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Monday, April 10, 2017

Psychotherapy Blog: Why You Can't "Think" Yourself Into Wellness

Understanding and developing insight into your problems is important but, unfortunately, it's often not enough to change your problems (see my article: Healing From the Inside Out: Why Understanding Your Problems Isn't Enough).

Why You Can't "Think" Yourself Into Wellness

Many people either never go to therapy to deal with emotional problems and many others leave therapy prematurely because they believe they can "think" themselves into wellness (see my article: When Clients Leave Therapy Prematurely).

There's no denying that understanding and developing insight into your problems is important, but it's only the first step.  You use your logical mind to understand and try not to repeat the same problems, if it's in your power.

But when your problems are deeply rooted in psychological trauma, your logical mind often isn't enough.  You need help from a licensed mental health professional to help resolve on the underlying problems that go beyond the logical part of your brain.  You need a skilled therapist to help you deal with the problem on the level of the emotional brain.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized vignette that illustrates these points:

Ed
Ed grew up in a family that was nearly destroyed by his father's gambling.  He saw first hand how the family struggled whenever his father lost money at casinos.

When Ed was 10, his mother threatened to leave the father if he didn't stop gambling, so the father stopped going to the casinos.  Instead, he started drinking heavily.

Cross Addiction: Switching One Addiction For Another

Ed's mother resigned herself to being in a marriage with a man who came home and locked himself in his "man cave" in the basement and drank every night.  She was relieved that, at least, she could pay the bills.  But they continued to drift apart.

As is often the case when people give up an addiction without getting help for the underlying issues, drinking replaced the gambling and led to the father having a fatal heart attack when he was in his early 50s.

By that time, Ed was a successful manager at a top company in NYC and married to a woman that he met in college.

Looking at Ed from the outside, it appeared to most people that Ed "had it all" (see my article:

But Ed had a big secret that he was very ashamed of:   Whenever he got paid, he made big bets on sports events.

Sometimes he won, and sometimes he lost.  But no one, except the person who placed bets for him, knew about his betting, not even his wife.

Sometimes, to cover his losses, he had to withdraw money from his savings.  Then, he was desperate to recoup his losses and he would frantically place more bets.

Logically, Ed knew that he needed to stop betting, but he couldn't control his impulses.  He kept chasing his losses and if he won, he wanted to win more.

One day, his wife, Nina, happened to look at their bank statement and she was shocked to see such a low balance compared to what had been in the account only a few months ago.

Normally, she didn't look at the statements because let Ed manage their finances.  So, when she saw the balance, her first thought was that either the bank made a mistake or someone hacked into their account.

When Ed got home, she showed him the statement and asked him what he thought had happened.  At first, he hung his head and didn't respond, and Nina began to feel sick.

Why You Can't "Think" Yourself Into Wellness
Reluctantly, Ed told her about his gambling problem and that he had been withdrawing the money.  Nina went into the bedroom and began to cry.

Ed tried to convince her that he had a "good feeling" about an upcoming football game and he knew he would win.  He only wanted to place one more bet to recoup his losses and then he would stop.

Ed and Nina argued for most of the night, and both of them called out sick from work the next day.

After being up all night, Ed promised Nina that he would never bet again.  He apologized profusely for keeping these secrets and betraying her.

Nina responded by telling Ed to seek help in therapy.  But Ed knew what he needed to do--he needed to stop gambling.  He told Nina that he didn't need a therapist to tell him this.  He could do it on his own.

For the next few months, whenever the person who placed his bets called him to find out it he wanted to place a bet, Ed told him that he wasn't going to bet anymore.  Each time, when he got off the phone, Ed felt dejected and tired, as if he was physically ill.

After a while, Ed began to feel bored and depressed.  He was tempted to place a bet on a basketball game, but he told himself over and over that he had promised his wife that he wouldn't do it, so he couldn't do it.  But he knew that he really wanted to do it, so he struggled with this internal conflict.

Then, one day, one of his colleagues, Jim, called Ed into his office and showed him a picture of a sexy, beautiful woman.

Ed knew Jim's family and he knew the woman in the picture wasn't Jim's wife, so he asked him about the woman.  Jim closed the office to his door and told Ed about the woman, who was with an escort service.

He told Ed in a low voice that he saw this woman from the escort service every few weeks and since he started seeing her, he felt on top of the world.  He said she told him that he was sexy and attractive and he felt like "a million bucks."

Then, Jim told Ed that he should call the service and have fun with one of the beautiful escorts.  He told him that they're very discrete and his wife would never know.

Ed laughed it off, but the image of the beautiful, sexy woman stayed in his mind.  He fantasized about how much fun it would be to be with her.  The more he thought about the happier he felt.

When Ed realized that he was feeling so good by just thinking about it, he told himself that he could try the service once and then never do it again.  He wouldn't tell anyone about it, not even Jim.  It would be his secret (see my articles: Infidelity: Married, Bored and Cheating and Overcoming Addiction: Boredom as a Relapse Trigger).

At the time, Ed didn't know about cross addiction and how a person could replace one addiction, like gambling, with another addiction, like sexual addiction.

Months later, his wife discovered an ad for an escort service in the pocket to Ed's jeans as she was doing laundry and got very upset.

When Ed got home, she threw the ad on his lap.  Ed froze and remained silent.

A week later, Ed began therapy with a psychotherapist who specialized in working with addictions, even though he wasn't convinced that he needed to be in therapy.

Over time, Ed learned about cross addiction and remembered that his father stopped gambling and began drinking heavily.

He also began doing the necessary work to understand the underlying issues that were part of his addiction, in addition to the possible genetic component, and what triggered him.

Why You Can't "Think" Yourself Into Wellness

The work wasn't easy or quick but, gradually, Ed began to realize that he couldn't just "think" himself into wellness.  He couldn't just tell himself not to gambling or engage in sex with escorts because that wasn't enough to override the deeper emotional issues that had to be worked through in therapy.

As he worked through the underlying emotional trauma and became aware of his triggers, Ed's impulse to gamble or have sex with escorts began to diminish because the underlying issues were getting worked on.

At the same time, Ed knew that he could never allow himself to become complacent and, along with therapy, he also attended Gambler's Anonymous and worked the 12 Steps with a sponsor.

Conclusion
There's a common misperception that if you understand your problems, you can avoid making the same mistakes.

While this might be true for certain problems, when you're dealing with more complex issues that have involve unconscious underlying issues, just telling yourself "to stop" isn't enough.

You might have the best intentions of never engaging in this behavior again, but it's not enough.

As many people know who have tried to stop engaging in addictive or dysfunctional behavior, it's very easy to replace one dysfunctional behavior with another, as the vignette above illustrates.

Whether it's gambling, sexual addiction or any other addictive behavior, you can get the same dopamine "rush" from many different types of dysfunctional behavior and this makes it difficult to stop.

Until you work through the underlying issues and discover your triggers, you will, most likely, continue to struggle or "white knuckle it" for a while, risking your relationship, your family, your job and everything that is precious to you.

Getting Help in Therapy
It's not easy asking for help (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help).

It's much easier to be in denial and to tell yourself that you can do it on your own.

Many people wait until they lose everything before they seek help, but it doesn't have to be that way (see my article:  The Myth About Having to "Hit Bottom" to Change).

Taking the first step of setting up a consultation can be your first step in your recovery.

Working with a skilled psychotherapist who has experience helping people with addictive behavior and emotional trauma can help to free you from an unhappy existence.

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

One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome the emotional trauma that is creating problems in their lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website:

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









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