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Friday, March 16, 2018

What Are the Characteristics of a Healthy Family?

Articles about family dynamics are mostly focused on dysfunctional families (see my articles: Dynamics of Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families). But, of course, there are also healthy, functional families, and I think it's also worth discussing the characteristics of a healthy family, which is the focus of this article.
What Are the Characteristics of a Healthy Family?

There's no such thing as the "perfect family" and the concepts related to functional and dysfunctional families are really on a spectrum with many families falling somewhere in between (see my article: A "Happy Family" Doesn't Mean a Perfect Family and Happy Families: A Strong Family Narrative Can Help to Build Resilience).

Characteristics of Functional Families:
The following characteristics describe a functional family:
  • A Safe Home Environment:  All family members feel emotionally and physically safe in the family home.  Each member of the family can express his or her feelings respectfully without fear of being ridiculed, criticized, dismissed or belittled.  There is no emotional, physical, sexual or abuse of any kind.  There is no substance abuse or addiction of any kind.
  • Parents Work Together to Co-Parent:  In a healthy family, parents work together as a team. A parent doesn't try to undermine the other parent or try to get children to take his/her side.  Parents work together to co-parent the children, even if they are divorced (see my article:  Co-Parenting After the Divorce).
  • Siblings Are Encouraged to Cooperate With Each Other: In a healthy family, siblings are encouraged to help one another and cooperate with one another (as opposed to a dysfunctional family where children are often pitted against each other). This doesn't mean that there isn't sibling rivalry or that siblings won't argue.  Basically, it means that the children have each other's back.
  • Healthy Values Are Instilled: Parents who instill healthy values, including respect for others who are different from you, are helping their children to grow into healthy individuals.  These values might be spiritual, a formal religion or an overall ethical view of life.  At the very least healthy values include living by the "Golden Rule" of treating others as you would want to be treated (see my article: Living Authentically - Aligned With Your Values and Becoming Your True Self).
  • Coping Skills Are Taught: As part of their natural development, very young children have low frustration tolerance and very little in the way of coping skills.  As children mature, it's the parents' responsibility to teach children healthy coping skills in an age-appropriate way.  By learning healthy coping skills, children grow into adults who can cope with small and large crises that are a normal part of life.
  • Promises and Commitments Are Honored: For children to have a sense of security, it's important for family members to honor their promises and commitments.  While this might not always be possible, placing a high value on keeping promises and commitments will go a long way to fostering a healthy family environment (see my article: Keeping or Your Breaking Your Promises).
  • Mistakes Are Acknowledged: Whether it's the parents or the children who make a mistake, family members acknowledge, take responsibility and make amends (see my article: The Courage to Admit You Made a Mistake).  In addition, parents raise children who are not afraid to make mistakes--as long as the mistakes aren't harmful to others (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Making Mistakes).
  • Healthy Communication is Modeled and Encouraged: Parents model healthy communication with each other.  They encourage their children to talk to them about whatever is bothering them, and children feel safe enough to come to their parents without fear of being belittled or ridiculed.  Parents also communicate to children about changes in the family in an age-appropriate manner (see my article: Talking to Your Young Child About Your Divorce).
  • Disagreements Are Settled in a Respectful WayAll families have times when there are disagreements between family members.  What is most important is how these disagreements are handled and how relationships within the family are repaired if there is a disagreement.  Parents and children respect one another even when they disagree.
    • Time Together is Valued: Family time is valued, including eating meals together as a family as much as possible, celebrating holidays and birthdays together, creating family traditions, and so on.  As children become adolescents, they will want to spend more time with their friends, which is a natural part of being a teenager and wanting more age-appropriate autonomy.  Family time could also include telling stories about extended family and prior generations so that children develop a healthy sense that they are part of a larger family network.
    • Change and Autonomy Are Respected: In a healthy family, parents recognize that their children have their own minds.  As children get older, children might develop values and opinions that are different.  Parents in a healthy family also allow for age-appropriate change and autonomy.  Differences are respected (see my article:  Being the "Different One" in Your Family).
    The concept of a healthy, functional family is on a continuum rather than it being an all-or-nothing issue of being functional or dysfunctional.

    In most cases, rather than worrying to be the "perfect parent," it's important to realize that, to paraphrase Donald Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst and pediatrician, you just need to be "good enough."

    I have included the characteristics of a healthy family in this article.  You might think of other characteristics and, if you do, you can drop me a line at the email listed below.

    Getting Help in Therapy
    Whether you're struggling with unresolved childhood issues that are affecting you now or other problems that you've been unable to resolve on your own, you could benefit from attending psychotherapy (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

    A licensed mental health professional can help you to resolve your problems so you can lead a more meaningful and fulfilling 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 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.

    How Your Perspective About Your Parents Changes Over Time

    Like most people, your perspective about your parents will probably change over the course of your lifetime.  Whether your parents are still alive or they have passed away, as you change, your perspective about your parents also changes (see my articles: You Continue to Have a Relationship With Your Parents Even After They Die).

    How Your Perspective About Your Parents Changes Over Time

    Whether you idealized your parents as a child or you resented them, as you get older and develop psychologically, you're able to see things about your parents that you weren't able to see at an earlier stage of your life.

    Depending upon your relationship with your parents and your life experience, this might mean that you no longer idealize your parents because you now see them as ordinary people or your resentment decreases because you now understand what they went through.

    As a child, there might have been aspects of your parents' lives that you didn't know or that you couldn't understand at the time.  But when you're older with more life experience, you will probably see your parents' in a different way.

    A new perspective about your parents allows for a change in your relationship with them.  Whether it brings you closer or causes you to feel more distant from them depends upon your particular circumstances.

    Fictional Clinical Vignette: How Your Perspective About Your Parents Changes Over Time
    The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how your view of your parents can change:

    Alice began psychotherapy after she discovered an old family secret about her parents' relationship.

    She told her psychotherapist that, after her parents moved out of their house and into an assisted living facility, she worked on gradually clearing out the house so that it could eventually be sold.

    Alice explained that she had a lot of feelings about emptying out the house because it was the house where she grew up and the only home her parents ever had in their long marriage.  Although she was glad that her parents would now live in a facility that would make life easier for them, she also felt sad that the house would no longer be part of her life after it was sold.

