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Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Theme of Complicated Grief in the Film, Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread is the latest film by Paul Thomas Anderson featuring Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, a middle-aged high society dress designer in 1950s London.  At first, as you view the film, you might think that this is only a story about a narcissistic, obsessive genius who is rigid and fussy and must have everything in his own ritualized way in order to create.  But this film is so much more than that.  At the heart of the film and at the core of Reynolds' emotional problems is his inability to mourn the loss of his mother, who inspired him to be a dress designer (see my articles:  Complicated Grief and Unresolved MourningInconsolable Grief For a Mother's Death, and Grief in Waiting After the Death of a Parent).

The Theme of Complicated Grief in the Film, Phantom Thread
Early on in the film, we see Reynolds, who works obsessively designing dresses, at the breakfast table with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) and his current girlfriend, Joanna (Camilla Rutherford).

When his girlfriend tries to get his attention, he becomes annoyed that Joanna is interrupting his work.  He has rigid daily rituals that include no interruptions, no noise at breakfast and no other distracting diversions--otherwise, the rest of his day is ruined beyond repair and he cannot work.

Clearly, whereas Joanna might have been a muse to him in the past, Reynolds has now grown tired of her  and sees her as a distraction to his work and someone who has outlived her welcome in his home.

In a restaurant scene with Cyril, Reynolds talks about their deceased mother as looking down from the afterlife and "watching over" him.  There is something tender and boyish about Reynolds' tone and manner, which are like a small boy's wish to be held safely and protected by his mother.

In the same scene, Reynolds tells Cyril that he hopes his mother saw and liked the new dress that he designed for one of his high society clients.  He says that, far from being spooky to him, he finds the idea that the dead watch over the living as "comforting" and it comforts him to feel that his mother watches over him.  

With a sad, wistful look, Reynolds asks Cyril if she thinks their mother likes the recent dress that he designed, and Cyril responds with empathy and indulgence that she thinks their mother does like it.  She listens to him patiently and lovingly, but she also seems concerned about him, especially as he talks about their mother watching over him.

Cyril understands her brother because, in effect, she has taken over the maternal role of "watching over" his business and personal affairs.  She suggests that Reynolds go to their country place to rest.  And since she thinks it's unkind to allow Joanna to wait endlessly for Reynolds, she suggests that she will stay in London and dispatch Joanna with one of Reynolds' dresses as a form of consolation.  In response, Reynolds agrees to rest in the country and allow Cyril to handle the messiness of his breakup.

Soon after, when Reynolds meets a young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps), he is ravenous.  You get the sense as you watch him order and devour a huge meal that his hunger goes beyond food.  He is also ravenous on an emotional level that he probably doesn't understand.

In Alma, he has found his new muse.  On their first date, he tells her how his mother taught him to design dresses when he was young, and since that time, he has taken on his mother's dress designing profession.

He also tells Alma that he always carries a lock of his mother's hair which is sewn in the canvass of his jacket so he can keep it close to his heart.  In other words, he has internalized his mother on many levels, and yet it's not enough to satisfy his longing and need for maternal love.

Back at his country home, he shows Alma a framed picture of his mother in the wedding dress that he designed for her by himself at age 16 for his mother's second marriage.

He also explains that there are many superstitions that some women believe about wedding dresses, including that unmarried women who touch someone else's wedding dress will be "cursed" and never marry.  He explains that this was the reason why their governess refused to help him complete his mother's wedding dress.  But, in his hour of need, his sister, Cyril, helped him to complete the dress.

In response, Alma asks him if Cyril ever got married, and he says that she did not, the question as to whether Cyril was a victim of the "curse" lingering in the air.  In fact, the ambiguous theme of being "cursed" comes up several times in the film.

Reynolds also tells Alma that he sews secret messages in the hem of each dress, and we see this later on when Alma finds a small tag in a princess's wedding dress with a message sewn on it that says "Never cursed."  These secret messages, along with the idea of his mother protectively hovering above him in the afterlife, take on a "phantom" quality.

The core theme of Reynolds' complicated grief continues to come up throughout the film, and it becomes apparent that this "confirmed bachelor," as he describes himself, cannot sustain a relationship with a woman, in part, because he has never let go of his mother as the primary woman in his life.  

At one point, when he is delirious with a fever, he has a hallucination of his mother standing in his bedroom watching over him in the wedding dress that he designed for her.  To Reynolds, the appearance of his mother is real.  He looks at her longingly with tears in his eyes and tells her how much he misses her and he wishes he could hear her speak.

