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Monday, August 3, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Relationships: "Acting In" Instead of "Acting Out"

Many people who are unhappy in their relationship don't know how to communicate with their partner.  Rather than "acting in" by addressing the problems within the relationship, they "act out" by cheating with other people or finding other diversions outside of the relationship (see my article:  Infidelity: Married, Bored and Cheating on Social Media).


"Acting In" Your Relationship Instead of "Acting Out"

Obviously, the infidelity only adds to the couples' problems and, even if the other spouse is willing to forgive the cheating and find a way to salvage the relationship.  The infidelity then becomes one more hurdle for the couple to overcome (see my article:  Coping With Secrets and Lies in a Relationship).

The following vignette, which is a composite of many different cases to protect confidentiality, is an example of this dynamic as well as how couples counseling can help:

Dan and Peg:
Dan and Peg were together for five years when they came for couples counseling.

While Dan thought Peg was asleep, he began sending sexually explicit texts to a woman that he met online.

Initially, Dan tried to make light of these texts.  He told Peg that he never met this woman before--he only knew her online, so he didn't consider the texts to be "cheating."

This hurt and angered Peg even more, so Dan tried to apologize, but Peg wasn't ready to hear his apology, especially after Dan tried to make light of his behavior (see my article:  Trying to Decide What to Do After You Discover That Your Spouse Cheated on You).

"Acting In" Your Relationship Instead of "Acting Out"
Peg asked Dan to move out of their home until she could sort out her feelings.

So, when they began couples counseling, Dan was renting an apartment nearby on a month to month basis, hoping that Peg would eventually allow him to come back home.

"Acting In" Your Relationship Instead of "Acting Out"

Dan wanted to reconcile their relationship but, even though she missed him, Peg wasn't sure.  She wondered if she could trust that he wasn't having sex with other women or that he wouldn't send women sexually explicit emails in the future.

On the one hand, she wasn't sure that she could ever trust Dan again (see my article:  When Trust Breaks Down in a Relationship: Lies of Omission).

But, on the other hand, she knew she loved Dan and she didn't want to just throw away four years of marriage without trying to save the relationship (see my article:  Your Relationship: Should You Stay or Should You Go?).

The first session was so contentious that we had to have individual sessions for a while.

The individual sessions gave me an opportunity to explore each of their motivations for being in couples counseling, their family backgrounds, their relationship history prior to being together, help each of them to explore their feelings before and after the infidelity was discovered, and find out if there were any other instances of cheating on either of their parts.

I also wanted to know how serious Dan was about changing his behavior.

I made it clear to each of them what I tell all couples:  We can't do couples counseling if one or both of them were having affairs or acting out with other people.

Each of them had very different family histories.

Peg came from a close knit family.  There was a real emphasis on communication.  When Peg and her siblings were at home, the family had regular family meetings to talk about whatever issues there might be.

Dan came from a family where family members tended to be estranged from one another.  His parents each lead separate lives, having separate friendships and taking separate vacations.  Dan often wondered how his parents ever got together.  And certainly no one ever discussed their feelings.

So even though Dan could be gregarious and fun, he never learned how to talk about his feelings.  Even though he loved his wife and told her often, the thought of talking about his most vulnerable feelings was foreign and frightening to him.  He wasn't even sure if he knew himself what he lead him to begin texting a woman he met online.

One thing was clear:  He wanted to do whatever he could to save his marriage and regain Peg's trust.  He also denied any prior infidelity and he was adamant that he cut off communication with the other woman.

When I started meeting them as a couple, I facilitated their communication with one another.  At first, Dan struggled to identify his feelings and express them.

I asked each of them to keep a journal where they reflected on their feelings about the relationship.

Peg had kept a journal in the past, so this came more easily to her.

But Dan struggled more.  So, we had a few individual sessions where I worked with him to identity his emotions by focusing on his body.

Since the body holds onto emotions, including unconscious emotions, sensing into the body is a good way to identify what's going on (see my article:  The Mind-Body Connection: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

It's is a very individual process and the same sensations can be related to different emotions for different people.

After a few sessions, Dan was able to sense into his body and identify basic emotions:  If his stomach was tight, this meant that he was anxious.  A tightness in his arms meant that he was angry, and so on.

Gradually, over time, Dan was able to identify more emotions in a more nuanced way.

