Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Feeling Left Out: For No Good Reason

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 13, 2012

Heidi, fifty-five, reunites with relatives that she has not seen in forty years. It was not that she has hard feelings towards her cousins, nor do they have hard feelings towards her, but their parents, siblings, had a falling out, causing the children, the cousins, to have no contact. Heidi, as an adult, wanted to change that. When visiting other relatives in the Midwest, she decided to try to connect with her cousin Alan. Alan appears to Heidi to be willing, but not excited, to connect. Heidi conveys the story. They go out for lunch, after not seeing each other in decades, and they have a very pleasant interaction with only one “glitch”. Heidi says, building my anticipation. Alan begins to talk about how their mutual uncle, Uncle Leo, who just passed away, gave an endowed chair to a very prestigious University in honor of Alan’s dad, Louis, who was a prominent neuroscientist, and who passed away over a decade ago. Alan, with tears in his eyes, describes the ceremony in which this endowed chair is celebrated and how “all the family” came to this event to mark this momentous occasion. “Why was I not invited?” Heidi says to me with anger. “I mean, I know that I do not have a relationship with Alan, or any of my cousins for that matter, but I am part of the family, and he could have invited me, and I would have wanted to come.” Heidi says, yelling at me, as if somehow this is my fault. “I know what you are thinking,” Heidi says to me. “I am crazy to think I would have been invited, since Alan does not consider me to be part of his family. I know that, but it still hurt.” Heidi says, as if I am going to solve this puzzle for her. “You were wishing you had an extended family,” I say to Heidi, “that is why you felt so bad.” “Yea, I know, but I was still stunned by my internal reaction.” Heidi says, not embracing the idea that feelings pop up in all kinds of places. “My mom talked about Uncle Leo my whole life. I always heard that he was going to do this when he passed away. I also heard about Uncle Lewis and all the wonderful work he did. I felt like this was my story too, but Alan reminded me that I was not a part of it.” Heidi says, expanding on her hurt feelings. “You were a part of it, but just not in Alan’s mind,” I say, reminding her that she is part of the family, and the stories of Uncle Leo and Uncle Lewis are part of her mosaic, but it was up to Alan to decide who he thought was family and so from Alan’s perspective, Heidi was not important. “You have no idea how much that gets to me,” Heidi says, returning to her angry voice. “I think I am getting the idea. I think this situation is bringing up feelings of anger towards your mom for creating a large wedge in her side of the family.” “Exactly,” Heidi says with the enthusiasm of recognition. “I sure am angry at my mom. May she rest in pieces.” Heidi says, using a frequent joke to transmit her hostility. “Maybe you detected a lack of enthusiasm in Alan because he was afraid of the feelings that your interaction would bring up in him.” I say, bringing us back to Heidi’s opening remarks. “Yea, I see that now,” Heidi says. “I guess he was more in touch than I was. I did not think it was going to be difficult to see him. The two of us have no bad blood.” “Yea, but bad blood crosses generations,” I say, knowing that the intergenerational transmission of trauma is a well-known phenomena. “I guess it does,” Heidi says, now no longer angry, but despondent.

2 Responses to “Feeling Left Out: For No Good Reason”

  1. Shelly said

    How could Alan not have foreseen the hurt this would have caused his cousin Heidi? He must have known the pain such an estrangement had caused Heidi all those years, even if he and Heidi only reconnected recently. As any relative would have known, or anyone, really, to be excluded from such an important family gathering is isolating, if not downright mean. At least Heidi’s fury conveyed to Alan how hurt she felt at not being included in the ceremony. Other than embarrassment, what feelings did Heidi pick up in Alan? What advice could you offer to Heidi to end the bad blood between the generations?

    • It seems to me that Alan was speaking from his heart, in that he does not include Heidi in his “family”, even though she is a biological relative. He was not aware of how he was going to make Heidi feel. Exclusion could be mean or it could be thoughtless. Heidi’s impression is that it was thoughtless. Heidi felt that Alan grew up with a certain prejudice against Heidi and her family, and so that prejudice creates a closed system (as Fairbairn would say), such that he has excluded Heidi and her family for so many years, such that he “forgot” they were biological relatives. I don’t need to offer Heidi advice, as she seems to be understanding of her internal world and acting accordingly. The good news is that there is harmony between the internal and the external. With Heidi, that did not used to be the case. Thanks.

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