By then, his relationship with Alma has gotten complicated, as his prior relationships have in the past.  Alma is living with Reynolds and Cyril in their beautiful London apartment where he spends most of his time designing his dresses.  We begin to see how he is starting to find Alma's ways grating and he is beginning to distance himself from her.

On a superficial level, this emotional distancing is about Reynolds focusing on his work.  But, on a deeper level, I sensed that the emotional distancing was also a pattern in his relationships in order to keep his mother as the primary woman in his life.  No woman will replace her so, sooner or later, each woman must go.

But Alma, who initially appears to be a simple, young woman who is infatuated with Reynolds and who is willing to orbit around his glamorous world of high fashion, is different from his prior girlfriends.  She won't allow herself to be easily disregarded and dismissed, and she finds a unique and insightful way to make herself emotionally indispensable to him, which eventually satisfies both of their emotional needs.

I won't give away the rest of the plot, but I highly recommend that you see the film and try to keep an open mind while you're viewing it.

As I mentioned before, this film is not what it initially appears to be.  It has a nuanced plot, wonderful acting by the three main actors, beautiful scenery and music, and there is a lot more to it than Reynolds' complicated grief.

You might even want to see it twice because after you see it the first time, you will probably sense that there is much more to it than can be grasped in one viewing, and you will need a second viewing to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the film.

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

One of my specialties is helping clients to work through complicated grief and mourning.

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.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Relationships: Taking Back Your Personal Power

In a prior article I began a discussion about giving away your personal power to someone who isn't treating you well (see my article: Are You Giving Away Your Personal Power to Someone Who Doesn't Treat You Well?).  In this article I'm continuing this topic to discuss how you can take back your personal power.

Relationships: Taking Back Your Personal Power

Taking Back Your Personal Power
  • Focus on Yourself:  First, rather than focusing on your significant other and what s/he might or might not be doing, focus on yourself and how you might be giving away your personal power.  While this can be difficult to do, it's an important first step and can't be ignored.  Rather than complaining about being mistreated, ask yourself how you're contributing to this and keeping it going.  For people who are accustomed to seeing themselves as being victimized, this might sound harsh.  This isn't to say that your significant other might not have some real power over you--whether it's financial or threatening to take your child away, and so on.  But, even if this is the case, you need to start with yourself because somewhere along the way you've lost sight of yourself in this situation.  This requires you to be honest with yourself.
  • Ask Yourself If You're Being Objective About Yourself, Your Significant Other and the Relationship:  In my prior article, I discussed how people who give away their power often idealize their significant other and give him or her attributes that aren't really there in order to be able to bask in the significant other's light.  When these attributes aren't there or are greatly exaggerated, you're in denial about your significant other, your relationship and yourself.  Have you received feedback from others who are familiar with the situation and who have expressed misgivings about how your significant other is treating you?  Pretend that you're looking at the same relationship, but instead of you being in the relationship, pretend that it's your best friend.  What advice would you give him or her?  
  • Ask Yourself If You're Making Yourself Small in Order to Make Your Significant Other Big:  It's common for people who get into emotionally abusive relationships to diminish their own positive traits in order to make their significant other look good.  If you're unable to be objective, ask close friends and loved ones that you trust about the positive traits they see in you.  Are you able to take their comments in or do you feel uncomfortable?  Was there a time when you felt good about yourself?  When was that?  How was that time different from now?
  • Ask Yourself If You Tend to See Yourself as a Victim:  While it might be true that you were victimized as a child when you were really powerless, as an adult, you're capable of taking yourself out of the victim role.  Sometimes, people who are accustomed to being in the victim role unconsciously find romantic partners who will be emotionally abusive in order to stay in the victim role.  This is difficult for most people to overcome on their own, and it usually requires working through the early emotional trauma in psychotherapy.
Relationships: Taking Back Your Personal Power
  • Ask Yourself If You're Blaming Others For Your Problems in the Relationships: Are you blaming your significant other, his or her family or your family for the emotional abuse that you're experiencing and for your own inertia?  When you blame others, you disempower yourself.  Ask yourself what you can do to take some responsibility and, in effect, take back your personal power (see my article: Empowering Yourself When You Feel Disempowered).
  • Ask Yourself If You've Given Up Your Dreams to Be in an Emotionally Abusive Relationship: When someone is in an emotionally abusive relationship, it often affects every area of their life--not just the relationship.  Maybe you had dreams to pursue higher education or training for a different career and the emotional abuse that you've experienced has eroded your self confidence so that you're no longer pursuing your dreams.  Will you look back at your life when you're older and regret this?
  • Ask Yourself If You're So Intent on People Pleasing That You're in Denial About the Emotional Abuse:  People pleasing is a trait that often begins at an early age and continues into adulthood unless someone gets help to overcome it.  It's common for people who people please to be in denial about emotional abuse in their relationship in order to maintain the status quo.   Denial can be very powerful and it will be necessary for you to try to be as objective as you can be. Many people who are in emotionally abusive relationships "let off steam" by complaining to friends.  Then, after they have vented to friends, they feel better and go right back into the same situation with their significant other and right back into denial.

