Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The “A” Team

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 17, 2012

“I would have been happy if my mom did not die when I was twelve,” Eliot, age thirty, says with a bold and straightforward sense of truthfulness, without the expected sadness that such a strong statement implies. “I have a lot of friends, but I just don’t feel supported,” Fred, age twenty-five, says about his emotional well-being, implying that his family of origin has emotionally abandoned him. Both Eliot and Fred lack the “A-team” I tell them, saying that a parental support system is something that one needs throughout life. There is this craving for nurturing and care taking that only a parental figure can provide. This parental love, I explain, is this asymmetrical relationship where the parental figure wants to see the childlike figure flourish to the best of his ability. This relationship is sometimes created in adulthood  through mentorship,  through marriage, and/or through psychotherapy, but friendships rarely create that kind of sustained nurturing. The lack of this parental feeling creates in both Eliot and Fred a sense of “missing,” despite having so many other important relationships in their lives. “It is hard to tell people that you wish you had parents, meaning people in your life who cared for you in that nurturing way,” I say to Eliot, as he begins to cry. The loneliness of this missing, and the difficulty in conveying this absence, is so deeply painful. “Everyone needs an ‘A’ team,” I repeat to Fred, who often wonders why he is so despairing at times. “Yea, and I don’t have one,” he says with dismay, communicating that his family of origin has let him down and that he does not feel like our relationship serves that function for him. “Maybe you will be able to create one,” I say, hinting that he can cultivate relationships, including ours, to help himself feel more loved and cared for.

4 Responses to “The “A” Team”

  1. Shelly said

    I certainly do understand what Eliot and Fred were talking about in this fictional blog. There is nothing quite like an A Team in your corner when you need them. In fairy tales, parents are always there to give you the love and support that no-one else in the world ever will. Bit what happens in real life when that doesn’t happen? If there are no friends or therapsts who can stand in for the missing A Team?

    • The missing A team can be made up for by cultivating relationships which help one navigate through this sometimes difficult world. Of course, cultivating these relationships also presents huge challenges. Thoughtfulness and reflection are tools to guard against bad decision making in this regard. Thanks, as always.

  2. ashanam said

    I don’t think there is any real replacement for the “A Team,” but I do think that relationships exist as much in our imaginations as in real life. We continue to know that people are there and they provide comfort to us when they are absent. I think that facility can help. Also, all of us lose our A-Teams at some point–whether we are 7 or 70–and I don’t think the challenges of later life are less than those we face when we are younger. What must sustain us is our internalized image of the A-Team that can continue to exist for us when they are no longer there.

    If, like Fred, there never was an A-Team, I think it’s harder. There is no replacement, and there’s nothing to call up from the past. Perhaps all that can help Fred is to be heard on that count. The difference between parents and other relationships is that we naively assume parents will be there unconditionally forever–although they will not. When we lose that naivety, I don’t think it comes back. There is no replacement, because you know they will die, or the relationship will fail, or something will happen to remove them from you. I don’t know that the trust in something impossible can be created again.

    For Eliot, the memory of his A-team may help. If he can allow himself to imagine what his mother would say and do now if she were alive, the A-Team can continue to provide support to him. What can stand in the way of that is if the grief is unresolved–sometimes we don’t access supportive figures there in our minds because the loss is too painful to touch.

    Just some thoughts.

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