Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 27, 2012

Brenda, forty-three, mocks my behavior, with a tinge of aggression, mixed with a tinge of humor. I put my feet up, so she does in an exaggerated way. I scratch my head. She copies me. Understanding this mockery is my challenge. The asymmetry of our relationship challenges her to try to feel important, and not so vulnerable. Mocking me is one way in which she can feel more in control. “Sometimes I think you mimic me because you feel so much smaller than I am.” I say, using the word smaller to imply a feeling of being psychologically little, or immature. “I just think it is funny to copy you,” Brenda insists. “Yea, but you are so keyed into my every movement that it seems to me that you are trying so hard to feel good, yet in here, you feel like you are so exposed, causing you to counter that vulnerable feeling with a feeling of mastery.” I say, repeating how hard it can be to talk about one’s misgivings about oneself. This time, Brenda begins to reflect on my comment, because now she is no longer fixated on my movements, but rather, she becomes overwhelmingly sad. “I just feel like I am never going to get out of this mess,” she says with profound despair. “What do you mean by this mess?” I ask, curious about her choice of words. “The mess of my internal world,” she says, as if it is obvious what she meant. “You mean the bad feelings that you carry around with you each and every minute which makes you feel confused and judged all of the time.” I respond, bringing back previous discussions of her emotional interior. “Yes, that mess,” she says with hostility, as if she desperately wants to eradicate her internal self. “So sometimes you feel aggressive towards yourself, and sometimes you take that aggression and turn that into mocking me,” I say, bringing the concept of aggression and mockery back to our initial discussion. “Yes, I suppose,” Brenda says as if she has just begun to see how feelings can manifest in words such as “this mess” as well as actions such as mockery. “So I will see you tomorrow at 9,” mocking my habit of restating our next appointment at the end of the current appointment, even though we are both very aware of our schedule. “Very funny,” I reply, with a nod of recognition of the thread to our session.

4 Responses to “Mockery”

  1. Jon said

    The copying of physical movements and speech patterns seems more apropos for a four or three year old than a forty-three year old. The “mess” of Brenda’s internal world seems to have created a quite immature response from her in dealing with you as the psychotherapist. Have you been able to find out if this very juvenile approach is something she uses in dealing with other people as well? If so, is there then any clue as to how to proceed?

    • Shirah said

      I am not sure about that, Jon. Mockery happens at all ages, with all kinds of internal dynamics behind it, with the common theme of aggression. Awareness is the name of the game. Understanding the need/desire to mock, to see the hostility in that behavior, is the first step. Thanks.

  2. Shelly said

    Joe Navarro, an expert on body language, counsels people to mimic the behaviors of those we want to impress, i.e. potential mates, at interviews, bosses, superiors. This makes the other person more comfortable and to have a more favorable opinion of you. Is it possible that Brenda was anxious and wanted simply to win over a good opinion of her?

    • Shirah said

      Interesting. The issue between mimic versus mock, I think, relates to an underlying tone. I would agree with Joe Navarro that copying behavior is flattery, but it can have a tone of hostility as well. I think both are at play. Thanks.

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