Relationships: Taking Back Your Personal Power
  • Ask Yourself What You're Getting Out of Your Relationship:  Often, people remain in unhealthy relationships because they're afraid to be alone and lonely.  They rationalize that it's better to be with someone who mistreats them to be with no one at all.  They also fear that they'll never meet anyone else.  Ask yourself if whatever you're getting out of the relationship is worth a loss of self esteem and self respect.
  • Keep a Journal: When you're in denial about your problems, it's easy to "forget" the times when you were emotionally abused in your relationship, especially right after you and your significant other make up and you're both feeling good again.  Usually, there is a predictable cycle to emotional abuse and if you keep a journal and write about the times when you're accepting the emotional abuse, it might help you to develop a more objective perspective about the role you're playing in all of this.  Make sure that wherever you keep the journal that it's safe and secure so that it will remain private.
Get Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help at some point.

People who are ambivalent about a relationship where they're not being treated well can go back and forth for years trying to decide what to do.

In the meantime, as time goes by, most people in emotionally abusive relationships feel worse and worse about themselves over time.  Shame is also a big factor, and it can cause you to turn away from friends and loved ones who want to help you.

Unconscious emotions often play a big role in keeping people stuck in unhealthy relationships, and becoming aware of these unconscious emotions is very difficult to do on your own.

Rather than continuing to suffer on your own, get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my articles: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Once you've taken back your personal power, you feel entitled to be treated well and can lead a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

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

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.

Relationships: Are You Giving Away Your Personal Power to Someone Who Doesn't Treat You Well?

In prior articles I've discussed issues relating to people who are ambivalent about leaving an emotionally abusive relationship (see my articles:  Why Emotional Abuse Might Feel "Normal" to You, Should You Stay or Should You Leave Your Relationship? and Are You Afraid to Leave an Unhappy Relationship?). In this article I'm focusing on another aspect of emotionally abusive relationships, which is how people who are being emotionally abused by their significant other often give away their personal power.

Relationships: Are You Giving Away Your Personal Power to Someone Who Doesn't Treat You Well?

People often begin psychotherapy because they're confused about their ambivalent behavior in a relationship where they are being emotionally abused.  Even when they realize they're not being treated well by their significant other, they often say they feel compelled to remain in the relationship, and they're confused about their feelings.

Looking on the surface at these relationships from a strictly logical point of view, it can be confusing as to why someone would remain with a partner who is emotionally abusive.

But in order to begin to understand these dynamics, it's important to look beyond the surface because there are usually conscious issues involved.

One common issue is that the person who remains in an emotionally abusive relationship is usually giving away his or her personal power to the significant other without realizing it.