    The process of clearing out the house took a lot longer than Alice anticipated because, as she began the clearing out process, she found many old pictures, videos and letters.  She had so many memories to contend with that the process was almost overwhelming at times.

    Alice said that there was one day when she was going through her parents' belongings and she came across an old picture of her father and a woman that Alice didn't recognize.  Her father had his arm around the woman and the woman was gazing lovingly into his eyes.

    The picture was at the bottom of an old chest in the attic that belonged to her father where he kept old photos of his family, and college awards and certificates.

    When Alice turned the picture over to see the back, she was shocked to read a note in a woman's handwriting, "My darling, Rich, you are the love of my life.  Love, Ann."

    Alice noticed that the photo was dated 1962, which would have been 12 years after her parents got married.  She felt like a ton of bricks had just landed on her and she had so many questions whirling around in her mind that she had to sit down and take a deep breath:  Who was this woman and what was her father doing with her?  Did he have an affair?  Why was he holding onto this picture?

    How Your Perspective About Your Parents Change Over Time

    She told her psychotherapist that she sat in the attic for a long time not knowing what to do.  She had always been closer to her father than her mother and she looked up to her father ever since she could remember.

    At first, she placed the picture back where she found it and closed her father's chest.  Then, she took the picture out again and took it with her when she left.

    She was planning to visit her parents later on that same afternoon, but she called them and made an excuse as to why she wasn't coming.

    Then, she sat on her living room couch, looked at the picture and wondered whether to ask her father about it or not.  If she did ask him about it, she wasn't sure how to broach the topic with him.

    She wondered: If she spoke with him, would he get angry?  Would he tell her that it was none of her business?  But then she realized that her father had never been this way with her before.

    When her husband came home, she showed him the picture and he was surprised too.  He knew that it would continue to bother Alice until she spoke with her father, so he encouraged her to wait until she could speak with her father alone to ask him about it.

    Tossing and turning, she barely slept that night.  The mystery about her father and the woman in the picture was eating away at her.  She ruminated about it all night long.

    She thought about how in 1962, she would have been 11 years old, and she tried to think about what was going on in her family during that time.  But she couldn't remember anything unusual.

    By the next morning, Alice said, she decided to visit her parents at the assisted living facility.  As it turned out, Alice's mother was in the beauty salon, so Alice had time alone with her father.  As she thought about how to broach the topic with her father, she suggested taking a walk around the grounds.

    Her father was in his usual cheerful mood and talked about he and Alice's mother were making friends at the assisted living facility.  Then, as they took seats at an outdoor table near the pool, he asked Alice how the clearing out process was going.

    All along, Alice felt her heart pounding and her throat constricting as if she were about to burst out crying.  Not knowing how to approach the topic with her father, she took the picture out of her pocket and wordlessly placed it in front of her father.

    Her father looked down at the photo for a moment and then he pushed it back in Alice's direction, "I knew there was something bothering you, Alice, the moment I saw you, but I didn't know what it was.  Is this what's bothering you?"

    Alice could barely speak, "Dad, who is this woman?"

    Her father looked away and stared out into the distance, "Alice, it was a long time ago. Let sleeping dogs lie.  Your mother and I worked this out years ago."

    Alice burst into tears, "Is that all you're going to say?  I've looked up to you all my life.  Do you know how shocking it was for me to find this picture?"

    Alice's father let out a long sigh and looked into Alice's eyes, "I'm sorry to disappoint you.  I'm sorry I haven't lived up to your image of me.  Your mother and I were going through a rough patch at that point and I had an affair with another woman, but I never stopped loving your mother or you.  I told your mother about the affair when Ann threatened to confront your mother about the it.  She wanted to me to leave your mother and I wouldn't do it--I wouldn't leave your mother and you, so she started threatening me.  Your mother and I eventually worked it out and decided to stay together.  The affair last a few months and there never was a another woman before or after Ann.  We never wanted you to know about our problems.  I'm sorry you found this picture.  I forgot that I even had it."

    Alice's thoughts were so confused that she didn't know how to respond, so they sat in silence for a while.  Then, Alice said that she needed to leave and she would see him and her mother soon.  Before she left, she hugged her father and kissed his cheek perfuctorily and then she rushed to her car.  A few days later, Alice made an appointment to see the psychotherapist.

    As she sat in her psychotherapy session, Alice told the psychotherapist that part of her felt like a child again who wanted to keep looking up to her father, but another part of her felt like an angry adult who felt betrayed (see my article: Are You Approaching Your Problems From an Adult Perspective or From an Inner Child Perspective?).

    She wasn't sure how she felt about her father now.  In a way, since she found the photo, she felt like he was different from the person that she had always known him to be.

    Alice met with her psychotherapist once a week to try to work out how she felt about her father.  There were times when she felt that if her parents worked out this problem all those years ago, she should forgive her father for making this mistake.  But then there were other times when she felt angry and hurt.

    She also saw her mother in a different way.  For most of her life, she thought of her father as being the more nurturing and loving parent and she saw her mother as the more practical, stoic parent.  Now she felt much more compassionate towards her mother, and she wondered how much of her mother's stoicism was related to her efforts to deal with the affair.

    Alice also felt confused about her childhood since she found the photo.  She had always thought that she had a happy childhood and that she was from a stable, loving home.  But now that image of the happy family was marred by the discovery of her father's affair.

    A week later, Alice's mother called her and suggested that Alice come visit.  On the drive there, Alice wondered if her father had mentioned anything to her mother and if this was the reason why her mother wanted to see her.

    When she arrived, Alice found her mother alone sitting out by the pool.  As soon as she saw Alice, her mother waved for her to come sit next to her.  As Alice approached the table, she had already made up her mind not to mention anything to her mother about the photo if her mother didn't bring it up.  She felt there was no need to upset her mother about this issue all these years later.

    When Alice sat down, her mother reached across the table and put her hand over Alice's hand, "Your father told me."

    They sat in silence for a few seconds, and then her mother squeezed Alice's hand, "I know you're upset about this, but try not to be too hard on your father.  I've made peace with that affair a long time ago.  I hope you can too.  Your father is a good man who made a mistake."

