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Monday, January 22, 2018

Psychotherapy as a Co-Created Process Between the Psychotherapist and the Client - Part 2

In my prior article, I began a discussion about psychotherapy as a co-created process between the psychotherapist and the client.  I'm continuing this discussion to delve deeper into this topic, specifically about how the client and psychotherapist co-create the therapeutic relationship.

Psychotherapy as a Co-Created Process Between the Client and the Psychotherapist 

How the Client and Psychotherapist Co-Create the Their Therapeutic Relationship
As I mentioned in my prior article, the concept that psychotherapy is a co-created process is part of contemporary psychotherapy and it's different from how psychotherapy was practiced in the past.

There is now a recognition that each client-psychotherapist relationship is unique--just as any other type of relationship between two people is unique.

It's the psychotherapist's responsibility to provide the client with psychoeducation about psychotherapy and how she works in therapy.

If the psychotherapist uses Integrative Psychotherapy, as I do, she will explain the different therapy modalities that she uses, which can be used individually or in combination.

For instance, if the psychotherapist is trained as a contemporary psychoanalyst and she also does EMDR Therapy, she can explain how these two modalities can be used in combination (see my article: Contemporary Psychoanalysis and EMDR Therapy: A Powerful Combination to Overcome Trauma).

Most likely, she will also explain that if one modality doesn't work for this particular client, she can switch to another modality.

The relationship between the client and the therapist is also known as the therapeutic alliance.  At the most basic level, the therapeutic alliance is based on the therapist being able to provide a safe, trusting relationship, also called the "holding environment"  (see my article: The Creation of the Holding Environment in Psychotherapy).

Contemporary psychotherapy is a two-person therapy.  It's an intersubjective experience between the client and the therapist where the therapist is attuned to the client (see my article: The Psychotherapy Session: A Unique Intersubjective Experience).

Even though the psychotherapist is the one with the expertise in doing psychotherapy, most  psychotherapists also rely on feedback from the client about what's working and what's not working in therapy for the client (see my article: How to Talk to Your Psychotherapist About Something That's Bothering You in Therapy).

Ideally, the therapist will ask at various points in therapy and encourage the client to give feedback at other times but, even if your therapist doesn't ask you for feedback, it's important to give feedback to her.

Why is it important?  It's important for the therapeutic process and also for maintaining a good relationship with your psychotherapist that you provide her with feedback as to how the therapy is going (see my article:  Why Being Honest With Your Psychotherapist is the Best Policy).

Many people have problems giving feedback to their therapists because they were discouraged or even punished for giving feedback to their parents when they were children, so even as adults, they still carry that fear.

Other people don't feel entitled to give feedback.  They think of it as "complaining" and they don't want to "offend" their psychotherapist.

So, instead of giving feedback, they might pretend that everything is going well in therapy, and the end result is that the client doesn't get what she needs in therapy, the therapy is an "as if" therapy and nothing changes.

Many psychotherapists recognize when clients are hold back from talking about misgivings in therapy or that a certain aspect of therapy isn't working for them, so they will try to elicit feedback.

But there are times when the therapist doesn't see it, and the therapy becomes ineffective or, rather than express himself, the client leaves therapy prematurely (see my article: When Clients Leave Psychotherapy Prematurely).

The client's trust and sense of safety develop over time.  For some clients, it happens relatively quickly and for others it can take a while, especially if they've had early experiences where they couldn't trust their parents or other close family members.

The therapeutic alliance is also based on there being a good match between the client and the therapist.

Initially, you might not know if a particular therapist is a good match for you.  You might need a few therapy sessions to be able to discern if the two of you are a good match.  This doesn't mean that the therapist isn't skilled or that you're being "resistant."  It might just mean that, like any two people, the two of you aren't a good fit.

Some psychotherapists are better trained, educated and more skilled than others as well as more empathetic than others.

An empathic failure can result from a psychotherapist's oversight, but in a good therapeutic relationship, once the client provides feedback about an empathic failure or other rupture in the therapy, there is an opportunity for a repair (see my article: (see my articles:  Why is Empathy Important in Psychotherapy?What is Empathic Failure in Psychotherapy? and Ruptures and Repairs in Psychotherapy).

But if there are consistent empathic failures on the therapist's part, you would be wise to tell the therapist that you don't think the therapy is working for you and then seek out another therapist.

Even when you think the therapy isn't working for you, it's still important to provide the therapist with feedback rather than just leaving abruptly or disappearing from therapy.

Why?  It's not for the therapist (although it can be beneficial).  It's for your benefit to be able to assert yourself and speak up for what you need, especially if this is challenging for you (see my article: Ask For What You Need in Therapy).

So, if the therapy is going relatively well because you have a good therapeutic alliance with the therapist and you're starting to make changes in your life, does this mean that there will be all smooth sailing ahead?