Along the way, Dan was able to open up more with Peg to express his feelings.  He was able to say, with some difficulty, that he had become bored in their relationship and he had initially thought that texting a woman he met online would relieve his boredom.  Now, he realized how shortsighted and damaging this had been.

Dan realized that what he had initially saw as a "harmless flirtation" online was a form of "acting out."  He also became aware that, like many other people, boredom put him at risk for wanting to "act out" and he needed to be more self aware and to communicate with Peg.

It wasn't easy for Peg to hear that Dan had become bored with their relationship, but she listened.  They were also able to talk about what they could do rekindle their relationship.

By the time they completed couples counseling, they were much closer.  They were communicating better.

They were also rebuilding trust, and they both expressed feeling hopeful about their relationship (see my article:  Learning to Trust Again After the Affair).

"Acting In" Instead of "Acting Out" in Your Relationship

A few months later, when they returned for a follow up appointment, they were much happier.  Rather than either of them "acting out," they were "acting in" by continuing to communicate with one another.

Conclusion
"Acting out" in a relationship, whether it involves infidelity or other breaches of trust, often occurs because one or both people lack self awareness.

If you grew up in a home where there was little or no communication, expressing emotions can feel foreign, uncomfortable and even dangerous.

Without self awareness about how you feel about yourself and your relationship, communication suffers and the relationship suffers.

If you're having difficulty identifying what you feel, the mind-body connection provides a way to discover your feelings.

"Acting in" means that, rather than looking for diversions outside of the relationship, you're addressing your problems within the relationship.

In this particular article, the couple decided to stay together, but many couples also decide to split up.  What's best for you is a very personal decision.

Reading an article where there is a summary of a composite case can make it seem like working out this type of problem is easy but, obviously, it's not.

Couples therapy can help you and your partner to learn to communicate and to strengthen your relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner are having problems in your relationship, don't wait until it's too late to salvage your relationship.

By seeking help with an experience mental health professional who works with couples, you can get the help you need to have a happier 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, July 27, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Overcoming Your Fear of Allowing Yourself to Be Happy

As unusual as it might sound, people who have suffered with longstanding unresolved emotional trauma often have a hard time tolerating positive feelings, like happiness.  This can be confusing for both the person who has unresolved trauma as well as his or her loved ones (see my article:  Working Through Emotional Trauma: Separating Then From Now).

Overcoming Fear of Positive Emotions

Although, at first, this might sound illogical, if we take a deeper look at this phenomenon, under certain circumstances, it makes emotional sense.

If you're someone who has a history of emotional trauma (or you're the loved one of someone who has unresolved trauma), I hope this article will clarify this phenomenon and demonstrate how is common under these circumstances.

The following is a fictional vignette below to illustrate these points and how I usually work with these issues:

Jane
Jane came to therapy because she felt like she was "losing it."

She had a long history of emotional trauma, which began in early childhood.  Her early trauma included multiple issues related to abandonment related to her teenage parents and other family members.

Overcoming Fear of Positive Emotions

From the time she was born until her teenage years, Jane was sent back and forth from her mother, who was too young to care for her, to her maternal grandmother.

Unfortunately, after a few months, her grandmother, developed medical problems that prevented her from caring for Jane, so Jane was sent to live with an aunt.  However, her aunt, who had a contentious relationship with Jane's mother, resented taking care of her and sent Jane to live with a great aunt when Jane was two.

Jane's great aunt was nurturing and provided a stable home environment, but Jane was withdrawn and sad.

When Jane started school, her teacher told her great aunt that Jane was having difficulty forming basic relationships with the other children in school.  She tended to be shy and play by herself.  She recommended that Jane's great aunt bring Jane to see a child therapist.

Overcoming Fear of Positive Emotions

Initially, Jane had a hard time connecting with the child therapist, but as time went on, she opened up more.  She was also able to start making friends in school.  However, after several months, Jane's mother, who was now in her early 20s and separated from Jane's father, wanted Jane back.

Although the great aunt wanted to keep Jane, especially now that she was starting to do better in school, she only had an informal arrangement, rather than kinship foster care or adoption, to take care of Jane.  So, she recommended that she and Jane's mother talk to Jane's therapist about it.

The therapist met with the great aunt and Jane's mother and discussed how moving back with the mother would affect Jane, especially since Jane had hardly seen her mother since Jane was given to the grandmother.  She suggested a gradual approach where Jane's mother would begin to spend more time with Jane to see how they would go.