    After a long silence, Alice told her mother that she never would have thought that her father would ever do something like this.  In response, Alice's mother smiled, "I know, dear.  I felt the same way back then, but your father and I were going through a difficult time.  We tried to keep it from you  because you were too young to be burdened by this.  He made a mistake.  I think he found some consolation with Ann, but he would never leave you and me.  He loved us too much to ever leave."

    Alice and her mother talked for the rest of the afternoon.  Throughout their conversation, Alice went back and forth from feeling like an 11 year old girl to feeling like an adult.

    When she saw her parents together again, they looked happy and, as always, they were affectionate with each other.  She told herself that, even though the affair was news to her, her parents had more than 50 years to reconcile their relationship.

    Alice continued to attend her weekly psychotherapy sessions and talk about her disillusionment.  Over time, she realized that, until she found that photo, she still saw her father through a child's adoring eyes and her idealization of him wasn't realistic.  She grieved in therapy for the loss of that idealization.

    How Your Perspective About Your Parents Changes Over Time

    Over time, Alice was gradually able to accept on an emotional level that her father is human and he made a mistake at a time when her parents were going through a difficult time.  As she continued to work on this in therapy, she was able to see her parents from an adult perspective--kind and loving people who  had their flaws just like everyone else.

    As Alice accepted that her father made a mistake and he had made amends with her mother, she felt even closer to each of her parents.

    There are many ways that your perspective about your parents can change over the course of a lifetime.

    Whether you discover family secrets or you develop new insights into your parents, as you change and grow, your perspective of your parents can also change and grow.

    Getting Help in Therapy
    There are times when problems arise and you're unable to resolve them on your own.  Rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

    A skilled psychotherapist can help you to work through your problems so that you can move on with your 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 work with individual adults and couples.

    One of my specialties is helping clients to overcome 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.

    Thursday, March 15, 2018

    Discovering and Giving Voice to Previously Disowned Parts of Yourself

    One of the benefits of attending experiential psychotherapy is that you can discover and give voice to previously disowned parts of yourself (see my articles:  Ego States Work: Is There a Split Off Part of You Running Your Life?Reclaiming a Lost Part of Yourself and Understanding the Different Aspects of Yourself That Make You Who You Are).

    Discovering and Giving Voice to Previously Disowned Parts of Yourself

    Unlike other forms of psychotherapy, experiential psychotherapy provides an opportunity to delve beyond secondary emotions to understand primary emotions, which are often disowned aspects of yourself (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Talk Therapy Alone to Overcome Trauma).

    For example, underneath anger there are often other disowned emotions, like sadness, shame, fear of abandonment and so on (see my article: Anger as a Secondary Emotion).

    Fictional Clinical Vignette: Discovering and Giving Voice to Previously Disowned Parts of Yourself
    The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how experiential psychotherapy provides an opportunity to discover and express a disowned aspects of a client in therapy:

    When she began psychotherapy, Tania complained that her husband, who refused to come to couples therapy, was usually too preoccupied with his work to pay attention to her when they were at home together.

    Tania told her psychotherapist that, although she complained to her husband that she felt neglected by him, she saw no change in his behavior.  After telling him several times that she didn't like when he came home and worked without consideration for her, she would lose her temper and yell at him.  Then, they would argue and end up being more estranged from each other than ever.

    Her husband usually responded to her anger by shutting down and "stonewalling" her (see my article: Relationships: Are You a Stonewaller?).

    This would lead to an escalation of Tania's anger where she tried in vain to get her husband to understand how angry it made her to feel ignored by him.

    She explained to her psychotherapist that on the rare occasions when her husband responded to her anger, he told her that she was so unpleasant when she got angry that he didn't want to be around her, which only increased Tania's anger.  So, they were caught in this negative cycle, which was only getting worse.

    Tania said that their relationship wasn't always like this.  In the early years of their courtship and marriage, her husband was considerate and attentive.  He wanted to spend time with her and he didn't put anything else ahead of their time together.

    But once he started his own business a few years ago, all of that changed.  He worked day and night and even on weekends.  He said he was doing it for them, but she continued to feel neglected and unloved by her husband.

    To make matters worse, Tania grew up in a home where she was emotionally neglected by parents who were preoccupied by their work.  Most of the time, her parents passed her off to her nanny and spent little time with her leaving Tania feeling unlovable (see my article: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect? and Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

    She told her psychotherapist that one of the reasons why she fell in love with the man who eventually became her husband was that he was so attentive and nurturing, which made her feel that she was special to him--a feeling she had not experienced before meeting him.

    Now, she felt taken for granted.  She felt that her husband would prefer to work and spend time on the phone with his customers rather than spend time with her.  And, no matter how much she complained to him about it, he wouldn't change.  In fact, she felt that things were getting worse between them.

    Tania's psychotherapist sensed that there were underlying issues beneath Tania's anger.  She sensed that anger was a secondary emotion and that underneath the anger, Tania had primary emotions that she wasn't dealing with.

    Once Tania and her psychotherapist established a good therapeutic alliance and Tania learned the necessary coping skills to do the work, her psychotherapist recommended that they do experiential therapy so they could explore her emotions.

    Using a technique from clinical hypnosis called the Affect Bridge, Tania's psychotherapist asked Tania to remember a recent incident where she felt angry with her husband because she felt he was neglecting her.

    Tania remembered an incident that occurred a few days before where she and her husband were at home at night, and she watched him go into his home office immediately after they ate dinner.

    As she felt her blood boil, she tried not to confront her husband because they weren't getting along, but at a certain point she couldn't hold back anymore and she rushed into his office to complain to him.  Rather than respond, her husband paid no attention to her and kept working, which left her feeling even more angry.

    Her psychotherapist asked Tania to sense where in her body she felt her anger now as she spoke about that evening.  Tania responded that she felt her chest tighten, her throat was constricted and she felt her shoulders were tight.

    Then, her psychotherapist asked Tania to sense underneath her anger to see what else she might be feeling.  At first, Tania had a hard time getting beyond her anger, but she stuck with it and she eventually sensed her sadness, hurt and shame--the same way she felt when she was a child and her parents neglected her.

