Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 13, 2013
“How are you?” I ask, Whitney, fifty-seven. “I don’t know,” she responds, as she says each time I see her. “You need not to know your feelings,” I say, changing her words slightly to give her more of a sense of agency. It is not that she does not know her feelings, as she believes, as she takes a passive stance, but rather, it is more that she NEEDS not to know her feelings, since she is scared by them. Whitney’s husband of twenty-two years passed away two years ago. Her kids are grown and independent. She has a boyfriend. She works as a therapist. Yet, her feelings remain “not knowable” to her as she walks in my office. She then agrees. “Of course, I need not to know my feelings. I miss my husband terribly and so if I get too close to those feelings, I will hurt my boyfriend’s feelings, and my kids think I should be over that by now.” She says, defending her position of detaching from her feelings. “Yes, but you can feel them in here,” I say, pointing out the obvious, that my office, this play space, enables her to be free to talk about her feelings without fear of judgment or hurt feelings. “Yes, but then I have to leave, and my feelings do not just zip up as soon as I leave your office,” she reminds me that the transition out of my office can be quite challenging and she has to be mindful of that. “Yes, I understand that, but the price you pay for being detached from your feeling is also a large one.” I say, pointing out that there is a challenge in both feeling and not feeling her inner world. “What do you mean about the price?” she asks, wondering about my choice of words. “The price of not experiencing the texture of life.” I say, even though I know she knows that. “I think it is worth the price,” she responds, keeping my choice of words. “Well that is where you are today, but you might not feel that way tomorrow.’ I say, pointing out that the ‘price’ might change for her with time and distance from her husband’s passing. Making her aware of the “price” is making her more conscious of her unconscious decision not to feel her feelings. The word price is carefully chosen to suggest that she is deciding how she interfaces with her world. Agency is established. Victim-hood recedes.
Posted in Feelings, Resistance, Teaching Psychoanalysis, Unconscious Living | 7 Comments »
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 18, 2012
Lela, forty-two, is mostly concerned with what her dad thinks of her. Lela is married with two kids, but she does not seem to care for her husband too much. “I tolerate him,” she tells me. By contrast, her emotions rise as she discusses how her dad has mistreated her for years. Her persistent refrain is that he loves her siblings more than he loves her. Lela understands that she was probably a “mistake” given that she is ten years younger from her youngest sibling, and twelve years younger from her older sibling. Lela’s narrative was that her dad wanted her mom to have an abortion, but her mom refused and hence she was born. Lela believes this based on one argument in which the mom suggested that was true, but she was indirect about it. Lela and her dad have a weekly lunch date where they are both faithful to this date, but when there are family functions, Lela is notoriously late and scattered. She often “forgets” the time or location, causing the other family members to wonder where she is. “Maybe you are sending an unconscious message to your dad that when it comes to family functions, you are painfully reminded that you were unwanted, but when you and your dad meet alone, then you feel special to him. As a result, you are on time for your weekly dinners, and late for family gatherings.” I say to Lela, thinking about how timeliness, or lack thereof, communicates huge unconscious messages of respect and motivation. “I just don’t see it that way,” Lela protests. “I mean, I do agree that the family gatherings usually work on everyone else’s schedule and not mine, and that makes me angry and hurt, but I am not sure that is why I am often late.” Lela says, reflecting on her family dynamics and her reaction to them. “Although that could explain why you were late. It is possible that you were mad that you were not included in the original planning, and so you express your anger by making everyone wait for you.” I say, explaining that this scenario could be an unconscious communication to her family that she is upset with what she perceives to be a lack of respect. “Yea, it could be, but I don’t think so,” Lela continues to protest. Her protest feels to me like a way of saving face. She feels guilty about her behavior, but she also dislikes how she feels with her family. I know she will think about our discussion, given our long history of struggling with her self-sabotaging behaviors. Lela wants to be loved by her dad. That seems to be her life’s goal. Now, that is a bit more conscious.
Posted in Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Unconscious Living | 2 Comments »
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 20, 2012
Arthur, fifty-eight, goes to work every day. He works in the financial industry and he helps people build wealth. He is single, never married, and profoundly self-centered, as his “friends” report to him. Arthur’s closest relationship is to his mother, an elderly woman who is cognitively intact, but physically frail. Arthur’s father is in a skilled nursing facility, dying from Parkinson’s Disease and Dementia. Arthur reports to me that he is “desperate” for a girlfriend and yet, he feels completely clueless as to why he can’t find a mate. “Maybe it is hard for you to listen to other people,” I say, pointing out that communication skills are important for human connection. “I do listen,” Arthur protests loudly and angrily. “Well, sometimes I notice that you have a hard time listening to me. I begin to speak and you interrupt and change the subject back to how hard your life is given that you are so lonely.” I say, trying to gently point out that he may think he is listening, but the point that he hears for a few minutes and then changes the topic to his own concerns, demonstrates that it is hard for him to stay present with the other person’s thoughts or feelings.
Arthur is not aware that he has poor listening skills, even though he has been told this by multiple important people in his life. Arthur believes that he does listen, so he is confused as to why he is getting this feedback. “Maybe unconsciously listening to others makes you anxious, so in a deep way, you have to refer the subject back to yourself in order to calm yourself down. Maybe all of this is happening at such a deep level that you are not aware of being so self-referential.” I say, trying to talk about how unconscious anxiety can lead to behaviors that one is not aware of. “You are confusing me,” Arthur says. “Yea, I can see that, but maybe if you mull it over, you will begin to understand how one’s mind can work on such deep levels that some parts of communication become outside of your awareness. “I don’t know if that is interesting, or I am just not getting it, but it seems way too abstract for me.” Arthur says with a tone of deep frustration and anger. “Maybe you need to relax a bit so that you can allow yourself to consider these ideas. Your anger may be getting in the way of your understanding.” I say, noting that his low frustration tolerance is another barrier to working deeply. Considering unconscious processes requires a frustration tolerance, since these ideas are uncertain and fuzzy. Arthur leaves abruptly, showing me his discontent. “See ya tomorrow,” I say. “Yep,” he responds without a smile. His anger is conscious. His anxiety is deeper.
Posted in Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Unconscious Living | 2 Comments »