How Do People Give Away Their Power in Emotionally Abusive Relationships?
There are so many different ways that people give away their personal power in emotionally abusive relationships that I'll list what I've seen as the most common ones:
  • Endowing a Significant Other With Powerful Attributes That Aren't True:  Rather than recognizing their own personal power, people who give away their power to their significant other endow their partners with characteristics that either aren't there or that are greatly exaggerated in their mind.  They don't see their partner for who s/he really is.  They need their partner to seem powerful, charming, tantalizing and irresistible so they can bask in their partner's light and feel that some of those attributes will rub off on them.  It's as if they have put themselves under a magic spell, but they believe that their partner is the one who is somehow keeping them spellbound.  Other people, who know the situation, might be scratching their heads because they don't see these attributes in the partner, but the person who has given up his or her personal power is caught up in this fantasy (see my articles: Are You In Love With Him or Your Fantasy of Him? and The Connection Between Obsessive Love as an Adult and Unmet Childhood Emotional Needs).
  • Denying or Diminishing Their Own Positive Characteristics:  Along with idealizing a partner and endowing him or her with fantasized attributes, they also diminish or disregard their own positive characteristics.  They make themselves small in order to make their significant other seem big.  This is usually a longstanding, ingrained problem and makes the significant other more compelling ("I'm weak, but he's so strong that he'll protect me").
  • Becoming the "Victim" in the Relationship: Along with idealizing the significant other and diminishing themselves, people who give away their power identify as the victim in the relationship.  They might spend a lot of time complaining to their friends and loved ones about not being treated well by their significant other, but they believe themselves to be powerless in the situation.  Rather than taking a step back and reflecting on why they remain with someone who mistreats them even when they're complaining bitterly about it, they will give many "reasons" why they just can't bring themselves to leave the relationship.  Even when they agree with their friends and their loved ones that it would be better for them to leave the relationship, they will often say, "I don't know why, but I just can't leave" until their friends get tired of hearing the constant complaints without any action being taken (see my article:  Understanding the Difference Between "I Can't" vs "I Won't").  Often, these people had early experiences of being victimized as children, and they're unable to see that they are now adults and no longer powerless.  The feeling of powerlessness never leaves them, and this is a sign that they need to work out the earlier issues in psychotherapy (see my article: Overcoming the Effects of Past Childhood Trauma).  There might also be cultural factors involved.
  • Engaging in People Pleasing:  People who give up their power and remain in emotionally abusive relationships are often people pleasers.  They need to be liked, even when it makes them feel "weak," powerless, fearful, self loathing and lost.  For the partner who is emotionally abusive and who has narcissistic traits, this is an ideal situation because s/he gets to manipulate the people pleaser and control the relationship.  

In my next article, I'll discuss how to take back your personal power.

Getting Help in Therapy
Aside from the unconscious issues involved in remaining in an emotionally abusive relationship, there is usually a lot of shame, especially if friends and family are criticizing you for not leaving.

Most people, who are in this type of situation and who are unable to resolve it on their own, find it helpful to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

While no one can do it for you, if you're willing to get help in therapy, a skilled psychotherapist can help you to understand the unconscious issues and to begin to take back your personal power.

Regaining your personal power and your self esteem can be a life changing experience.  Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an experienced psychotherapist (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

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

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.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Relationships: What is Micro-Cheating?

It's getting increasingly difficult to define cheating these days, especially when you consider everything there is to take into account today regarding emotional affairs, social media, and flirting (see my articles: Relationships: Are You Having an Emotional Affair? and Stuck in a Codependent Relationship With Your Ex? ).  The topic I'm focusing on in this article is micro-cheating.

Relationships: What is Micro-Cheating?

What is Micro-Cheating?
It used to be generally accepted that cheating meant getting sexually involved with someone outside your relationship.  But it's much more complicated than this because there is behavior that you can engage in, short of getting sexually involved, that is called micro-cheating and there are many more ways to do micro-cheating now than there were ever before.

Micro-cheating is a more subtle form of cheating.  It generally consists of one or more of the following behaviors:
  • Being secretly flirtatious in person, in texts or social media with someone outside your relationship, and you're doing this without disclosing it to your significant other (see my article: Infidelity on Social Media Sites).
  • Maintaining a secret relationship (even if you define it as a "friendship") with someone outside your relationship, including an ex or someone with whom you have a flirtatious relationship either in person, in texts or online
  • Developing an emotional affair with someone outside your relationship where you discuss your intimate emotions and other similar issues with this person instead of confiding in your significant other, and your significant other doesn't know about it
  • Getting together with someone where there is a flirtatious dynamic (either an ex or someone else) and keeping it a secret from your significant other
  • Getting together with someone, including an ex, where you know that this person is keeping your get-togethers a secret from his or her partner
  • Accepting phone calls, emails or texts from your ex even though you told your significant other that you're no longer associating with this person
And so on.

Micro-Cheating: Secrecy and Head Games
One of the keys to these situations is the secrecy involved.

Along with the secrecy, there's often a fair amount of head games going on.

In other words, when the person who is being secretive is caught by the significant other, s/he will often try to defend his or her behavior by saying that nothing sexual went on, the "friendship" is innocent, and other excuses that come across as disingenuous.

But the problem with this is that, even if nothing sexual is going on, why is this outside "friendship" being kept a secret?

Cheating often starts with secrecy and flirtation, so even if it's not currently sexual, when the "friendship" is being kept a secret, there's a potential for it to become sexual.

Many people engage in micro-cheating because it feels thrilling to them.  It gives them an ego boost and the secrecy and extra attention make it exciting.  

