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Monday, August 28, 2017

Increasing Your Self Confidence and Resilience By Challenging Yourself

In prior articles, I've written about particular aspects of developing resilience (see my articles: Developing Emotional ResilienceResilience: Bouncing Back From Life's ChallengesDeveloping a More Resilient Self in PsychotherapyNavigating Life's Transitions, and Staying Emotionally Grounded During Stressful Times).  In this article, I'm focusing on how to develop resilience and self confidence by challenging yourself (see my article: The Power of Making a Commitment).

Increasing Your Self Confidence and Resilience By Challenging Yourself

Resilience isn't an all or nothing thing.  If you've survived in life until now, you've built up a certain amount of resilience.  And every challenge that you overcome builds even more resilience (see my article: Moving Out of Your Comfort Zone).

Increasing your resilience increases your confidence to face whatever obstacles might come your way, and it allows you to bounce back from setbacks more easily (see my article: Opening Up to New Possibilities in Your Life).

It's never too late to increase your resilience and self confidence by challenging yourself.

For instance, athletes, who are striving to be more competitive and to win bigger prizes, keep pushing themselves to beat their best score.  Or actors, who want to hone their acting skills, keep working on a part until they're satisfied.

But you don't have to be an athlete or an actor or, for that matter, in any particular field to increase your resilience.  You also don't have to wait until a catastrophe occurs in your life to be challenged.

You can find ways in your every day life to challenge yourself to go beyond where you are now, overcome the obstacles involved and build resilience and self confidence.

Increasing Resilience and Self Confidence in Your Everyday Life:
Here's an example:

Reframing Adversity
Looking back on an adverse situation that you overcame in the past, look at the positive aspects that helped you to learn and grow rather than focusing on the negative aspects (see my article: Developing a Positive Perspective By Reframing and Turning Lemons Into Lemonade During Life's Ordinary Disappointments).

For instance, if you were fired from a job in the past, instead of dwelling on all the negative aspects of that situation, think about what you learned from this challenge and how you grew as a person:

A Fictional Example of Reframing Adversity:
Bob lost his job without warning when he and his coworkers were suddenly called into their boss's office and told that it was their last day due to the company's financial problems.

Bob was just as shocked as his coworkers.  He went home, told his wife and then he was tempted to spend the rest of the week in bed with the covers over his head.

But Bob was determined that he wouldn't allow this situation to make him feel defeated or diminished.

So, even though he considered himself to be a shy person and networking was very difficult for him, he challenged himself to make five phone calls a day everyday to former supervisors and colleagues to reconnect with them and find out if there were job opportunities at their current workplaces or if they knew of anyone who might be helpful.

On most days, Bob found this to be a humbling, tedious and fruitless process.  But he kept telling himself that he needed to keep plugging away.  He didn't have the luxury of not working.

Over time, he also realized that he was getting to spend more time with his wife and children, which he really enjoyed.

He also had time to write the article that he had been meaning to write for months for his professional organization.  He was thrilled when it was accepted for publication.

He also had more time to spend on his hobbies.

By the fourth week, Bob reconnected with a former colleague, Joe, who suggested that Bob call one of Joe's former colleagues, Dan, for a possible job opening at Dan's company.  Joe said he would put in a good word for Bob.

When Bob called Dan, Dan said he didn't know of any openings at his company, but he knew for sure  that there was an opening at another company and since Joe was recommending him so highly, Dan would give his contact, Ed, a call.

Increasing Your Self Confidence and Resilience By Challenging Yourself

Two months later, Bob was in a new job that paid more than the job that he was laid off from.  It also offered him new professional opportunities.

When Bob reflected back on his job search process, he felt good that he remained steadfast in his purpose.  Even though it was very challenging for him to keep plugging away, over time, he felt more confident and he bounced back from setback of losing his prior job.

Looking back on the experience, Bob realized that there were many positive aspects to his having lost his job--including spending time with his family, getting an article published, and working on hobbies that he enjoyed.

He also realized that he was able to overcome the fear and frustration of losing his job to find an even better job by being persistent and not allowing negativity to drag him down.  Not only did this build his self confidence in terms of facing other challenges in his life, it also allowed him to feel that he could bounce back from future setbacks.

Setting an Intention For Yourself and Sticking With It
Setting an intention can be a powerful tool in succeeding in a particular goal.  Sticking with your intention, even when you're tempted to give up, can help you to build your self confidence and resilience, especially when you see the results that you desire (see my article: The Power of Starting the Day With an Intention).

A Fictional Example of Setting an Intention and Sticking With It
Here's an example:

Nina rose through the ranks at her job because of her hard work, diligence and creative problem solving.

At her current level, she was supervising three people, and she hoped that she would be promoted to a managerial position within the next year.

But when a managerial position opened up and Nina applied for it, her director told her that he was very happy with her work, but the managerial position required a Master's degree and she only had a Bachelor's degree.

He encouraged her to get her Master's degree if she wanted to be considered for managerial position.  Needless to say, Nina was disappointed.

Nina looked into various Master's programs that had evening programs because she couldn't afford to stop working.  She hesitated, at first, because she saw how daunting it would be to work full time and attend a Master's program at night.

But she also knew that, whether she stayed with her current employer or left for another job, her lack of a Master's degree would be an obstacle for her.  So, she applied to a Master's program, took out loans, and resigned herself to having very long days and weekends filled with work.

She was surprised to discover that, even though it was a tremendous amount of work and a financial sacrifice, she really liked her professors, her course work and her classmates.

During the time when she was working full time and attending the evening Master's program, she had to turn down many social invitations because she didn't have the time to socialize.  It was lonely.  She also wondered if the debt she was incurring would be worth it in the long run.

There were times when she considered giving up and being satisfied with where she was in her career, but she knew she wouldn't be satisfied for long, so she persevered.

Increasing Your Self Confidence and Resilience By Challenging Yourself

By the time she received her degree, another managerial position opened up, and her director offered her the job.  He also met with her to talk about her career path at the company and other possible promotions if she did well in the new managerial position.

Looking back on the experience, Nina knew that she gave up a lot in terms of socializing, getting enough rest and taking on student loans.  But she felt proud that she was persistent and diligent enough to put aside other concerns so she could accomplish her goal.

Nina also knew that by setting an intention and sticking with her goal, she felt more confident about herself and resilient in terms dealing with future challenges.

What's Getting in the Way of Your Facing Challenges and Accomplishing Your Goals?
Many people, who have experienced early trauma, have difficulty dealing with adversity and accomplishing their goals (see my article: Understanding Why You're Affected By Trauma From a Long Time Ago and Overcoming the Traumatic Effects of Childhood Trauma).

People who have been very traumatized also have difficulty even setting goals.

Early traumatic experiences affect how they feel about themselves.  They often lack confidence in themselves or feel undeserving, telling themselves:  "I'm not good enough" or "Who am I kidding?  I'll never amount to anything" (see my article: How Our Expectations and Beliefs Affect Us).

