the purchases and even the food they eat, it's easy to feel envious and compare yourself unfavorably to others and feel you're not good enough (see my articles: How to Stop Comparing Yourself Unfavorably to Others and Is Your Envy of Others Ruining Your Relationships?)

Comparing yourself unfavorably to others, whether it's on social media or in person, can leave you feeling like an "outsider"--like everyone else knows how to be "cool" and you don't (see my article:  Feeling Like an Outsider in an Insider's World), which can be deeply painful.  For many people, this feeling has it's origins in childhood when they weren't part of the popular crowd or they weren't picked to be on certain teams.

Are You Lying to Yourself and Others About Who You Are?

While it's true that not everyone is susceptible to this pressure to "be a success," there are many people, who already feel insecure about themselves without this external pressure and who would rather lie to themselves as well as others (about who they are and what they have) than to be seen as unsuccessful.

Unfortunately, feeding into this problem is the popular notion, which is marketed in some motivational speakers in so-called self improvement seminars, that promote a "fake it till you make it" or "if you think you're a success, you are a success" type of mentality.

So-Call Self Improvement Seminars: "Fake It Till You Make It"

It's feel-good strategy that begins to create the lie for many people who feel there's something missing in them and they want a quick fix to eliminate their sense of inadequacy.

The problem is that there's a difference between a getting pumped up emotionally in a weekend self improvement seminar and doing the inner psychological required to make genuine changes within yourself.

The weekend self improvement strategy is appealing to many people because it promises quick change.  Unfortunately, it often leads to a receding of the genuine self into the background.

For some people the feeling that you're not being authentic can be so offensive and disappointing that it's enough to destroy the relationship.  This can leave you with only superficial friendships with people who are also lying and pretending to be someone that they're not.

How to Stop Lying to Yourself and Others About Who You Are
If you've been lying to yourself and others about who you are, it's not easy to change.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how you can stop lying to yourself and others about who you are.  Since everyone and every situation is different, it will depend on the circumstances.

How to Stop Lying to Yourself and Others About Who You Are

At the very least, you must be willing to overcome your fear that people won't like you just the way you are.  This begins by learning to like yourself.

In a prior article, Learning to Feel Comfortable With Yourself, I discuss various strategies that might be helpful to begin the journey of reconnecting with your authentic self.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've been caught up in lying to yourself and others for a while, trying to find your way back to being your authentic self can feel very challenging, and you might not know where to begin to reconnect with your inner world.

Getting in Help in Therapy

A licensed mental health professional can help you to understand the underlying issues that created the problem, overcome the fear that you're not good enough as you are, as well as help you to reconnect with your true self.

As you become more comfortable with who you really are, you'll be attracted to people who have more depth to their character than just judging people by their financial success or outward appearance.

Living in a more authentic way can be freeing and create an a positive ripple effect (see my article:  The Positive Ripple Effect).

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

I have helped many clients to overcome feelings of inadequacy so that they can live more authentic lives.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing With Problems in Your Relationship

In the past, I've written about love triangles from the point of view of the person who is the other man or the other woman.  I've also written about how triangulation in families can lead to love triangles later on in an adult child's life.  In this article, I'm focused on how one or both people in a relationship use love triangles that involve affairs as a way to avoid dealing with the problems in their relationship.

Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing with Problems in Your  Relationship

What is a Love Triangle?
Love triangles involve three people.  In the type of love triangle that I'm discussing in this article, there are two people who are in a primary relationship and a third person who is in an affair with one of the people in the primary relationship.

As opposed to a "menage a trios"(translated as a "household of three") where all three people are consenting to the romantic arrangement, in a love triangle, all three people are not consenting to the arrangement.  Usually, one of the people in the established relationship is either unaware of the third person in the triangle or knows about it and is opposed to it.

In the "rivalrous triangle," where each person knows about the other, two people are competing for the attention of the person who is involved with both people.  So, in other words, if Peter  is involved with Mary and Ann, and both women know about each other, they are each in competition with each other for Peter.