If you're an adult, there is also an element of immaturity involved because this behavior is somewhat adolescent.

If you're engaged in micro-cheating, you need to decide what's more important:  A boost to your ego or maintaining your relationship.

A Family History of Poor Boundaries
There are also some people who were raised in families where there were poor boundaries between family members.

People in these families might have grown up among adults where there were ambiguous relationships, so they never learned to maintain appropriate boundaries (see my articles: Relationships: Setting Healthy Boundaries).  As a result, this carries over into adult relationships.

How to Regain Trust in Your Relationship After Micro-Cheating (see my article: Relationships: Learning to Trust Again)

If you're involved in micro-cheating and it's affecting your relationship, there are ways to possibly regain trust in your relationship if the relationship is not beyond repair:
  • Start with being honest with yourself.  Being coy and making up excuses to yourself and your significant other is disingenuous and comes across as shady.  You know your intention.  Decide if it's more important to you to keep this other "friendship" than it is for you to maintain your relationship.  Don't try to rationalize it.  
  • Be honest with everyone involved.  If you want to maintain your relationship, either make sure that your significant other meets this "friend" and everyone involved knows that you're in an exclusive relationship and there is no possibility now or in the future of a romantic or sexual involvement between you and your friend.
  • Remember that your significant other is your primary relationship--not the "friend" that you're maintaining contact with on the side.  If your significant other doesn't feel comfortable with you having contact with your "friend," that should be your primary concern.  If not, maybe you're not ready to be in a relationship or you're not ready to be in the relationship that you're currently in.
  • If you've made a commitment to stop associating with this other person, keep your commitment.  Few things ruin a relationship more than your significant other discovering that you're not keeping your word because it means you're not trustworthy (see my article: Relationships and Broken Promises).
  • Take time to reflect on the meaning of your secret involvement with someone outside your relationship.  There are usually deeper issues involved.
Getting Help in Therapy
There are many people who have a pattern of having secret relationships outside of their relationship with their significant other.

As previously mentioned, people often try to find a way to rationalize their behavior to avoid feeling guilty and ashamed for maintaining these secret relationships.  They try to rationalize it to themselves and to their significant others, but it usually doesn't work.

If this is an ongoing issue, this is a troubling pattern and it calls into question the trustworthiness of the person who maintains these secret "friendships."

If you have a pattern of having secret "friendships" outside your relationship or if you're involved with someone who tends to do this, there is a lot at stake and you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to develop insight, discover the deeper meaning of your behavior, and make decisions about your integrity and your relationship (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to deal with issues around micro-cheating and emotional affairs.

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.

Are You Afraid of Being Emotionally Intimate in Relationships?

People who are afraid of being emotionally intimate in relationships often avoid placing themselves in situations where they're fearful of getting hurt.  This fear can take many different forms (see my articles: Relationships: Fear of Being Emotionally VulnerableAn Emotional Dilemma: Wanting and Dreading Love, How Ongoing Ambivalence Can Ruin Your Relationship and Overcoming the Fear of Falling In Love and Getting Hurt).

Are You Afraid of Being Emotionally Intimate in Relationships?

Many people, who tend to fear emotional intimacy in relationships, do well during the initial stage of the relationship--until the relationship becomes more emotionally and sexually intimate.  Once the relationship becomes more intimate, their core fears, which are often based on earlier childhood experiences, get triggered.

For people who become fearful in an intimate relationship, the discomfort often involves fear of loss or fear of getting hurt:  Their partner might leave them, the partner might cheat or the partner might hurt them in some way that will be emotionally devastating for them.

If the fear is overwhelming, these people often lose perspective and leave the relationship abruptly before they've had a chance to try to be objective about their fears and before their partner can address their concerns (see my article: Fear of Abandonment: Leaving Your Relationship Abruptly Because You're Afraid of Being Abandoned and How Your Shifting Self States Affect You For Better or Worse).

Some people who are especially fearful avoid being in relationships altogether.  After a few hurtful experiences, they rationalize their avoidance of relationships by projecting their fears onto others (see my article: Discovering That Your Feelings Aren't Facts).

Examples of this are women who say, "All men are dogs who cheat, so why should I even bother to get into another relationship with a man?" or men who say, "Women can't be trusted. They're spiteful and vengeful.  That's why I don't want to be bothered with being in a relationship."