Often, these are messages they received as children, either directly or indirectly from their caregivers, who might have also felt beaten down by their own early experiences (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

For people who are weighed down by emotional trauma, it's especially hard to overcome these negative messages that they have internalized from a young age.  This also creates, at times, insurmountable obstacles to facing challenges.

Getting Help in Therapy
There are times when you can't overcome the emotional obstacles that you're facing on your own.  You need the help of a skilled psychotherapist to overcome the trauma that's holding you back (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How Psychotherapy Helps You to Open Up to New Possibilities in Your Life).

Many people, who need help, never seek it out.  They feel too ashamed, and they remain weighed down by their early trauma throughout their lives (see my article: Looking at Your Childhood Trauma Through an Adult Perspective).

If you're aware that, despite your best efforts, you've been unable to overcome the emotional trauma that keeps you stuck, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: Overcoming Self Doubt That Keeps You Stuck).

Freeing yourself from a traumatic history gives you a chance to live your life in a more fulfilling way without the obstacles that are keeping you down.

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, August 21, 2017

Resilience: Remembering Your Past Comebacks So You Can Overcome a Current Setback

One of life's many challenges involves overcoming setbacks. One strategy that is helpful to develop resilience and overcome a setback is to remember your past comebacks during challenging times (see my article: Developing Resilience, Resilience: Bouncing Back From Life's Challenges,  Developing a More Resilient Self in PsychotherapyCoping With Frustration, Navigating Life's Transitions and Turning Lemons Into Lemonade During Life's Ordinary Disappointments).

Resilience: Remembering Your Past Comebacks So You Can Overcome a Current Setback
During setbacks, it's easy to dwell on everything that went wrong.  It's also easy to remain mired in self blame where you're internal critic gets the best of you and paralyzes you (see my article: Overcoming the Internal Critic).

But the important thing to remember during a setback is that you bounced back during prior setbacks, possibly even worse setbacks than what you're experiencing now.

Resilience: Remembering Your Past Comebacks So You Can Overcome a Current Setback

Think of the current situation as a learning experience:

Over time, overcoming setbacks allows you to build resilience.

When you can overcome your disappointment to look at the situation clearly, you will often discover that you have dealt successfully with other challenges in the past, and you can use these same skills to overcome the current setback.

Resilience: Remembering Your Past Comebacks So You Can Overcome a Current Setback
Often, this involves changing your attitude about the setback.  If you're overcome with self criticism and telling yourself, "I knew I wouldn't be able to do it" and "I'm not good enough," you're working against yourself and making it that much harder to overcome the current setback.

But if you can develop a more objective perspective about your situation, step back and recognize that you have bounced back before, you're more likely to open up to new ways to overcome your problem.

In the long run, what's most important is not that you're having a setback, but your attitude and what you do about it.

Unresolved Emotional Trauma Can Have an Adverse Effect on Overcoming a Setback
People who have experienced emotional trauma, especially unresolved childhood trauma, often get triggered by setbacks.

If they grew up feeling powerless, unlovable or not good enough, a setback can seem like a confirmation of their negative feelings about themselves (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

This is very difficult to overcome on your own.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're finding it difficult to overcome a setback on your own and it's triggering feelings of worthlessness related to unresolved emotional trauma, rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist, who specializes in helping clients to overcome trauma (see my article: Overcoming Emotional Trauma and Developing Resilience).

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to overcome unresolved trauma that's getting triggered by the current setback.  This can help you to overcome the current challenges as well as future challenges.

Rather than suffering on your own, get the help you need so you can free yourself from your traumatic past to live a more fulfilled life.

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

I specialize in helping clients to overcome 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.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Emotional Survival Strategies That No Longer Work: "I don't need anyone"

Unresolved early childhood trauma usually leads to emotional survival strategies that were adaptive during childhood, but they are no longer adaptive for adults.  They also often lead to distortions in self perception.  It's not unusual for adults, who were abused or neglected as children, to become adults who deny their own emotional needs and reject emotional connections with others (see my articles: Understanding Why You're Affected By Trauma That Occurred a Long Time AgoGrowing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated, Are You Feeling Trapped By Your Childhood History?Overcoming the Traumatic Effects of Childhood Trauma, and Looking at Your Childhood Trauma From an Adult Perspective).

Emotional Survival Strategies That No Longer Work: "I don't need anyone."

These survival strategies and distortions in self perception are unconscious.  Underneath them are a lot of fear, hurt, anger and shame.

One way to avoid feeling these underlying feelings is intellectualization.  When it is used to avoid unconscious emotions, intellectualization is a defense strategy.  More about this later.

These problems can begin early in infancy when the baby's primary caregiver is either shutdown emotionally, continuously misattuned to the baby's emotional needs, emotionally neglectful or abusive.

Even if all of the baby's physical needs are being taken care of, the baby still needs emotional attunement from the primary caregiver in order to thrive and learn to develop healthy attachment.

A baby, who makes many attempts to get a caregiver to be emotionally attuned, eventually gives up and shuts down emotionally.  Not only does the baby feel resignation about getting his emotional needs met, but he also gives up and dissociates.

If this is a pervasive experience in a baby's life, it will affect brain development as well as emotional development.

This survival strategy of dissociating is adaptive at that point for the baby because it would be emotionally unbearable to continue to yearn for love and attention that won't be given by the primary caregiver.

But this survival strategy, as an adult, is maladaptive and usually results in disconnection from oneself and others.

The dilemma for this adult is that he (or she) yearns for love and connection, but he's too fearful of getting his needs met, so he either (unconsciously) connects with other adults who cannot meet his needs or he believes himself to be "independent," someone who doesn't need other people.

As mentioned before, a common pattern for people with this problem is to either avoid relationships altogether by intellectualizing ("I only need my books") to negate the yearning for love and connection.

Fictionalized Scenario
The following fictionalized scenario illustrates these dynamics:

Shortly after Jane was born, she was left with her maternal grandmother when her mother moved from Florida to New York to find work.

Jane's grandmother did the best that she could, but she was often overwhelmed by taking care of her other grandchildren, her responsibilities in the house and running the family business.  As a result, she had little time to spend with Jane aside from meeting Jane's basic physical needs.

The grandmother was raised to believe that if a baby cried, the baby should be left to cry it out rather than being picked up, otherwise, the baby would be spoiled.

How Emotional Survival Strategies Develop in Infancy

So she left Jane crying for long periods of time in the crib.  Eventually, Jane would give up out of sheer physical exhaustion as well as a primitive sense that it was hopeless to keep trying to get anyone's attention.

When Jane's grandmother noticed that Jane was quiet in her crib and was just staring into space, she thought this was good.

To be clear, the grandmother wasn't trying to harm Jane in any way.  She just didn't understand the developmental harm that was being done by not responding to the baby's crying.  And, aside from this, a quiet baby is a compliant baby and was much easier for the grandmother.

When Jane was 10, her mother sent for her to live in New York City.  Even though Jane and her mother had no contact since the mother moved to New York City, when Jane arrived, her mother expected Jane to be affectionate towards her.

