Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 18, 2010

Luigi, forty-two, hates to be late, but he also does not account for traffic in his calculation in coming to my office, despite the fact that I have seen him for ten years. One day, Luigi, frustrated with himself that he is fifteen minutes late, realizing that since he is unemployed he has time, says seemingly to himself “I could come early, get a cup of coffee, and that way I will never be late. I don’t know why I did not think of that before,” he says, as if the fog cleared. In the past, Luigi used to repeatedly say “if it were not for traffic I would have been here on time,” as if that explains his lateness. Luigi does not want there to be traffic so he acts as if it does not happen: denial. “Is pretending things not to be so, a theme in your life?” I wonder aloud. “I guess so,” he laughs. “Reality is hard to hold on to,” I say, thinking that that did not come out right. “Especially when we wish it were not so,” he finishes my sentence. “Yes, but coming here late hurts you,” I say, stating the obvious. “I know,” he says, “but leaving my house earlier somehow does not sit well with me.” “That is interesting. Instead of dealing with the realities of traffic, you pretend that you can make it here as if the freeways flowed smoothly, and then when the reality hits you, you get angry with yourself and you walk in here irritable,” I say, again, stating the obvious. “Maybe I am avoiding talking about other things, since we do spend a lot of time talking about the freeway,” he says, to my surprise. “Avoidance and denial do seem to go together. I can see how it is almost convenient to discuss the frustrations of traffic, given that it is a common irritant among Angelenos.,” I say, pleased that we can discuss how he has woven traffic into his therapy to protect him from talking about more sensitive issues. “I am going to get better at this on-time thing. You watch,” he says, as if to challenge himself and to surprise me. “That’s a deal,” I say, noting the enthusiasm and sense of renewal in his voice. Traffic might actually help us out.

8 Responses to “Traffic”

  1. Shelly said

    If Luigi truly wants to get better, then he needs to face his denial and learn to overcome it. Are avoidance and denial similar tactics to avoid discomfort and pain?

    What does perpetual lateness say about a person? (Not in reference to Luigi, but in general) I am of the view that it is rude to be late and always try to be on time, but I know somebody who is consistently late to every appointment or meeting. Other than poor planning, does it say anything about their character?

    • Wanting to get better is usually in conflict with wanting to stay the same. The tension creates ambivalence which is enacted by coming late. He comes, but late. Yes, avoidance and denial are similar tactics to avoid discomfort and pain.

      Perpetual lateness is, of course, multidetermined. I agree that it is rude because the implied message is that my time is more important than yours. Thanks, as always for your comments.

  2. PepGiraffe said

    Would love to hear updates as to if Luigi is successful. If he can do this, I think it will make him feel really happy.

    • Luigi said recently “I would have been on time if there was normal traffic, but today there was an accident.” I am not sure that it will make him happy to be on time. I think he is acting out his ambivalence about the therapy. He wants help, but he is scared of change. Thanks for your comments.

  3. ed said

    Im just curious, In some of the blogs, your clients seem to be coming for ten years or more to see you.. ? does it pique your interest, discourage, or bug you that they are coming for that long of a time and yet seemingly they have not improved ?

  4. Ashana M said

    Feeling powerful intensifies the effect of the planning fallacy, and people who feel powerful for whatever reason underestimate how long it will take them to complete tasks even more than those who feel more ordinary (sometimes by twice as much). I would guess Luigi feels like a powerful person. He might find taking down his self-esteem a notch would make his life less frustrating. Or, he could try asking himself when someone else should leave to make an appointment at the time he is meeting you. We tend to be much more accurate about estimating how long something will take someone else. Our lives always proceed like babbling streams in our minds, but other people actually experience traffic.

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