Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 8, 2012

Penelope, thirty-two, says “it is unbelievable how my boyfriend treats me It is so bad.” “You mean that you do not want to belive how Sam treats you?” I say, pointing out that her word “unbelievable” is really a shorthand way of saying that she was in denial about how he was treating her until now. “No, but I just can’t believe how mean he is to me. He insults my body. He tells me I am stupid. He puts me down constantly.” Penelope expands on her notion of “unbelievable”. “Is this new behavior?” I ask, knowing that we have talked about this many times before, but wanting to illustrate how hard it is for her to comprehend the kind of relationship she is in. “No, it is not new, but it just feels worse for some reason,” Penelope replies. “Maybe it feels worse because you are more honest with yourself about your dynamics with him.” I say, highlighting that what is new is her consciousness about the relationship. “Yea, but I really love Sam and I don’t want to break up with him,” Penelope says with a tone of fear. “It sounds like you are scared,” I say, pointing out the feeling in the room. “Yes, I am scared, but I also don’t like the way I am being treated. I know that I don’t get anywhere when I talk to him about it, so I am really stuck.” Penelope says, now with a tone of frustration. “Your frustration throws you back into denial, such that the next time Sam is mean to you, you will again be caught off-guard.” I say, helping her to see that the more she can stay conscious of her feelings, the more she will be able to deal with her painful interactions with Sam. “This is really hard,” Penelope says, understanding how our therapy is making her more in touch with her emotional interior. “Yep, it is a difficult journey,” I say, reminding her that this is a process which travels through many dark places, but hopefully ends up with internal peace.

6 Responses to ““Unbelievable””

  1. jo said

    Nice post. This may be completely unrelated, but I get frustrated when I discuss something with my therapist and then repeat an undesired reaction anyway. It’s like if I brought it up, I feel I should fix it. Also, when it comes to a particular relationship in general, it can be emotionally crushing to realize that I’ve changed in some subtle ways, but that the other person hasn’t, making the desired result an impossibility.

    • Shirah said

      Hi Jo,
      Thanks. The journey of psychotherapy is a lot of to and fro, so please be patient with yourself. You also raise the point that one person in psychotherapy can change the dynamics in his relationship, such that frustrations might ensue. In that way, therapy is sometimes held responsible for the break-up of relationships, as the dynamics cannot withstand the change in configuration which is sometimes needed when an individual begins to work on his emotional interior. Thanks again.

  2. Jon said

    The word progression seems to be from “unbelievable” to “scared” to “change.” Penelope’s denial is expressed as ‘unbelievable.” Her acceptance of the reality of the situation understandably leaves her “scared.” What must happen with her relationship with Sam is “change,” either in the way he treats her, or in the end of that relationship. As both of you have noted, change, especially fundamental change, is hard.

    • Shirah said

      Hi Jon,
      Yes. I like the way you outline the path from denial to feeling to change in behavior. Yes, it is a difficult journey, but like with so many things in life, the challenge of the journey is justified by its deep impact.

  3. Shelly said

    Penelope can refuse to be treated in a mean and disrespectful manner by Sam, even if she loves him. Yes, I do understand that getting yo that point where she can stand up for herself will take time and patience, bit it looks like she is gaining the tools to make a stand. Good job, Shirah.

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