Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for September 8th, 2011

Nurture Needing

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 8, 2011

Olivia, seventy-one, likes to tell her sister, Claudia, sixty-seven how to live her life. “Why do you feel the need to ‘help’ Claudia so much?” I ask Olivia, wondering aloud why she is not giving her sister more freedom to make her own decisions for herself. “Well, it is probably because I never had children.” Olivia responds quickly, as if she has thought about this issue a great deal. “So, you feel like you need to nurture someone, and so you have chosen Claudia, even though she did not solicit your help,” I say, pointing out that Olivia’s need to nurture, might feel like control to Claudia. “Maybe your nurturing needs should be put in a place where it is more welcome; maybe you could be a Big Sister.” I say, pointing out that it is understandable to want to help someone grow, but  the relationship hasto have that kind of contract. “I hear your point,” Olivia says, and then she starts to cry. “I just feel so bad for Claudia. I think she is making so many bad decisions for herself and I just hate to watch that,” Olivia says with uncharacteristic sadness. “Yes, I see that, but unless she asks for your help, you need to listen to her without being so directive,” I say, knowing that there is a fine balance between being a caring sister versus a controlling one. “I take what you are saying, but I am the older sister and I have always been told to watch out for her.” Olivia says, referring to her mother’s admonition sixty plus years ago. “Yes, when you were little kids, I can imagine that you had responsibility towards Claudia, but now that you are both in your senior years, you are not responsible for her, but you can certainly show her you care about her.” I say, pointing to the change in relationship which is essential for siblings to maintain a good relationship as they grow from childhood to adulthood. “Now I feel really bad about how I have behaved towards Claudia,” Olivia says with a deep sense of regret and shame. “You can apologize to her,” I say, thinking that I am stating the obvious. “You know, I did not think about that, and that makes me feel bad too, but you are absolutely right and I will do that,” Olivia says, quickly grasping that she was so involved with her own pain that she did not think about how she could make amends with Claudia. “This is such a painful process,” Olivia says. “It may help me, but it hurts,” Olivia continues, as if trying to reassure herself that this agony will somehow help her in the long-run. “Yes, I see how much pain you are in,” I say, trying to stay in the moment, without jumping to the hope of a better outcome downstream. “Well,  I will see you tomorrow. I guess we are getting to be like friends. We see each other so often,” Olivia says, trying to lighten a tense moment. “Yep, I will see you tomorrow,” not addressing her reference to ‘friends,’ but thinking about her way of closing our session. I wonder if she will become a Big Sister.

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