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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Denial and Illusions in The Iceman Cometh

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

Denial and Illusions in The Iceman Cometh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, Hickey reveals his secret...

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

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

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

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

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

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

How to Overcome Anxiety Dreams

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

How to Overcome Anxiety Dreams

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

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

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

How to Overcome Anxiety Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Early Recovery: Overcoming Feelings of Emptiness and Loss

In previous articles about early recovery, I addressed problems with making major major adjustments to life to maintain sobriety (see my articles: Early Recovery: Focusing on the People Part of "People, Places and Things," Overcoming the Temptation to Use "Liquid Courage" to Cope With Social Situations and Early Recovery: You've Stopped Drinking. Now What?.  In this article, I'm addressing another common issue that people in early recovery experience, which is overcoming the feelings of emptiness and loss after you give up your addiction.

Early Recovery: Overcoming Feelings of Emptiness and Loss 

Many people in early recovery will say that one of the hardest things they had to do in order to get sober was give up the one thing they felt they could rely on--their addiction of choice.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with addiction and early recovery, these feelings of emptiness and loss for an addiction might seem confusing.

But as a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, who has worked with people at all stages of addiction, I know that this sense of loss and emptiness is common and understandable.

After all, if the addiction, whether it's to alcohol, drugs, compulsive gambling, compulsive sexual behavior or any other addictive behavior, didn't serve a need, the person with the addiction wouldn't persist in it.

For many people, who are contemplating giving up an addiction, one of the most daunting aspects of attaining sobriety is the thought they won't have what feels to them as a "friend" who has served a need--whatever that need might be.

The need could be a way to relax, socialize, to temporarily forget problems, to elevate a mood, to feel empowered, and so on.  And if the addiction of choice didn't "work" in some sense, even temporarily, it would have been given up long before it became an addiction.

For someone who is unfamiliar with addiction, it would be hard to imagine just how scary and how courageous it is when someone who has an addiction gives it up.  Many people, who are not educated about addiction, think that the person with the addiction "should just stop."

But aside from the fact that there might be a physical danger to "just stopping" for many addictions where a detox is necessary, the person contemplating giving up the addiction is also taking a leap of faith that they will be able to survive physically and emotionally with the addiction.

This is why there's a high rate of relapse for people struggling to stay sober, especially if they try to do it without sober support and, eventually, working through the underlying emotional problems that led to the addiction in the first place.

What Will Take the Place of the Addiction for the Person in Early Recovery to Fill the Emotional Void?
Without the addiction, the person in early recovery will usually become aware of an emotional void and the sense of loss.

Early Recovery: Overcoming the Feelings of Emptiness and Loss

Since isolation and loneliness is often a part of addiction, many people in early recovery find support in 12 Step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous.

They discover that there are people in these self help meetings in all different stages of recovery--from early recovery to many years in recovery.

They also discover that they have much in common with the people in these self help rooms, including a continuing struggle to avoid relapse and to maintain the values and principles they learned in those rooms.

I usually recommend that people in early recovery give 12 Step meetings a chance by going to several beginners meetings to see if they find a particular meeting where they feel comfortable and where they can also find a sponsor to help them work the 12 Steps.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery, so I also understand that for some people in early recovery the 12 Step model doesn't resonate with them or they find the meetings too overwhelming after they've tried several meetings (see my article: The Early Stage of Recovery: What to Do If 12 Step Meetings Are Too Overwhelming For You?).

So, many people in early recovery prefer to go to structured treatment in either an inpatient or  outpatient substance abuse program, if they have health benefits that recovers this treatment, where they can also get group support from people with similar problems.

Other people seek out psychotherapists who have experience working with people in recovery, including early recovery.

For psychotherapy option to work well in early recovery, the psychotherapist needs not only to be familiar with addictions, she must also know how to assess the timing and what the client can tolerate in terms of working on the underlying issues.