    As Tania and her therapist continued to talk about this and Tania allowed herself to feel her underlying emotions, Tania was open to seeing the dynamics between her and her husband from her husband's point of view.  She realized that the more she angrily demanded that he pay attention to her, the more distant he became.

    Tania's psychotherapist validated Tania's need to be loved and paid attention to by her husband.  She also began exploring with Tania how Tania might approach her husband to explain what she was feeling.

    At first, Tania was hesitant to make herself so emotionally vulnerable.  She feared that if her husband ignored her after she opened up to him emotionally that she would be devastated, so Tania and her psychotherapist continued to explore her feelings and how she could change how she communicated with him.

    Tania waited until she and her husband had a quiet evening when he wasn't working.  As she discussed with her therapist, rather than berate her husband, she decided to talk to him about how much she missed him.

    To her surprise, her husband responded affectionately to her and told her that he also missed how close they used to be with each other.  He also apologized for not spending more time with her, and told her that he would make more of an effort not to bring work home with him so they could have more time together.

    In addition, to Tania's amazement, her husband agreed to go to couples therapy to work on their marriage.

    After they were in couples therapy for a while, her husband told her in session that during the times when she yelled at him, he felt so overwhelmed that he shut down emotionally.  Tania learned that when it appeared to her that her husband didn't care, he was actually feeling emotionally feeling "frozen" and "paralyzed" inside, especially since their arguments triggered earlier childhood issues for him (see my article: Coping With Trauma: Becoming Aware of Emotional Triggers).

    When her husband learned that Tania's early childhood neglect was also getting triggered when she felt neglected by him, he was compassionate and understanding.  He told her that he wanted to work out their issues.

    Tania continued to work with her individual psychotherapist to work on whatever came up for her in her marriage and in her couples therapy sessions.  Whenever Tania was tempted to disavow her deeper emotional feelings, her psychotherapist helped to express them and feel less vulnerable.

    Gradually, as the dynamic between Tania and her husband improved and Tania felt less overwhelmed, Tania and her psychotherapist used EMDR therapy to work on the root of her problems--the early childhood emotional neglect (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

    As Tania progressed in her EMDR therapy, she and her husband got along better because she got less triggered when he had to work at home.

    Also, since Tania and her husband were able to talk more openly with each other and express their emotions without fear, Tania was more understanding when her husband had to work and she didn't feel neglected by him because they made it a point to spend quality time together.  She was learning to separate her traumatic past from the issues in her marriage (see my article: Working Through Emotional Trauma in Psychotherapy: Separating "Then" From "Now").

    It's not unusual for people to have unconscious aspects of themselves that they have disavowed without being aware of it.

    Experiential therapy, which allows clients in therapy to get to the underlying issues, provides an opportunity to discover and express those disavowed parts so that clients can feel more emotionally integrated.

    Getting Help in Therapy
    It's very difficult to discover disavowed aspects of yourself on your own (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

    Working with an experiential psychotherapist, you can work gradually and safely to understand and express the parts of yourself that are at the root of 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, and I specialize in working with trauma.  I tend to work in an experiential way with 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, March 14, 2018

    Before and After Psychological Trauma

    Many clients who start psychotherapy to deal with unresolved psychological trauma talk about life before and after their trauma.  Psychological trauma often changes a person's self perception as well as his or her perception of the world.  Whereas the person might have been self confident and the world around him or her made sense before the trauma, after experiencing trauma, self doubt and a feeling that the world is a precarious place can set in (see my article: Trauma Often Creates Negative Expectations For the Future).

    Before and After Psychological Trauma
    Assuming that a client was functioning at a high level before the trauma, one of the goals of trauma therapy is to help a client to get back to his or her former level of functioning.  If the client has other underlying trauma, like unresolved childhood trauma (also called developmental trauma), resolving these underlying issues is usually a goal of therapy (see my article: Working on Developmental and Shock Trauma in Therapy).

    Fictional Clinical Vignette
    The following fictional clinical vignette demonstrates this before and after effect of psychological trauma and how trauma-informed psychotherapy can help:

    Cassie started psychotherapy due to her recurring nightmares about her friend's fatal accident, which occurred more than a year ago.

    Cassie explained to her psychotherapist that her friend, Nina, drowned while they were on vacation in New England on a beach that had no lifeguards.  They had been to this beach many times before.  They especially enjoyed that there were relatively few people on the beach early summer.

    She told her therapist that Nina, who was a stronger swimmer, went for a swim while Cassie napped on their blanket.  Suddenly, Cassie was woken up when she heard Nina calling for help before she disappeared underwater.  Cassie said she ran into the water to try to save her friend but, she couldn't find her.

    In a panic when she couldn't find Nina, Cassie ran back to the blanket to call the police on her cellphone.  Minutes later, help arrived, but they were unable to find Cassie.  The rescue team searched into the night and the next morning, but there was no sign of Nina.

    A day later, the police came to the bed and breakfast where Cassie was staying and informed her that Nina's body washed up on the shore.  They told her that Nina was probably overcome by a strong undertow.

    Cassie told her psychotherapist that she was devastated and, since that day, she had nightmares almost every night.  She said these recurring dreams were mostly the same:  She was in the water frantically trying to find Nina, calling her name, diving under the water to try to find her, yelling for help, but no one came (see my article: Understanding Shock Trauma).

    She said she would wake up panting and in a cold sweat, and the effect of the nightmares tended to stay with her for the rest of the day.

    Cassie said she kept replaying in her mind the minutes after Nina told her that she was going for a swim.  She remembered having the thought that Nina shouldn't swim by herself, especially because the water was rough, but she didn't say anything to Nina about this.  She assumed that Nina would be alright because she was such a good swimmer.

    Now, all she could do is berate herself for not saying something to Nina or going with her for a swim so Nina wouldn't be alone, "Why didn't I tell her not to go in the water. I should have, at least, gone with her.  Why didn't I do it?"

    Cassie said that, before her friend's fatal drowning, she was feeling optimistic about her life, looking forward to starting a new career, happy to be in a new relationship, and making plans for the future.  But, after Nina died, her whole world changed.

    Even though she started her new career and stayed in her relationship, Cassie felt like she was just going through the motions.  On the surface, she tried to appear "normal" (her word), but beyond the facade she was trying to maintain, she felt confused, sad, and guilty.

