Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Unconscious Messages

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 18, 2012

Lela, forty-two, is mostly concerned with what her dad thinks of her. Lela is married with two kids, but she does not seem to care for her husband too much. “I tolerate him,” she tells me. By contrast, her emotions rise as she discusses how her dad has mistreated her for years. Her persistent refrain is that he loves her siblings more than he loves her. Lela understands that she was probably a “mistake” given that she is ten years younger from her youngest sibling, and twelve years younger from her older sibling. Lela’s narrative was that her dad wanted her mom to have an abortion, but her mom refused and hence she was born. Lela believes this based on one argument in which the mom suggested that was true, but she was indirect about it. Lela and her dad have a weekly lunch date where they are both faithful to this date, but when there are family functions, Lela is notoriously late and scattered. She often “forgets” the time or location, causing the other family members to wonder where she is. “Maybe you are sending an unconscious message to your dad that when it comes to family functions, you are painfully reminded that you were unwanted, but when you and your dad meet alone, then you feel special to him. As a result, you are on time for your weekly dinners, and late for family gatherings.” I say to Lela, thinking about how timeliness, or lack thereof, communicates huge unconscious messages of respect and motivation. “I just don’t see it that way,” Lela protests. “I mean, I do agree that the family gatherings usually work on everyone else’s schedule and not mine, and that makes me angry and hurt, but I am not sure that is why I am often late.” Lela says, reflecting on her family dynamics and her reaction to them. “Although that could explain why you were late. It is possible that you were mad that you were not included in the original planning, and so you express your anger by making everyone wait for you.” I say, explaining that this scenario could be an unconscious communication to her family that she is upset with what she perceives to be a lack of respect. “Yea, it could be, but I don’t think so,” Lela continues to protest. Her protest feels to me like a way of saving face. She feels guilty about her behavior, but she also dislikes how she feels with her family. I know she will think about our discussion, given our long history of struggling with her self-sabotaging behaviors. Lela wants to be loved by her dad. That seems to be her life’s goal. Now, that is a bit more conscious.

2 Responses to “Unconscious Messages”

  1. Shelly said

    Interesting. One would think that Lela would consistently be late with her lunch-dates with her dad as payback for the abortion wish instead of blaming (unconsciously) her family for not being “wanted.” It wasn’t really her sibling’s fault that her parents had this argument at all. All the worse that Lela’s father confirmed her suspicions in the first place! He should have lied and told her that she was always loved and wanted from the moment they ever thought of conceiving her. Bit what better way of claiming center stage than arriving late or not arriving at all at every family function and making everyone worry? I think even without realizing it, Lela has made her point.

    • My guess is that Lela is always on time with her lunch dates with her dad because in that interaction Lela feels loved and special. By contrast, in family gatherings, Lela feels unwanted so she resists going by being late. In my experience, even very sensitive parents “forget” that their adult children are still hoping to be the darling of their parents, and as such, a certain honesty often enters into the adult child/parent relationship which is shockingly painful. Yes, Lela has made her point, but she has also made her family members more angry with her, thus making it harder for her to mend fences. Thanks.

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