It's essential that clients in early recovery have sufficient sober time, the coping skills and necessary internal resources to deal with the underlying emotional issues in therapy, so it's psychotherapists need to help clients to develop these internal resources before delving deeper (see my article: Developing Internal Resources and Coping Strategies).

All of these modalities--12 Step meetings, structured substance abuse programs, and psychotherapy--all have the potential to help clients to remain sober.

In addition, in many cases what's also needed is something deeper that will fill the void that's left from no longer engaging in the addiction.

Some people find meaning by discovering or rediscovering a sense of spirituality.

Spirituality doesn't necessarily mean religion, although it could (see my article: A Search For a Meaningful Life and Spirituality: Are You Contemplating Your Faith of Origin in a New Light?).

Spirituality can take on many different forms aside from formal religion.  For instance, many people feel a sense of spirituality when they volunteer to help others, including volunteering at 12 Step meetings or in schools or a local community program.  Others discover a sense of spirituality in nature and find a connection to nature a transcendent experience.

The important aspect of spirituality in whatever form it takes is that it is meaningful, fulfilling and transcendent.

I believe this applies to everyone--not just people in early recovery.  Whether you call it "spirituality" or something else, without a sense of meaning, purpose and transcendence, you're just living from day to day and it can feel empty.

Many people who don't struggling with addiction but who focus only on material things will often feel a sense of emptiness in midlife when money and possessions no longer serve elevate their moods.

Usually, midlife brings an awareness that money and material things, although necessary to a certain extent to meet basic needs and give some comfort, are never enough to fill up a sense of emptiness.

This is why many people in midlife, especially those who have more years behind them than ahead of them, recognize that they need to make changes (see my articles: Midlife Transitions: Part 1: Reassessing Your LifeMidlife Transitions - Part 2: Living the Life You Want to LiveIs That All There Is? When "Having It All" Leaves You Feeling Empty  and Redefining Happiness and Success For Yourself).

The early recovery stage presents certain challenges, including dealing with the sense of emptiness and loss that often occurs after giving up the addiction.

Early Recovery: Overcoming Feelings of Emptiness and Loss

Aside from the physical aspects of getting sober and maintain sobriety, people in early recovery need to find healthy and meaningful ways to fill the void.

Sober support from 12 Step meetings, substance abuse programs and psychotherapy offer various options for staying sober and, in the case of psychotherapy, working through the underlying emotional problems that led to the addiction in the first place.

Beyond these options, people in early recovery need to find a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.  I refer to it as "spirituality," but it doesn't have to involve a formal religion or even a belief in a higher power.

Without a sense of meaning and transcendence, people in early recovery often struggle with the sense of loss and emptiness that usually follows after they become sober.

Getting Help in Therapy
Many people choose to attend psychotherapy to address underlying emotional issues at the core of their addiction (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

As previously mentioned, it's important to find a psychotherapist who has an expertise in addiction and who can work with you in a way that feels emotionally manageable for you (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 in all stages of recovery to maintain their sobriety and work through the underlying emotional problems that were at the root of their addiction.

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, January 12, 2018

How Psychotherapy Helps to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness

Most people have some degree of awareness of their inner emotional experience, but some people just naturally have more awareness than others.  One of the benefits of attending psychotherapy is that psychotherapists can help clients to expand their inner emotional awareness (see my articles: Developing Emotional Intelligence and The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

How Psychotherapy Helps to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness

How Do Psychotherapists Help Clients to Expand Their Inner Emotional Awareness?
In order to get along with people in your personal life and at work, you need to have an awareness of what you're experiencing in your internal emotional world and also a sense of what's going on with other people on an emotional level.  People who lack this awareness often have problems in their relationships and might not understand why.

Not only do they lack awareness of what they're experiencing emotionally, but they also don't pick up on social cues from others, so they don't understand what's going on emotionally with the people around them.  This is often what brings them into therapy.

