Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Guilt Dribble

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 30, 2012

Milly, age seventy-nine, is conflicted about her two grandchildren, ages seven and nine. She favors the nine-year old boy, Moe, the son of her son Matt, over the seven-year old girl Nona, the daughter of her daughter Olivia. When it is obvious that she favors Moe, which then bothers Olivia, Milly will call Olivia obsessively to say that she does not favor Moe, even though deep down she feels she does. Olivia understands that Matt was her favorite child, but at the same time, she resists this notion. “Those phone calls are guilt dribble,” I say, highlighting the issue that the conflict is so layered that Milly seems to deal with her mixed feelings by trying to persuade Olivia that Olivia’s perceptions are wrong, even though they are not. “I know, right,” Olivia tells me. Olivia understands cognitively that her mom plays favorites, but emotionally she tries to get her mom to make her and her daughter a higher priority in her life. The “guilt dribble” as I called it gives Olivia hope that Milly can change her ways, because Milly gives Olivia a lot of attention after she spends a lot of time and energy with Moe. To see this energy as “guilt dribble” casts a different light since Olivia is hoping that this “guilt dribble” is actually Milly reflecting on her own behavior in an effort to change her patterns. By contrast, I emphasize that  the “guilt dribble” cements the pattern in further, in that the pattern is for Milly to play favorites and then dribble her guilt on to Olivia. Olivia sobs in despair. She cannot change Milly, her mom. I remind her that the hope is in herself. That, she can change.

2 Responses to “Guilt Dribble”

  1. Shelly said

    How can Olivia hope to change and become her mom’s favorite? Is it not ingrained in us to want our parent’s love and favor? Yes, Milly may exhibit “guilt dribble” about her behavior, but very little can change Olivia’s desire to be the favored child (and by extension, have Nona be the favored grandchild). By showing Olivia Milly’s pattern, she may further understand her mother’s behavior, but that doesn’t make it easier for her to accept.

    • Hi Shelly,
      I am not sure I agree with your last sentence. Olivia appears to live with the unconscious notion that she can change her mom’s priorities. As long as she subscribes to this notion, she will continue to try to win Milly’s favor. On the other hand, if Olivia can accept that she is not the favorite, then she can move on to put her emotional energies into a situation which is likely to grow more fruit. Yes, it is hard to move away from the wish that our parents love us more than anything else in the world, yet, sometimes that wish is just that-a wish. Thanks Again.

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