In the "split object triangle," which is what I'm discussing in this article, the person in the triangle involved with two people splits his or her attention between two people.  So, for instance, Betty is involved with both Steve and Joe, and she splits her attention between both people.  Joe and Steve may or may not know about each other.

There can be many reasons why people, who are in a primary relationship, engage in love triangles.  One of the main reasons is that they're unhappy in the primary relationship and get involved with someone else in order to avoid dealing with the problems in the primary relationship.

The person who is involved in this type of love triangle is usually involved in an romantic or sexual affair and wants to keep the third person in the triangle a secret from his or her primary partner or spouse--at least in the beginning.

In many instances, the person, who is involved in a primary relationship and in an affair, uses the affair to leave the primary relationship.  So, not only is s/he avoiding dealing with the problems in the primary relationship, s/he also has problems leaving an unhappy relationship without  having "someone in the wings" (the person that s/he is having an affair with).

Having a new romantic partner, who is "waiting in the wings," gives him the motivation and courage to leave the primary relationship.

As compared to the established relationship, the new relationship is usually exciting and, because it's new, it usually doesn't have longstanding problems like the established relationship.  So, it seems more alluring and attractive.

But, often, the same problems develops in the new relationship.

Rather than working out his or her emotional problems related to the established relationship, the person  entering the new relationship brings all of the "emotional baggage" to the new relationship.

Also, if s/he has problems coping and communicating, this will likely be a problem in the new relationship which could lead to an ongoing pattern of affairs where this person looks to escape to a new person each time there are problems in the current relationship.

Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing With Problems in Your  Relationship

Not all love triangles end with the breakup of the established relationship, even if the spouse or significant other finds out about the affair.  Nor does everyone who gets involved in an affair necessarily want to end their primary relationship.  Many marriages and long-term relationships survive the love triangle or affair, although there will be much work to do to overcome the hurt and mistrust because of the infidelity and betrayal.

A Love Triangle as a "Way Out" of the Established Relationship
Let's look at a specific example of a love triangle where one of the people in the established relationship is looking for a way out of the primary relationship and gets involved with someone else in order to avoid dealing with the problems in the primary relationship and also a way out.

The following is a fictionalized scenario that is an example of how love triangles are used to avoid and also to leave the primary relationship.

Harry and Linda and Harry and Ellen and Harry and...
Harry and Linda were married for five years.  They met while Harry was involved in an unhappy relationship with another woman.

Initially, when they got married, they were close.  But over time, they grew apart and they each became resentful about their differences, which were many.

Harry wanted to have children, but Linda didn't, so they never had children, which Harry resented.

Their sex life was never very passionate, and by the second year of their marriage, they were barely having sex.  Harry was much more sexual than Linda, and resented her refusal to have sex.

Linda wanted to move back to the West Coast, where she was raised, but Harry didn't want to leave his job on the East Coast, so they stayed on the East Coast, which Linda resented.

Linda was a saver and Harry was a spender, so they were usually at odds with each other when it came to money and making financial plans.

A few years into their marriage, Linda, who wasn't religious or even spiritual when they first got married, felt drawn to the religion that she was raised in as a child.  She wanted Harry to join her at church services, but Harry was never involved with any religion and he wanted no part of it.

By then, Linda and Harry were barely communicating.  Linda tried to talk to Harry about their problems, but he refused to talk or to even acknowledge that they were in crisis.  Then, she told him that she wanted them to attend marriage counseling, but he refused.

At that point, they were coexisting in the same house, but slept in separate rooms and spent their free time apart.

Harry knew that Linda wanted to try to repair their relationship but, as far as Harry was concerned, their relationship was over and beyond repair.  But he was too afraid to leave the relationship and to live alone, so he remained stuck in an unhappy relationship where they could neither go forward nor go back.

