Betty's Office 2.3: "But Why Do I Have These Impostor Feelings?"
First of all, this isn't a blame game and it's not all your parents' fault. This third article on the Impostor Phenomenon looks at how insecurity develops in many of us despite our parents' best efforts to instill in us "confidence". Dr. Valerie Young, a psychologist who has written extensively on the Impostor Phenomenon, identifies that being raised by flawed humans is, in fact, the primary source of this inner insecurity.
So it is your parents' fault, afterall! Family beliefs about achievement, success and failure are learned early in our childhoods. These beliefs run deep and follow us into adulthood. What is typical in these family dynamics that undercut a child's confidence?
Way too much criticism and too little praise by parent figures may work for future Marines, but most of us kids are just kids when we are children. As a therapist, I see kids in my practice underachieving in rebellion to a overly-critical parent quite frequently. I also have seen kids who are stressed out and over-achieve in order to try to please a critical parent. Even kids who get positive validation from teachers, coaches, and peers can still be confused about their "real value" if they perceive themselves as being "less than" in the eyes of their critical parent.
But as life would have it, there is risk for the development of Impostor feelings for those kids who are given way too much praise and not enough reality-based feedback. Praise progress in a child, not perfection. Genuine confidence stems from one's ability to master skills while tolerating frustration over time. Over-protective parents can, with good intentions, undermine their child's natural need to fail. Older kids can also start to dismiss overly-gushing parental praise as "that's just my mom".
Was a there a discrepancy in how you were viewed by your family versus outside the family? Were you given a label as a kid (ie "the smart one", "the athlete", " the artist", etc.) and felt you had to live up to that label? Did you feel you had to compromise your own view of yourself to fit into what your family expected?
Was perfectionism a standard expectation in your family? A family's view that anything short of perfection as "failure" is not the same as a healthy drive to excel. Functional paralysis can occur when one has to constantly maintain incredibly high standards.
Parenting is a tricky business and nobody gets it 100% right, let's be real. Parents have screwed things up with the best of intentions. Some parents really probably shouldn't have had kids in the first place. But we are here, so we have got to deal with the hand that we individually have been dealt.
Other factors that contribute to the development of Impostor feelings in highly capable people will be explored in the next article in this series. If you feel you are a sufferer of the Impostor Phenomenon, start by exploring the messages you were given as a child by your family about your ability to achieve. You will be better equipped in the present to define yourself with your own truth.
Betty's Office 2.1 The Impostor Phenomenon: "I'm Not Good Enough for This Job!"
I live in Orange County, California -- a land of imposters. You might think that Los Angeles County to our north would have even more imposters per capita, what with Hollywood and the entertainment industry. The "Impostor Phenomenon" discussed here is not about actors perfecting their craft to inhabit a character. Nor is it about the dramatic increase in rock tribute bands appearing everywhere around this great land. Those examples are theatrical imposters and for the most part don't hurt anybody.
The Impostor Phenomenon we're talking about can occur in many high-functioning successful people who are secretly haunted by thoughts of being a fraud or a fake. Usually related to their work lives, they feel they do not deserve their accomplishments and have faked their way to success.
Despite evidence to the contrary, they cannot be reassured or convinced that their success is due to their brains and talent. They instead attribute their success to luck or other factors (charm, looks, connections). This is not false modesty on the part of Imposter Phenomenon sufferers. They can experience extreme shame fearing being exposed for having inadequate knowledge or experience to be in the position they are in. This fear of being (publicly) exposed as a fraud is one significant way Impostor Phenomenon differs from more typical job performance worries.
The Impostor Phenomenon is a psychological "thing" (fancy clinical term) that happens to about 70% of professionals at some point over their working lives, research tells us. Also referred to as the Impostor or Fraud Syndrome, it happens (generally) equally to both men and women. Women tend to have been the focus of research moreso than men, however, on this issue.
Due to its secretive aspect, sufferers rarely share any of these feelings, thus perpetuating the idea that they are truly alone and are truly imposters. For some sufferers of the Impostor Phenomenon, just learning that this "thing" has a name is a start to better understanding their own fears, beliefs, and thoughts related to their professional selves. Many take some relief that this "secret insecurity thing" they have lived with is way more common than they had any idea.