Every psychotherapist works differently.  When clients come to see me in my private practice in New York City because they're having problems understanding their own and others' emotions, I find that it's often useful to help them to get emotionally attuned by using the mind-body connection.

Tapping Into the Internal Emotional World With the Mind-Body Connection
The body offers a window into the unconscious mind, which includes emotions (see my article: The Body Offers a Window Into Unconscious Mind).

Even clients are who fairly cut off from awareness of their bodies can learn over time how to recognize their emotions based on what they're sensing in their bodies.

For clients who are especially cut off, a psychotherapist who uses mind-body oriented techniques in therapy, like Somatic Experiencing or some other type of somatic psychotherapy, can help clients to get oriented to what they're experiencing in their bodies and what emotions are involved with their physical sensations.

Fictional Vignette: How Psychotherapy Helps to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness
Ted was having problems getting along with his girlfriend and his coworkers, which is why he began therapy.

How Psychotherapy Helps You to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness

His girlfriend, Jan, had been complaining to him for a while that, after the initial stage of their relationship which was passionate, he seemed emotionally detached.  She also complained that he seemed to have no awareness of how his emotional detachment affected her, even though she tried to explain it to him numerous times.

Ted dismissed her complaints by telling her that she was "making a big deal out of nothing."  But when his director told him that a few of Ted's colleagues complained that Ted was aloof and he wasn't  being a team player on a project, Ted worried that he might lose his job, so he decided to seek help in therapy.

When he talked to his new therapist about his family history, he described a lonely childhood as an only child where he spent most of his time by himself.  If anything bothered him, he knew not to go to either of his parents because they dismissed his complaints, so he kept his emotions to himself (see my articles: What is Childhood Emotional Neglect? and What is the Connection Between Childhood Emotional Neglect and Problems Later in Adult Relationships?)

He was relieved to go to college to get away from his family, and he quickly fell in with a drinking crowd.  Although he had many drinking buddies, he had no close friends at college and none at home.

By the middle of his first year in college, Ted wasn't doing well, so he knew he had to cut back on his drinking to work on his grades.  It was during that time that he met Jan on campus, and they hit it off immediately.

Once he was out of college, he and Jan moved to New York City to live together and begin their new careers.

Although he resented Jan's complaints that he was emotionally detached, he recognized that  he wasn't as passionate about the relationship now that they were together for several years.  He felt guilty that she wasn't getting what she needed from him emotionally, and he wanted to change that.  He also wanted to show his director and his colleagues that he could be more approachable and a team player.

When his psychotherapist explored with Jan what internal emotions he was aware of, he said the only emotion that he had any awareness of was anger, and he frequently felt angry and didn't know why.  Anger was also the only emotion that his parents displayed when he was growing up.

Ted expressed some concern about delving into his emotions, so he and his psychotherapist agreed that they would work slowly so Ted would feel safe in therapy (see my article: Starting Where the Client is in Psychotherapy).

Since Ted knew when he was angry and he frequently felt this emotion, his therapist helped Ted to recognize where he felt his anger on a physical level.

Initially, this was difficult for Ted because he wasn't accustomed to connecting his emotions with his body sensations.  But, gradually, Ted was able to identify that when he was angry, he felt the anger in his forehead around his eyebrows; he felt a tightness in his jaw and tension in his shoulders, arms and hands.

A few sessions later, Ted and his therapist focused on the emotion of fear.  Ted had a recent memory of feeling fearful when his director called Ted into his office to tell Ted that coworkers complained.  He thought he was about to lose his job, but his director told him that his work was good and he needed to find a way to connect with his coworkers.

As he remembered this memory of being fearful, Ted sensed his fear as a tightness in his gut.  Even just remembering that memory when he thought he was going to lose his job made his stomach feel queasy in his therapy session.

A few sessions later, Ted and his therapist worked on helping him to connect the emotion of  sadness with sensations in his body. She asked Ted to remember a sad memory.