Then, one evening, while Harry was at a business convention, he met Ellen, a young attractive woman, at the hotel bar.  After a few drinks, they were flirting with each other and Ellen invited him to her room.  This was the beginning of their affair.

Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing With Problems in Your Relationship

With Linda, Harry felt old, tired and bored.  With Ellen, Harry felt young, attractive and passionate.  Although Ellen knew that Harry was married, initially, she didn't care because their relationship was mostly sexual.

Linda began to suspect that Harry was having an affair because she noticed the change in him.  Instead of being grumpy, irritable and spending the weekend in rumpled sweat clothes, Harry seemed happier, energetic and he was dressing better.  He also stayed out late during the week and would say he was going to the office on weekends to do work.

When Linda confronted him, Harry adamantly denied being involved with anyone else.  But, over time, he realized that he cared less and less about Linda's suspicions because all he could think about was being with Ellen.

He also realized that now that he was seeing Ellen, he wasn't as afraid of leaving Linda and being alone.  He didn't want to hurt his wife, but he was feeling a yearning to finally be free and able to spend all his free time with Ellen.

Within several months, Ellen began pressuring Harry to leave his marriage and to move in with her.  No longer happy to just see him for a few hours when he could get free, she would tell him that she would stop seeing him if he didn't spend all night with her instead of leaving after a few hours.

Harry told himself that he didn't want to stop seeing Ellen, so he spent the night with her.  But on an unconscious level, he also knew that Linda wouldn't tolerate this and that staying out all night would precipitate the end his marriage without his having to tell Linda directly that he wanted out.  This is what he really wanted.

Getting Involved in a Love Triangle to Avoid Dealing With the Problems in Your Relationship

When Harry got home the next morning, he found Linda already packed.  She told him that she would have been willing to work on the marriage, even though she suspected that he was having an affair, but when he stayed out all night, she realized that it was over and that he no longer cared how much he hurt her.  She was flying out to the West Coast to live with her relatives.

Part of Harry felt relieved to be free of his marriage.  He also felt guilty about cheating on Linda, but he pushed aside his guilt, and he continued to see Ellen.  Soon after Linda moved, Harry moved in with Ellen.

Within a year, he and Linda were divorced.  When Harry received the divorce papers, he felt a flood of sadness and guilt that he could no longer push away.

Never having learned how to express his emotions, Harry didn't know what to do.  He tried to talk to Ellen about it, but she got angry that he wanted to talk about her about it.  And, whereas their relationship had been so passionate before, Harry no longer felt as sexually attracted to Ellen.  He began to see all the differences between them and felt lonely.  He wanted out of his relationship with Ellen, but he didn't know how to tell her.

Within a few months, he started an affair with another woman, Nicole.  After Ellen found Nicole's texts on Harry's phone, which he left out in their bedroom, and she ended her relationship with Harry.  Harry  felt badly, but he was mostly relieved not to have to tell Ellen that he wanted to end the relationship.

After this pattern repeated itself a few more times with other women, Harry knew he needed help.  As avoidant as he had been to see his problems, he couldn't help seeing that he was repeating the same pattern in his life. He knew he would never be happy in a relationship until he got help in therapy.

In Therapy to Overcome the Pattern of Getting Involved in Love Triangles

Harry explored his pattern of getting involved in love triangles and avoiding the problems in his current relationship by finding someone new.  He also explored his fear of being alone.

He was able to make connections between this pattern and the triangulation that went on in his family when he was growing up (see my article:  How Triangulation in Family Relationships Can Lead to Love Triangles).

The lack of communication in his family, especially when it involved emotions, lead to triangles in his family where his mother and his sister were aligned against Harry and his father.  Harry's father also had numerous affairs that eventually lead to his mother ending the marriage.

Harry could see the parallels between his family triangles and the love triangles that he got involved in as well as similarities in the way that his father avoided dealing with problems with his mother. He knew that his father used these affairs as a way to get his wife to leave him, rather than telling his wife directly that he wanted to end the marriage.