Often, these distorted beliefs are so firmly held and ingrained that it's hard to counter them.  People will often cite their experiences of one relationship after another where they were hurt by other people.  What's missing from these rationalizations is that they kept unconsciously choosing people who weren't trustworthy.

Fictional Vignette About Fear of Being Emotionally Intimate in Relationships
The following fictional vignette is an example of fear of being emotionally intimate in a relationship and how this issue can get resolved in psychotherapy:

Cassie, who was in her late 30s, came to therapy because she was becoming increasingly fearful of getting hurt in her relationship with Jim.

At the point when Cassie came to therapy, she and Jim were dating for about a year.

According to Cassie, things were going well during the first eight months or so.  But when Jim began talking about taking the relationship to the next level, moving in together, Cassie began feeling overwhelmed with fear.

During the times when Cassie could be more objective, she recognized that she was "looking for things" in terms of how Jim might hurt her.

When she could be more objective, she knew that she was overreacting to things that weren't really a big deal (e.g., Jim arrived 10 minutes late for their date because he was held up in traffic; he was moody with her after he had a tough day at work, and so on).

During her more objective moments, Cassie didn't think that Jim was cheating on her or that he wasn't trying to intentionally hurt her.  But when she was emotionally triggered, her fear was so great that all she could think about was getting out of the relationship to protect herself.

Sometimes, when she felt especially vulnerable, Cassie would tell Jim that she no longer wanted to be in a relationship with him.

After a few hours of feeling a sense of relief, Cassie would realize that she made a mistake, panic that she wouldn't be able to get Jim back and that she would be alone for the rest of her life, and then she would call Jim and ask him to forgive her.

The first few times that this happened, Jim was compassionate.  He understood that Cassie was afraid and he took her back.  But when this continued to happen, Jim was losing his patience.  He suggested that she get help in therapy or their relationship might not survive.

Cassie told her psychotherapist that she had a chaotic childhood with her parents constantly separating and getting back together.  She described her father as an "alcoholic philanderer" and her mother as "a martyr" who kept taking the father back despite his many broken promises (see my articles: Adults Who Were Traumatized as Children Are Often Afraid to Feel All Their Feelings - Part 1 and Adults Who Were Traumatized as Children Are Often Afraid to Feel All Their Feelings - Part 2).

Cassie said that, from a young age, she vowed never to be like her mother and never to choose a man like her father.

Her first relationship at age 18 was with a man who was 10 years older than her.  Before she knew him well, she moved in with him so she could get out of her parents' home.

That relationship only lasted a few months because Cassie discovered that he was an active alcoholic and emotionally abusive.  Having no other choice, Cassie moved back in with her parents and she was miserable until she met the next man who became her boyfriend.

Cassie described one relationship after the other where she was with men who were emotionally abusive and untrustworthy.

In her more objective moments, Cassie recognized that Jim was the most stable man she had ever dated.  But her fears of getting hurt were so great that she would lose sight of this when she got emotionally triggered.

Cassie's therapist began by helping Cassie to learn how to recognize when she was getting triggered and how to calm herself before she took any action that she would regret.

Her therapist also helped Cassie to recognize that there was a more vulnerable part of her that took over when she felt afraid, but it was only one part of her (see my article: Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

They worked in therapy with this more vulnerable part, which stemmed from Cassie's chaotic childhood experiences by doing Ego States work.

Eventually, when Cassie was able to regulate her emotions more, they did EMDR therapy to work through the earlier trauma that was getting triggered (see my articles: What is EMDR Therapy? and EMDR Therapy: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough).

The work in therapy was neither quick nor easy for Cassie, but she could see that she was making progress after a while and so could Jim.

Many people are fearful of being emotionally intimate in relationships primarily due to earlier childhood experiences and their unconscious choices of unhealthy relationship (see my article: Choosing Healthier Romantic Relationships).

The work in therapy usually starts by helping the client to regulate their emotions so they're able to calm themselves, get a more objective perspective and stop acting precipitously in their relationships (see my article: Developing Internal Resources and Coping Strategies).

This helps them to get off the emotional roller coaster where they are breaking up, regretting it and then asking to get back together again.

It's important for people who are afraid of being emotionally intimate to recognize that their fear, although overwhelming at the time, involves a part of them and not the whole (this applies when there is no objective reason to believe that the partner is untrustworthy).

Once the client recognizes that it's an aspect of him or herself that is getting triggered, the therapist can work with that part .

Along the way, if all is going well in therapy, the client becomes more emotionally stable and less likely to act on fearful emotions when there's no objective reason to do so.

