Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Tardiness Tales

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 27, 2011

  Alana, thirty-three, comes routinely ten minutes late. Ordinarily she is a prompt person, but to our sessions she sheepishly apologizes for her tardiness. “I am going to do better next time,” she says, as if she can be more disciplined. “Maybe you are ambivalent about coming here and so you compromise with yourself by coming late,” I say, stating that her unconscious has a large contribution to her behavior. “I never thought of that,” she says, as if stunned by my comment. As the session proceeds, she begins to tell me how she is still having problems with her boss at work. She knows she needs to find a new job, and she knows that we have discussed this before. “You came late because you did not want to face me and tell me that you have not sent out your résumé.” I say, pointing out that she anticipates our conversation about how unhappy she is at work, so to avoid this uncomfortable conversation, she delays the experience. At the same time, she finds our time together valuable, so she has deeply mixed feelings which are exhibited by her consistent tardiness. The striking aspect to her lateness is that she has pushed out of her awareness her strong fear of talking about her work; this fear only surfaces as she begins to tread familiar ground. Now it suddenly makes sense to her why she is late. She fears, what she perceives, is my silent scolding for not pursuing new employment. The ah-ha moment happened. I suspect she will continue to be late since this ambivalence still needs to be processed. For now, we are both frustrated that we don’t have much time together. Still, we both see that this frustration is preferable to the unconscious fear of my disapproval. The human mind never fails to impress with the depth of its processing and the compromises it makes, whether we know it or not.

2 Responses to “Tardiness Tales”

  1. Shelly said

    What about talking about your disapproval about Alana’s not finding a new job? Perhaps Alana thinks that you don’t understand what looking for work and finding it is all about? How how hard it is to take those risks and finding a better place, etc…? So that while she may be unhappy in her present job, at least for the time being, it is still, in fact, a job.

    The psychiatrist-patient relationship is interesting. While in the safety of your office one can sit and dream, having to go outside and actually act on one’s dreams and aspirations is the hard part. Perhaps making concrete plans in your office and sitting and discussing the actual details of the actions will make the scary parts easier to handle. Just my 2 cents.

  2. Your 2 cents, are worth more, even accounting for inflation. Alana has so much shame about not looking for a new job that it makes it hard to look at the situation honestly and openly. We are working on her shame so that we can discern the challenges of finding a new job. Yes, it is hard to take those kinds of risks and yes, she may think that I don’t understand, but it is not hard to see that change, of any kind, is a scary proposition. Thanks again.

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