But, instead of an affectionate child, Jane's mother encountered a child who showed little emotional reaction to her.  Jane was obedient and passive, but it was obvious that she felt no emotional connection to her mother.

Jane understood that the woman she was meeting after so many years was her mother--she understood it as a fact.  But it had no emotional resonance for her.  She complied with her mother's rules and directives, but Jane remained emotionally disconnected from her (see my article: Adults Who Were Traumatized as Children Are Often Afraid to Feel Their Emotions).

Jane's mother thought of Jane's emotional distance as Jane being willfully disrespectful of her.  She had no understanding, as many parents wouldn't, that Jane's aloofness was an unconscious survival strategy that she developed at an early age to cope with the lack of love and connection from infancy.

Meanwhile when she was at school, Jane's teachers noticed that she tended to isolate herself from other children.  While other children were playing during recess, Jane sat in the corner by herself reading a book.

When Jane's teacher told her mother that she was concerned that Jane wasn't interacting with the other children, Jane's mother dismissed the teacher's concerns, "My daughter is here to learn.  She's not here to make friends.  It's better for her to read than to play."

Throughout high school, Jane's mother discouraged her from dating, "There will be plenty of time for that after you graduate from college."   Jane didn't mind because she felt no need to date boys or to make friends, "I have my books.  I don't need anyone."

During her first year of college, Jane kept to herself. At first, her classmates tried to befriend her, but when they saw that Jane wasn't receptive, they thought that Jane thought of herself as being "too good" for them.  Their friendliness turned to scorn, and they laughed and ridiculed Jane.

Although Jane pretended not to notice, she saw and heard their criticism.  Sometimes it would bother her, but most of the time, she pushed down her discomfort and told herself that she didn't care what they thought, "I don't need anyone."  Then, she would study harder in an effort to avoid feeling her loneliness, anger and hurt.

Jane graduated college with a 4.0 GPA, which she was very proud of and so was her mother.  But she didn't get any interviews from the college recruiters at campus.

Jane applied for many jobs after she graduated college, but she received no responses.  She wasn't  aware that many companies looked not only for good grades--they also wanted to see that students were involved in college activities, and Jane avoided any activities while she was in college.

Eventually, Jane found a job as a part time bookkeeper, which didn't require a college degree.  She worked in a small office by herself.

After a year, Jane found a full time bookkeeping job.  This allowed her to move out of her mother's home to become a roommate in an apartment with three other young women.

Jane didn't really want to have roommates, but she couldn't afford to have her own apartment.  Even though Jane had no interest in making friends with her roommates, one of them, Cathy, went out of her way to be friendly with Jane.

To her surprise, Jane realized that she didn't mind being around Cathy because Cathy did all the talking when they were together and all Jane had to do was be polite and pretend to be interested in what Cathy was saying.

After Cathy asked Jane many times, Jane agreed to go with Cathy to a silent meditation retreat.  Jane thought, "How bad could it be?  All I have to do is be silent."

But when Jane began the silent meditation at the meditation center, she was surprised to discover that she felt upset and emotionally overwhelmed, and she didn't know why.  She asked the center director if she could read books instead, but she was told that she had to focus on meditation.

After a couple of days of silent meditation with no other distractions, Jane felt so emotionally overwhelmed with sadness that it was unbearable.  She felt ashamed to leave early, but she couldn't bear being so overwhelmed.

When she got home, Jane tried to distract herself from her sadness by immersing herself in her books and going online but, no matter what she did, she still felt engulfed by sadness and she didn't know why she was feeling this way and why she couldn't distract herself.

After experiencing overwhelming sadness for a couple of weeks, Jane knew she needed help, but she wasn't sure where to turn, so she sought help from her medical doctor.

Although she felt very ashamed of her feelings, especially since she couldn't think of any reason for her sadness, her fear that she was "going crazy" got her to talk to her doctor.

Jane's doctor explained to her that there was nothing physically wrong with her and that she needed to address these psychological issues in psychotherapy.  Then, he referred her to a psychotherapist.

Getting Help in Therapy For Emotional Survival Strategies That No Longer Work 
Over time, Jane learned in therapy that, as an infant, she developed an emotional survival strategy of disconnecting from her environment as a way to deal with the environment that she grew up in.  Her therapist explained to her that this is called dissociation and it's what babies do when they are being raised by a caregiver who neglects or abuses them.

Jane learned from her therapist that this early emotional survival strategy was adaptive at the time because to continue to yearn for love and attention when none was forthcoming would have been even more emotionally painful when she was an infant.

Her therapist explained that Jane continued to use this emotional survival strategy as an adult.  Jane used books and other intellectual pursuits to distract herself and dissociate from her environment, but it was no longer adaptive in Jane's life--in fact, it was getting in the way of developing healthy friendships and relationships.

When Jane went to the silent meditation retreat, her psychotherapist explained, and she wasn't allowed to distract herself with books, her sadness about years of emotional neglect and disconnection came bubbling up to the surface, and this was what Jane was experiencing now.

The feelings were so strong that Jane could no longer push them down so, rather than trying to suppress them, Jane needed to engage in trauma therapy in order to heal.

She could no longer remain in denial about not needing anyone, which was a defense against feeling her longstanding sadness.  Jane saw this defense mechanism for what it was--an emotional survival strategy and distortion in self perception that was now maladaptive.

The psychotherapist talked to Jane about EMDR therapy. She also took a thorough family history and helped Jane to prepare to do EMDR (see my articles: Overcoming Trauma With EMDR Therapy: When the Past is in the Present and EMDR Therapy: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough).

The work was neither quick nor easy (see my article: Psychotherapy: Beyond the Bandaid Approach).

But by the time Jane and her therapist began processing her early trauma, Jane trusted her therapist and, eventually, she was able to free herself from her history to lead a fuller life.

When infants are neglected or abused, they're able to develop survival strategies, on an unconscious level, that are adaptive at the time to ward off the devastating emotions that are the result of neglect and abuse.

Although it was adaptive at the time, these emotional survival strategies are no longer adaptive as an older child, teen or an adult.  These strategies keep people cut off from their feelings and in denial about their emotional pain.  It also keeps them cut off from other people.

Although they might believe that they really don't need anyone, this emotional survival strategy and distortion in self perception takes a lot of energy to maintain.

People often distract themselves from difficult underlying emotions with intellectual pursuits, drinking excessively, abusing drugs, gambling compulsively or engaging in other addictive and compulsive behavior.

When someone can no longer distract himself, these underlying emotions often come to the surface in a powerful way so that these emotions can no longer be denied.

Getting Help in Therapy
Various forms of trauma therapy, like EMDR therapy, clinical hypnosis or Somatic Experiencing are effective in helping people to overcome emotional trauma.

Rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself get the help you need from a skilled psychotherapist who specializes in helping clients to overcome trauma.