At first, Ted couldn't think of any sad memories, but then he remembered feeling sad when Jan told him recently that she didn't know if she could stay in their relationship if he remained so emotionally disconnected.

As he went back into that memory in his therapy, he felt a sense of sadness in the back of his eyes and in his chest.  He also felt a queasiness in his stomach that he could now associate with fear.

Between sessions, as his psychotherapist recommended, Ted kept a journal to write down whatever emotions he sensed and where he felt them in his body (see my article: The Benefits of Journal Writing Between Therapy Sessions).

His therapist also taught Ted how to de-escalate and ground himself emotionally and physically when he felt overwhelmed, especially since becoming aware of his emotions was new to him (see my articles: How to Stay Emotionally Grounded During Difficult Times and Self Soothing Techniques to Use When You're Feeling Distressed).

Although it was difficult for him at first, Ted also practiced being friendlier with his colleagues.  He invited them over his apartment to watch sports on his big screen TV and made sure they had plenty to eat and drink.  Jan, who knew that Ted was trying to improve his relationships with his colleagues, went out with her friends to allow Ted and his colleagues time to themselves.  Soon after that, Ted and his colleagues were bonding and getting along better at work.

Allowing himself to be more emotionally vulnerable with Jan was more difficult compared to bonding with his colleagues over sports.  Jan knew that he was trying, so she was understanding and encouraging.

Ted's difficulty with allowing himself to be more emotionally vulnerable with Jan was related to his earlier childhood experiences with his parents.  In his therapy sessions, he realized how hurt he was by his parents' emotional neglect and how he had unconsciously and how this affected him as an adult.

The relationship with Jan was easier at the beginning because they were both at the height of their sexual passion for each other.  But now that they were together for a while, they were at a different stage in their relationship and Jan wanted more emotional intimacy, which frightened Ted.

His therapist recommended that they work on his history of early emotional neglect with EMDR therapy (see my articles: What is EMDR Therapy? and EMDR Therapy For Big T and Smaller T Trauma).

At the same time, she encouraged Ted to express his affection for Jan in ways that felt the least threatening to him.

Initially, Ted began by buying Jan flowers and giving her other small gifts.  Jan was touched by these gifts, especially since she knew that Ted was struggling to express his love for her.  She told him how thoughtful and kind it was of him to give her these gifts.

How Psychotherapy Helps to Expand Your Inner Emotional Awareness

Getting Jan's positive feedback encouraged Ted to tell Jan that he really loved her.  Although he stumbled over his words, when she gave him a big hug and kiss, he was making progress and he felt good about himself.

In the meantime, Ted and his psychotherapist continued to do EMDR therapy to work through his traumatic history of emotional neglect.

Over time, Ted was able to work through his traumatic past, and this allowed him to be more emotionally vulnerable and expressive with Jan.  He also continued to cultivate better relationships at work.

Psychotherapy can help you to expand your inner emotional awareness.

In my professional opinion as a psychotherapist for more than 20 years, the mind-body connection is the easiest and most effective way to help clients in therapy to become aware of their emotions through the connection to the sensations in their bodies.

Often, people become emotionally and physically disconnected from their bodies due to unresolved trauma.  So, usually part of the work in therapy is to help clients to work through unresolved trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
People who lack awareness of their internal emotional world often don't realize that this is a problem until there are consequences for them in their personal relationships or their relationships at work.

A skilled psychotherapist will go at a pace that feels safe for the client so the client isn't overwhelmed in therapy (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

If you realize that you're somewhat emotionally shut down and this is having negative consequences for you and your relationships, you owe it to yourself to get help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to come alive again so you'll have a more meaningful life and more fulfilling relationships.

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 overcome traumatic experiences.

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to connect and expand their inner emotional awareness so that they can lead more fulfilling lives.

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

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Anger as a Secondary Emotion

In a prior article,  Boredom as a Secondary Emotion, I introduced the concept of secondary emotions as it relates to boredom.  I also discussed how secondary emotions  often mask other emotions, like anger, sadness, fear, shame, and so on.  Anger can also be a secondary emotion that masks other emotions. The emotions that are being defensively masked by anger are often unconscious.