But Jane's mother didn't listen to her.  She uprooted Jane from the only home that Jane knew and brought her to live with her.  She wanted to make up for lost time, but Jane was shy and withdrawn around her and would frequently ask for her grandmother.

Jane's mother didn't understand that Jane needed time to get to know her and adjust to being in her new environment.  She felt that Jane was rejecting her.

After a few months, Jane's mother showed up unannounced at the grandmother's house with Jane's belongings and told the grandmother that things weren't working out, so Jane needed to live with her. Whenever she was brought back to live with her grandmother, Jane was happy.  But after a while, she didn't trust that she wouldn't be uprooted again and again so she wouldn't allow herself to be happy.

This back and forth between Jane's mother and her grandmother continued until Jane was ready to go away to college.

By then, Jane learned to speak up for herself, but she continued to be wary of allowing herself to be happy.  She felt that whenever anything good happened, it was sure to be followed by something bad.

By the time Jane came to therapy, she was in her mid-20s and in a two year relationship with her boyfriend.  Although she loved him and she knew that he loved her too, she was afraid to make a bigger commitment to the relationship.  She feared that something would probably happen in the relationship to disappoint her eventually.

No matter how much her boyfriend tried to convince her that he was committed and wanted to marry her, she wary of getting engaged.

Since she knew that she couldn't continue to live this way, she came to therapy to work on these issues.

As we talked about her childhood history, it became evident that Jane had unresolved childhood trauma that was affecting her now as an adult.

Intellectually, she knew that her boyfriend was trustworthy and committed to her, but on an emotional level, she didn't trust it.

As we talked about how her history was affecting her now, Jane realized that, on an emotional level, she was confusing what happened to her as a child with her situation now (see my article: Overcoming Childhood Trauma That Affects Adult Relationships).

Using EMDR therapy, over time, we processed Jane's trauma so that she was able to work through those earlier issues so that she could be free from her history to have a loving relationship with her boyfriend and she could allow herself to be happy without fear.

Overcoming Your Fear of Allowing Yourself to Be Happy

Conclusion
When children grow up in an unstable environment where they are uprooted and constantly disappointed, these traumatic incidents create a mistrust in them where they never know when they will be hurt again.

As a result, they wary of trusting the good times because they feel that the bad times will inevitably follow, so they don't want to be caught off guard.

Unfortunately, these problems carry over into adulthood and affect adult relationships.

But, with help, these issues can be worked through so that they no longer affect people in their adult lives.

Getting Help in Therapy
If the issues that I've discussed in this article resonate with you, rather than continuing to allow your history to have a negative impact on your current life, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional who works with trauma.

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.











Saturday, July 25, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Losing Yourself in a Relationship: When "Me" Gets Lost in "We"

In a prior article, Reclaiming a Lost Part of Yourself, I discussed how people, sometimes consciously or unconsciously, disavow parts of themselves and what they can do reclaim those aspects of themselves.  In this article, I'm focusing on a related subject, which involves losing your sense of individuality while you're in a relationship.

Losing Yourself in a Relationship: When "Me" Gets Lost in "We"
Most people know that being in a relationship involves certain compromises, a give-and-take in every day life.  Without a willingness to compromise and be flexible, it would be hard to sustain a long term relationship.

This isn't what I'm referring to in this article.  Rather, I'm referring to situations where you're in a relationship and you don't know who you are any more and where you begin and your partner ends because you've become so merged with each other.

It can be challenging to be a couple and still maintain your individuality, especially if you're spending all your free time together and you're not spending time with your own friends or engaging in your own interests.

Often, this happens over time, and then you find yourself saying, "Who am I?  What happened to me?"

Losing Yourself in a Relationship: When "Me" Gets Lost in "We"

Not only is this a problem for each individual in the relationship, it's also a problem for the relationship.

The very things that brought the two of you together, where each of you brought new and interesting aspects of yourselves to the relationship, gets lost.

It's as if you've both merged and become one person, which can cause boredom to set in (see my article: Relationships: Resist the Urge to Merge).

