Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Meaning Making

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 10, 2012

Jon, a frequent respondent to my posts, often speaks about “meaning making,” highlighting the issue that our lives are filled with the associations, or the meaning we add to the relationships in our lives. This “meaning making,” as Jon says, in psychoanalytic language is free associations: the ideas and feelings which we have that surround our connections. Often, this “meaning making” is unconscious, such that we do not understand the meaning until there is some sort of traumatic experience which uncovers deeper feelings. For example, Myra and Leonard, married for fifty years, were a merged couple. By that I mean that they believed that they could not survive without the other. When Leonard passed away, Myra did not feel alone or abandoned, but rather she felt that Leonard was still with her, albeit not physically. Myra’s meaning to Leonard’s death, her associations, were that Leonard still deeply loved and cared for her and thus, she still had him by her side. This belief fueled Myra’s internal life, such that when men approached her, she rebuffed them, feeling like she was already in love, and how dare they assume that she was available. When she experienced that feeling, she finally understood some of  her deeper feelings for Leonard.

3 Responses to “Meaning Making”

  1. Jon said

    Shirah, when I discuss the creation of meaning, I do so in the existential philosophical dictum that “existence precedes essence.” That is to say that one creates the meaning in one’s life by the choices thoughts, and actions that one makes and has. Our destiny is not preordained but we create who we are to be. As such, our thoughts and actions give meaning to who become and are.

    Myra and Leonard’s love for one another is a beautiful example of how meaning can be created. However, given the circumstances beyond their control, Myra now has choices. She can continue with the love of Leonard for the rest of her life and be very happy with that. But, there is an alternative. Myra can accept the sad vicissitudes of life – in this case Leonard’s death – and, without disrespect to Leonard, accept the advances of other men. The choice is hers. If she has no need of others to fulfill the closeness of a relationship because of her memories of Leonard, then she is happy. If she does explore further relationships, she can do so without moral or ethical qualms. Myra will continue to create who she is and will be.

    • Shirah said

      Thanks, Jon. I agree. The point of this post is only to add on to the existential philosphical dictum in order to say that some meanings are conscious and some are unconscious. Bringing awareness to unconscious meaning can help Myra make choices in her life. Thanks Again.

  2. Shelly said

    What would Shirah’s blog be without Jon’s input? I so enjoy hearing from you, Jon. You are thoughtful, precise, and ever so mindful. Shirah, you do not mention how long after Leonard’s passing Myra continued to feel “married” to Leonard. Immediately after death, isn’t it very common for widows to rebuff overtures from other men due to their mourning practices (which may last for years)? If Myra continued to feel “married” to Leonard 10 years after his passing, then I would feel that she was “stuck” in the past, and perhaps needed to speak to someone on how to move on in her life. Yes, this feeling may be unconscious, but still, eventually she would need to leave Leonard behind and live her own life as an unmarried person.

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