    Cassie was aware that her perception of herself and the world around her had changed dramatically since her friend's death, and she was tired of pretending that she was alright.  And, most nights, she was afraid to go to sleep because she dreaded her recurring nightmares.

    When her psychotherapist asked Cassie about her family background, she described a loving family with no major traumatic incidents when she was growing up.  She felt emotionally supported by her family and her boyfriend, but she felt no one really understood what she was going through.

    Based on Cassie's information about her family background and her description of the traumatic incident when Nina died, her psychotherapist concluded that there was no developmental trauma, so their work would be focus on helping Cassie to overcome the shock trauma related to the Nina's drowning.

    Cassie's psychotherapist provided her with psychoeducation about trauma and explained that what she was experiencing were common reactions to a traumatic incident.  She also explained that trauma therapy, EMDR therapy in particular, could help Cassie to overcome her traumatic symptoms (see my articles: How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain and EMDR Therapy: When Talk Therapy Isn't Enough).

    After they completed the preparation phase of EMDR therapy, Cassie and her psychotherapist worked on the traumatic memory of her friend's death, how helpless Cassie felt, and the guilt that remained with her.

    Before and After Psychological Trauma

    During the course of their EMDR work, Cassie revealed that, although a part of her wanted to feel better, another part of her felt she didn't deserve to feel better.  She was surprised at how strong the part was that felt she was undeserving.

    Cassie's psychotherapist normalized this part that felt undeserving by informing Cassie that it wasn't unusual to feel this way under the circumstances.  She also explained to Cassie that they needed to do Ego States therapy (also known as Parts Work) to work with this particular part of her or it would create an obstacle to their work.

    Cassie and her psychotherapist did Ego States work for the next couple of months to help soften this punitive part that felt Cassie was undeserving of feeling better.  After that, they were able to resume EMDR therapy and it went more smoothly.

    The trauma therapy was neither quick nor easy, but her psychotherapist knew that experiential work, like EMDR therapy and Ego States work, is usually more effective and works faster than regular talk therapy (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective to Overcome Trauma).

    By the time Cassie completed therapy, she still felt sad about her friend's death, but she no longer felt responsible and guilty.  She regained her former self confidence and positive outlook on life.  She also felt worthy of making plans for the future and enjoying her life.  She also stopped having the recurring nightmares.

    Most clients, who experience psychological trauma, report that they notice a difference in how they feel about themselves and the world around them after a traumatic experience.

    It is as if there were a line that divides their experiences before the trauma vs. after the trauma.

    As is often the case in trauma work, there can be a certain amount of ambivalence about getting better when an aspect of a client feels that s/he doesn't deserve to feel better.  This can present an obstacle to doing trauma work if it is not dealt with.

    Fortunately, Ego States work, which involves the therapist and client dealing with this particular aspect of the client, helps to overcome this ambivalence so that regular trauma processing in therapy can resume and resolve the trauma.

    Getting Help in Therapy
    Psychological trauma doesn't usually resolve on its own, and ignoring it or hoping it will get better on its own usually makes the symptoms get worse over time.

    If you're struggling with unresolved trauma, you could benefit from getting help in trauma therapy with an experienced trauma therapist who uses experiential therapy, like EMDR therapy (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

    After you have resolved your traumatic experiences in psychotherapy, you can live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

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

    I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients to overcome 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.

    Monday, March 12, 2018

    Working on Developmental and Shock Trauma in Trauma Therapy

    Shock trauma and developmental trauma are different types of traumatic experiences.  In this article, I will define both shock and developmental trauma, discuss how clients often suffer with one or both, and provide a fictional clinical vignette to demonstrate how trauma therapy can help a client with both types of trauma to overcome his traumatic symptoms (see my articles: Understanding Shock Trauma and Overcoming Developmental Trauma).

    Many People Experience Both Developmental and Shock Trauma

    Shock Trauma vs. Developmental Trauma in Trauma Therapy
    Whereas shock trauma usually involves a one-time traumatic event like a tornado, a car accident, being mugged, and so on, developmental trauma is chronic childhood trauma of neglect or abuse (or both) which occurs over time.

    A one time experience of shock trauma with no other underlying issues and a high level of functioning  prior to the trauma is easier to resolve than chronic developmental trauma.  Under these circumstances, shock trauma without other layers of shock or developmental trauma can resolve relatively quickly with trauma-informed therapy.

    Generally speaking, complex developmental trauma with layers of psychological trauma, will take longer to resolve because there is more than one traumatic experience.  There might be numerous traumatic experiences throughout childhood and also in adulthood.

    Whereas it is easier to find a particular target memory in trauma therapy to work on for shock trauma because it is a one-time event, developmental trauma usually involves multiple memories over time.

    In addition, if developmental trauma occurs early in childhood, the client might not have coherent memories of what happened due to the way traumatic memories are stored in the brain.

    A person with preverbal (before the individual develops language) developmental trauma might only have access to conscious memories of one sense and no other senses.  For instance, he might only have a memory of a sound with no other sense of the memories (no visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory experiences are available).

    This also occurs sometimes in shock trauma.  For instance, a client who was hit by a car and who never saw the car coming before he was hit, might only have a vague memory of hearing the siren of the ambulance.  Even so, in most cases, shock trauma is easier to resolve in trauma therapy than developmental trauma when it is a one-time event.

    An experienced trauma-informed psychotherapist can work with whatever experiences a client brings to therapy, even if it is only a partial memory or a vague sense of what occurred.

    There are also frequently cases where people come to trauma therapy to deal with shock trauma and they also have underlying developmental trauma.  So, it's not an either/or situation--it can be both shock and developmental trauma.

    A Fictional Clinical Vignette:  Working on Developmental and Shock Trauma in Therapy
    The following fictional clinical vignette is an example of a combination of shock and developmental trauma to illustrate how trauma therapy can help:

    Ron began psychotherapy 17 years after the 9/11 World Trade Center attack.  He explained to his psychotherapist that he had been on the 10th Floor of the North Tower in the World Trade Center early in the morning on 9/11 when the terrorist attack occurred.