Whether inside or outside of psychotherapy, those experiencing Impostor Phenomenon should take hope that they can work their way out of this persistent cycle of fearing failure, exposure, and chronic sense of inauthenticity. Challenging one's own thinking patterns needs to occur if this Imposter Phenomenon is to be overcome or at least subdued.
If you have read this far, I guess I owe it to my reader to give you the honest truth. The Impostor Phenomenon is actually no more common in Orange County than anywhere else in the country. It is prevalent everywhere, from urban cities to rural areas, from the mountains to the seas. I hope to have gotten the message across that those who suffer from the Impostor Phenomenon really and truly aren't imposters, they just believe themselves to be.
If you wonder whether you may be a sufferer of the Impostor Phenomenon or if you care about an "impostor", consider reading more about this subject. I recommend "The Impostor Phenomenon" by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance (who coined the phrase along with colleague Dr. Suzanne Imes in the late 1970's). Dr. Clance writes with much empathy about the painful experience of believing oneself to be an impostor. Another book with great suggestions and insight is "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It" by Valerie Young, Ed.D. This book, despite its title, can be helpful to men as well.
This article is my first of a series on the Impostor Phenomenon and what you can do about it. Future articles will be available on my Facebook page as well as at my website at BettyBickers.com.
Betty's Office 2.4 My Promise to My Clients
Do you feel safe enough in therapy to be totally honest with your therapist?
Are you thinking about therapy but worrying about a therapist judging you?
Are you concerned about raising issues with a therapist that are controversial?
Do you worry about the session notes being either shared or hacked "in the cloud"?
I hear it often that people hold stuff back from their therapists. Trust and confidentiality are the foundations of successful therapy.
Your privacy is my highest concern in providing you effective psychotherapy in my Santa Ana private practice. I do not contract with insurance companies and I keep my handwritten notes under lock and key. I do not share my office space with anyone.
I have a cash-based practice which means I do not accept insurance. Too often insurance companies get in the way of productive therapy either by limiting treatment or trying to direct treatment. Access to client notes by an authorizing agent of an insurance company can also consciously or unconsciously affect a client's sense of privacy. This can cause a client to hold back in addressing pertinent material in therapy.
I do accept most forms of payment (cash, checks, debit and credit cards) and can see my clients when it is most convenient for them. I also offer a free initial consultation in my office so you can see if I'm a good fit for you.
If you need to get real in therapy, please call me at (657) 247-9062.
Betty's Office 2.5: "The Dark Void"
I want to describe the "dark void" experience that some of my clients share with me in therapy. As a psychotherapist, I work with many people who are experiencing depression or anxiety in differing forms. My job is to help them work through difficult experiences in order to live more satisfying lives. Being able to feel "better" or "happier" is generally what most people seeking therapy desire.
The "dark void" is a place where some go internally for emotional safety. It happens in an instant, a place of emotional numbness and withdrawal. Dark and vast, an emotional black hole. The body becomes drained of energy and the mind wants to recede into an abyss of nothingness. Thoughts about one's value become unhinged and the mind lies to itself. "I don't matter. Nothing matters."
This is more than an onset of a depressive episode. It's a sudden intense sense of loss of self. Complete aloneness. Detachment from caring. A desire to disappear.
The dark void isn't rage. Rage takes purpose and energy to project anger outward. That is a fight response to a threatening stressor. The dark void is a total flight response. There is no energy to fight and total withdrawal (emotional and often physical) is the only option at that moment.
This dark void is a place nobody wants to be. The dark void isn't a psychotic state and not a loss of touch with reality. It's an emotional cave in which to hide, but it's a very cold cave.
You are fortunate if you are reading this and have no idea what I am describing.
This is a depressive fear response, I believe, that happens to a person when as a child they experienced some significant neglect, trauma, or abandonment. Sometimes the client themselves are not aware of this past abuse; other times clients want to minimize or discount the impact it has had on them.
But as children, this dark void began forming inside of them. This developing dark void, perhaps initially a coping mechanism, becomes a tormentor to the sufferer who in pain feels trapped there.
