Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Anna Freud and Adolescence: Continued

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 18, 2012

   Can someone remember their adolescence and report that to their therapist/analyst? That is the question that Anna Freud poses in her 1958 paper entitled “Adolescence”. There is a well-known amnesia for early childhood, likely because the hippocampus has not fully formed, and as such, narrative, or linear memory is not possible. The amnesia in adolescence is different, Anna Freud says. She points out that the “height of elation or depth of despair, the quickly rising enthusiasms, the utter hopelessness, the burning-or at other times sterile-intellectual and philosophical preoccupations, the yearning for freedom, the sense of loneliness, the feeling of oppression by the parents, the impotent rages or active hates directed against the adult world, the erotic crushes….the suicidal fantasies” are largely forgotten, or “difficult to revive.” In a humble way, she continues “this partial failure to reconstruct adolescence might account for some of the gaps in our appraisal of the mental processes during this period.”

   Once again, I am reminded of the privilege of seeing adolescents first hand, in addition to relying on the reconstruction of adolescence by my adult patients. Marlo, a fifteen-year old girl, “hates” her parents and she wants to “run away.” She continues, “my dad is clueless and my mom is intrusive. That is a bad combination. I want my mom to get out of my business, and my dad is so detached, I can’t stand him.” “It sounds like you have no comfort at home,” I say, trying to grasp the loneliness she feels with her parents. “Yes, if it were not for my friends, I would not know how I could survive,” she says, grateful for her peer support. “It is great that you have friends who understand you,” I say, wondering where I fit into her mental life. Am I thought of as a peer who understands her, or a parent who has poor boundaries, or does this vary from session to session? “So, do you feel like I understand you?” I ask, treading lightly so as not to sound like I am competing with the love she has for her mom, but at the same time, wanting to see how she works therapy into her inner world. “I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about how I feel. My friends are great, but sometimes I get annoyed with them, and it is nice to talk to you about that,” Marlo says with honesty and directness.

  Will Marlo remember her intense feelings towards her parents as she develops into an adult? Anna Freud says no. She might report those feelings, but she is unlikely to re-live those emotional highs and lows. Therapy brings out infantile feelings, she reminds us, but it does not bring back adolescent feelings. That is so interesting. There is a protected time where the passions of youth come and go, and are not remembered or re-experienced in full color. This notion makes me hope that I get to see Marlo again as an adult. I suspect her relationship with her parents will be comfortable, with good boundaries. I suspect she will only have vague memories of her discomfort in her teenage years. I hope I get the opportunity to see that for myself.

2 Responses to “Anna Freud and Adolescence: Continued”

  1. Shelly said

    How is it you can help Marlo? Would it help to try to explain to her her patents’ perspectives or does she simply want empathy? In answe to your question about whether or not Marlo will remember her intense feelings towards her parents as she develops towards an adult, are we not both physician and human as well? What Iean is, use yourself as an example: do you remember those feelings? I certainly do.

  2. At this point, Marlo mostly wants/needs empathy. I think I remember those adolescent feelings, but then again, I am not sure. Anna Freud’s point is that we remember the feelings from a cognitive point of view, but we are never able to re-live the emotional part of those feelings.

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