By freeing yourself from a traumatic history, you can lead 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 specialize in helping clients to overcome 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.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems

Many people avoid dealing with their emotions because they think it will be too emotionally overwhelming (see my articles:  Allowing Yourself to Feel Your Feelings so You Can HealUnderstanding and Expressing Your Emotions in a Healthy Way, and Working in Therapy to Accept Your Emotions).  Instead of allowing themselves to feel their emotions, they defensively suppress their emotions or numb themselves in order not to feel the unpleasant feelings.
How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems

Since we know so much more than we ever have in the past about the mind-body connection, we now know that these suppressed or numbed feelings don't just disappear--they often take a physical toll and result in serious medical problems.

Suppressed grief can also result in compulsive and addictive behaviors, like excessive drinking, abuse of drugs, compulsive gambling, compulsive spending, overeating, smoking as well as other psychological problems such as problems with anger management, depression and anxiety.

Fictionalized Vignette:  How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems:
The following fictionalized vignette illustrates how suppressed emotions can manifest in medical and psychological problems:

Bill grew up in a family where no one dealt with unpleasant emotions, except anger (see my article: Psychotherapy Can Help You to Overcome the Effects of Growing Up in a Family That Doesn't Talk About Their Feelings).

When he was 16, his paternal grandfather, who lived with Bill and his family, died unexpectedly.  Bill found out about his grandfather's death when he came home from school and his father told him that his grandfather died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack.  The emergency management technicians were just taking the grandfather's body out as Bill arrived.

Bill and his grandfather were very close.  As he heard the news from his father, he began to cry, but his father scolded him and told him not to be "such a crybaby."   He told Bill that he needed to "be a man" and "stop acting like a girl."

Hearing his father's words, Bill stopped crying and tried to follow his father's example.  Throughout the funeral, Bill watched his mother and sister sobbing, but the men in the family remained stoic.  From their examples, Bill learned that this was what it meant "to be a man."

At age 38, Bill went for a physical exam to find out the cause of his headaches.

After his doctor ruled out any other medical causes for Bill's headaches, he told Bill that his headaches were probably due to psychological problems, and he should see a psychotherapist.

How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems

When Bill went to therapy, as part of his family history, he also revealed that the men in his family, especially his father, never expressed any unpleasant feelings, except anger, because it was considered "unmanly."

Bill gave many examples of times when he felt very sad, including when his grandfather died, when he was told that he needed to "be a man" and stop crying.

Bill told his therapist that it had been many years since he had been aware of unpleasant feelings--except anger, and he often felt angry and would sometimes lash out at his girlfriend and family members.

Bill's therapist told him that he had learned from a young age to suppress most of his unpleasant feelings and suppressing his feelings had medical and psychological consequences for Bill.

His therapist explained the mind-body connection to Bill to help him understand why he was having his current problems (see my article: The Body Offers a Window Into Unconscious Mind).

His therapist used Somatic Experiencing to help Bill to overcome the emotional numbing that he was experiencing (see my article: Understanding the Mind-Body Connection and Somatic Experiencing).

The work that Bill did with his psychotherapist was neither quick nor easy.  It took time.

Gradually, over time, Bill learned that allowing himself to feel his emotions and express them in a healthy way was not "unmanly."

Over time, Bill grieved the loss of his grandfather and other losses in his life that he never allowed himself to feel.

How Suppressing Emotions Can Lead to Medical and Psychological Problems

As Bill learned to allow himself to feel all his feelings, he no longer got headaches.  He was amazed that he had so much energy now that he wasn't using a lot of energy to suppress his feelings.

Although the vignette above is an example about a boy who suppressed his emotions and continued to engage in this behavior as an adult, this problem is not limited to men--it happens to women too.

Young girls and women are often told by well-meaning family members that they have to be "the strong ones" in the family to help others through difficult times.

The rationale behind this misguided advice is that the women are "supposed to be" the nurturers and caregivers in the family, so they can't allow themselves to feel or express their emotions, especially sadness, because they have to take care of everyone else.  As a result, this suppression of emotions is equally destructive for women too (see my article: Overcoming the Need to Be Everyone's Caretaker).

People who have never been to therapy often think that "not suppressing emotions" means that they just "let it out" however it comes out.  This is definitely a misunderstanding of what it means to feel and express emotions.

The key is to feel and express emotions in a way that is healthy to the person with the emotions as well as the people around them.  So, it doesn't mean that they allow themselves to act in ways that are abusive to others or to themselves.

Cultural or family behavioral patterns are often factors that play a role in the suppression of emotions.  For example, as in the fictionalized vignette above, if a boy is told over and over again that "being a man" means that boys and men never allow themselves to feel or express sadness, this is a learned behavior that usually needs to be unlearned in therapy and replaced by healthy behavior.

Getting Help in Therapy
Whether you're numbing yourself emotionally or you're engaging in other self destructive behavior to suppress emotions, you can get help in therapy before your self destructive behavior results in serious medical or other psychological problems (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).

Anxiety and depression are often the result of pushing down emotions that people either fear or find unacceptable in some way.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to understand the root of your problems, work through unresolved trauma, and learn how to replace self destructive behavior with healthy ways of coping (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling to overcome these problems on your own, you can work with an experienced psychotherapist who can help you to lead 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 people to overcome self destructive patterns so they can lead healthier and more fulfilling lives.

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

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

Psychotherapy Blog: A "Flight Into Health" as an Escape From Therapy

In a prior article, Overcoming the Urge for "a Flight Into Health," I discussed a particular dynamic that comes up with many clients as they talk about childhood abuse.  In this current article, I'm focusing on childhood neglect, which is often more difficult to detect than abuse, and how it can affect relationship choices as an adult (see my articles: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Problems Later on in Adult Relationships? and As an Adult, Overcoming the Effects of Childhood Trauma).

"A Flight Into Health" as an Escape From Therapy

In psychotherapy, the term "a flight into health" implies that the client leaves therapy abruptly out of fear, telling herself that she no longer needs therapy.  This often happens when something comes up in therapy that the person is frightened by and not ready to deal with at that point.

This doesn't mean that the client is lying or trying to fool the therapist.  Usually, the client really believes that s/he is ready to leave therapy but, based on whatever came up just before the client decides to leave, the therapist usually knows that this is a defensive gesture on the client's part that comes from fear.

An astute psychotherapist will try to reengage the client to discuss what came up and what might have frightened the client.

If the therapist and client have a good rapport, the client might be willing to come back for another session to explore whatever might have come up to cause him or her to leave.

If the therapist and client haven't established a rapport, the client might not be open to exploring this further because s/he really believes everything is okay or, even if s/he knows things aren't okay, s/he might feel too emotionally vulnerable to explore it further.

A Fictionalized Scenario
Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario, based on many cases, which deals with a "flight into health" involving a history of childhood emotional neglect:

Mary started therapy because she wanted to make healthier relationship choices (see my articles: Choosing Unhealthy Relationships: Bad Luck or Poor Choices?Falling In love With "Mr. Wrong" Over and Over Again and Choosing Healthier Romantic Relationships.