Some Tips that Might Be Helpful to You:
  • Take Time to Reconnect With Your Inner World: A life that's based only on getting pleasure from the external things is a shallow life.  Whether you engage in meditation, yoga, write in a journal or engage in self exploration in therapy, it's important for you to dip into your inner world from time to time because this is the source of your strength, resilience and well-being.  This is also what keeps you in touch with who you are as an individual (see my articles: Discovering a Quiet Place Within Yourself and Reconnecting With Your Inner World).
  • Maintain Your Friendships:  The mistake that a lot of people make when they get into a relationship is that they get so involved with their partner that they forget about their friendships.  While it's understandable, especially when a relationship is new, that you want to spend time with your new partner, it's a mistake to give up close friends.  Your friendships need nurturing too and mutually supportive friendships can sustain you through life's ups and downs.  Also, your partner can't fulfill all your needs, so you need different people in your life to fulfill different needs (see my article: Relationships: Your Partner Can't Meet All Your Needs).
  • Maintain Your Interests:  If you had interests or hobbies that you really enjoyed before you entered into the relationship, stay connected to those interests.  Having hobbies and interests outside of your relationship can make life more fulfilling and meaningful for you.  It also allows you and your partner to each bring new vitality into the relationship.
  • Make Time to Talk About Things That Are Meaningful to Each of You:  Casual conversations are fine, but if all of your conversations tend to be superficial, not only is that boring, but you won't be sharing meaningful parts of yourself with your partner.  Having meaningful conversations means that you're a good communicator and a good listener.  Don't assume that your partner knows what's going on with you or that you know what's going on with your partner without communicating with each other in a meaningful way.
  • Be Open to New Experiences:  Not only do you need to maintain your friendships and your interests, but you need to be open to new experiences (see my article: Opening Up to New Possibilities).  That's what keeps life interesting and keeps you growing as an individual.  Your partner might not be interested in the same new experiences that you might want to try, and that's okay.  He or she doesn't have to be.  You don't have to do everything together.  There should be room in your relationship for each of you to pursue new, healthy experiences.  

If you or your partner aren't comfortable maintaining a sense of individuality while you're in a relationship, sooner or later this is going to create problems for each of you as well as the relationship.

Maintaining Your Individuality While Being in a Relationship Can Be Challenging

If each of you is secure with the other and with your relationship, balancing your individuality with being in a relationship will enhance you as individuals as well as enhancing the relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
As I mentioned before, it can be challenging to maintain your individuality while you're in a relationship.

Both people need to be committed to growing as individuals and as a couple.

If you find that you're unable to do this on your own, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who has experiencing helping people to create this balance in their lives (see my articles: The Benefits of Therapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing Therapist who works with adult individuals 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, July 20, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Holding Onto Grief as a Way to Stay Emotionally Connected to a Deceased Loved One

There are no rules about grief.  Everyone grieves in his or her own way.  At the same time, many people come to therapy because they sense that they're not allowing themselves to let go of their grief and they remain in a lot of emotional pain.  There are many reasons why people hold onto grief.  It's not unusual for people to hold onto grief as a way to stay connected to a deceased loved one, and this type of holding on often has a detrimental effect on the person grieving as well as their loved ones.

Holding Onto Grief as a Way of Staying Emotionally Connected to a Deceased Loved One


The type of grief that I'm describing in this article is a grief that often feels almost as painful now as it did when the loss occurred years before.  This often happens because the person who is grieving is actively holding onto the grief, usually unconsciously.  

Discovering the unconscious reasons for actively holding onto the grief is part of the work in therapy.

The following fictionalized vignette, which represents many different cases, illustrates this dynamic:

Mary
When Mary came to therapy, she had lost her father three years before.  She described the emotional pain of her loss as being almost as intense as it had been when she first lost him.

Holding Onto Grief as a Way to Stay Emotionally Connected to a Deceased Loved One

She came to therapy because she knew on some level that there was more going on for her than just the grief that she felt for her father, but she didn't know what it was.

She had been to therapy before to try to deal with this loss, but none of her prior attempts in therapy helped her.

She kept ruminating about the last time that she saw her father in the hospital and blaming herself for not "doing more" to help him.

When asked what she felt she could have done, she had only a vague idea.  Her father was in the hospital because he had a heart attack after years of neglecting his health and not listening to his doctors to lose weight.

Even though Mary tried to encourage her father to adopt a healthier lifestyle, he continued to smoke and eat foods that his doctor told him weren't good for him.

The reality was that there was nothing that Mary could have done to make her father change his ways, but she remained stuck in thinking that she might not have done enough, and if only she had done more, maybe he would be alive today.

Mary knew that, since her father died, she wasn't paying as much attention to her husband and her daughter, but she felt powerless to change how she felt about the loss of her father and about moving on in her life.

During the first year, her husband was very understanding about her sorrow.  But after that, he started complaining to her that he felt she wasn't emotionally present for him and their daughter.  He told her  that he felt this wasn't fair to him or to their daughter.

