Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Monte and Marla: Oh Not Again

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 4, 2011

   As Shelly, a blog reader , nailed it:

“How can Monte trust Marla if Marla didn’t explain herself and her behavior to him? It seems almost too simple that Marla apologized and suddenly appreciated the pain that she put him through. What caused Marla’s change of heart? How is it that Monte has hope that she won’t do it again, with no understanding of Marla’s motivations behind her actions? Is he so eager to accept her friendship and supervision that he can put all his torment behind him at the first sign of kindness?”

   Marla disappointed/hurt Monte again. The details, by Monte’s account are vague; the feelings are not. They discuss cases, see each other at professional meetings, occasionally share travel stories, so Monte comes to see me confused about why he feels so hurt by Marla, yet again. This relationship both grabs him and repels him. It is as if Monte’s emotional life is wrapped up with his sense of whether Marla has positive or negative regard for him; this determines his mood state for days. It is a relationship that baffles both of us. “So what happened?” I ask, as if to imply that the end of the sentence is ‘this time’. “Well, it is hard to describe. I saw her at a meeting and she dismissed everything I had to say. I suppose you could say it was subtle, but it did not feel subtle to me. I suggested that we do certain things for this upcoming professional meeting, and she said publicly that those were bad ideas and that we should do things another way.” “It sounds so mean when you describe that she said your ideas were bad,” I say, trying to understand why Monte is upset and trying to understand why Marla is so important to Monte.

     The fact that there are three psychiatrists at play in this drama seems to make little difference to the common themes of hopes and disappointments in relationships. Monte continues “I just want to feel good about what I do and I want people to support me in my profession. I need collegial validation. Sometimes I get that from Marla and I feel good, but more often I do not get that and I feel punctured. Sure, I can get collegial validation from others, but I have tried to do that and I just feel a sense of competition, not support.” I begin to feel more deeply for Monte. I say, “I can see that you need collegial validation and I can see that you have assigned Marla that role, and I can see that sometimes she has really helped you, but I also see that you are creating a drama with her which on balance seems to make you hurt. Maybe you are looking to Marla to reassure you because you seem to be unable to reassure yourself and you seem unable to find a supportive mentor who is not as unstable as Marla appears to be.” Monte looks at me as though he is feeling understood, but he does not like what he heard. “I guess the whole thing sounds nuts, but I am very sensitive to Marla and I wish I were not,” Monte says, restating his dilemma. Restating Shelly’s words, I say “Marla is not worthy of your trust. You know that.” Monte looks pained, and sheepishly says “of course I know that. I just can’t help myself.” “We need to keep digging deeper so that your thoughts and  feelings can be more in line with one another. The more we can understand what Marla means to you, the easier it will be for you to detach from her. ” I say, emphasizing that Monte’s issues with Marla will help Monte understand his deep emotional needs for this kind of relationship.  In the meantime, the Monte/Marla drama is likely to continue.

2 Responses to “Monte and Marla: Oh Not Again”

  1. Jon said

    You tell Monte, “We need to keep digging deeper so that your thoughts and feelings can be more in line with one another. The more we can understand what Marla means to you, the easier it will be for you to detach from her.” I echo those words. The sooner that you can help Monte continue on without benefit and (especially) detriment of Marla, the sooner Monte will be able to find the strength within himself to be himself.

    My hope for all concerned is that the drama ends soon and decisively.

    • I appreciate your kind thoughts towards Monte. His drama with Marla seems to me to exemplify how we assign other people roles in our life and then we play them out, with the “other” an unknowing participant in this drama. In this case, Marla seems to have the role of the “tormenter”. This is a role, I suspect, was played by others in Monte’s life, such that Monte, on a deep level, feels he deserves to be tormented. When Monte can come to see that he does not deserve to be tormented, Marla will have less of a sting. That is my hope.

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