Anger as a Secondary Emotion

Anger as a Secondary Emotion
The following fictional vignette illustrates how anger can be a secondary emotion in a relationship and the importance of each person in the relationship being able to identify these emotions, understand the emotional triggers underlying emotions involved, the roots of these emotions which can go back to early childhood, and how to communicate with each other based on the underlying emotions:

Bess and Ken
As a last ditch effort to save their marriage, Bess and Ken begin couples counseling to deal with their tumultuous relationship.

Anger as a Secondary Emotion

They both agree that frequent arguments throughout their five year marriage has eroded their relationship to the point where they are considering getting a divorce.

From Ken's perspective, Bess has a problem with anger management.  Whenever he has to work late or travel for business, Bess becomes enraged.  He feels it's impossible to communicate with her when she gets angry, and he stopped even trying.  Before they got married, he told her that his job involved long hours and frequent travel, so he feels she is being unreasonable.

From Bess' point of view, Ken is dismissive of her feelings.  When she tries to tell him that she feels lonely in their relationship, he tells her that she shouldn't feel that way, which feels dismissive to her.  When he dismisses her feelings, she feels frustrated and angry (see my article: Loneliness and Lack of Intimacy in a Relationship).

Before they got married, Bess says Ken promised that he would search for another job that didn't involve so many long hours and travel, but he never tried to find another job.  She feels that he actually likes being away from her much of the time, and all of this makes her feel like she's not important to him.  If he would listen to her and consider her feelings, she wouldn't get so angry.

Aside from the usual ground rules about the fee, the cancellation policy, and similar issues, their couples counselor set some ground rules for their sessions, including that they have to actively listen to what their spouse said without being judgmental and without interrupting.

Then, the couples counseling turns to Ken and asks him what he heard Bess say.  Initially, he looks surprised that he is being asked this, and then he admits that he has heard Bess complain so much over the years that he barely listens to her anymore.  But he is aware that she doesn't like that he is away from her so much and that she blames him for not finding another job.  What Bess didn't know, he explains, is that he has been looking for another job, but he hasn't found anything yet.

He tells the couples counselor that he wishes that Bess wasn't so "needy," but then he catches himself, he acknowledges that he is being judgmental and apologizes to Bess, who looks upset, "This is what I have to deal with all the time from Ken.  Instead of trying to understand how I feel, he criticizes me for being 'needy' or 'acting like a baby.'  There's no getting through to him."

After getting Ken's and Bess' family history over the next couple of sessions, the couples counselor provides them with psychoeducation about their attachment styles (see my articles:  Why It's Important For Psychotherapists to Provide Clients With Psychoeducation and How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).

She explains that it's common for people with certain attachment styles to come together. For instance, people with the anxious-preoccupied attachment style often get together with the dismissive-avoidant attachment style.

Ken laughs, "The dismissive-avoidant attachment style sounds like me.  I never wanted to get married, but when I met Bess, I fell in love and I knew that I would lose her if we didn't get married."

Bess says hesitantly, "I guess the anxious-preoccupied style sounds like me.  I knew Ken didn't want to get married and, on some level, I think he resents marrying me."

Throughout the next few months, the couples counselor teaches Ken and Bess to de-escalate so that their arguments don't get to the level where they're shouting at each other.  They both become more considerate of each other, and Ken makes an effort to come home early from work more often and he sends a subordinate on some of the business trips.

The couples counselor also teaches them to recognize what emotions get triggered for each of them before they argue.

Ken recognizes that he is dismissive, in part, because he feels helpless whenever Bess gets upset about his time away from home.  He sees that, rather than feeling helpless, he shuts down emotionally and accuses Bess of being "needy" and "immature" but, in reality, he can't stand feeling helpless.  It feels "unmanly" to him.