She attended a few sessions with a psychotherapist who was recommended to her, and told the therapist about her tendency to get involved with men who were in and out of life.

The relationships usually started out well.  With each relationship, Mary thought there was a possibility for a long term relationship.  But whenever she and the current man in her life would became more serious, the man disappeared.

Mary was very confused and hurt about these dynamics and wanted to stop choosing men who turned out to be so unreliable.

By the second session, the therapist asked Mary to share her family history, and Mary said she thought she had "a very good childhood."  But when she talked about her parents, she was very vague, and the therapist had to ask questions in order to understand the family dynamic.

A "Flight Into Health" as an Escape From Therapy 

As a result of the therapist's questions, Mary alluded to her father being around sometimes and not around other times.  But as soon as she said this, Mary looked uncomfortable and guarded.

She folded her arms in front of her chest, and said, "He was a very good father, even if he wasn't around all the time.  He had a rough childhood himself and I don't hold it against him that he would sometimes have to disappear for months at a time."

Having said this, Mary appeared upset.  She told the therapist that, until now, she never thought about how similar the dynamics were between her and her boyfriends and her and her father.

Since Mary was the one who made this connection, the therapist asked Mary what it was like to realize this.  But Mary was at a loss for words.

Mary remained quiet for a while, and then she said that she needed to leave the session early.  The therapist tried to help Mary to calm down, but Mary told the therapist that she was "alright"--she just needed to leave.  She said she would come in for her session next week.

But a few days before her next session, Mary left a message on the therapist's voicemail, at a time when she knew the therapist wasn't there, saying she was "feeling better" and no longer needed to come in.

Her therapist knew that Mary was bothered by what came up in the prior session, and she tried to reach Mary a few times, but Mary didn't return her phone calls.

Several months later, after being hurt and disappointed again by another man, Mary resumed therapy with the same therapist.

Initially, she was defensive, saying that she didn't want to talk about her family, "After all, my parents both did the best that they could."

When her therapist asked Mary why she left the last time, Mary didn't respond to the question.  She said she only wanted to focus on her current life and what she could do to find a man who would treat her well.

As soon as she said that, she began to sob and told her therapist, "I don't even know why I'm crying."

Her therapist realized that Mary wasn't ready to make any further connections between her father and the unconscious choices she was making about the men in her life.

She knew she had to develop more of a rapport with Mary.

The therapist also knew that  they would need to go slowly, and she would need to help Mary with the anxiety about these issues--otherwise, Mary would become too anxious again and she might take another "flight into health." And next time, she might not come back.

Her therapist suggested that they begin by working on coping skills and helping Mary to develop internal resources.

Based on their work together, Mary began to meditate for 10 minutes in the morning and at night.  She also started a beginners yoga class.  In addition, her therapist helped Mary to visualize a relaxing place so that whenever she felt anxious, she could imagine herself going there.

As the holidays approached, Mary talked about trying to decide if she wanted to go home to see her family or not.  She still maintained that she had "a very good childhood," but she also expressed her strong ambivalence about going home.

When her therapist asked Mary about this, Mary started getting agitated, so her therapist suggested that Mary visualize the relaxing place, do the breathing exercises she taught her, and then they could resume talking about her family--if Mary wanted to do it.  Her therapist made it clear that it was up to Mary if they talked about the upcoming holiday and her family or not.

After Mary relaxed a little, she said she didn't want to make it sound like there were problems in her family home.  She said, "Far from it..."  But she was unable to articulate why she had mixed feelings about going home to her parents.

By the next session, Mary brought in a dream:  She was five years old and she was waiting for her father by the window that faced the street.

In the dream, every time she saw a man walking towards the house, she got excited because she thought it was her father.  But each time the man got closer, she could see that it wasn't her father and she was disappointed each time. The dream ended with Mary waiting and waiting and her father never showed up.

After she told the dream, Mary burst into tears.  She remembered being that little girl by the window many times, hoping to see her father, but he didn't come.

Her therapist was listening and sensing what was going on for Mary and if she would be able to explore this further.  Rather than push her to go somewhere where she wasn't ready to go, she would take her cues from Mary (see my article: The Therapist's Empathic Attunement and The Creation of the Holding Environment in Therapy).

Mary seemed to be in her own world, as if she was back in the dream, "I don't understand why my father came and went like that.  I know he loved us, but he would just suddenly leave without saying a word and we never knew when he was coming back."

Her therapist remained attuned to Mary and stayed close to Mary's experience, reflecting back to her how difficult that must have been for such a young girl.  Mary nodded her head.

By the end of the session, Mary told her therapist that she felt supported by her and she was grateful for that.  She had never felt so supported in her life before.

During the next few sessions, Mary continued to talk about the dream and how it reflected her childhood experience with her father.  She went back and forth between feeling sad and defending her father vs. telling her therapist what a good man he was.

When Mary felt comfortable, they did "parts work" where Mary imagined her younger self sitting next to her and she spoke to her younger self to soothe and reassure her.

Then, her therapist asked her to switch roles and be her younger self and ask Mary for what she needed.  Mary said she felt soothed by these exercises.

When she came in the next time, she talked about a recent dream where she was sitting on the couch next to her five year old self, holding and rocking her.  She said she felt the sadness from her younger self, but her younger self also felt comforted, and Mary was happy that she could do this for her.

Several months later, Mary came in and told her therapist that she thought she felt a little more comfortable now exploring the connection between her relationship with her father and her relationships with the various men that she dated.

Her therapist said they could do this, but she wanted Mary to tell her if she began to feel like she wanted to leave therapy.  She asked Mary to talk about it, if she could, rather than acting on it.

Mary said she would try to do this, and she said she might feel like leaving, but she really wanted to stay and talk about it, especially now that she felt a stronger bond with the therapist.

A "Flight Into Health" as an Escape From Therapy
Gradually, over time, Mary was less defensive and she was able to express her sadness and anger about her father's erratic behavior when she was a child.

She also began to understand how she was unconsciously repeating these experiences in her current life by choosing men who would behave in a similar way as her father.  Unconsciously, she was repeating this behavior in the hope that there would be a different outcome.  This is called repetition compulsion in psychotherapy.

This was a big step for Mary, and it was the beginning of her healing process.

She admitted that talking about this felt a little anxiety provoking, but her anxiety was no where near what it had been.  She also felt good that she could say this, and it didn't feel nearly as frightening as it did when she first made the connection on her own when she began therapy.

A "flight into health" is a reaction that many people in therapy have when something comes up in therapy that causes them to feel anxious and they're not ready to deal with it.

This is usually an unconscious response.  At that point, the client is often convinced that whatever symptoms or problems brought them into therapy are now gone--they're "better" now.

If clients in this situation remain long enough for the therapist to help them to develop the skills to cope with their fear, they can eventually go back, when the client is ready, to explore together what was too frightening before.