Harry never liked this about his father, and he was unhappy to realize that he was following in his father's footsteps (see my article:  Discovering That You Developed the Same Traits That You Disliked in Your Parents).

In therapy, Harry learned to overcome his fears, deal with his uncomfortable emotions, and express his feelings.

After many missteps, Harry was able to enter into a healthy long term relationship, deal with his emotions, and express his feelings as problems came up.

There are many reasons why people enter into love triangles.  One of the most common reasons is to avoid dealing with the problems in the current relationship by entering into a new relationship that seems exciting and new.

Having a new person "in the wings" waiting will often give the person who begins the affair the courage and motivation to leave the established relationship or, like Harry and his father, to get the other person in the primary relationships to leave.

But this is only a temporary "solution" because sooner or later problems will develop in the new relationship and a person who cannot cope with or express uncomfortable feelings is bound to have a similar experience in the new relationship.

Psychotherapy can help someone who is caught in this pattern to develop insight into his or her problems, including underlying issues from his or her family of origin, and develop the skills to tolerate uncomfortable feelings as well as the skills to express those feelings in a healthy way.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people, who enter into committed relationships, don't have the maturity or skills to be in a committed relationship.  Often, in these cases, they didn't grow up in a family where there were healthy models to learn from, and they didn't get help in therapy to overcome the problem on their own.

Getting Help in Therapy

When things go wrong, they will often look for a new and exciting relationship to get out of the current relationship.

After cycling through several relationships in this way, many people will recognize the pattern and realize that they have a problem.

If you recognize this pattern in yourself, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who can help you to understand and overcome these destructive patterns.  By overcoming these patterns, you have a better chance of having a healthy relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing 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 (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are

In a prior blog article, I began a discussion about parts work, also known as ego states work, in psychotherapy and how working with the various aspects of yourself in therapy, particularly the unconscious parts, can help to discover and overcome many emotional problems.  In this article, I'm expanding upon this topic with regard to understanding the different aspects of yourself that make you who you are (see my article: Making the Unconscious Conscious).

Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are

What Does It Mean to Have Different Aspects of Self?
We tend to think of ourselves as being unitary beings, but we're really not unitary beings.  We're made up of many different parts that make up the whole.

In this article, when I refer to "parts," "selves" or "aspects of selves," which are all different ways of referring to the same thing, I'm not referring to multiple personality disorder.  Instead, I'm referring to what is common in all of us--the fact that within each of us there are many subpersonalities which make up who we are.

At any given time, one or more of these subpersonalities might be predominant.  Most of the time, we don't notice these changes, unless it is such a departure from how we normally are that it gets our attention.

How Does It Help to Understand the Different Aspects of Yourself?
In a prior article, Overcoming the Internal Critic, I discussed a particular aspect of self that is problematic for many people, the internal critic.

The internal critic is an example of a part or aspect of self that comes to the surface at certain times and undermines a person's confidence.

Another example of a part is the "inner child," which John Bradshaw writes about in his books.  We all hold within us the "inner child" as well as the "inner teenager" and many other parts.

Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are

It's helpful to understand the different aspects of yourself in order to understand yourself and what aspects might be operating at any particular time.

So for example, if you're continually getting into unhealthy romantic relationships, even though you keep telling yourself that you want to make healthier choices, chances are good that there is a part of yourself that is unconscious, and it is at the root of the problem.

Working with a therapist who does parts work (also known as ego states therapy), you can get to know this part better as you work with your therapist to make the unconscious conscious.

The idea isn't to demonize or pathologize this part.  On the contrary, the goal is to be compassionate and get to know what this part needs and how it can be fulfilled in a way that is healthy instead of going from one unhealthy relationship to another.