People in general handle threats and fear differently based on a number of bio-psycho-social factors. Therapy is often about helping a person change their thinking and behaviors to achieve a more favorable outcome. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is basically a "change your thinking, change your life" focus which is often very effective in reducing anxiety and depression.
But the dark void isn't about thinking. It's about fear, a primal emotion. Putting words to that fear is a crucial part of doing healing work in therapy.
If you or someone you care about experiences the dark void, please consider talking to a mental health professional about it.
Betty's Office 1:4 "Why is Happiness so Elusive?"
Is happiness just a fleeting feeling or can it be an ongoing state of being? How do you define happiness for yourself? Most of us see it as a desirable emotional state. For some it is a destination or a goal to be reached. For others happiness is a mirage seemingly forever just out of their reach.
So nebulous this thing called happiness. Just try to hold onto it too hard and it disappears. It can't be forced.
Ongoing depression or anxiety can rob one's sense of ability to experience happiness even briefly.
Americans spend billions each year on books targeting the subject of happiness. "Happiness" is one of the key words people research for TED talk topics online. Universities are continuously researching the subject.
Maybe we as a culture are currently over-emphasizing the desire and search for happiness as a state of being instead of it as a wonderful but only temporary emotion. We must be aware that we can't really maintain an ongoing state of bliss most of the time.
Life requires it's polarities and human emotions do too. Tremendous happiness follows great struggle. Disappointment follows success. Immense satisfaction follows sacrifice. Deep appreciation follows deprivation. Positive balances the negative and vice versa.
I would like to suggest a renewed appreciation for the concept of "contentment" as a desired and more often achievable feeling state, as well as a state of being. Shooting for ongoing happiness just sets most of us up for disappointment--the opposite of how most of us would like to feel.
One can practice recognizing feelings of contentment just about anywhere. Call it seeking serenity, appreciation of the moment, or "practicing mindfulness" throughout your day. This helps balance the crap that life will throw at you...
My Therapeutic Specialties include:
Initial Assessment and Diagnosis
Treatment of Mood disorders (Depression, Bipolar)
Treatment of Anxiety (Panic, PTSD, Social Phobia, OCD, compulsive behaviors)
Relationship Problems with Family, Friends
Familiarity with Psychotropic Medications
Occupational Stress (and its management)
Adults Abused as children--physical and/or sexual
Alcohol and Drug recovery
Personality Disorders (including Borderline)
Chronic Low Self Evaluation
Grief/ Loss of loved one, including pets
Couples/ Marital Therapy
Dual Diagnosis (Substance Abuse and Psychiatric)
The Impostor Phenomenon/Syndrome
EMDR (trauma reprocessing) therapy
Why I became a psychotherapist: At age 11, I watched Bob Newhart play psychologist Dr. Bob Hartley on CBS every Saturday night and psychology seemed a fascinating profession. Then I saw Judd Hirsh play Tim Hutton's psychologist Dr. Berger in the movie Ordinary People and I was hooked. I saw the brilliance and impact of therapy to help others move through difficult times. I began seeing a therapist in college due to my own feelings of isolation from others. I studied both psychology and theater at UC Berkeley and discovered my deeply felt calling to become a therapist. I then got my masters degree in Social Work at USC developing my skills assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental health issues. I love my work--though it can be difficult at times--it's absolutely worth it. I wouldn't want to do anything else. Thanks for reading. --Betty
Hi and welcome to my website. I opened my own therapy practice after years of working in a variety of settings that didn't allow me to practice the art and science of psychotherapy in the way that most benefitted my clients. I now offer EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy to treat anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as a variety of other mind/body disturbances.
Because every client is a complex individual, my clinical orientation has been an eclectic blend of cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic therapies. In December 2017, I attended the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim, and it became clear to me that I needed to add EMDR therapy to my existing psychotherapy skills. I am happy to now be able to provide EMDR to my clients! I am also familiar with Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Attachment Theory, and Mindfulness interventions. Couples work reflects a Gottman influence. Regardless of the intervention and the theory behind it, trust and kindness need to be present in the therapeutic alliance for the best outcome for the client.