They were able to explore the origin of Ken's feelings about masculinity and how "a man should be." When Ken was growing up, his father hardly showed any emotion, positive or negative, so Ken learned that in order for "a man to be a man," he should never feel helpless.  Now, as difficult as it is  for him to admit it, he's able to see that it's not reasonable to say that men should be allowed to have certain emotions.

Listening to Ken, Bess was touched and she placed her hand over his as an affectionate gesture.  Ken seems surprised and he clasps Bess' hand in his.

When it was Bess' turn, she said she had no idea that, underneath his dismissive attitude, Ken was feeling helpless. If she had known that, she said, she would have been more compassionate towards him.  She reiterates that she feels angry and frustrated whenever Ken dismisses her feelings.

The couples counselor helps Bess to dig deeper beyond her anger, and Bess realizes that underneath her anger she feels hurt and abandoned, feelings that were familiar to her from her childhood whenever her parents went away and left her with her grandmother.

Bess realizes that it feels "safer" to her to feel angry as opposed to feeling hurt and abandoned, which makes her feel too emotionally vulnerable.

The couples counselor explains the concept of secondary emotions and how these emotions often mask other more vulnerable feelings like sadness or shame.

Anger as a Secondary Emotion

Gradually, Bess and Ken learn to trust each other again, and they allow themselves to feel and express their more vulnerable feelings.

After they completed couples counseling, they each sought their own individual psychotherapist to work on unresolved childhood issues that were getting triggered in their relationship (see my article: Relationships: Unresolved Childhood Issues Can Create Conflict).

Anger is often a secondary emotion.  Secondary emotions, like anger, often mask other more vulnerable feelings like sadness, fear, and shame.

These underlying feelings are usually unconscious and the secondary emotions are used as a defense to ward off the more vulnerable feelings.

When each person in a relationship is struggling with secondary emotions, they often keep looping in the same arguments without a resolution because they're not dealing with the core feelings.

Getting Help in Therapy
The underlying emotions beyond the secondary emotion is usually hard to detect on your own, especially if you're stuck in a destructive dynamic with a spouse or significant other.  Each person digs in their heels and nothing changes (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist can help individuals and couples to become aware of their particular dynamics, including their attachment styles, identify emotional triggers, discover the underlying emotions, and work towards having a more fulfilling 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.

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 10, 2018

Habitual Defensive Behavior Can Ruin Your Relationship

Habitual defensive behavior is a serious issue in relationships, and it has been known to lead to the demise of many relationships.

Habitual Defensive Behavior Can Ruin Your Relationship

For people who tend to be defensive, defensive behavior can occur automatically because it's a behavior that develops early in life as a response to a perceived threat (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past and When Arguments With Your Spouse Trigger Old Emotional Wounds From Childhood).

Instead of listening to what your spouse or significant other has to say, when you're defensive, you deflect these comments by pointing the finger at your significant other.

As an example, if your significant other tells you that you're not doing your share of the household chores, instead of listening and considering his or her point, you immediately lash out by saying, "I'm not dodging the household chores.  You're the one dodging the household chores."

In this example, we can see that there's no reflection on what your significant other told you.  There's only a knee jerk reaction (see my article: Responding Instead of Reacting to Stress).

It's not a matter of whether you're right or wrong, it's more a matter of reflecting on what your significant other has to say and considering his or her feelings about the matter.

Nothing gets resolved if you react defensively to even the most tactful statements or suggestions.