All of this might sound very abstract, so let's take a look at a fictionalized example of how an unconscious part can operate in a particular situation and what can be done in therapy to overcome this problem:

Alice came to therapy following the end of another unhappy relationship.

At the point when she came to therapy, she felt hopeless that she could ever be in a healthy relationship because several prior relationships ended in the same way, leaving Alice feeling hurt and disappointed. She also felt that maybe there was something wrong with her since all of her relationships ended in disaster.

I introduced the idea of "parts" to Alice, which she intuitively understood.  She knew that she felt different ways at different times--some days she felt more confident than she did on other days, sometimes she was particularly critical of herself, and so on.

She described her last three relationships as being emotionally abusive.  Her boyfriends tended to be self involved men who cheated on her with different women.

Even after she discovered the infidelity, Alice's pattern was to remain in these relationships to try to win back the boyfriend that she was seeing at the time.

Even though there was a part of her that knew that her boyfriend would keep cheating on her, she felt compelled to stay in the relationship and try to win her boyfriend back.

When I asked her to remember how she felt about herself when she went against the part of her that her urged judgement, she described feeling a combination of self loathing, anger, sadness and fear.  She said she felt these emotions in her chest and upper stomach.

We used the affect bridge technique, which is a method that is used in clinical hypnosis (see my article:  What is Clinical Hypnosis?).

While she was in a relaxed hypnotic state, I asked Alice to go back to her earliest memory of feeling these emotions, the self loathing, anger, sadness and fear, in this way.

Alice remembered the time when she was five and her father was packing to move out of the family home.  Alice overheard her parents' arguments, and she knew that her father leaving the family for another woman.

At the time, as most children do at an early age, she blamed herself and begged her father to stay, but her father paid no attention to her.  He packed and left without saying a word.

At the time, her mother was depressed and tended to isolate herself in her room, so she wasn't emotionally available for Alice.

Throughout her childhood, she blamed herself for her father leaving.  She was convinced that if only she had tried harder to be a good girl, her father would have loved her more than he loved the other woman, and he would have stayed.

Alice described her father as being a handsome, intelligent man, who could be charming when he wanted to be.  She also described him as being highly narcissistic.

Later on in the session, as we were debriefing, Alice recognized the connection between her former boyfriends and her father.  Her boyfriends also attended to be handsome, charming, intelligent men, who were narcissistic.

She also recognized that she experienced the same intense feelings with her boyfriends as she did with her father and this was why she became so determined to hang in and try to make the relationships work despite the infidelity (see my article:  Discovering the Unconscious Emotions at the Root of Your Current Problems).

Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are

Alice realized that she was recreating the same childhood experience in her adult life and hoping for different results.  In psychotherapy, this is phenomenon is known as repetition compulsion.

Alice realized that there was a part of her from childhood that was active in her unhealthy relationships.

Alice had to work hard to develop compassion and curiosity about this young part and not to be critical.

We continued to work with this part of Alice to discover what this young part needed.  In doing so, we discovered that this young part needed nurturing parents.  So, we used imaginal work to help Alice to imagine ideal parents.  Alice imagined parents who were loving, nurturing, understanding and who would never leave her.

Even though Alice understood the difference between her actual family history and the imaginal work that we were doing, and that her real parents were nothing like the ideal parents that she imagined, the imaginal work was still healing (see my article: Healing Trauma With New Symbolic Memories to understand how this therapeutic technique works).

The ideal parents that Alice created while doing imaginal work were internal resources that she could call on at any time.

As we continued to do this imaginal work, Alice was able to overcome the childhood trauma that was at the root of her relationship problems (see my article: Overcoming the Traumatic Effects of Childhood Trauma).

When Alice was ready to date again, she no longer felt drawn to men who were self involved and unkind, so she was able to enter into a healthy relationship for the first time in her life.

Recurring problems that haven't been resolved in regular talk therapy often have an unconscious aspect that remains undiscovered and which is at the root of these problems.