Mary understood why her husband felt this way, and she felt guilty for not being as emotionally present  for her family.  She loved her husband and daughter very much, and there was a part of her that wanted to be more present.  But there was also a part of her that wanted to continue to grieve for her father.

Holding Onto Grief as a Way to Stay Emotionally Connected to a Deceased Loved One

As an only child, when she was growing up, she knew that both of her parents loved her.  But she and her father had a special bond.  She felt that he understood her in a way that no one else ever would--not even her husband.  

Losing that sense of being loved unconditionally, in the way her father loved her, was one of the biggest losses when her father died.  From the time she was a child and throughout adulthood, she knew she could go to her father with any problem and he would never judge her.  

Even talking about this aspect of her loss was excruciatingly painful, even though she had talked about this many times before in her prior therapies.

In many types of therapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapist would try to get Mary to see that she wasn't accepting the loss of her father and, until she accepted it, she would continue to suffer.

While this might be true in the most practical sense, this counteractive type of approach is rarely, if ever, helpful for someone who is stuck in unremitting grief.  It usually results in the person who is grieving feeling that they're "wrong" for being unable to let go of their sadness or feeling misunderstood.  This often induces guilt and shame.

A counteractive approach, like CBT, attempts to appeal to the rational part of the brain.  But the problem is that these stuck emotions are in the emotional part of the brain, and counteractive therapies, like CBT, which might be good for other problems, don't work as well when someone is stuck in protracted grief.

CBT might help a client understand their problem on a rational level, but the problem persists on an emotional level.

Rather than using CBT or another form of counteractive therapy, we used an experiential therapy, EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, to help Mary process her grief (see my articles: How EMDR WorksExperiential Therapy, Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs and EMDR Therapy: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough).

Using EMDR, Mary was able to access the unconscious reasons why she had been, until then, unwilling to let go of her grief.  The main reason was that, even though her grief was deeply painful, her sadness kept her emotionally connected to her father.

Holding Onto Grief as a Way to Stay Emotionally Connected to Deceased Loved Ones
If she wasn't feeling her grief as intensely, she wouldn't feel as connected to her father.  But she also experienced during EMDR therapy what an emotional toll this was taking on her, her husband and her daughter and, for the first time since her father died, she was willing to let go.

Processing her grief with EMDR therapy wasn't easy or quick for Mary but, gradually, she felt a reduction in her grief.

For the first time, she was willing to accept on an emotional level that her father was gone and she would never see him again as well as all the implications of that, including that no one would ever love her in the same way that her father did.

But she also knew that she was loved very much by her husband, daughter, close friends and family members, and she loved them.

She became aware that she wasn't as powerless over her grief as she felt originally.  Her willingness to let go was a significant step in this psychological process.

As her grief subsided, she felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her.  She also discovered that she felt more like herself and she was more emotionally available to her loved ones.

Holding Onto Grief as a Way to Stay Emotionally Connected to a Deceased Loved One

Whenever she thought of her father, she still felt sad, but it was no longer the crushing grief that it had been before EMDR therapy.

Conclusion
Grief can feel overwhelming for some people, even years after the loss.

For these people, counteractive therapy, like CBT, isn't helpful in many cases because it doesn't provide emotional relief.

EMDR therapy allowed Mary to discover the unconscious reasons why she was holding onto her grief and she decided that she was willing to let go.  EMDR also helped her to complete the mourning process so that her emotional burden was lifted and she was more emotionally available to her family.

Grieving for the loss of loved one is never easy.  It's common to feel sadness, anger, regret and a host of other feelings about the loss.

The Grieving Process

Many people go through the mourning process and within time they're able to resume their life and their relationships.  This doesn't mean that they're not sad when they think of their loss, but they're able to resume functioning in their lives.

For some people, the grieving process becomes protracted over years and it has a detrimental effect on close relationships and everyday life.

Once these unconscious reasons are discovered, people usually realize that, rather than being helpless over their feelings, they have a sense of agency and responsibility.  They can ask themselves if they're willing to let go of the grief.

Often when the pain of holding onto grief becomes greater than letting it go, most people who are experiencing protracted grief become willing to let go.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been struggling on your own to overcome your grief, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in helping clients to overcome loss.

Being able to let go of grief will allow you to resume your life and your relationships again.

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

One of my areas of expertise is working with grief and loss.