At that point, assuming the client is emotionally ready to do so, the therapist can help the client to work through the core traumatic issues from the past that are getting triggered in the present (see my article: Overcoming Trauma: When the Past is in the Present).

One of the advantages of using EMDR therapy is that it has a three-pronged approach for dealing with trauma in the past, present and future.

Getting Help in Therapy
If this article resonates with you, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional who has experience working with trauma (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to work through your fears so that you're able to have healthier relationships and a more meaningful life (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

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

I have helped many clients to work through emotional trauma.

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.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Denial and Illusions in The Iceman Cometh

Letting go of illusions (or "pipe dreams") is part of the challenge of being a middle-aged adult.  It's usually a time of coming to terms with what's possible, what's not possible and how you want to live the rest of your life (see my articles: Midlife Transitions - Part 1: Reassessing Your Life  and Midlife Transitions - Part 2: Living the Life You Want to Live).  But this is not the case for the characters in Eugene O'Neill's play, The Iceman Cometh, who maintain and reinforce each other's denial and illusions.

Denial and Illusions in The Iceman Cometh

The Play: The Iceman Cometh
Written in 1939 and first published and performed in 1946, O'Neill's play centers around down-on- their-luck alcoholics who spend most of their time at Harry Hope's bar in Manhattan reminiscing about their past and how "one day" they'll regain the lives they once had.

Although the play was written almost 80 years ago, the psychological themes in this play, illusions and denial as a defense against dealing with reality, are timeless.

The Characters in The Iceman Cometh
Each of the characters is bound to his illusion about how he will get back on his feet.  Even though they're all at lowest point in their lives, these illusions and a heavy dose of denial keep them going.

Some of the characters include:
  • Harry Hope: The bar owner who hasn't walked outside his bar since his wife died 20 years before.   He maintains the illusion that he has been unable to go outside because he's still grieving for the wife he loved so much.    He believes that, somehow, he will able to go outside again one day and reconnect with his old Tammany Hall friends that he hasn't seen since his wife died.
  • Larry Slade: Nicknamed the Foolasopher, he was once part of the US anarchist movement before he became disillusioned with it, believes himself to be done with life and he is waiting to die.  He sees through the illusions of the other characters, but he doesn't see his own illusions.
  • Don Parritt: At age 18, he is the youngest character.  He seeks out Larry Slade, Parritt's mother's former lover when they were both part of the anarchist movement.  He confesses to Slade about selling out the movement, which resulted in his mother's incarceration.  Even though he has longstanding resentments against his mother for neglecting him, he tries to convince Slade (and himself) that he didn't know that his mother would be incarcerated.  Eventually, he will face his self deception.
  • Pat McGloin: The former police lieutenant, who was fired from the police force, and who believes he will one day get his job back.  
  • James Cameron: Nicknamed "Jimmy Tomorrow," he was fired from his job in publicity due to his alcoholism, and he believes he will one day get his job back.
  • Joe Mott: The only African American in the play, he once ran his own gambling house, and dreams of the day when he will one day run another gambling house.

The Role of Hickey in Confronting the Others About Their Illusions and Denial
All of the characters are eagerly waiting for Theodore Hickman (nicknamed "Hickey"), a traveling salesman who comes to the bar a few times a year, including on Harry Hope's birthday.  In their eyes, Hickey is a lively, funny and generous guy who tells funny stories and buys them drinks.

But when Hickey finally shows up on Harry Hope's birthday, he is a changed man--much to the shock and dismay of the other characters.

Challenging Illusions and Denial
Not only has he stopped drinking, but he tells them that he has let go of his illusions and that this has freed him.  He challenges the others to let go of their pipe dreams, so they can be free as well.

As someone who knows them well and who is also good at reading and manipulating people, Hickey confronts each character about his particular illusions.

With his forceful and persuasive personality, he gets each character to face his fantasies and fears now instead of continuing to believe that they will do it "one day."

Hickey lets them know that the Old Hickey used to be an alcoholic and a philanderer who regularly cheated on his wife.  He had tremendous guilt because his wife always forgave him.  In the past, he vowed over and over not to hurt her again, to no avail.  But the New Hickey has seen the light.  Rather than feeling guilty and disappointed in himself for continuously hurting his wife, he made changes in his life.

Hickey comes across as someone who has discovered the truth and who is now preaching the "gospel" to the others.  But all the while he is harboring a deep secret.