When clients leave therapy, as in the fictionalized vignette above about "Mary," they often return at some point because they become aware that their problems aren't really gone.  It just seemed that way because they convinced themselves of it out of fear.

At that point, the client and therapist can strengthen the therapeutic alliance between them by allowing the client to set the pace.

Most skilled psychotherapists know that it's counterproductive to push clients beyond where they can go emotionally, especially if they're not feeling safe.

It's better to take a step back and help the client to develop the necessary internal resources so that if and when the client becomes ready, s/he can feel more confident to deal with whatever comes up, knowing that the therapist is there for them.

Getting Help in Therapy
It's often comforting for clients to know that if they've taken "a flight into health" that they're not the only ones who have ever experienced this.

If you recognize this dynamic in yourself, you can be assured that an experienced psychotherapist understands this dynamic.

Whether you return to your former therapist or decide to see someone else, you're not alone.  You can think of the"flight into health" as a temporary obstacle that a skilled therapist can help you to overcome.

Being afraid and ambivalent about exploring uncomfortable personal problems is normal.

It's also alright to tell a therapist that you're uncomfortable, and the two of you can work together to help you get to the point where you feel more comfortable.

The first step is making the phone call to get help.

Freedom from a traumatic history allows you to live a more fulfilling life.

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

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome emotional trauma.

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

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

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Connection Between Abandonment Issues and Codependency

I've written about fear of abandonment and codependency in prior articles (see my article: Is Fear of Abandonment Keeping You in an Unhealthy Relationship?Abandonment Issues Can Get Triggered When Your Therapist is Away,  How Psychotherapy Can Help You to Overcome Fear of AbandonmentOvercoming Codependency: Taking Care of Yourself First and Exploring the Secondary Gains of Codependency).  In this article, I'm focusing on the connection between abandonment and codependency.

The Connection Between Abandonment Issues and Codependency

Fear of being abandoned usually starts at a young age.  When I refer to being "abandoned," I'm not just referring to being physically abandoned--I'm also referring to the more common experience of being emotionally abandoned, which might be less obvious than physical abandonment.

One common outcome of being emotionally abandoned as a child is that that child grows up to be an adult with codependency issues, which includes going from one relationship to the next, choosing unhealthy relationships or isolating out of fear of being abandoned.

A Fictionalized Vignette
The following fictionalized vignette illustrates how being emotionally abandoned at an early age can lead to codependent relationships:

Ann was raised by her mother and maternal grandmother because Ann's mother was only 15 when she gave birth to her.  She never knew her father.

Ann remembered her mother being very resentful towards her because her mother felt she missed out on a lot adolescent activities because she had to take care of Ann as a child.

When her mother was especially resentful towards Ann, she would tell Ann that Ann was ugly and no boy would ever be interested in her because of her ugliness.

When Ann was older, she understood that her mother was very young, immature and irresponsible and she was acting out by rejecting Ann.  But even though throughout her life people told her that she was an attractive and kind person, Ann believed her mother's words, which Ann had internalized at a deep level at a young age (see my article:  Dynamics of Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families).

Ann married the first young man who was interested in her, and she believed that she was lucky to find a man who cared about her, despite her being "ugly" in her own eyes.

At 18, Ann had no idea what marriage was about.  She just knew that she was glad that she had someone and that she didn't become "an old maid" like her mother told her that she would be.

Ann didn't know her husband, Tom, very well when she married him.  But within a few months of their getting married, she found out that he was an alcoholic and he got angry and loud when he was drunk.  He also became emotionally abusive calling her names and telling her that she was useless.

The Connection Between Abandonment Issues and Codependency

Since Ann grew up with a mother who was verbally abusive with her and she already had low self esteem, she believed Tom.  She thought it must, somehow, be her fault that he was drinking too much, and he did everything he could to blame her.

She believed that if she tried hard enough, she could help Tom to stop drinking.  She wanted to help him to get sober.  But she was also afraid that if she didn't help him, he would leave her and she was very afraid of being abandoned (see my article: Overcoming the Need to Be Everyone's Caretaker).

She did everything that she could think of to help Tom to stop drinking, but it was futile because he didn't want to stop and he kept blaming her (see my article: How to Stop Being the "Rescuer" With Your Loved Ones and Relationships: Why Emotional Abuse Might Seem "Normal" to You).

When she confided in her best friend, Carla, she told Ann that she wasn't to blame for Tom's drinking.      She said to Ann that if she didn't leave Tom, she was going to have a miserable life.  Carla knew because she watched her father drink himself to death and watched her mother and everyone in the family suffer, including Carla.

After three years of being with Tom and watching him lose one job after another, Ann felt emotionally and physically exhausted.  They barely got by on her salary.

By then, Ann was no longer in love with Tom.  Just the sight of him drunk and lying passed out on the couch made her stomach turn.  But she dreaded being alone, so she stayed, feeling helpless and hopeless about her life (see my article: Fear of Abandonment: Are Your Fears of Being Alone and Lonely Keeping You in an Unhealthy Relationship?).

A few years later, Tom was rushed to the hospital and he was diagnosed with pancreatitis due to his excessive drinking.  The doctor told Tom in front of Ann that if he didn't stop drinking, he was going to die.  But it made no difference.  Once he was discharged from the hospital, Tom resumed drinking even worse than before.

One day, when he was in a drunk stupor, he told Ann that he wanted a divorce.  He continued to blame her for his drinking and told her he wanted out of their marriage.

Ann was stunned and terrified of being alone.  Even though, at this point, she hated Tom, her fear of being alone was much greater than her dislike of her husband.

She pleaded with Tom not to leave her.  Tom took that as a sign that he could bargain with her, so he told her that if he was going to stay in their marriage, he wanted to be able to see other women.  He told her that he was too young when they got married and missed out on sowing his wild oats.

After much arguing, Tom said this was the only way he would agree to remain with her, so Ann agreed.  At that point, she felt she would agree to anything so she wouldn't be alone.  She feared she would never meet anyone again.

Soon after that, Tom began spending most of his time in bars where he met other women.  One night, Ann woke up to the sound of Tom and a woman laughing and having sex in the living room.

Ann was furious that Tom would be so disrespectful of her, but she pretended not to know what was going on.

After that, she knew she had to get out of the marriage, but she was still too afraid to be alone.  She felt desperate to leave Tom for another man because she knew if she had someone else, she could leave Tom.

Fast forward 10 years:  Ann divorced Tom and soon after the divorce, she married Bill, who was kind and gentle to her.  He also had a steady job, so all the financial burdens weren't on her shoulders.

But a few months into their marriage, Ann discovered that Bill was a compulsive gambler.  She also found out that he was heavily in debt, something he never revealed to her and he owed money to loan sharks.

Ann bailed Bill out time after time and hoped that he would stop gambling, but his gambling just got worse over time--to the point where Ann couldn't bail him out anymore.

By the time Ann came to therapy, she was in her late 30s and she had been through several dysfunctional relationships.

As she described her relationships to the therapist, the codependent pattern was the same with each relationship.  Ann was continuously trying to rescue these men and blaming herself for their problems.

