Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 22, 2013
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 22, 2012
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 14, 2012
Shai and Claire, girlfriends for forty years, now in their sixties, just “broke up” Shai tells me with sorrow. “Claire is just angry all the time. It is not my fault that her life did not turn out the way she wanted it to, but she seems to take that out on me and I can’t take it any more. ” I think about unconscious anger, the anger that comes out with the smallest frustration. The anger that seems so disproportionate to the situation. This is the anger that Shai describes in Claire. “Has it gotten worse over the years?” I ask Shai. “Well, it seems to. It actually got worse when I stopped being so accomodating. I used to dance around her anger and try to do things that made her happy so she would not get angry, but it turns out that I always felt like I was disappointing her no matter how hard I tried. ” Shai describes the frustration of what felt like to her to be a one-sided relationship which now she seems to have reached her limit. “It sounds like you feel like you made the right decision about ending the relationship.” I say, detecting Shai’s resolution that she had lost her patience with Claire. “Oh, absolutely, I feel like I made a good decision, but I am still sad about it,” Shai says. “It is like a break up of a romantic relationship. You may have decided to end it, but that does not mean that you are not suffering terribly.” I say, highlighting that friendships can be more intense than long term sexual relationships. “Yea, I feel like I am suffering quite a bit. I am angry with myself for not ending it sooner. I put up with her anger for years.” Shai says, reflecting back on her tolerance for hostility, which she believes decreased the quality of her life. “Why do you think you put up with it?” I ask, wondering about her perception that this was a masochistic relationship for her. “I think that I felt close to her for so many years that I did not want to lose the relationship, so I tried to tell myself that her anger was not so bad, but it was. She sucked me dry. Every time I was with her, I just felt her anger so strongly that it made me really unhappy to be with her. At the same time, we are fond of one another, so it was hard to balance out these conflicting factors. Nevertheless, I feel like life is too short to feel that anger, so I want to move on.” Shai says, with torture in her voice, since she sounds less certain that she is making the right decision. “Why don’t you see how it feels to not talk to her for a while, and then decide if you want to get back together or not?” I say, trying to help her see that time may or may not change her opinion, but she should stay open to that. “I don’t know. At this moment I know that her anger just grates at me, so I can’t take it.” Shai repeats, with the gravity of knowing that long-term friendships cannot be replaced.
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 18, 2012
Maya comes in fuming about Lauren, age fifty-two. Lauren’s relationship to money, like her relationships to important people, speaks to a certain amount of withholding and selfishness. Maya, fifty-one, complains to me that her dear friend Lauren is “incredibly cheap.” “We go out to dinner and she always has to use a coupon, and then she never wants to contribute to the tip, and then, she thinks it is fun if we can go to an event, even one we don’t care about, if there is free food. I just hate it,” Maya continues. “I hate that each time we hang out, the focus becomes on how we can get something for free or for very low-cost. I just want to connect with her and have a really good conversation, whereas she is focused on having an evening where she can then brag about how she got something for a really good price.” “Is this a new problem?” I ask, knowing that Maya has been friends with Lauren for at least the last fifteen years. “No, but it is getting to me more. Now, I know you are going to ask me why I have become more sensitive to this, and of course, I have been thinking about that. My hunch is that as I get older, I am more and more focused on enjoying my relationships and so this makes me less patient with my friends and family who seem to be so neurotic that it detracts from our connection. Lauren may be having a good time, but I am not and Lauren knows that I don’t get pleasure out of getting something for half-price, so I see Lauren as being a bit selfish in those moments.” I pause to reflect on Maya’s analysis of her upset. “It sounds like you are saying that Lauren’s constant search for a bargain is a narcissistic act and as such, it takes away from the intimacy of your relationship.” ”Yep,” Maya enthusiastically agrees with my re-stating her understanding of the disappointment that she experiences when thinking about Lauren. “I suppose you could talk to Lauren about this, or you could assume that this is an irritant to you, but that you will put up with it, given all of the other goodness that she brings to your life.” “Yea, I know that, but I am not sure what to do,” Maya says, acknowledging that she has already thought about whether to confront Lauren or whether to suck up her discontent. “Friendship can be hard when narcissistic forces dominate the interaction.” I say, making an overarching comment, not specific to Maya and Lauren. “Yea, I don’t think her cheapness dominates our relationship, but it certainly gets to me,” Maya says, reminding me that she has maintained perspective with regards to this irritant. In this session, Maya has done most of the psychoanalytic work, while I sit back and appreciate her reflecting on this important friendship. I have a deep sense of pride that I have helped Maya analyze her dilemmas in a way which is both balanced and authentic. It was a good day.
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on April 27, 2012
“I am going to move to the Bay Area,” Noah, age sixty-two, has been saying for at least forty years. My sense is that Noah is saying “I wish that I had the courage to move to the Bay Area because I would be happier there.” He makes a declarative statement, when his behavior suggests that he wishes he could, but something, likely his fears, prevent him. When faced with this contradiction, Noah maintains that one day he will move up there, as if the fact that he has been saying this for many decades without taking action, makes sense. Noah, in this moment, is unable to appreciate that he is talking in wishes, and at the same time, paralyzed by fear.