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, July 13, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Are You Afraid to Allow Yourself to Be Happy?

Even though it might sound counter intuitive at first, there are many people who are afraid to allow themselves to be happy.

Are You Afraid to Allow Yourself to Be Happy?

Why Would People Be Afraid to Be Happy?
Doesn't everyone want to be happy?  You might think so but, psychologically speaking, many people experience a sense of fear or dread when good things happen to them.

The reasons for this vary.  I've listed below some of the most common reasons why people are afraid to allow themselves to be happy.  As you read them, you might be surprised to discover that you identify with some of things on the list or you know someone who might:
  • Feeling Undeserving of Being Happy:  There are many people that feel they don't deserve to be happy.  Often, this is the result of traumatic experiences where the person feels that s/he is unlovable in some way.  Whatever the reason, whenever something positive happens that would normally make someone else feel happy, the person who feels undeserving can't allow him or herself to take in the good feelings.
  • Fearing Getting Caught "Off Guard":   There are people who are too afraid to allow themselves to be happy because they're afraid that if they let down their guard to let in positive feelings, they're going to be caught "off guard" when something bad happens.  There is a fear that at any moment, while they're enjoying the positive feelings, misfortune is just around the corner and when they least expect it, they'll feel caught unaware and unprepared.  Usually people who experience this have had one or more unresolved traumatic experiences that have created this fear, and they never want to be unprepared again.  So, they would rather sacrifice positive feelings than be shocked again by misfortune.
Fear of Being Caught Off Guard
  • Feeling Good is Uncomfortable:  People who are uncomfortable with happy or positive feelings have a hard time allowing themselves to take in those feelings.  If they get a compliment or positive recognition, they squirm and can't allow themselves to enjoy it.  Often, these feelings are unfamiliar and uncomfortable to them because they never learned at an early age to accept feeling good.  But "negative" feelings  are a different story because those are more familiar.
  • Fearing that If Something Good Happens, It Will Be Followed By Something Bad:  People who are afraid to allow themselves to feel happy often fear that misfortune will follow good fortune.  Sometimes this is because they've grew up in a chaotic and dysfunctional household where there were lots of ups and downs.  For other people it's a sense that if they don't want to "tempt the fates."
Fear That Something Bad Will Happen
  • Feeling Good Brings Up Feelings About Unmet Emotional Needs:  People who have experienced abuse and/or neglect as children will often say that when they allow themselves to be happy, it brings up memories of times when they were younger and their emotional needs weren't met.  It's as if they have a sense of emptiness, which they're normally unaware of, arises to remind them that the happiness that they feel now is only a drop in the ocean as compared to the emotional deprivation that they experienced.
  • Fearing That Happiness or Good Fortune Can't Be Trusted:  People who have this fear feel they can't really trust positive emotions because the rug could be pulled out from under them at any time.  Usually, this is based on earlier experiences in a chaotic and unpredictable home environment that leaves them wary of allowing themselves to feel happy.

In my next article, I'll elaborate on this topic with a vignette.

Getting Help in Therapy
Living your life with fear of allowing yourself to be happy is an emotionally depriving and unsatisfying way of life.

Whether you numb yourself emotionally or you live with debilitating anxiety, you're not allowing yourself to experience life to its fullest.

Rather than continuing to live in fear, you could be helped by a licensed mental health professional who knows how to work with people who are afraid to allow themselves to be happy.

Being able to let go of this fear will feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted from you and you'll be free to live a more fulfilling life.

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 their fear of allowing themselves to be happy.

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, July 6, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Coping With Trauma: Becoming Aware of Emotional Triggers

Prior to coming to therapy, most people, who have underlying emotional trauma, are unaware of the emotional triggers that can cause them to react to what is going on now as if they were living in the past (see my article:  Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past and Overcoming Trauma: When the Past is in the Present).

Coping With Trauma: Becoming Aware of Emotional Triggers 

When your brain is reacting automatically to something happening in the present as if you were back in the past, it can be very confusing, especially if you're not in therapy.

You might not understand what's happening to you.  You might not even be aware that your reaction is based on the past and not in the present.

Developing an Awareness of Your Emotional Triggers in Therapy
Often, people come to therapy to deal with difficult situations in the present, but they don't realize, at first, that the situation is triggering their past.  They just know that they're having a difficult time in a particular situation, which could be in their personal life or at work.