Before she ended one relationship, she made sure she had the next relationship lined up so she wouldn't be alone, which she still dreaded.  As a result, she got into relationships without knowing these men well.

Her current husband, Jack, was obsessed with Internet pornography to the point where he spent hours online.  Initially, he hid it from Ann, but then one day she discovered his problem when she saw the browser history (see my article: Sexual Addiction: Is a Compulsion For Viewing Pornography Online Ruining Your Marriage?)

Once again, Ann blamed herself for not being pretty enough and sexy enough to hold Jack's attention. She tried dieting (even though she wasn't overweight), she bought sexy clothes and tried doing everything she could think of to be more attractive, but nothing changed.

She came to therapy because she hoped the therapist could help her to save her marriage.  She knew, on some level, that all of these relationships had the same pattern and that this marriage was probably not going to work out.  But she would do anything to avoid being alone.

She was too afraid to leave Jack and she feared he might lose interest in her altogether and leave her.  She wanted the therapist to tell her what she could do to help Jack.

When the therapist asked Ann to focus on herself, Ann became angry.  From Ann's point of view, she didn't have a problem--Jack had the problem.

The therapist listened to Ann patiently and then explained codependency to Ann.  She also recommended a book that Ann could read about codependency.

Ann wasn't happy about this, but she didn't know what to do, so she began reading the book.  After a few pages, Ann realized that this book could have been written for her.  She recognized herself on nearly every page, and she finished the book in a day.

When Ann went for her next therapy session, she was much more open to exploring her early history and it affected her (see my articles: Understanding Why You're Still Affected By Trauma That Happened a Long Time Ago).

At first Ann felt ashamed but, over time, Ann's shame diminished.  She began to understand the connections between her fear of being abandoned, her codependency and her childhood history (see my article: Healing Emotional Wounds in Therapy and Healing Shame in Psychotherapy).

As she continued to work on herself in therapy, over time, she developed more confidence in herself.  She also began to feel that she deserved to be treated better.

Once she was ready to work on her early childhood trauma, Ann and her therapist focused on her emotionally abusive relationship with her mother, and Ann saw parallels between how her mother treated her, how unlovable Ann felt as a child, and her relationships with men.

She regretted how much time went by before she got help, but she also knew she would have probably continued in the same relationship patterns for the rest of her life if she never went to therapy.  And she was grateful that she was feeling better about herself and working through the earlier trauma (see my articles: Overcoming Emotional Trauma Developing Resilience and Becoming Resilient).

Within a year, Ann left Jack and she decided that she would learn to spend some time alone rather than rushing into another relationship.

Although she still had some fear about being alone, she was no longer terrified by it.  She worked in her therapy to appreciate her solitude and, after a while, she was surprised to discover that she wasn't lonely or afraid of being alone anymore.  She actually enjoyed her own company (see my article: Solitude vs. Feeling Lonely and Abandoned).

The Connection Between Abandonment Issues and Codependency

When she was ready, Ann began dating again.  This time she felt much more deserving in terms of what she wanted from a relationship.

When she met a man that she really cared for and who cared for her, she took the time to get to know him before they moved in together.

It can be very difficult to see the connection between fear of abandonment, codependency and earlier trauma, especially if you're so fearful of being alone that you go from one relationship to the next without really knowing the person.

The desperation to avoid being alone can lead to unhealthy relationship choices.

Becoming aware of this pattern is the first step.  Accepting that you have a problem is the next step, and taking action to get help is the step after that.

A skilled psychotherapist, who knows how to help clients to overcome these unhealthy patterns, can help you to understand and overcome these problems.

Part of the work in overcoming these patterns is preparing you to do the trauma work in therapy.  This means helping you to develop the necessary coping skills to work on the emotional trauma (see my article: Developing Internal Resources and Coping Skills).

Therapy to overcome these patterns also involves working through the original trauma, so that it no longer gets played out in your relationship choices.

Getting Help in Therapy
Rather than suffering on your own and continuing to get into dysfunctional relationships, get help in therapy from a licensed mental health professional who has experience helping clients with these issues (see my articles: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Being able to free yourself from your traumatic history will allow you to live a much more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

I have helped many clients to overcome their fear of abandonment, codependency and history of 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.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Your Unresolved Trauma Can Affect Your Children

In a previous article, Overcoming Your Emotional Blind Spots, I began a discussion about how your unresolved trauma can affect your loved ones, including your children.  In this article, I'm exploring this further by delving deeper into the affect of parents' unresolved trauma on their children (see my article: Untreated Emotional Trauma is a Serious Issue With Negative Consequences and Overcoming Childhood Trauma That Affects Adult Relationships).

Your Unresolved Trauma Can Affect Your Child
Most parents want the best for their children and would never intentionally overlook a problem that their children are having.  But having an emotional blind spot usually means that the problem is out of your awareness so that you don't see it.  And if you don't see it for yourself, you often won't see it when it involves your children.

When the blind spot involves unresolved trauma, there's an even greater chance that the problem will go undetected.

A Fictionalized Vignette About How a Parent's Unresolved Trauma Can Affect a Child
The following fictionalized vignette is based on a composite of many different cases with all identifying information changed:

After years of enduring a chaotic family environment, Jane was relieved to move out of her parents' home when she went away to college.  Her family home was a tense, volatile place where Jane never knew when one of her parents would explode.

Your Unresolved Trauma Can Affect Your Child
Jane was dimly aware that her parents had narrowly escaped from a repressive regime in their native country, but she didn't know what really happened because they refused to talk about it.  Their attitude was that, unlike many of their relatives, they were fortunate enough to leave their country and  they wanted to leave behind everything that happened to them.

Even though her parents' traumatic experiences were never spoken about or even acknowledged, Jane sensed that her parents' emotional volatility was related to their unspoken experiences, but she didn't know how or why.  And since her parents' attitude was that they "left it behind" them and they refused to talk about it, there was no way for Jane to bring this up.

Instead of discussing it, without their realizing it, her parents' earlier experiences came out in other unintended ways, including their constant warnings that the "world isn't a safe place."

Not only were they overly protective of her, from an objective point of view, but they would become hysterical with worry over minor issues, including Jane coming home a little late when she saw her friends.  They were highly anxious people and assumed that she had been kidnapped or murdered.

Aside from their anxiety and volatility, Jane's father would often drink too much.  This exacerbated the volatile situation at home because he would become loud and even angrier than usual.  He and Jane's mother would argue more when he was drunk (see my article: People Who Have Alcohol Problems Often Don't Get the Help They Need).

But whenever Jane tried to talk to her mother about the father's alcoholism, Jane's mother made excuses for him and told Jane that Jane couldn't possibly understand what she and Jane's father had been through in their native country, and the father drank to "take the edge off."

After trying to talk to her mother about it several times, Jane gave up.  She realized that, even though her mother didn't like the father's drinking, her mother felt too conflicted about it to address it with him.   She knew it was  futile to try to talk to her mother about it, so she began to "tune out" whenever her father was drunk, and it didn't bother her as much (see my article: Growing Up Feeling Invisible and Emotionally Invalidated).