Your privacy/confidentiality is my highest priority. My therapy notes are not kept on any computer or "in the cloud". I use paper and pen only for my record keeping. I have a cash-based practice, so no insurance company is involved with your case in any way. My private office is located in the Aspen Woods Professional Complex at 2030 E. 4th St. #214 in Santa Ana, CA 92705. I am located between the 5 and 55 Freeways off Irvine Blvd/4th St. near Tustin Ave. Please call me at 657 247-9062 to schedule a free initial consultation or your first appointment.
Payment options: I have a cash-based practice and payment is due at each session. I accept all major credit cards as well as debit cards. Checks and cash are also accepted as payment. I do not accept insurance directly but I can provide patients with a "superbill" for possible reimbursement based on your insurance type (if you choose to do this).
Betty's Office 1:2 "Know the Five Signs"
Are you familiar with the advertising campaign that shows various famous individuals showing their palms to the camera and noting they "Know the Five Signs"? They got Prince Harry's cooperation in the ad and this is why I noticed it. It's for a website called "changedirection.org". It's dedicated to recognizing symptoms of mental illness and encourages treatment.
I figured that since I was in the field of mental health, I ought to know the five signs so I looked up the website. I am lifting this material directly from the website so I'm not entitled to any credit except for re-typing it.
1) Personality changes.
You may notice sudden or gradual changes in the way that someone typically behaves. They may behave in ways that don't seem to fit their values, or the person may just seem different.
2) Uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody.
You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling his or her temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down. They may be unable to sleep or may explode in anger at a minor problem.
3) Withdrawal or isolation from other people.
Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities that used to be enjoyable. The person may start failing to make it to work or school. Not to be confused with the behavior of someone who is more introverted, this sign is marked by a changed in a person's sociability, as when someone pulls away from the social support typically available.
4) May neglect self-care and engage in risky behavior.
You may notice a change in the person's level of personal care or an act of poor judgment. For instance, someone may let personal hygiene deteriorate, or the person may start abusing alcohol or illicit substances or engaging in other self-destructive behavior that may alienate loved ones.
5) Overcome with hopelessness and overwhelmed by circumstances.
Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can't find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. they may say that the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.
Nearly one in every five people, or 43.8 million American adults, has a diagnosable mental health condition. This issue touches each of our lives. If you think it doesn't touch your life, then you might want to look in the mirror.
Betty'sOffice 1:1 "Your Own Self Talk: Are you a Coach or a Critic?"
We all talk to ourselves. I'm referring to the ongoing silent dialog we have with ourselves inside our heads. Many of us try to dim that chatter but it's better if we pay attention to it.
We talk to ourselves daily in ways that influence the outcome of our efforts. The style with which you talk to yourself, Coach vs. Critic, does positively or negatively impact your belief in yourself. This then impacts your actions or efforts.
A coach emphasizes the possible while working with the actual. A coach gives encouragement while addressing shortcomings. A coach supports 100% effort while expecting gains.
A critic is a bully. Do you use harsh words to refer to yourself? Do you try to motivate yourself to change by being osessively critical of yourself? Do you punish yourself for your inadequacies?
Listen to how you encourage or discourage yourself internally when faced with a challenge. "Come on! Let's go!" are familiar sports chants to help rally a team. My favorite tennis player Rafa Nadal is famous for getting pumped up on the court with "Vamos Rafa!"
We can be both our coach and our critic at the same time. I play singles tennis against my husband and our competition is fierce. How I talk to myself while on court... about myself and how I am playing... directly affects my play. I still lose every match to him; Ok, and every set over the past 10 years to him. The tennis gods wouldn't blame me if I just packed it in.
But I still set out each time we walk on court hopeful and optimistic that I will try to play my best. My forehand, backhand, and serve may suck sometimes but my attitude doesn't have to. My Critic, however, can still at times defeat my Coach and steer my attitude downward when I walk off the court and sabotage what could have been a nice lunch. Let's just say we are all a work in progress.
Betty's Office 2.2 The Impostor Phenomenon: Are You a Sufferer?
