Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Re-Posting Since I Am Wonderin’ When Is It Witholding and When Is It Lying?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on May 4, 2012

Monte,, dismayed over Marla’s lack of support for his teaching, wonders with Marla, before they “broke up” how he will ever be able to take part in teaching so long as Marla is the person he is supposed to turn to for help. After all, Marla is the head of the faculty committee.  Marla agrees that this is an “issue”. Monte and Marla then sever their relationship, leaving Monte adrift. Eventually, Monte finds other avenues to direct his professional energies and he settles into a new routine.

Buying tomatoes at the local Farmer’s Market, Monte runs into Gigi, a colleague, who tells Monte that Marla has retired and now she  is going to be taking over the leadership  in the next academic year . Monte, stunned, says “when did this come down?” Gigi says, “oh, we got together and we decided this about a year ago.” Monte, still almost speechless says “has this been announced?” Gigi says “well, at a meeting, I told people.” “So, there was no email announcement?” Monte asks. “Right, it was not handled well” Gigi agrees.

Monte goes back in time in his mind and determines that Marla could have told him that there would be a regime change, thereby allowing  Monte  to  have the option to stay involved on the committee. “Why didn’t Marla tell me that?” he asks himself.  As in,, Monte realizes that information is power. So long as Marla has knowledge that Monte does not have, Marla can feel in control. To let Monte know that there is going to be a regime change, weakens Marla’s place of authority. Monte understands that Marla, for her own reasons, needed to hold on to the power of knowing something that other people did not know. Monte believed that Marla had a hard time giving up the power and so to say it aloud was difficult for Marla. Still, Monte felt that Marla was being cruel to let Monte suffer in this way.

Personality, the way a person interfaces with his world, is often learned in layers. Even though Monte had known Marla for years, this aspect of  Marla’s personality where she used  information as a source of power, was new to Monte. However, in thinking over their relationship, Monte began to realize that there had been other sensitive times when Marla was withholding. He remembered that sometimes Marla would have a long vacation planned and “forget” to tell him well in advance. Monte began to reframe this “forgetting” as yet another example of Marla withholding. Monte wonders whether Marla’s need to exercise power in this way is a reflection of Marla’s overwhelming sense of impotence. In thinking about it, Monte began to have some sympathy for Marla, but at the same time, he was angry and hurt over her behavior. Despite years of an intense relationship with Marla, Monte felt that this chance encounter at the Farmer’s Market added yet another dimension. Despite Monte’s pain, Monte could stand back and see the layers to the deceit and the cruelty. Maybe Marla helped him after all.

5 Responses to “Re-Posting Since I Am Wonderin’ When Is It Witholding and When Is It Lying?”

  1. Kristin said

    This is extremely interesting. I find the whole subject of how people assert power through revealing and withholding information to be extraordinarily interesting. I could imagine that Monte’s pain would be especially acute if, for some period of time before being excluded from the loop, he had been in Marla’s “inside crowd,” as one of the privileged few who received information from Marla that had been withheld from others. The new chapter would then be experienced as an expulsion from a previously privileged position. Is this a particularly female form of power? It seems to me that from a very early age girls understand and manipulate the power of secrets. It seems almost biologically based. Do boys and men experience this in the same way? Also, what is the flip side of this? If excluding someone from secrets is a way of rejecting them, is sharing secret information with an exclusive group a manifestation of love? Anyway, great blog, as usual.



  2. Shelly said

    Awesome blog, Shirah, as usual. I don’t think that witholding secrets as a means to asserting power is only a female trait; boys/men do it too, and it is always designed to hurt. Knowledge is power. Lack of knowledge is meant to show the person that he/she has been excluded. Survival of the fittest shows the importance of being in a group and of knowing where food/safety/dangers lurk; without the safety in numbers, the outcast is on his own, and usually died.

    The question is, why did Marla feel that she needed to assert this power over Monte? Monte, of course, felt justifiably hurt. This was the design and the purpose.

    So you, as the psychiatrist, would advise him how? How should he get over the pain? Besides recognizing the power play as it is, what else can he do to get over the betrayal?

  3. Thanks Kristin and Shelly.

    I tend to see this power struggle as gender neutral, as Shelly said.

    Pondering Marla’s psychology creates a large struggle for Monte. Monte believes that as Marla ages, she feels a loss of her professional prowess, and as such is trying to feel powerful any way that she can.

    Monte is going back into therapy (not with me), so he is going to try to deal with his pain that way. His therapy is going to be the subject of my next blog. Monte has to metabolize his pain through his support system; his friends and family. It will be a long journey for him.

    Yes, Kristin, the flip side is also true. Having information which you believe is exclusive is a narcissitic high and it can create a love-fest among a group of people, until, of course, another inner circle is created.

    Thank you both for your comments.

  4. Shelly said

    I don’t see where in your blog you mention that you mention that the omission could be lying, as the title implies. In all cases, those who “know” are in positions of power over those who don’t. It’s mean and hurtful and it is always meant to be such.

    • Hi Shelly,
      You are right. I have not discussed this yet, but it is on my mind. I am trying to formulate how to talk about omissions as a covert lie. I am not sure that I agree that omissions are always mean and hurtful and always meant to be such, but certainly that can be true. I think it can also be true that omissions are a cowardly way of interacting because the person is avoiding what they anticipate to be an unpleasant confrontation. I use the word cowardly because it is short term gain for long term pain. When the omission comes out in the open, the damage to the relationship is larger than the initial confrontation would have been. Thanks.

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