Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Unpacking An Obsession

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 29, 2012

Abie, fifty, stopped obsessing over me, her therapist, but remained in twice weekly psychotherapy. “I feel so empty now that I don’t think about you all the time,” she reports. “So, the obsession was masking an emptiness,” I said, repeating her idea, but giving it to her in the reverse way. “I don’t think the obsession was masking an emptiness, but when I was obsessed with you my head was busy with happy thoughts, and now I just feel nothing.” Abie says, as if we are trying to figure out a puzzle. “So, what stopped the obsession?” I ask, wondering if I should already know the answer to that question. “You know, ” she responds, reminding me that she has mentioned this before, but also reminding me that her answer has never held together for me. “You hurt my feelings when I confessed my obsession because you told me that I was obsessed with you and in that moment I was humiliated so I stopped obsessing, but I still enjoy coming to see you.” “So, even though you agreed with the word ‘obsessed,’ it still hurt you deeply that I used that word.” I said, understanding why her explanation was so hard for me to remember. “Yes, I know it does not make sense, but that is how I felt.” Abie says, reminding me that constant humiliation was a theme of her childhood. “So, the obsession made you happy, but calling it obsession stopped the spell.” I said, trying to understand this dynamic. “Yes, that is exactly right.” Abie replies with enthusiasm. “And you have not found a replacement obsession?” I ask, thinking that she might have transferred that energy on to another person. “Right, I am looking, but I have not found it. However, I do obsessively record every movie I see, but of course, that is not the same thing. Still, I started doing that after I stopped being so focused on you.” Abie says, again, struggling to understand how her brain travels through time. “I know I have to go, but I have to say that although I am not obsessed with you, I still think about you from time to time,” as if to reassure me that I am still important to her. “Vice versa,” I reply.

4 Responses to “Unpacking An Obsession”

  1. Shelly said

    So being obsessed with you didn’t hurt as badly as being labelled “obsessed?” Similar to knowing that one is mentally ill, it doesn’t hurt as much being labelled as such? What in childhood could have caused Abie’s need to have an obsession? You mention constant humilition in childhood. If this is a recurrent theme, should she not be immune to labelling in adulthood? What is the obsession’s association with the frontal lobe that you signify in the picture?

    • Yes, naming a behavior can be a relief, but it can also be a source of humiliation. Words are tricky business. My theory about Abie’s childhood history is that she had anxious attachments to her caregivers and so she coped with that anxiety by creating stories in her head which made the attachments feel more secure. The picture is used to illustrate that the tendency towards obsession is based in the brain, but I did not mean to imply the frontal lobes per se. We know that OCD is based in the basal ganglia, which is a deeper brain structure. However, there may be an anatomical difference between the brain that leans toward OCD versus the brain that has a tendency towards obsession. Thanks.

  2. blankpaperblackpen said

    Discussing the humiliation I felt, after the discussion of my obsession, with my therapist has brought on some of the most profound healing and growth for me, her patient. Experiencing her acceptance – something I did not expect – of my states (which vary greatly) has helped me trust her more. Being able to experience the sometimes humiliating experience of therapy (for the patient) is powerful stuff and has been helpful to unearth all kinds of issues! Rough stuff to get through, but some of the best for our “alliance”. Great post.

    • Hi Blankpaperblackpen,
      Thank you for sharing your experience. Like all challenges in life, the fear speaks to how much of a stretch you are engaging in, and sometimes, the result is relief and exuberance. Congratulations to you on the courage to expose yourself, both to your therapist, and to this post. Welcome!

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