You have a job and you are generally doing well overall. Performance reviews reflect you are seen as valuable to the organization and competent in your position. From the outside, you seem to be handling your success just fine. This is what you need others to think. You are hiding.
You are trying to remain undercover about the fact that you feel like a fake a lot of the time. Perhaps you feel that you have fooled people into over-estimating your ability. You may attribute your success to some factor other than your intelligence and ability. You fear being exposed as a fraud and work very hard to keep this from happening.
You work extremely hard to prove yourself at work while trapped inside a repeating thought cycle of self-doubt and worry. Any success you do experience just intensifies your fear that you won't be able to maintain your level of performance. You honestly don't believe that you deserve the praise you have received. Your need for perfection combined with an intense fear of failure result in you being relentlessly demanding of yourself.
This ongoing sense of not being "good enough" can contribute to the development of anxiety symptoms like sleeplessness, sweating, shortness of breath, shakiness, and feelings of dread. Depression can set in as you feel emotionally drained in your situation. From the outside you may appear to have it all together, but internally you are anything but fine.
These Impostor Phenomenon feelings are robbing you of the feeling of having earned your success. They are also robbing you of your confidence.
Do you identify with any of the Impostor Phenomenon traits described above? Do you care about someone suffering from the Impostor Phenomenon?
70% of all professionals can experience these feelings (in varying degrees) at some time in their careers. This article, however, is addressing workers more chronically affected by these confidence crushing thoughts and fears.
"But if I have gotten this far with this work style, why would I risk changing it?"
This fear of failure combined with extremely high standards can result in an IP sufferer experiencing procrastination and other self-sabotaging behaviors that actually do hinder their progress up the ladder of success. Paralysis can set in when one demands only the best from themselves all of the time. Perfectionism encourages inefficient work methods. IP sufferers would benefit from becoming more aware of how their perfectionism may be working against them.
IP sufferers may consciously or unconsciously start to hold themselves back from challenges that could further their careers. They may become intimidated by success or be so afraid of failure that they avoid being challenged. They tend to remain in their comfort zones and may stick with "safe" work methods due to fear of risk-taking. The possibility of failure is inherent in risk-taking. Learning to cope with this overwhelming fear of failure is crucial in helping to reduce the self-limiting effects of the Impostor Phenomenon.
Instead of seeking out job performance feedback, they may avoid any evaluation which might confirm their deepest fears that they actually are incompetent. This same feedback could be the very thing the IP sufferer needs to hear to make genuine forward progress in their career development.
There is irony in the fact that truly talented, skilled, intelligent people struggle so hard just to feel OK about themselves.... only to then sabotage themselves due to their own high standards. This is why discussing this "Imposter thing" is important. These folks are suffering from their own erroneous thinking styles. They deserve to feel the success they have worked so hard far and have actually achieved.
The Imposter feelings can be overcome, but not without introspection (insight) and focused practice (behavioral change). Understanding the familial and cultural forces impacting your own sense of competence and how you define success may help you finally recognize that you are, in fact, being too hard on yourself. Others can tell you this, but an IP sufferer needs to find this out on their own.
If you think you may suffer from the Impostor Phenomenon, consider keeping a written account of "impostor thoughts" you have. Start becoming aware how often you question or doubt yourself during your workday? Do you ruminate excessively over your perceived missteps? Briefly note the time of these thoughts and what triggered them. Notice how frequently these thoughts occur to you.
There are many reasons that the Imposter Phenomenon exists and we will explore its origins in our next article in this series.
Dr. Pauline Rose Clance (one of the two psychologists who initially identified this psychological phenomenon) has created a test to measure for Impostor Phenomenon traits with a simple scoring method. The Clance IP Scale is available for you to take here; just scroll down.
Betty's Office 1:3 What IS a Narcissist, anyway?
As a mental health provider, I do have some insight into various personaltiy disorders and their treatment. A personality disorder is a serious psychiatric disorder and I am going to outline the basics of it here, based on the criteria specified in the "bible" of the psychiatric field--the DSM Five (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Quick lesson: A personality disorder is an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in late adolescence or early adulthood, and leads to distress or impairment. The Narcissistic personality is a pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy exhibited in a variety of contexts consistently over their lifetime.