    Working on Developmental and Shock Trauma in Therapy
    He had vivid memories of feeling the impact of what he later learned was a plane as it crashed on the upper floors of the North Tower, his fear and confusion about what was happening, and how he and his colleagues ran down the stairs to safety shortly after the attack.

    Afterwards, as he and his colleagues stood outside the North Tower, they were shocked to see a fire on the upper floors and the sound of fire trucks racing to the scene.  They were also shocked and upset to see people jumping from the Tower.

    As he walked away from the building to safety, he tried to call his best friend, Joe, who worked on the 95th Floor of the North Tower, but there was no cellphone service.  So, he and several colleagues continued to walk north to the Brooklyn Bridge so they could get away from the scene and walk home to Brooklyn.

    Less than 20 minutes later, Ron remembered hearing another crash.  The impact of the crash was so strong that the walkway shook and the bridge swayed.  When he turned around, he saw that the South Tower was also on fire.

    Still not knowing what had happened, he stopped a police officer on the bridge, who told him that both towers were hit by planes and it appeared to be a terrorist attack.  Before Ron could ask any more questions, the police officer, who had been listening to his radio, began to run in the direction of the World Trade Center.

    During his psychotherapy session, Ron told his psychotherapist that he and his colleagues, not knowing what else to do, continued to walk over the bridge with many other people who were trying to get away in a scene that felt surreal to him.

    Less than an hour later while still on the Brooklyn Bridge, Ron and his colleagues heard and felt a tremendous crash, which they initially thought was an earthquake.  They looked in the direction of the Towers and saw that the South Tower was collapsing in on itself.

    Ron and his friends felt momentarily paralyzed in place as they stood in shock, not quite believing what was happening.

    Throughout it all, Ron kept trying to call his friend, Joe, but neither Ron's nor his companions' cellphones had a signal.

    By the time Ron got home, he turned on his TV and heard that the North Tower had also collapsed.  He also discovered more details about the terrorist attack.

    Since his office was closed for the rest of the week, Ron watched news coverage non-stop for rest of the week.  Every so often, he continued to try to reach Joe by phone, but his calls kept going to voicemail.

    A few days later, he received a call from Joe's sister to let Ron know that Joe never came home.  The family was hoping that he would turn up, but they feared that he was trapped and killed at the World Trade Center site.

    As Ron spoke to his psychotherapist about the events of that day and the following weeks, he was surprised at how emotional he still felt after almost 17 years.  He told his psychotherapist that he eventually learned from Joe's family that he was dead, which was a terrible loss.

    He explained to his therapist that he "powered through" during the next several months without the help of therapy.  He thought he was managing, but he was surprised that he recently began having nightmares about the events on 9/11.

    His psychotherapist provided Ron with psychoeducation about how people can develop traumatic symptoms many years after a traumatic event.

    In subsequent psychotherapy sessions, Ron's psychotherapist asked him about his family history, and Ron revealed that his father was emotionally abusive throughout Ron's childhood, which left Ron feeling that he was powerless and unlovable.  He said that he continued to feel that way as an adult.

    Ron also told his psychotherapist that he also felt powerless on 9/11 because initially he didn't know what was happening and he couldn't reach his friend, Joe.

    Ron's psychotherapist provided Ron with additional psychoeducation to inform him that he was suffering with both shock and developmental trauma.  She explained to Ron that his earlier childhood trauma might have made him more vulnerable to the shock trauma that occurred as a result of 9/11, especially since he felt powerless as it related to both the shock and developmental trauma.

    She recommended that they use EMDR therapy to work on the shock trauma first and then they would work on the chronic developmental trauma (see my articles: How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain and Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR Therapy, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

    After the preparation phase of EMDR therapy, Ron and his psychotherapist talked about which 9/11 memories were the most disturbing and agreed to work on those memories first.  After a few months, they completed the EMDR processing of the 9/11 memories, including the loss of his friend, Joe.

    Then, they proceeded to use EMDR therapy for the developmental trauma, which was more complex since it was ongoing throughout Ron's childhood and he continued to feel the emotional impact of his father's abuse as an adult.

    Ron came to his psychotherapy sessions every week and worked hard in therapy and between sessions for the next several months.  The work was neither quick nor easy, but by the time Ron completed therapy, he was no longer was having nightmares, he no longer felt powerless or unlovable, he grieved the loss of his friend, and he no longer was affected by his childhood trauma.

    Whereas shock trauma is usually related a one-time event, developmental trauma is childhood trauma that occurs over time, like physical abuse or emotional neglect.

    People who experience developmental trauma are often more susceptible to developing shock trauma if they are exposed to a shocking or traumatic event.

    It's not unusual for trauma-related symptoms to show up many years after the trauma, which can be confusing for anyone who experiences this.

    Getting Help in Therapy
    EMDR therapy is an effective type of trauma therapy to assist clients to overcome traumatic symptoms in both shock and developmental trauma (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

    Although EMDR therapy tends to be faster and more effective than regular talk therapy to overcome trauma, when there is complex developmental trauma, it can take time to overcome the traumatic symptoms.

    If you have been suffering on your own with traumatic symptoms related to shock trauma, developmental trauma or both, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who is a trauma-informed psychotherapist (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

    Once you have worked through your traumatic symptoms, you have a chance to live a fuller, more 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).

    I am a trauma-informed psychotherapist who works with individual adults and couples.

    I have helped many clients to overcome the both shock and developmental 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.

    Saturday, March 10, 2018

    Have You Internalized Your Parents' Anxiety and Emotional Insecurities?

    Children internalize their parents' emotional experiences.   In my prior article, I provided a clinical vignette where the client feared taking risks because she grew up with parents who were anxious and risk averse (see my article: Balancing Fear of Failure vs. Future Regret).  In this article, I'm focusing on how anxiety and emotional insecurities are internalized intergenerational at a young age and continue into adulthood.

    Have You Internalized Your Parents' Anxiety and Emotional Insecurities?

    One of the advantages of attending psychotherapy is that you and your psychotherapist can work on separating your parents' emotions and experiences and yours and, if the therapy is successful, you won't pass on these traits to your children (see my article: Intergenerational Family Dynamics and Your Unresolved Trauma Can Have Emotional Repercussions For Your Children).

    Since young children see the world through their parents' eyes, they usually internalize their parents' emotions and view of the world.  This can be an intergenerational pattern where these emotions and  views are passed down from one generation to the next for many generations.