Not necessarily.  There is the issue of transference, which is unconscious and which can change over time (see my articles:  What is Transference in Psychotherapy?,  Psychotherapy and the Positive Transference,  What is the Negative Transference? and Psychotherapy and the Erotic Transference: Falling "In Love" With Your Psychotherapist).

Having a negative transference at a certain point in therapy isn't necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, it can turn out to be beneficial.  Often, a negative transference is based on earlier relationships with parents where you weren't able to work out these issues with your parents.

But in a good therapy, you have a unique opportunity to work out these issues with a therapist who is receptive to working on issues in therapy that might have triggered earlier unresolved problems.  This can be healing to you and help you to resolve those earlier issues.

Getting Help in Therapy
It takes courage to admit that you have a problem and to ask for help (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

Many people start therapy with a sense of ambivalence, especially if they've never been in therapy before (see my article: Starting Psychotherapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).

Getting help in therapy starts with calling for a consultation.

The purpose of the consultation is to talk about your problem in a general way and to ask the therapist questions about her experience, training, history of helping clients with similar problems, and how she works (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Working through your problems in therapy can lead to your living a more fulfilling and meaningful life without the "baggage" from your history.

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.

Psychotherapy as a Co-Created Process Between the Client and the Psychotherapist - Part 1

In prior articles, I discussed some of the myths and misconceptions that people often have about psychotherapy (see my articles:Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're "Weak"Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy Takes a Long Time and Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Therapy is "All Talk and No Action").  In this article, I'm focusing on another myth that many people, especially if they've never been in therapy, which is that therapy is something that happens to them as opposed to therapy being a co-created process between the client and the psychotherapist.

Psychotherapy as a Co-Created Process Between the Client and Psychotherapist

What Does It Mean that Psychotherapy is a Co-Created Process?
As opposed to going to see a medical doctor or your dentist, good therapy is a collaborative process between the client and the psychotherapist.

In other words, in good therapy the client and the therapist work in an interactive and dynamic way to help the client to define and resolve his or her problems.

In the past, psychotherapy was a more hierarchical process where psychotherapists believed they knew what was best.  They made interpretations about clients' problems and expected the client to either agree with the interpretations or work on the clients' resistance to the therapist's interpretations (see my article: Contemporary Psychotherapy: Redefining the Traditional View of "Resistance" in Therapy).

There are still some psychotherapists who work this way, and it works for some clients.  But the vast majority of clients want a more collaborative process where the client and the therapist both have input into defining the problem and working on a resolution.

Psychotherapy as a Collaborative Process Rather Than Something That is "Done" to You
Rather than seeing the psychotherapist has someone who has "all the answers," most clients are comfortable with the idea that the psychotherapist has a particular expertise in helping clients to work through their problems, but they also recognize that, as clients, they need to participate in the process (see my article: Why It's Important For Psychotherapists NOT to Have "All the Answers").

Rather than seeing therapy as something that is "done" to them, clients who have experience with contemporary psychotherapy know that the therapist can help to facilitate the process, suggest certain ways of working in therapy, help the client to develop coping mechanisms and internal resources, help the client to develop insight into his or her problems, assist the client to make changes, and point out self defeating patterns or defense mechanisms getting in the way, but the therapist can't tell you what to do or wave a magic wand to make the problems go away.

I'm mentioning this because many clients who have had brief experiences with psychotherapy will often say that they left a particular psychotherapist because the therapist didn't tell the client "what to do."

Similarly, people who have never been in therapy might expect the therapist to give them advice.

It's easy to see why people with no or only brief experience with psychotherapy might think that the therapist is responsible for giving advice or resolving problems.  These clients might have gone to school counselors or other types of counselors in the past where advice is often given.

But psychotherapy is different from counseling in that psychotherapists help clients to explore problems and come up with solutions as a result of that exploration, but they don't tell you what to do.

This is why it's so important for psychotherapists to provide clients with psychoeducation during the initial phase of psychotherapy, especially for clients who have little or no experience with psychotherapy (see my article: Why It's Important For Psychotherapists to Provide Clients With Psychoeducation About How Psychotherapy Works).

In my next article, I'll discuss further aspects of the co-created process in psychotherapy.

Getting Help
Everyone needs help at some point in life.

Often, family and friends aren't helpful for particular problems and you need the help of a licensed mental health professional.

Many people avoid starting psychotherapy because they have misconceptions about therapy or they don't know what to expect (see my article:  The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

When you see a psychotherapist for an initial consultation, you would benefit from asking questions about psychotherapy, the therapist's background and training, and how this particular therapist works.  You're not only entitled to know these things, you will benefit from knowing it.

Rather than suffering on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a skilled psychotherapist who can help you to work through your problems (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.

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.

See my article: 
Psychotherapy as a Co-Created Process Between the Client and the Psychotherapist - Part 2

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.