In a nut shell, these are typical aspects of a Narcissist:
1) has a grandiose sense of self importance
2) is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, beauty, ideal love
3) believes he or she is "special" or unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people
4) requires excessive admiration
5) has a sense of entitlement (unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment or automatic compliance with their expectations)
6) is interpersonally exploitive (takes advantage of others to achieve their personal ends)
7) lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
8) Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of them
9) shows arrogant or haughty behaviors or attitudes
Does this remind you of anyone in the news?
Clance IP Scale
On a sheet of paper number down from 1 to 20. It is best to give the first response that enters you mind rather than dwelling on each statement. Use this simple rating scale in response to how true each statement is of you:
1 : not at all true 2 : rarely 3 : sometimes 4 : often 5 : very true
1. I have often succeeded on a test or task even though I was afraid that I would not do well before I undertook the task.
2. I can give the impression that I'm more competent than I really am.
3. I avoid evaluations if possible and have a dread of others evaluating me.
4. When people praise me for something I've accomplished, I'm afraid I won't be able to live up to their expectations of me in the future.
5. I sometimes think I obtained my present position or gained my present success because I happened to be in the right place at the right time or knew the right people.
6. I'm afraid people important to me may find out that I'm not as capable as they think I am.
7. I tend to remember the incidents in which I have not done my best more than those times I have done my best.
8. I rarely do a project or task as well as I'd like to do it.
9. Sometimes I feel or believe that my success in my life or in my job has been the result of some kind of error.
10. It's hard for me to accept compliments or praise about my intelligence or accomplishments.
11. At times, I feel my success has been due to some kind of luck.
12. I'm disappointed at times in my present accomplishments and think I should have accomplished much more.
13. Sometimes I'm afraid others will discover how much knowledge or ability I really lack.
14. I'm often afraid that I may fail at a new assignment or undertaking even though I generally do well at what I attempt.
15. When I've succeeded at something and received recognition for my accomplishments, I have doubts that I can keep repeating the success.
16. If I receive a great deal of praise and recognition for something I've accomplished, I tend to discount the importance of what I've done.
17. I often compare my ability to those around me and think they may be more intelligent than I am.
18. I often worry about not succeeding with a project or examination, even though others around me have considerable confidence that I will do well.
19. If I'm going to receive a promotion or gain recognition of some kind, I hesitate to tell others until it is an accomplished fact.
20. I feel bad and discouraged if I'm not "the best" or at least "very special" in situations that involve achievement.
Scoring the Impostor Test: The Imposter Test was developed to help individuals determine whether or not they have IP characteristics and, if so, to what extent they are suffering. After taking the test, add up your numbers. If the total score is 40 or less, the respondent has few Imposter characteristics. If the score in between 41 and 60, the respondent has moderate IP experiences. A score between 61 and 80 means the respondent frequently has Imposter feelings. A score higher than 80 means the respondent often has intense IP experiences. The higher the score, the more frequently and seriously the Imposter Phenomenon interferes in a person's life.
This Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale has been reprinted with the permission of Dr. Pauline Rose Clance. Note: From TheImpostor Phenomenon: When Success Makes You Feel Like a Fake (pp.20-22), by P.R. Clance, 1985, Toronto: Bantam Books. Copyright 1985 by Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP. Reprinted by permission. Do not reproduce without permission from Pauline Rose Clance, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.paulineroseclance.com.
I now provide EMDR (trauma) therapy in addition to CBT therapies for anxiety and depression. Call me, Betty Bickers, LCSW Psychotherapy Services in Santa Ana to schedule a free initial consultation. Please contact me at 657 247 9062. I am also available for public speaking on a variety of wellness topics.
Betty's Office 1:5 "Emotional Abuse Can Boomerang In Your Life"
As a psychotherapist, I experience my clients' emotional wounds as they talk about the families and situations they grew up in. Everybody has had pain in their lives, but not everybody needs therapy to deal with their pasts.
The subject of physical and sexual abuse is never easy to address though some movies, TV shows, and media can put an exploitive spin on the topic. The media can also help educate us about the horrific truths of abuse and encourage societal change and therapy for the "victims"... But as viewers we often shy away from such subject matter as it's "too upsetting". This is understandable as most of us are just trying to get through the day.