    When there has been psychological trauma in an older generation, this is often passed on to subsequent generations--even if the relatives from the generation with direct experience of the trauma never discuss it (see my article: Psychotherapy and Intergenerational Trauma).

    For instance, grandchildren of Holocaust survivors will often say that neither their grandparents nor there parents ever discussed the Holocaust, so they don't understand how they internalized their grandparents' traumatic experiences.  But traumatic experiences don't have to be discussed for internalization because the internalization occurs on an unconscious level.

    Fictional Clinical Vignette: Internalizing Your Parents' Anxiety and Emotional Insecurities
    The following fictional clinical vignette illustrates how anxiety and emotional insecurities are passed down and internalized intergenerationally:

    Tania came to therapy after struggling with anxiety and emotional insecurities about money for her entire life.

    Prior to coming to therapy, Tania had always felt that she could handle her problems on her own.  When her friends told her that they were starting psychotherapy, Tania couldn't understand why they needed to get help in therapy.  It didn't make sense to her because she considered her friends to be "strong" and her view of psychotherapy was that only people who are "weak" need to go to therapy (see my article: Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're "Weak").

    When she was in her 20s, Tania believed that she would be in a successful career and own a home by the time she was in her mid-30s.  But, although she had a successful career and she was in a relationship with a man that she loved, she couldn't bring herself to make an investment in a home.

    When she turned 38, she was doing well financially, but she feared making such a major investment as buying a home.  Being only two years away from turning 40, she envisioned the years stretching out before her and remaining in a rental apartment with no prospect for change.

    Her romantic partner, Dan, who lived with Tania, told her that he wanted them to buy an apartment together in the next couple of years, but Tania was too afraid to do it.

    Tania also told her psychotherapist that her financial advisor told her that she could afford to buy an apartment and encouraged her to make the investment, but she was too afraid--even though she knew logically that she could afford it.

    When Tania and her psychotherapist talked about her family background, Tania revealed that her parents were first-generation Americans and her grandparents struggled financially to come to the United States.

    Even though Tania's parents eventually overcame the poverty they endured as children, they never got over those experiences.  Her father worked three jobs in order to make ends meet and, eventually, he started his own business, which was successful.  But, despite their hard-earned financial success, her parents never overcame their fear that everything they worked for could go up in smoke and they could become poor again.  They continued to live very frugally due to their emotional insecurities.

    Tania's psychotherapist provided Tania with psychoeducation about intergenerational trauma.  She also told Tania that it appeared that Tania internalized her grandparents' and parents' anxiety and insecurities and that they could work towards helping her to separate her experience from her grandparents' and parents' experiences.

    Although it made sense to Tania that she internalized her family's experiences, she didn't feel hopeful that her feelings would ever change.  These feelings were so ingrained in her that she couldn't believe she could ever feel differently.

    Her psychotherapist talked to Tania about starting with Somatic Experiencing to "uncouple" her grandparents' and parents' experiences from her own.  She explained to Tania that, although she was close to her parents and grandparents, she needed to begin to separate her emotions and beliefs rather than remain entangled in her family's beliefs and emotions.

    Tania acknowledged that she knew objectively that she could afford to buy her own apartment rather than continuing to rent.  She also knew that it would be a wise financial decision for her when she looked at it logically.  But when she thought about buying an apartment, she also felt dread that she would be making a mistake.  Tania told her psychotherapist that she couldn't understand how she could know one thing logically but feel something else emotionally.

    Using Somatic Experiencing, Tania's psychotherapist asked her to begin by allowing herself to feel the excitement and anticipated happiness of buying an apartment with Dan.  She asked Tania to put her anxiety and insecurities aside for the moment and whenever Tania felt these feelings were about to intrude, she should continue to put them aside.

    At first, it was difficult for Tania to keep her anxiety separate from her excitement.  She would start to feel the excitement and joy of buying a place with Dan, which she really wanted, but then her anxiety would intrude.  She followed her psychotherapist's suggestions about how to put her anxiety aside for now and, eventually, she was able to identify a sense of happiness and that she felt it in her chest.

    Tania and her psychotherapist stayed with the sense of happiness that Tania felt in her chest and worked towards expanding that feeling.  She was eventually able to associate the feeling of happiness in her chest with various images, colors and a sense of physical warmth.  She felt that these feelings, sensations and images were her own and not related to her family's experiences, so she was able to uncouple her experience from her family's.

    After a few months, Tania's psychotherapist recommended that they use EMDR therapy to work on the anxiety and insecurities.

    As they set up the EMDR therapy protocol, Tania said that her negative belief about herself was, "I'm powerless."  She explained to her therapist that her feelings of powerlessness involved a fear that she would, in some undefined way, lose everything if she and Dan bought an apartment together.

    Using EMDR therapy, they worked for several months on current memories and childhood memories that were involved with Tania's anxiety and insecurities.

    After a while, Tania had a strong felt sense that she was different from her family and that their experiences weren't her experiences.  Rather than feeling powerless, she felt empowered.  At that point, she realized that what she knew logically came together with how she felt on an emotional level.

    Shortly after completing EMDR therapy, Tania and Dan began looking for an apartment.  She remained in therapy to deal with the normal stress of apartment hunting, but she no longer had an irrational fear of buying an apartment.

    She continued to be close to her family, but she also felt like an autonomous adult who was no longer affected by her family's intergenerational trauma.

    Children tend to internalize their parents' experiences at a young age.  If their parents are emotionally secure people, the chances are that the children will also grow up to feel secure.

    But if the parents are anxious and insecure, as illustrated in the clinical vignette above, the children will most likely feel anxious and insecure.  These experiences are often passed down from one generation to the next.  This is usually an unconscious process, even if the older generation never speaks about their traumatic experiences.

    Getting Help in Therapy
    Intergenerational trauma doesn't have to be a "life sentence" of traumatic experiences passed down from one generation to the next.

    Trauma therapy can be an effective way of overcoming trauma.

    Trauma therapy can help to break the trauma cycle.

    Rather than suffering on your own, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

    A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome your anxiety and insecurities so that you can lead a more fulfilled 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 work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients to overcome psychological 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.