Sometimes, they're aware that their reaction to a particular situation is out of proportion to what's going on now, which is usually a sign that there is an earlier incident (or incidents) that is triggering the current emotional response.

Other people might be completely unaware of the earlier incidents and they deal with the current situation at face value.

A therapist, who is trained to listen for underlying trauma, can often detect the signs of earlier trauma and would broach this with the client.

Even if the therapist isn't sure if there is earlier trauma, there are ways in therapy to discover whether there is an earlier trauma and if that trauma is what's being emotionally triggered in the current situation (see my article:  Bridging Back to Discover Old Emotional Wounds).

If there is an earlier incident (or incidents) that is getting emotional triggered, working on the incident from the past often helps to alleviate the symptoms that are getting triggered in the current situation.

Usually, a trauma therapist will work on the past, the present as well as the anticipated future as it relates to the presenting problem.

A vignette, which is a composite of many different cases to protect confidentiality, will help to illustrate these points:

Greg
Greg came to therapy because he was having problems at work with his boss, Harry.

Everyone on staff agreed that Harry was difficult to work with, but Greg was having a particularly difficult time, and he often found himself enraged and frustrated with Harry to the point where he was afraid that he would lose his temper and say or do something that would get him fired.

Emotional Triggers:  Staff Meeting With Harry Criticizing Greg

Most people would have problems dealing with a boss like Harry because he was critical and overbearing.  But Greg allowed Harry to really get under his skin.

Whereas other employees looked for the first opportunity to leave the department to get away from Harry, Greg was determined to stay, even though he had better offers.  He was determined to prove to Harry that Harry was "wrong."  Greg was focused on being vindicated.

At that point, Greg couldn't see that he was overly invested in this situation, but his wife, Alice, knew that Greg was overreacting to Harry and she knew that there was something more going on for Greg.

Since Greg was unable to let go of his preoccupation with Harry even on his down time, Alice felt that it was affecting their relationship.  She was the one who recommended that Greg get help in therapy.

Greg's Wife Knew That Greg Was Overreacting and Recommended that He Get Help in Therapy
During his initial consultation, Greg said he wanted to learn stress management techniques to deal with his situation at work.  He recognized that he was under a lot of stress, but he was too immersed in the situation to see that he was overreacting.

He talked about wanting to "prove" to Harry that his criticism of Greg was "wrong."  He was determined to do whatever he had to do to "show Harry" that he was one of the best employees on staff.

Coping With Trauma:  Become Aware of Emotional Triggers:  A Difficult Boss as a Trigger

Even though Greg knew that he was highly regarded by his coworkers, Harry's superiors, and people outside the company in the same industry, Greg maintained a single-minded focus on vindicating himself with Harry.

Greg lacked perspective of how overly invested he was in trying to change someone who clearly wasn't going to change.

My experience as a therapist working with many similar problems is that people often develop limited perspective with only talk therapy when they are so dug into a situation like this.

Talking about the situation would engage Greg's logical mind, but it would have a limited impact on his emotional mind.

Rather than talk therapy, we needed to use experiential therapy (see my article:  Experiential Therapy Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

So, in order to determine if the current situation was triggering an earlier situation, we used the bridge back which is often used in clinical hypnosis and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).

I asked Greg to close his eyes and think of a recent memory where he reacted to Harry in the way that he was describing to me.

When Greg said he had a memory in mind, I asked him to notice what emotions came up and where he felt them in his body.  He responded by telling me that he felt anger and frustration and he felt it in his throat and stomach.

Then, I asked Greg to use the emotions that he felt and the awareness of where he felt them in his body and see what earlier memories came up (see my article:  Mind-Body Psychotherapy: The Body Offers a Window Into the Unconscious Mind).

I told him that he was looking for possible earlier memories where he had the same reaction but, with regard to content of these memories, these older memories didn't have to be the same type of memory.  I asked him to just allow whatever came up to come up without judging or censoring it.

To his surprise, Greg remembered several memories, going back to his childhood with his father.

Greg described his father was being critical and overbearing, like Harry.  His father treated him as if he couldn't do anything right--also similar to Harry.

He remembered feeling angry and frustrated whenever his father criticized him.  He also felt like he always wanted to "show" his father that he was "wrong" and this was his most fervent wish as a child.

Over time, as we continued to work on these earliest memories, Greg became aware that underneath his anger and frustration, he also felt a lot of sadness (see my article: Discovering That Sadness is Often Hidden Underneath Your Anger).