Clarissa, forty-nine, Noah’s platonic friend, experiences exasperation every time Noah talks about moving. Clarissa fails to see that Noah is speaking in wishes, so she gets angry with him for what she calls “speaking nonsense.” “What if you thought of his statement as a wish?” I pose to her. “Well, are you saying that I need to remind myself that this is a wish, so that I don’t feel so violent towards him?” Clarissa asks. “Yes, understanding that people sometimes speak from their deep unconscious processes without any awareness that they are doing that. The Freudian slip is the prime example of such a phenomena.” I say, highlighting the idea that from time to time, we all reveal our underlying dynamics. The issue with Noah is that he reveals the inner workings of his mind to others, but he does not take stock of that for himself. In essence, his insight into himself is limited and that disturbs Clarissa. “Talking in wishes. You should blog about that,” Clarissa says. So, I did.
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 28, 2012
“I am sitting there at lunch, thinking to myself, why am I friends with her?” Laney, age fifty-five, tells me her angst about her friend Mallory, age sixty. “She goes on and on and it is not that I am bored, since she tells me interesting stories, it is just that she does not give me any room for me to think about my own life. When she does ask me questions about my kids or my work, she asks it in an obsessive way where she is more concerned about details than the big picture. I mean she will ask me where my son has lunch when I am trying to talk about my son’s wife. She often misses the main idea of what I am trying to say and that really bothers me. Of course, sometimes she does not do that, so I am confused. One thing for sure, though, is that I have never known anyone to tell stories with so much detail. I just feel so crowded out by our conversations.” Laney explains to me with sadness that her ten-year friendship with Mallory is now so unsatisfying. “What drew you together?” I ask, as with any dyad there is attraction, sometimes followed by repulsion. “Well, I was lonely and I hated my life, so when she did all the talking it was a relief, but now that I am feeling better there are things I want to talk about. So, unlike before, now her obsessive story-telling is annoying and not a relief.” Laney explains to me. “So, your relationship may not be durable in the sense that it worked when you were feeling bad, but it does not work well when you feel better. ” I say, echoing Laney’s lament. “Do you think you can talk to her about that?” I ask. “Well, I have tried, but Mallory seems to need me to listen and I used to do that, and my guess is that the relationship does not work well for her if I can’t be patient and listen to her obsessive storytelling,” Laney elaborates. “So, you think you have come to the end of the road?” I ask, expressing the sadness in that idea. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Laney says, expressing inner turmoil.
Once again, I am left to wonder how relationships endure change. The state of mind that brings two people together is bound to change and how some relationships can adapt to those changes, whereas other relationships crumble, intrigues me. My suspicion is that relationships which are formed when two people are in a good state of mind have a better prognosis, since a safety net is developed where they can move through varying moods and traumatic experiences, but fall back to the good times when they forged a relationship. By contrast, relationships that are formed when one or both people are emotionally needy are more vulnerable, since if the emotionally needy person becomes more stable, he/she is likely to no longer find that the relationship meets his/her needs. Laney and Mallory are a sad example.
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 19, 2012
I am curious about how a group of friends get together and spend time. Is it activity based or socially based? That is, do the group come together to do the same thing, like to ski or to play bridge, or does the group come together to share food and conversation. If the gathering is activity based, then generally speaking, people will feel that they fit in based on their perceived competency in the activity. On the other hand, if the activity is socially based, the ones who are more socially skilled will feel more at ease. Of course, this situation gets more complicated in that the more socially skilled folks are often the more sensitive folks so they can be more bothered by what they are perceiving to be unconscious processes at play. The layers of social interaction intrigue me, needless to say.
Alexis, sixty-one, describes to me how uncomfortable she felt at a gathering of dear old friends who seemed to be preoccupied discussing the successes of their respective children. Alexis has two children who are doing pretty well, but Alexis derives little pleasure in sharing the successes of her kids. She would rather talk about her new interests and passions, but none of her friends seem to want to engage with her about that, at least not at this particular party. “It is hard for you to adapt to different social situations because you are so uncomfortable with yourself,” I say, causing her to look at me, at first in shock, but then with an understanding that may be true. “You are not quite comfortable with the choices your adult children have made, and so when you are in an environment when that is the topic of conversation, you begin to recoil and you want to go home,” I say, pointing out that her discomfort at this party is a window into her triggers for anxiety, her vulnerabilities. “Parties can highlight vulnerabilities,” I say, stating that social gatherings are emotionally and psychologically complicated affairs. “Yes, I guess so. It was hard to sit with my feelings, so I wanted to leave,” Alexis says with candor and shame. “I stayed and got through it and it was nice to see my friends,” she continues to say that the party was indeed a layered event for her. “It is interesting how complicated a Sunday afternoon can be,” I say, stating that within daily, ordinary activities, emotions can rise high and low. Parties, as the word implies, creates all kinds of “parts” to our emotional interior.
