Though a New Yorker with a therapist sounds like a tired stereotype, there’s a reason we continue to rely heavily on these beacons of Tinder/work/real-estate wisdom. Between insanely stressful jobs, high rents, and a largely disappointing dating pool, it’s only natural that we need someone to unload on once or twice a week (and maybe sometimes during the workday on the phone). But what’s at the core of our neurosis?
We spoke to two NYC therapists, Dr. Caroline Blackman, a psychotherapist and psychopharmacologist; and Dr. Judy Scheel, DSW and psychotherapist, to find out just what’s troubling New Yorkers the most.
Note: It’s important to mention that both therapists quoted deal specifically with middle- to upper-middle-class clients in Manhattan. Factors like neighborhood, income, race, family situations, etc. are all life factors, and differ across all five boroughs.
“THERE ARE A LOT OF SELF-ESTEEM ISSUES” We want to have it all… and clearly can't While people living in a slower-paced environment might be able to stop and smell the roses, New Yorkers are trying to smell them while pruning them, picking them, and arranging them perfectly in order to bring them home to our perfect spouse -- all from the backseat of a taxi that’s moving 60mph down the FDR. “There’s a unique pressure in living a certain lifestyle with children and a career in certain parts of Manhattan, where there are unique social pressures,” says Blackman, who conducts her practice in Midtown. “New Yorkers sometimes don’t understand that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too; that making certain choices involves both gain and loss. For example, if you want to work a lot, it may be hard to be a certain type of parent. You cannot both be a perfect parent and a seamless worker. Something has to give. I see a lot of people coming in conflicted and not knowing where to draw the line, or wanting to have it all without realizing its emotional toll.”
Blackman notes that NYC women tend to feel this pressure to have it all the most. “[Women] with powerful jobs and children feel the burden of juggling and more guilt about priorities, etc., than men in the same position. Standards tend to be very high in both sexes, and you also see perfectionism in men who are seeking to be both wonderful fathers and primary breadwinners,” she says.
We have absolutely no idea how to relax New Yorkers are constantly on the go, but even when we do get the time to slow down, we have no idea how to actually enjoy it. “I see many people who have difficulty with downtime. They are overly charged people who can’t switch off, and some just want to give it all up and live a completely different life,” Blackman adds.
We think we know what we want... until we see the next shiny thing “There’s more of a New York urban dissatisfaction and urban unhappiness,” says Scheel, who practiced in New York for 20+ years and has since relocated her practice to North Carolina. “In terms of comparing the North and the South, up in New York, people are expected to be perfect and don’t have the internal tool to sit with anything and to process, and to accept happiness in a different way. Because of external stimuli, people expect happiness to come from the outside in, whether it’s getting that perfect job or apartment or whatever it might be.”
"I THINK PEOPLE HAVE A HARD TIME SLOWING DOWN ENOUGH TO ACTUALLY FEEL SAD." When we finally figure out what we do want, we refuse to wait for it “There’s an emphasis on a quick fix,” says Blackman. “Change takes time. You do see some people who want to get from point A to Z without going through the alphabet, so to speak. This is getting more prevalent culturally and is reinforced by managed care. But New Yorkers tend to be quick and want solutions that may not be possible without the time spent digging deeper.”
Our self-esteem struggles to keep up with our high standards “There are a lot of self-esteem issues, and they manifest themselves in different ways,” says Scheel. “People are not maximizing on their potential because they feel insecure. There is a small percentage of people who need medication, but for many people it’s about living their authentic selves, which is hard to do in New York. It’s an easier route to have an eating disorder, go shopping, resort to alcohol, etc., than it is to sit down and really think about what is going to make you happy.”
We're just generally very, very anxious people “I see more anxiety in my practice than depression,” says Blackman. “It’s an anxiety about perfectionism. New York attracts a Type A personality. I think people have a hard time slowing down enough to actually feel sad. New York is such a stimulating place, and people can get distracted [from their sadness] easily.”
Scheel adds, “A lot of anxiety has to do with people being uncomfortable with their feelings, whether it’s their anger or their feeling that they’re not good enough. There’s a lot of competition in New York and that stirs the anxiety pot. People never quite feel that they are getting enough, or that they’re happy enough. The culture of New York spurs that on and makes people crazy.”