How to Change Defensive Behavior Before It Ruins Your Relationship
  • Become Aware of Your Defensive Behavior:  In order to change defensive behavior, you need to become aware of when you're doing it.  In the heat of the moment, you might not realize that you're reacting defensively.  But if you take time to think about it the next time that it's pointed out to you, you could develop increased awareness of your defensiveness.  By become more aware of your reactive patterns of defensiveness, you can discover whether you're reacting this way every time your significant other asks you for something or if there are certain issues that trigger your defensiveness.  Are old memories getting triggered, which are unrelated to the here-and-now situation?
  • Write Down Each Time You're Defensive:  Once you start becoming aware of your defensive behavior, write down each instance after it occurs.  Keep a log of these incidents, and you will begin to see patterns.  Along with writing down each incident, write about what was going on for you emotionally at the time.  Were you fearful? Angry? Resentful?  Did the incident take you back to an old memory so that you reacted in a childlike manner?
  • Think Before You React:  There's a difference between responding and reacting.  When you respond, you take the time to reflect on what's going on.  What is your significant other really saying to you?  If you're so upset that you're not sure, ask for clarification.  If you're still upset after you get clarification, tell your significant other that you need a little time (let him or her know how much time, so you don't leave your significant other hanging, and then get back to him or her within that time frame).  Once you're calm, you can think more clearly.  If you don't agree with your significant other, rather than saying, "You're wrong," look beyond your significant other's words and find out what's going on.  Does s/he feel overwhelmed?  Is there some misunderstanding?  
  • Work as a Team to Resolve the Problem: Rather than working against your significant other by being defensive as if s/he is the enemy, work as a team to resolve the underlying issues.  What do you each need to resolve the problem?  Are there common areas where you agree?  Can you each come up with compromises?

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your significant other are unable to work out this issue and you think it's a communication issue within the relationship, you could benefit from couples counseling where you can both learn how to improve your communication skills.

If you think this problem stems from your defensiveness rather than a problem that you both have, you could benefit from individual therapy.  As I mentioned earlier, a pattern of defensive behavior usually begins early when a child feels unsafe.  If you're reacting to the present based on the past, you might need help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you separate your current situation from the past (see my article: The Benefits of Psychotherapy).

A skilled psychotherapist can also help you to work through unresolved issues from the past that might be getting triggered in your current relationship so that you're no longer triggered now (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

Rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from working with a skilled therapist who can free you from a traumatic 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.

How Boredom Can Lead to Greater Creativity

In my prior two articles, Understanding the Different Types of Boredom and Boredom as a Secondary Emotion: Discovering the Underlying Emotions in Therapy, I introduced different ways of looking at boredom (also see my article:  Boredom as a Relapse Trigger as it applies to addiction).  In this article, I discuss how boredom can lead to greater creativity.

How Boredom Can Lead to Greater Creativity

How Does Boredom Lead to Creativity?
Two research studies conducted by University of Central Lancashire and Penn State University    found that boredom can spark creativity because the restless mind craves stimulation.

According to psychologist Heather Lench of Texas A&M University, when people are bored, this often leads to their being in a seeking state of mind, so the mind becomes more engaged.

Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire, discovered that when people are bored, they go into a daydreaming state, which can lead to creative ideas.

Many people discover that when they're engaged in mundane, boring tasks, like folding the laundry or washing the dishes, they get creative ideas.

It doesn't matter if they are artists, business executives or students.  These repetitive, mundane tasks can open up the mind in a creative way.

How Can You Benefit From Boredom to Become More Creative?
According to Sandi Mann, Ph.D., it's important not to distract yourself when you're bored so that you allow yourself to benefit from the deeper thinking that can take place when you stay with the boredom and see what comes up next.

How Boredom Can Lead to Greater Creativity

According to Dr. Mann, when you distract yourself from your boredom by looking at your cellphone, going online on your computer or finding other ways to alleviate your boredom, you move away from the slow moments that can lead to creative ideas.

So, instead of trying to distract yourself from boredom, stay with it and don't distract yourself.  You might discover that you get some of your best ideas if you just allow yourself to remain in that bored state for a while.

If you need to come up with creative ideas, you could benefit from planning mundane activities like making photocopies, answering basic email or attending an especially boring staff meeting where your mind will crave stimulation and, possibly, this state will allow you to open up to new ways of looking at things (see my article: Reclaiming Your Creativity).

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