Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

‘I Am Now The Person I Was Pretending To Be’

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 9, 2011

   Kirsten, seventy-one, started psychotherapy at age sixty-nine. Two years into it, she says, “I am now the person I was pretending to be,” both to reassure me that we are going in the right direction and to remind herself that she comes to therapy to be more authentic. Kirsten, retired, three grown children, five grandchildren, financially secure, has a  way which elicits envy from her peers. She is slim, fit, and in a long-term, seemingly happy marriage. She is cultured, with season opera tickets, theatre tickets and classical concert tickets. She skis every winter and goes to her beach house in the summer. Yet, for years and years and years, she was quietly miserable and sullen. She did not assert herself in her marriage or with her children. She molded her desires to fit those around her,  in order to maintain peace with her family and friends. Consequently, she seethed with anger and resentment.

   She fell into psychotherapy, not because she was unhappy in her life, but because she felt overwhelming fatigue, which her astute primary care physician, after ruling out major medical problems, felt that it was likely due to psychological issues. I tell her “you backed into my office,” as a way of describing her unconscious cry for help. “Yes, that is right, and I am glad I did.” Kirsten says with her persistent need to reassure me and herself that it makes sense to land on my couch. “I feel like at this late age, I am finally feeling whole,” she says, not with tears or deep emotion, but with a cognitive style which feels detached from her internal world. The words sound meaningful, yet they seem to lack meaning, as if her words are like a wish; a wish to feel what she is saying. “Years of denying your feelings make it hard to feel them.” I say, highlighting the challenge of our work. “I guess so,” she says, appearing exasperated and exhausted. “I don’t know if I will live long enough,” Kirsten says, mirroring my comment about our challenge. I respond,  “at least you will die trying.”

2 Responses to “‘I Am Now The Person I Was Pretending To Be’”

  1. Shelly said

    Perhaps I missed it, but what was the work that you actually did with Kirsten? You provided her a space to feel her anger and resentment, and with this, she could heal? How was it that she could express these feelings in your office, but not in her marriage and with her children? How can someone shut off their feelings from themself for say, 30 years, and in the space of 2 years’ worth of therapy “become whole?” (I realize this is a fictional account, but still…) Would experiencing these feelings at such a late stage allow her to feel energized and whole instead of fatigued?

  2. I am sure you did not miss it, as your comment points out that I need to spell it out better. Yes, I provided her an opportunity to look at her fatigue as originating from internal frustration. Expressing her feelings in my office, had no threat of divorce or long-term consequences, hence the safety of psychotherapy. Kirsten did not become whole, although she expressed that. Her wording sounded more like a wish to me, than an actuality. Yes, feeling more connected to her internal world has energized Kirsten to feel better about her activities, instead of feeling like she is dragging herself from function to function.

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