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 15, 2012
Corie and Kirk, friends of Beth, announce that their son, Kyle, twenty-seven, is getting married and they would like Beth and her husband to go to the wedding. “I am not old enough to go to my friends’ kids wedding,” Beth tells me in utter disbelief. The passing of time, the marking of life events, seem to catch Beth by surprise. “What does that mean that you are not old enough?” I ask, wondering what Beth is thinking about. “I just feel like I am a kid and I want to go to my friends’ weddings, not their kids,” she says, again reinforcing her wish that the next generation is not rising up, pushing her aside. “Are you feeling like you have lost your time in the sun?” I ask, thinking about how hard it is for Beth to see that younger people are beginning their lives, signaling to Beth that she has lost opportunities. “Yes, absolutely,” Beth responds with affirmation. “I feel so sad that life has passed me by and that I cannot seem to get a grip on time,” Beth says with tears generated. “I can feel your pain in thinking about the past, and that you cannot start your life again, such that seeing the next generation get married stimulates this pain for you. “Yea, I need to embrace middle-age,” Beth says, reminding me that she believes that half of her adult life is over. “How would you do that?”I ask, wondering why she chose the word ‘embrace’. “I need to see this phase in my life as the opportunity to be more self-centered, more focused on what I want to do without the responsibility of taking care of my parents or my children.” Beth says, reminding me that her kids are grown and her parents have passed away. “Transitions are hard, even good ones,” I say, empathizing with her shift from caring for elderly parents and little children, to being released from those burdens and those joys. “Watching people get married can also be hard,” I say, knowing that weddings, although generally happy events, stimulate so many layered feelings. “I hope I get happy when the wedding comes,” Beth says with characteristic humor and honesty. “I hope so too, but if you don’t, you don’t. You will feel how you will feel and you will be well-mannered about it.” I say, pointing out that her private feelings can be whatever they will be, but her public expression will share the joy of the event. “Thank you,” Beth says with uncharacteristic gratitude. “You really helped me today. I mean you help me every time I see you, but today in particular, I felt like you said some important things.” Beth says with a smile. I am not sure what was particularly helpful, but her happiness as she left was uplifting.
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 9, 2012
Maureen grieved Leslie as a friend after she felt “iced out.” http://shirahvollmermd.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/icing-out/. Unexpectedly, Leslie ran into Maureen at a coffee shop and with seeming disregard for their past, Leslie said they should have dinner. Maureen, hesitantly agreed. “I asked her why we stopped talking for a few years,” Maureen relates to me. “Leslie said she was going through a hard time so she could only think of herself, but then I said that friends are there for when you go through a hard time, and then she said, ‘well, that’s not how I work.’ I was stunned. Leslie could not imagine what it was like for me who cared about her, suddenly being pushed aside from the friendship.” “It must have killed you that unlike in other break-ups, Leslie had no compassion for your experience.” I said, sharing that stunned feeling with Maureen. “Yes, that is right,” Maureen responds enthusiastically that I was understanding her pain. “Leslie was completely self-centered. I was astonished. I guess I had always known that in the relationship, but I guess I pushed that aside since our conversations were so entertaining and stimulating. I am ashamed at myself for not having a better read on her, but at the same time, I know that it is hard to get to know people and it takes a long time before they deserve your trust.” “Yep,” I respond, understanding Leslie’s point of view and trying to support her through this difficult reminder of her previous ’break-up’ with Leslie. “Self-centeredness, narcissism, is hard to get comfortable with, especially if you have not appreciated that before,” I say, continuing with our theme that lack of empathy from someone you care about is a very hurtful experience. “That Leslie drew into her shell is one thing, but that she did not imagine the impact that it would have on you is another,” I say, stating the same idea in another way. “Yea, I am in a lot of pain right now,” Maureen cries.
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 6, 2012
Leo, fifty-four, divorced, two grown children, financially secure, wants to “get off the grid.” He dreams of living in a remote area, far from “civilization,” but he is afraid he will get lonely and depressed. “That is an important consideration,” I say, emphasizing that although we all need time to ourselves, too much time to ourselves increases the likelihood of withdrawal and apathy. “Trying to find that balance is really tricky,” I continue, understanding Leo’s dilemma. “The rat race is getting to me. I talk to people all day long and although I enjoy my work as a financial planner, I am tired of talking about money all day long. “Do you have a relationship with your clients?” I ask, wondering if the joy in his work comes from helping people, in addition to the mental stimulation of creating strategic placement for financial affairs. “Yes, many of my clients are also my friends,” Leo responds without much feeling. “Would you miss them if you moved off the grid?” I ask, wondering how he feels about the notion of being separated from people he cares about. “Yea, a little, but I still dream of having a simpler existence.” Leo says, again in a flat tone. “Why can’t you have both?” I ask, wondering the obvious question. ” I could, but I don’t dream about both. I dream about giving this life up.” Leo says, with remarkably absent affect. I am perplexed by Leo’s tone. I wonder if he has been so hurt in his relationships that he feels that he has to retreat to lick his wounds. On the other hand, maybe Leo needs to create a safe environment for a while in order for him to connect with his inner being. It is hard to say, as I am just getting to understand Leo. He makes me curious.