He grieved for what he felt he didn't get emotionally as a child from his father.

Gradually, as we worked through these earlier traumatic memories, Greg became less invested in remaining in his struggle with Harry because Harry became less and less important to him on an emotional level.

We also worked on what Greg wanted for the future (see my article:  Experiencing Your Future Self: The Self You Want to Become).

Coping With Trauma: Becoming Aware of Emotional Triggers

After a few months, Greg accepted another job where he was in charge with a much higher salary and a healthier work environment.  He was much happier.

Greg's childhood memories lost their negative emotional charge, so he was also able to forgive his father, who had mellowed over the years and was no longer the critical father that he had been when Greg was a child.

Coping With Trauma: Becoming Aware of Emotional Triggers

Greg and his wife were also happier together since he was more emotionally available to her when he was at home.

Conclusion
Often, when you're immersed in a situation where you're experiencing a lot of emotion, it can be hard to be objective.

People who are close to you, like a spouse or close friend or relative, might recognize that there seems to be more going on for you than what's happening in the current situation.

Although loved ones can be emotionally supportive, they can't help you to discover if there are unconscious underlying issues that might be getting triggered for you, and they can't help you to work through those issues.

Getting Help in Therapy
Experiential therapy, like EMDR, clinical hypnosis and Somatic Experiencing, can help to make the unconscious conscious in ways that you can't do on your own (see my article:  Psychotherapy: Making the Unconscious Conscious).

If you're struggling with emotional problems that you've been unable to resolve on your own, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who uses experiential therapy.

Freeing yourself from the emotional burdens of the past might be one of the best things that you do for yourself because it will allow you to live a more fulfilling life.

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, June 29, 2015

Psychotherapy Blog: Falling In Love and Fear of Emotional Vulnerability

To fall in love, you have to allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable.  And, yet, even though so many people want love in their lives, they're too afraid to allow themselves to open up to allow themselves to be vulnerable so they can experience the love that they desire.

Falling In Love and Fear of Emotional Vulnerability

Why Is Emotional Vulnerability So Scary?
Many people are afraid to allow themselves to be emotional vulnerable because they're afraid of getting hurt, especially if they've fallen in love before, they felt abandoned, and they got hurt (see my article:  Overcoming Fear of Abandonment).

Fear of rejection is also a factor.  People fear opening themselves up and then being rejected.  

It's not unusual for people who are afraid of getting hurt to shut down emotionally rather than allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable.

It's a dilemma that's not easy for people to overcome on their own because they're stuck between two difficult choices:  Allowing themselves to open up to love vs. shutting down and remaining alone and lonely (see my article:  An Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love).

Fear of Emotional Vulnerability:  Some People Vacillate Between Opening Up and Shutting Down

In a prior blog article, Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable, I give a scenario that describes this dilemma.

Some people are more sensitive to the possibility of rejection than others.

Many people vacillate between these two choices.  Some people spend their whole lives going back and forth without ever resolving this dilemma for themselves.

The Courage to Be Emotionally Vulnerable
There is no way to have a successful relationship without allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable.

It takes a lot of courage, especially after you've been hurt before, to allow yourself to be vulnerable and open to falling in love again (see my article:  Developing the Courage to Change).

There are no guarantees that you won't get hurt again.  But if you don't allow yourself to be vulnerable, you are guaranteed to be alone.

Emotional Vulnerability and a History of Emotional Trauma
People who have a history of emotional trauma, especially trauma that goes back to childhood, have the hardest time allowing themselves to be emotionally vulnerable.

People who haven't experienced healthy relationships as a child have no personal models to draw on when it comes to choosing and developing a healthy relationship.  So, they end up bonding with others in unhealthy ways.

As a result, they often get into one unhealthy relationship after another which, unfortunately, confirms a feeling that they have that there are no healthy relationships to be had (see my article:  Falling In Love With Mr. Wrong Over and Over Again).

If they never get help to overcome their earlier emotional trauma and their misconceptions about relationships, after many failed attempts, they might opt to remain alone.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you recognize the dynamics that I describe in this article, you're not alone.

Rather than allowing your history of trauma to have a negative effect on you for the rest of your life, you could get help to overcome your fears by seeing a licensed mental health professional who specializes in working with trauma (see my article:  How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Free Yourself of Your History in Therapy: Overcome Your Fear of Being Emotionally Vulnerable 

Once you're free from your history, you'll be free to allow yourself to be emotionally vulnerable in a healthy romantic 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.