Using various therapeutic methods, like clinical hypnosis, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and Coherence Therapy, help to get to the root of these unconscious aspects.

Once the unconscious aspects, or parts, have been made conscious, a therapist, who uses these treatment modalities, can help the client to discover what the part needs.  Imaginal work is one way to provide for the part's unmet needs.

Usually, once the part's needs have been met, the part no longer gets activated to create problems.

For the sake of simplicity, I gave a scenario where there was only one unconscious part, but there can be more than one.

Whether there is one or there are many, the therapeutic work is usually the same:  Using experiential therapy to make the unconscious conscious, discovering the unconscious part, finding out what the part needs, and using therapeutic methods, like imaginal work, to help heal that part.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you've tried on your own to work out your problems and you've been unsuccessful, you could benefit from seeing a licensed mental health professional.

Problems that have remained unresolved in traditional talk therapy often respond to experiential therapy like clinical hypnosis, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing and Coherence Therapy.

Rather than continue to suffer on your own, you could benefit from getting help in therapy and working with a psychotherapist who works in an experiential way.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing 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 (212) 726-1006 or email me.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: The Psychological Benefits of Reading Literature

In a prior article, I began a discussion about how reading literature with complex characters is beneficial to the brain.  In this article, I'll expand on this topic and discuss the potential emotional and psychological benefits of reading literature.

The Psychological Benefits of Reading Literature

Aside from the enjoyment and emotional comfort of reading literature, there can be considerable psychological benefits of reading well-written literature with complex characters.

Developing Psychological Insight
As I mentioned in my prior article, when we read about a character, especially a character that we identify with, who overcomes psychological issues, we can gain insight into our own personal struggles and, possibly, see aspects of our problems in new ways.

We can also gain psychological insight from the characters' missteps and identify with their emotional vulnerabilities.

Developing Empathy
In addition, when we're immersed in well written literature, we often feel empathetic towards the characters and this could help in developing empathy for ourselves and others.

Learning About Other Cultures and Historical Times
By reading about other cultures and historical times, it opens us up beyond our own circumscribed lives.

As they open up a new world for us, literature offers us the possibility of new ways of thinking and feeling.  Literature can also give us a perspective about how history affects us now.

Developing a Sense of Curiosity
Being exposed to new ways of thinking and feeling can help to develop a greater sense of curiosity and psychological-mindedness.

Seeing conflicts and emotional dilemmas in a new light can shed light on our own problems and challenge habitual ways of thinking.

There are many examples in literature that provide the psychological benefits that I've discussed above.

Let's take a look at two authors, who are famous for providing stories with psychological depth, Jane Austen and Marcel Proust.

Jane Austen's Books
From Jane Austen's books, including  Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and Mansfield Park, we can learn about what it means to get to know yourself as you mature, and to realize that you might not be the person who you thought you were, and the people that you thought you knew can be quite different from who you thought they were.

Jane Austen's Historical Home

We learn how to take the perspective of seeing ourselves through someone else's eyes.

In Sense and Sensibility, two sisters, who have different ways of relating and responding to their worlds, learn from each other, over time, which helps each of them to gain self understanding as well as a new perspective about others.

There are many lessons to be learned from her books about family relationships and romantic relationships.

Austen also gives us guidance in how to live ethically under unethical or corrupt circumstances.

Marcel Proust: In Search of Lost Time
Let's look at some examples from another book that is considered a classic, In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust:

As a young Frenchman, the protagonist falls in love with Albertine, whom he first sees at a beach resort called Balbec, which was modeled after the resort town of Cabourg in France.

In Search of Lost Time: Balbec (Cabourg, France)

Initially, he is obsessed with her and her friends and tries to find ways to meet them.

After he begins a relationship with Albertine and she moves in with him in Paris, he is torn with ambivalence as to whether he wants to remain in the relationship or he wants to end it.