Jane felt compassionate towards her parents, even if she wasn't really aware of what happened to them.  But after she graduated college, she moved in with her college roommates, and she only saw her parents occasionally because it was too hard for her to be around them.

When Jane got married and had a baby, she was determined to be different than her parents.  She loved her daughter a lot, and she made conscious decisions that were completely different from what her parents did with her, and she felt proud of herself.

Your Unresolved Trauma Can Affect Your Child

When her marriage began to fall apart, Jane was determined that her daughter, Alice, would not experience the kind of volatility at home that Jane experienced as a child.  She refused to argue with her husband in front of her daughter.

And when she and her husband decided to get a divorce, they spoke to their daughter, who was in her mid-teens by then, together.  They assured her that they both loved her and would always remain in her life.  But Alice took the divorce hard, she began acting out at home, and her grades plummeted at school.

At the recommendation of Alice's guidance counselor, Jane brought Alice to therapy so Alice could work out her anger and sadness about her parents' divorce.

Initially, Alice was uncooperative in therapy, but as she developed more of a rapport with her therapist, she opened up more and began to like going to therapy.

As part of Alice's therapy, both Jane and her ex-husband met with the therapist and Alice once a month.  They were pleased with the progress that Alice was making in therapy and they both wanted the best for their daughter.

During the sixth month of therapy, Alice's therapist requested Jane to come to one of Alice's therapy sessions without her ex-husband.  This surprised Jane, and she wondered about it.  But she decided to wait to ask questions until after she had heard what this was about.

As soon as Jane entered the therapist's office, where Alice was already waiting for her, she sensed that Alice was very tense and uncomfortable.  She avoided making eye contact with Jane when Jane came into the room, which concerned Jane.

There was an awkward silence initially, and then Alice began to speak with an anxious voice.  At first, Jane couldn't understand what Alice was trying to tell her.  It was as if she heard Alice saying words, but she couldn't understand what she was trying to say.

Jane could see that Alice looked very frustrated by Jane's confusion, and Alice turned to her therapist in exasperation.  Then, Alice's therapist told Jane, "Jane, your daughter is telling you that she has a drinking problem."

Jane was stunned and speechless.  Her eyes darted from the therapist to Alice and then back to the therapist (see my article: Dynamics of Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families).

Alice began to cry and then she yelled at Jane, "Mom, I've been trying to tell you for the last year that I have a drinking problem, but it's like you just tune out!  You're not hearing me!  And you're still not hearing me!" (see my article: Ambivalence and Codependence in the Mother-Daughter Relationship).

The therapy session felt unreal for Jane.  It was as if she was having a bad dream and that any moment she would wake up from this dream.

She kept thinking to herself:  This isn't real.  I just have to open my eyes, and this will be over.   But why can't I open my eyes? (see my article: Overcoming Your Denial About Family Problems).

Then, she realized that Alice's therapist was telling Jane about a alcohol rehabilitation center for adolescence that she was recommending for Alice.  She offered to make the referral and could have Alice in treatment by the next day.

Alice explained to Jane that she had recently told her father about her drinking problem, and he was able to hear it.  But Alice was angry that Jane wasn't there for her about this.  Alice needed help and she needed her mother to be there for her now more than ever.

At that point, Jane felt like she was going through the motions.  She felt like a robot.  She consented for Alice's therapist to make the referral and drove Alice to the rehab.

Driving home from the rehab, Jane had to pull over because she felt overwhelmed with emotion.  Alone and frightened, she couldn't stop crying.  She couldn't understand how this all happened to her daughter--she thought she did everything right.

During a family visit to Alice's rehab, Jane met with Alice and her rehab counselor.  Alice had calmed down since the day Jane met with her and her therapist.  She was now able to calmly recount the times when she tried to tell Jane that she was drinking, but Jane seemed to almost go into a trance.

Although it was confusing and emotionally painful for her to listen to this, Jane listened attentively.  She felt guilty and ashamed. She would never have hurt her daughter intentionally, so she couldn't understand why she had not heard her daughter's cries for help (see my article: Healing Mother-Daughter Relationships).

The rehab counselor also explained the possible genetic link between Jane's father's alcoholism and Alice's problems with alcohol.  She told Jane that Alice was depressed and she was "self medicating" with alcohol (see my article:  Adolescent Depression).

When she met with the other visiting families in the rehab, she heard similar stories to her own--many mothers and fathers who had emotional blind spots and didn't hear their children's cries for help.

At that point, Jane realized that she wasn't alone, but she wanted to understand why she had this blind spot and what she could do about it, so she began attending her own individual therapy (see my article:  Psychotherapy to Overcome Your Past Childhood Trauma).

During the course of her individual therapy, Jane learned about intergenerational trauma and how it can affect one generation after the next in unconscious ways.

She realized that she was directly affected by her parents' unresolved trauma without realizing it, and that Alice was affected by her unresolved trauma.

Jane also realized that she coped with her parent's volatility and her father's alcoholism by shutting down or, to use a psychological term, dissociating.

She learned that this was her unconscious defense mechanism as a child to cope with an unbearable traumatic situation and that it worked for her at the time.  But this same unconscious defense mechanism was counterproductive later on in life with her daughter.

As Jane began to work on her own unresolved traumatic childhood experiences in therapy, she began to feel like a weight was being lifted from her.  She also started remembering times when Alice approached her to try to talk about her drinking problem.

These memories, which, until recently were dissociated in Jane's mind, were very painful to remember.  As part of her treatment, Jane apologized to Alice, who was much more forgiving of Jane after she heard about Jane's experiences as a child.

Until then, Jane had never spoken to Alice about these experiences because she didn't want to burden Alice.  But Jane wanted Alice to understand that these were longstanding unconscious problems and that she didn't know that they were affecting her ability to be completely present with Alice.

Jane also worked on self compassion for not being as good a mother as she hoped that she would be.  She developed compassion for herself as an adult as well as for the struggling child she had been in her family home (see my article: Psychotherapy and Compassionate Self Acceptance).

Unresolved emotional trauma often has a way of getting played out from one generation to the next in ways that are unconscious to everyone involved.

It's not unusual to trace back this intergenerational trauma for many years, even though it might be very hard to detect by people who don't have psychological training.

This is one of the major reasons why it's important to get treated for unresolved trauma before it has an impact on your children, their children and generations to follow.

Getting Help in Therapy
We know so much more about psychological trauma and intergenerational trauma and how it can be transmitted to one generation after the next (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Trauma therapists are also uniquely trained to help clients with unresolved trauma to overcome the effects of the trauma (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than continuing to suffer with the effects of unresolved trauma, you can get help from a licensed psychotherapist who is a trauma therapist so you and your family can live more fulfilling lives.

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

As a trauma therapist, I have helped many clients to overcome single event traumas as well as longstanding unresolved 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.