Even those seeking therapy to feel less anxious or depressed can avoid talking about this painful material and choose not to go this deep in their therapy. This is fairly natural conflict for a number of my clients.
Emotional and verbal abuse are less obvious forms of abuse but nonetheless are also potentially soul-crushing. I've heard a number of people say that since they weren't "beaten or molested" that they don't feel they grew up in abusive environments.
Most of us want to feel like we are OK despite our difficult pasts. We do not want to label ourselves "victims" of abuse. It DOES help build character to face adversity and survive. People can exceed in many aspects of their lives despite early deficits--that's been proven over and over again.
Unfortunately, too many people avoid acknowledging that emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual abuse did happen to them as this acknowledgement itself makes them "the victim" and they want to NOT be that.
Emotional abuse from our pasts, however, can have a lasting impact on our current relationships with our romantic partners, bosses, coworkers, and friends. If you find yourself often feeling attacked or on the defensive with others, see if you may be experiencing feelings of being powerless that stem from earlier experiences with an "original abuser".
Allow yourself to consider ways you may currently feel held back in expressing yourself with others. Or the opposite occurs, you are often explosive with your opinion. Do you tend to repeat the same interpersonal behaviors with others and feel stuck with the results? Abuse in our pasts can result in our repeating similar patterns in the here and now.
Assertiveness training and self-esteem readings are a good place to start to develop more effective means of expressing yourself. Please consider psychotherapy with a licensed therapist trained in dealing with abuse for guidance in this process.
By becoming more honest with yourself and gaining awareness of how your original abuser emotionally harmed you, you can begin to understand your own choices and behaviors and truly begin to free yourself from unhealthy patterns in the present.
Betty Bickers, LCSW Psychotherapy Services in Santa Ana, CA Orange County
Betty's Office 3.2: Why EMDR? Why Now?
I haven't seen a breakthrough like this in all my years working as a psychotherapist! I have been practicing in the mental health field for over 30 years and I am excited to write about Francine Shapiro's gift to the world, "EMDR". EMDR stands for eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing. EMDR gives new hope to those suffering from emotional distress related to past or recent traumas.
As a therapist who was licensed (way back) in 1988, I was initially skeptical of this new therapy, EMDR, that emerged in the 1990's. Nothing was discussed in terms of EMDR at the UC Berkeley School of Psychology nor the USC School of Social Work where I was trained in the early '80's.
I initially questioned the practice of EMDR therapists waving their fingers in front of their clients' eyes and took this to be some form of hypnotherapy. I thought it was rather silly initially, I must admit. I heard EMDR therapists share about how quickly and effectively it can "clear" traumatic memories. Some of my fellow therapists began moving away from more traditional cognitive-behavioral therapies to practice EMDR exclusively.
It seemed too good to be true and I didn't buy it. I had been trained with therapy treatment goal words such as "cope with", "manage", "reduce", and the hopefully optimistic "work through" when it came to treating the effects of trauma. The word "cure" was rarely if ever mentioned in most clinical psychology books.
But the EMDR therapist community speaks of "releasing" or "clearing" traumatic memories by reworking the patient's brain's memory circuits. Changes in the brain literally occur as a therapist and patient work together using bilateral stimulation of the brain to review and reprocess painful traumatic memories.
I had been turning a deaf ear to a new therapy that apparently over the past 25 years has been helping people all over the world resolve depression and anxiety resulting from all types of traumatic events. But thank goodness, my ears and eyes were opened at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference held this past December in Anaheim. Truly cutting edge work is being done in the field of mental health and I needed to hear about it.
I immediately signed up to get EMDR training and I am nearly through its completion as I write this. I have introduced EMDR into my practice and have already seen amazing results. Believe me, having a patient exclaim that they feel better than they've ever felt after an EMDR session is more of an immediate and validating outcome than is typically seen in a therapy session.
It is my life's work to become the most effective therapist I can be. Learning about EMDR is teaching me to push beyond what I thought was possible to accomplish in therapy.