Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Feeling Feelings

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 26, 2011

   “I only want to feel positively about things,” says Monique, a peruvian born sixty-two year old patient. “My daughter does not call me very often but I don’t feel bad about that,” Monique continues.  “How can you control your feelings?” I ask, wondering about the cultural understanding of feelings. “Well, when I was a little girl and my aunt told me that I had to change seats at the dinner table, I was so hurt that I went to bed without eating dinner. I just could not take the insult of having to move because someone was more important than I was. Ever since then, I realized that my feelings never helped me. They just hurt me. So, it was better not to feel my feelings and move on.” “Well, you can feel your feelings but not act on them,” I say, feeling like I am saying something very basic, but, it might be an important reminder. “You mean I could just come here and tell you how I am feeling,” Monique says with a childlike sense of wonder. “Yes, that is what I mean,” I respond, realizing that managing feelings is a new experience for Monique.

    “I feel very confused by this discussion. I feel like I should write it down so we can talk about it next time,” Monique says, surprising me with her confusion. “We were talking today about how you are trying to control how you feel, but at the same time, you were telling me things that were disturbing you,” I say, pointing out that her feelings do get hurt and she shares that with me to help her feel better. “I thought we were talking about those experiences so that I could get an American point of view. Maybe in the United States adult children don’t stay in touch with their parents as much as they do in Peru.” Monique explains why she mentioned her experience with her daughter. “I am not sure I represent the American point of view, but I can tell you that it felt to me that you are hurt by the emotional distance between you and your daughter.” I say, struggling to lay a landscape of feelings which do not result in any action, other than trying to understand them. “I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure I understand. I will think about it, but this feels very foreign to me.” Monique says with her heavy accent.  “Maybe there are some cultural issues here that I need to understand better, but I also wonder if you have spent so many years of your life trying to control your feelings that you have lost touch with yourself in the process.” I say, thinking back to her moving story of emotional pain at eight years old. “I did not like myself very much so I am not surprised I lost touch,” she says with a matter of fact tone. “I know that is a very painful comment, but I also think that is funny,” I respond. “Glad I could make you laugh,” Monique says, “it is good to be positive.”

8 Responses to “Feeling Feelings”

  1. Shelly said

    Looks like you have a long road ahead of you to get Monique to begin talking about her feelings and being able to feel again. Won’t that be devastating to her, though? After a whole life of not feeling, 64 years of stuffing feelings away, won’t it be hard to keep her finger in the dam?

  2. shirah said

    Yes, it could be hard for her to keep her finger in the dam. You are absolutely right. We have a long and very narrow road ahead. Therein lies the art.

  3. Danny said

    Ignoring feelings and so on can have cosequences later on in terms of functioning and relations , isnt that correct ? Starting to learn and manage and feel feelings is like a child learning to walk ; but now as an adult , it’s tough road 😦

    • shirah said

      Yes, there could be consequences down the road. The typical consequences are relationship problems, bodily symptoms, and work-related difficulties. Yes, everything is harder to learn as one ages. It is sad, but true.

  4. Danny said

    Reading all these posts/blog it just seems like life is nothing but one unfixable or very difficult to fix problem…it’s like what’s the point.

    • Shirah said

      Life can feel that way, but it can also feel exciting and interesting. There are a range of feelings and the art of life is coping with the range.

  5. danny said

    In this post you talking about someone coming from peru and other cultures , etc. Coming from a country on the great continent of Asia , which spans all the way from mediterranean sea all the way to pacific ocean, I observe that in the so called new world , all or most of the artificially created countries such as canada or “US”, or be it in north or south american continent, which were under cruel occupations and colonizations of british , or even spanish, one observes some unique problems/symptoms that parallel to problems an individual might have suffered such as horrible emotional , physical abuses. these problems require lots of time and hard work to reverse and fix and therefore most of the time are not healed or resolved. I’m curious do think its possible one day hopefully not too distant future the good native people of this continent who are the real owners of the lands “US” and ‘canada’ , the british colonies, one day can regain their country , land , culture and way of life back and get some healing too. thanks

    • shirah said

      Hi Danny,
      I think you are bringing up the point that the past influences the present, and in so doing, one cannot evaluate a mental state without understanding their ancestral heritage. There will always be persecution in our world, unfortunately. My job is to try to understand how that hurts a mental state, both consciously and unconsciously.

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