Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

“I Can’t Talk About My Mom”

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 21, 2010

Zach and,  comes back after missing his last appointment.  He opens the session. “I can’t talk about my mom. I am meeting my aunt in an hour and I have to be in a good mental space. I just can’t talk about her.” “That’s fine,” I replied. “You don’t understand,” he continues, “I will be a mess if I start to think about her.” “I can understand that,” I say. “I am afraid that I will fall  in the sink hole,” Zach says. “That is interesting,” I reply. “It seems like you made your own sink hole after we talked about her the last time, since you burrowed under the ground and you did not come up for a while. I can see why you think about sink holes, since it seems that your coping style is such that internal conflict makes you fall away.” “Just like Alice in Wonderland,” he quickly responds. “Alice fell into a world which did not make sense, and that is exactly your experience when you begin to piece together your childhood memories,” I quickly respond in turn. “No,” Zach says strongly. “I can make sense of my childhood. My mom was a nut job.” “That is a broad stroke,” I say. “The details of the ‘nut job’ is where things get messy. However, I am aware that we are talking about the very thing you said we should not talk about.” “That’s OK,” he says. “I need to talk about it.” “Yes, but what about how you are going to feel when you meet your aunt?” I ask.  “Oh, I will be OK,” he says dismissively.

The approach/avoidance dance was clear and painful. Zach wanted to talk about his mom so that he could metabolize his feelings; so that his feelings would not cause him to fall like Alice in Wonderland. On the other hand, the process of falling was terrifying. Maybe his feelings about his mom should be left unsaid, he thought; at least today when he had to keep himself together so that he could keep up some social graces. We began to talk about his mom; he engaged intensely in the discussion. He was riveted to my commentary. His fear subsided to the point where he was dismissive of my reminder that he cautioned me about talking about this subject at the very beginning of the session. Wrestling with how his mother made him feel as a child, along with how his mother makes him feel now, felt to me  like he came in as a dry plant, but now he was  finally getting a drop of water. His body changed; his attention to my words, conveyed a deep need to hear my point of view of his childhood. It seemed as though he had kept his feelings buried for so long that he was relieved when his childhood impressions came to the light of day. His protestation not to talk about his mother, in retrospect, appeared to be a plea to talk about her. The scales of his approach/avoidance feelings were tipped. Approach we did.

8 Responses to ““I Can’t Talk About My Mom””

  1. Shelly said

    Interesting blog. Childhood memories are often reflections of our feelings and not actually what happened (not that it matters). How does discussing how we felt in childhood help us function as adults? Can we ever change the dynamics of parent-child relationships, especially if the parent is not aware of the child’s feelings? Or if the parent is aware, and is not willing to neither accept it nor change, how can the adult change the dynamics of the relationship?

    • Perspective is everything. Talking can change point of view. Changing the dynamics of the parent-child dynamics is an individual issues; sometimes yes, sometimes no. The adult has the opportunity to change his internal dynamics and in so doing that can change the relationship; at the very least it can make the adult feel better.

  2. Suzi said

    I guess it must be frightening for him. Not so much as a scary thing to talk about but perhaps a scary thing to feel? And the question of all the permissions that are tied up in all the luggage? Permissions on how those feelings are allowed to be displayed and in how much energy will be released once the energy/feelings begin to flow.

    I’m so glad he talked about it a bit.

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