Of course, none of the characters are able to confront their fears and fantasies, which has served to keep them going.  And as a result, they must each face that they've become like zombies, and life has no meaning for them without their illusions.

Then, Hickey reveals his secret...

The Benefits of Reading The Iceman Cometh
Without giving away the dramatic ending, I believe that The Iceman Cometh is a fascinating play with universal psychological themes.

Although it would be easy to dismiss these characters' stories because they're severe alcoholics who have lost their way, the story highlights how easy it is for anyone to hold onto illusions and the personal repercussions involved.

If you haven't read The Iceman Cometh, I highly recommend that you read it and consider the psychological roles of illusion and denial (see my article: The Benefits of Reading Literature).

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

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

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

How to Overcome Anxiety Dreams

In prior articles, I've addressed anxiety in its many different forms (see my articles: What is the Difference Between Fear and Anxiety?,  Tips For Coping With Panic AttacksGetting Help in Therapy For Anxiety DisordersOvercoming Social Anxiety, and Overcoming Adult Separation Anxiety).  In this article, I'm discussing anxiety dreams and how to cope with them.

How to Overcome Anxiety Dreams

What Are Anxiety Dreams?
Anxiety dreams often involve issues around performance at school or at work, being unprepared for a big event, discovering that you're not wearing clothes in public, and other similar themes.

Anxiety dreams often occur when you're under stress or you've been avoiding a particular situation.  The dreams aren't necessarily about the exact situation that you're stressed out about.

Anxiety Dreams About a Situation You're Avoiding
For instance, if you've been avoiding doing your taxes, you might have a dream that you're back in high school, even though you've been out of high school for many years, and you discover that you're unprepared for a test.  Or, you're about to address an auditorium full of people and as you're standing at the podium, you realize that you forgot to put on your pants.  You feel powerless.

How to Overcome Anxiety Dreams

The anxiety dream signals to you that there's something you need to take care of that you've been avoiding.  Your unconscious mind is sending you a message that you need to do something to handle the situation.

Anxiety Dreams About a Stressful Situation
You might also be under a lot of stress about a situation that your fear and the fear spills over into your dreams.

For instance, if you have a project at work where you're feeling in over your head, you might have a dream about waking up late for work and then having problems getting in.  When you get on the train to go to work, its going the wrong way or you get confused about which train to take.

Anxiety Dreams About Unresolved Emotional Problems
Unresolved emotional issues can result in anxiety dreams, especially if these issues continue to get triggered in the present.

For instance, if you have unresolved grief about the loss of your mother, you might have anxiety dreams where your mother shows up in your dream, but she remains far away from you.  No matter what you do to get her attention or to get closer to her, there's some obstacle that gets in your way, and you feel guilty that you're unable to reach her (see my article: Coping With the Loss of a Loved One: Common Reactions).

Another example of having anxiety dreams about unresolved emotional problems might involved unresolved trauma related to emotional abuse that you experienced when you were a child.  You might have a dream where you're trying to get help, but you suddenly can't speak no matter how hard you try.  The more you try to tell the other person that you're being abused, the more confusing it is because you have no voice.

Tips That Can Help You to Overcome Anxiety Dreams
  • Write Down Your Dreams:  Have a pad and pen close to the bed and write down your dreams as soon as you wake up.  Don't rely on your memory to remember the dream later because chances are good that you'll forget your dream.
  • Notice Any Patterns in Your Dreams: When you're able to look at the dreams that you've written down, you can see if there are any patterns to your dreams.  Are you have recurring dreams?
  • Take Action on Issues You're Avoiding or Stressed Out About: If you've been avoiding dealing with a particular problem and you're having anxiety dreams, your unconscious mind is probably sending you a signal in your dreams that you need to take action.  If you can begin taking positive steps to resolve the problem, you're probably going to feel less anxious and the anxiety dreams might stop.

Getting Help in Therapy
If the self help tips above don't help you, you would probably benefit from getting help in therapy to deal with unresolved issues that you're unable to resolve on your own (see The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to discover the underlying issues that cause you to have anxiety dreams and also help you to work through these unresolved problems (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Recurring anxiety dreams can be frustrating and frightening.  Many people who have recurring anxiety dreams develop sleep problems because they're afraid to go to sleep and experience another anxiety dream.

Rather than continuing to suffer on your own, get help from a licensed mental health professional so you can deal with your anxiety and have a more peaceful life.

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

I have helped many clients to overcome problems with anxiety, including anxiety dreams related to current stressors or unresolved trauma.

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