Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Judgmental Feelings

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 15, 2012

Annie, fifty-seven, comes in with piercing eyes making me feel like I spilled coffee on myself, but I don’t know it. My self-consciousness explodes the moment she walks in, so I began to ponder that experience. Over many years, I came to see that my feeling of judgment in those first few seconds, mirrors how she felt growing up. She often described to me how critical her parents and her grandparents had been, but only when I began to reflect on my own feelings with her, did I feel like I understood her sense of scrutiny. “I know I make people uncomfortable,” Annie says, showing some insight into her behavior, but with a vagueness which suggests that she does not connect her childhood experience to her judgment of others. She has turned passive into active, as psychoanalysts like to say. “I think I have a better idea of how you felt as a child,” I say to her, trying to show her that she does to others what was done to her. “I am not aware I am doing this,” Annie says in protest, not exactly denying her role in our interaction, but also not accepting that she feels judgmental. “It is true that I often don’t like what you are wearing, no offense. I have come to accept that I think you could dress better.” Annie says with a bluntness that I appreciate. “It is interesting that you are thinking about my clothes,” I say. “Well, of course, I am. Who wouldn’t? ” Annie says as if there is no other choice. “I understand that you do, but I could also imagine a situation where you come in here to explore your own thoughts and so the intricacies of my wardrobe are less important.” I say, highlighting how different people approach the same situation so differently. “I just can’t imagine,” Annie says with vigor. “I know. that is the point,” I respond, showing her that she is locked into her way of thinking which likely reflects a history of how she was treated. “Maybe we should try to imagine together,” I say, hoping to expand her way of thinking. “I am not sure I want to do that,” Annie replies, reminding me that she is not necessarily unhappy with her thought process. “Repeating childhood patterns is so interesting to me,” I say. “Not so much to me,” Annie says, reminding me that she does not feel like being cooperative in these moments. “When it becomes interesting to you, let me know and we can bat some ideas around.” I say, hinting that repeating childhood patterns makes it difficult for her to reflect on them.

4 Responses to “Judgmental Feelings”

  1. Shelly said

    Interesting. Wouldn’t someone who was always criticized and judged as a child be super sensitive of the feelings of others and careful not to hurt and be judgemental? Why do you think Annie mirrored what happened to her in childhood instead of mimicked what she saw happen to someone else? Why would your wardrobe be so important to her? I mean, how is that important?

    • That would be true if Annie were aware of her hurt feelings. Annie has pushed away those feelings, so she repeats the behaviors. In the repetition she pushes away her own experience. Annie’s appearance was a large focus both from her mother, her father and her grandparents. This caused so much pain for Annie that she dodges the pain by identifying with the aggressors. Time will tell if this will change as the pain slowly enters into conscious awareness. Appearance was important in her family, as it meant status and prestige. Those who dressed nicely, and presented themselves well were thought to be more “successful”. These were the associations made her family, which, like most things, has grains of truth, but it was taken to an extreme. Thanks.

  2. Jon said

    There seems to be a long road that you must travel with Annie. If her initial focus upon entering your office is to comment upon your apparel, it seems that she is not immediately interested in your appraisal. Yet, that is part of what she will hopefully be wanting from your conversations. She is aware that she makes people uncomfortable, but she is unaware of how she has come buy that capability. You offer her a path to understanding by observing herself, but she does not what to follow that path. By chance, someday she will; however, as Louis Pasteur correctly noted, “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.”

    • Thanks, Jon. I see my job as helping people prepare their minds for the “chance” that Louis Pasteur refers to. I think Annie clearly illustrates how we create the world we feel. So much of our experience is projection. Our feelings are largely internal, but they can feel like they are coming from an external place. Separating internal from external is a very long journey. In Annie’s case, she openly resists the journey, but at the same time, she shows up, so she has mixed feelings. Thanks Again!

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