    Friday, March 9, 2018

    Balancing Fear of Failure vs. Future Regret

    Many people allow their fear of failure to create obstacles in their life.  They're so afraid of what other people would think of them if they fail that they refuse to take even the most well thought out calculated risks.  Refusing to take even relatively safe risks can lead to regret in the future, so it's important to understand the root of your fears so that you don't pass up opportunities in your life only to regret it later on (see my article: Fear of Making Mistakes and Overcoming Low Self Esteem).

    Balancing Fear of Failure vs. Future Regret

    What Fear of Failure?
    Fear of failure isn't a diagnosis.  It's an experience that many people have that often gets in the way of  their setting goals, planning or taking advantage of opportunities.

    Shame is often at the core of fear of failure.  People who experience fear of failure often doubt their own capabilities even when, objectively, they are quite capable.  Self doubt causes them to back away from taking any risks.  As previously mentioned, people who experience a pervasive fear of failure often worry that if they fail, other people won't like them and they will abandon them.

    The root causes of fear of failure often begin in childhood with parents who are either risk averse or who unknowingly undermine their children.

    A Fictional Clinical Vignette: Balancing Fear of Failure vs. Potential Regret

    Renee started psychotherapy because she was having a lot of anxiety about a major decision she was facing.

    She told her psychotherapist that her director offered her a promotion with a big increase in salary for what Renee considered her "dream job" in New York City.

    Although her director had a lot of confidence in Renee's ability to take on this new job, Renee had doubts and she wondered if she should remain in her current job which she could do easily rather than taking a chance on this new job and risk failing.

    When her director told Renee that she had a month to consider whether or not she wanted the promotion and relocation to New York City, she became highly anxious.  She ruminated about the decision and went back and forth in her mind.

    She feared that if she would be in over her head in the new job and that she would disappoint her family, friends, director and colleagues.  She also feared that the people in her life would no longer respect her if she failed.

    Her close friends, who knew Renee's experience and capabilities, urged her to take the job. They had confidence in Renee's skills and expertise, and they also knew that she had always wanted to live in New York.

    But her parents urged Renee not to take the promotion.  They both feared that there was too much at stake with regard to Renee's career and if she didn't succeed, she might be terminated.  Her mother advised Renee to stay where she was safe in her current job rather than risk failing.

    As Renee spoke with her psychotherapist, she told her that her parents were anxious people who were very risk averse.  Her father remained in the same job for 30 years, even though he was offered promotions, because he was afraid of failing.  Her mother once had dreams as a young woman of being a designer, but she never pursued her dreams because she feared the humiliation if she didn't succeed.

    Each of her parents often spoke about "what if" they had gone further in life, but their regrets were fear outweighed by their need to be "safe" and not take risks.

    Renee's psychotherapist asked her to try to put aside her fears and imagine what she might actually like about the new promotion.

    At first, it was difficult for Renee to imagine enjoying her promotion, but when she managed to put aside her fears, her face lit up and she seemed energized.  She talked about taking on new and exciting challenges, making a lot more money, and realizing her dream of living in New York City.

    As Renee and her psychotherapist weighed the risks vs. the benefits, it soon became clear to Renee that the benefits far outweighed the risks.  She also knew, when she thought about it objectively, that she could get another job that was similar to the job she was currently doing if things didn't work out with the promotion.

    When she thought objectively about what the worst thing would be if the new job didn't work out, at first, she thought about how humiliated she would feel.  But, as she continued to discuss this with her psychotherapist, she realized that her friends and family would be emotionally supportive whether she succeeded or failed.

    As she continued to talk to her psychotherapist about the promotion, Renee felt excited about the new opportunity, and she decided to accept the promotion.

    In the interim, she and her psychotherapist worked on stress management techniques to help Renee to manage her fear and anxiety.  Her psychotherapist also recommended that when Renee moved to New York City that she find another psychotherapist to work on the deeper underlying issues that contributed to her fear of failure.

    A few months after Renee was settled into her new job and new apartment in New York City, she sought help from a psychotherapist who helped clients with fear of failure.

    Balancing Fear of Failure vs Future Regret

    They were able to trace Renee's fear of failure back to her early childhood when her parents discouraged her from taking even the most basic risks.

    Renee also remembered that her mother often expressed doubts about her abilities even when Renee was in elementary school.  Renee's sense was that her mother was being overly protective and she unknowingly caused Renee to doubt herself.  Renee had internalized her parents' fears.

    Her psychotherapist recommended that they use EMDR therapy to work on Renee's fears, which included her past fears, her current fears, and her anticipated fear of failure for the future (see my articles: What is EMDR Therapy? and How EMDR Therapy Works: EMDR and the Brain).

    As Renee was working through her fear of failure with EMDR therapy, she also set limits with her parents, especially her mother, who tended to call Renee in a state of worry and panic about Renee's new promotion.  She told her mother that she appreciated her mother's concern, but her phone calls were making her anxious and her mother needed to stop talking about all the things she feared would go wrong for Renee.

    As Renee continued to work with her psychotherapist using EMDR, over time, she became more confident in her ability to do her job.  She started to let go of her fear of failure and address these issues that were under her control rather than worrying about things that weren't under her control (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

    Over time, Renee's confidence increased, and she received positive feedback from her new director in New York.  She also became increasingly aware that if she had turned down the promotion out of fear, she would have regretted it in the long run.  This was an important lesson for Renee with regard to balancing fear of failure vs. potential regret.

    Life is short.  One of the common regrets expressed by older people who are close to death is that they wish they had taken more risks and not worried about what other people thought of them.

    Fear of failure often has its roots in early childhood.  Whether it involved growing up with critical parents who unknowingly undermine their child's self confidence or living with risk averse parents who convey that the world is a dangerous place, children learn to fear failure and carry that fear into adulthood.

    Getting Help in Therapy
    Balancing fear of failure and potential regret is difficult to do if you're not aware of the underlying issues involved.

    A skilled psychotherapist can help you to get to the root of your problems so that you can work through your fears (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

    Rather than passing up opportunities that you will regret later on, you can address your fear of failure in psychotherapy so that you can lead a more fulfilling life (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

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

    I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients to overcome their fear of failure.

    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.