While she is awake, he is tormented with jealousy and suspicion, and he wants to end it, but when she is asleep, all the love and tender feelings that he has for her arise in him again, and he wants to remain in the relationship.

As most people know from their own experiences, being in love often involves ambivalence as well as irrational behavior, including irrational jealousy where there is no objective reason to be jealous.

The protagonist wants Albertine to love him more.  But how he goes about trying to increase her passion for him (by being dismissive and rejecting her) has the opposite effect.

Rather than serving to increase her passion, his emotional distance and rejecting nature serve only to alienate her and she eventually gets fed up and leaves him.

After she leaves, he realizes that he made a terrible mistake and, after a few false starts, he eventually writes to her offering to do anything to get her back.

The story goes on with many twists and turns.

Reading this part of the story, many people could identify with the protagonist's ambivalence and his irrational behavior, including believing that a "cold shoulder" towards a loved one would make the loved one even more passionate to pursue the relationship.

No doubt sometimes giving a lover a "cold shoulder" might work temporarily, but it often backfires in the end (if it works at all), as many people who do this realize when they're thinking more clearly.

In addition to the psychological insights about romantic relationships and friendships, Proust gives many other examples where people use psychological defense mechanisms, including denial, to cope with difficult situations.

As an example, Charles Swann, who is in love with Odette and wants to pursue a relationship with her, receives an anonymous letter about Odette's personal history of having many sexual affairs with rich men and even worked as a prostitute.  At the time, this would have been scandalous.

In Search of Lost Time: Swann In Love With Odette

Swann is intelligent and has a momentary insight that Odette is only interested in him for his money, but he is also somewhat naive.

With an unconscious gesture of wiping his glasses clean, which is a metaphor for his defense mechanism of not wanting to see, he ignores the warning signs that he has been seeing as well as the information in the anonymous letter. Instead,  he pursues the relationship to his detriment.

Rather than giving a lengthy explanation about Swann's unconscious choice of choosing to ignore his insights and anonymous warning letter, Proust shows Swann making the a small unconscious gesture of wiping his glasses clean.  From this small unconscious gesture, the reader can see what Swann refuses to see about himself and Odette.

Many people could identify with Charles Swann and remember times when they ignored internal and external warnings by pursuing a relationship fraught with problems because this is a common mistake that many people make when they fall in love.

As another example, many of the characters are either part of the aristocracy or part of the bourgeoisie in Paris.  Madame Verdurin, who is a bourgeois Bohemian hostess, has social gatherings with her "little clan" of acquaintances, including artists and musicians.

Proust, who is an astute observer of interpersonal relationships and who used people that he really knew (or composites of people that he knew) in his book, provides us with a humorous description of Madame Verdurin, who outwardly professes a disdain for aristocrats by calling them "bores" and professing that she would never attend one of their social events.

But, despite what she says, everything else about her, her gestures, her looks, her demeanor, says how much she longs to be accepted by aristocratic society, who reject her early on in the story.

During that same time period, Sigmund Freud was writing about how unconscious thoughts manifest, despite what the conscious mind might believe.  Similarly, In Search of Lost Time, Proust gives us rich descriptions of the unconscious thoughts and motivations of his characters, including Monsieur Swann and Madame Verdurin.

Sigmund Freud and the Unconscious Mind

Reading about the unconscious thoughts and motivations of the characters in the story, you can't help but recognize yourself and others, if not in exactly the same situation, then in other situations where denial was used as a psychological defense mechanism.

In Search of Lost Time is about many things, including an aspiring writer's struggle to gain confidence in himself and in his writing, how unconscious memories are aroused by certain sensory experiences, the passage of time, how people and places change over time, and how our perspective about life and relationships can also change over time.

Sometimes, while reading literature with complex characters, a psychological insight might come to the reader as an epiphany.  Other times, it will come as a familiar recognition.  It might also come as a relief that these psychological phenomena are common to other people and not just to the reader.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing 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 (212) 726-1006 or email me.