Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for September 21st, 2012

The Litmus Test

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 21, 2012

The unconscious litmus test of love is often,  like, an unconscious measurement of the quality of our relationships. For example, Samantha says “Oliver does not really love me. He never buys me gifts.” For Samantha, the litmus test of love is gift-giving. Yet, she is not aware how important gift-giving is to her feeling loved, so she cannot articulate this to Oliver. Laurel says to me, “you don’t really care about me because when I tell you I have a headache, you don’t seem very interested.” For Laurel, paying attention to her somatic symptoms is how she feels loved by another. This is her unconscious litmus test. When these “do or die” moments happen in relationships, I begin to wonder why this one aspect of interchange is so critical to a feeling of being loved. Does it stem from childhood deprivation? Or, does it stem from cultural expectations? In Samantha’s case, we discussed how her mom always pointed to her jewelry, which was mostly given to her by Samantha’s dad, as evidence that they had a “great relationship”. So, Samantha picked a man, Oliver, who disappoints her in this way, perhaps in order to continue to idealize her father. She has made her father into the “good husband” and Oliver into the “bad husband.” The problem is that Oliver does not know how important gifts are to Samantha so he is confused as to why Samantha is always mad at him. In Laurel’s case, she reports that as a little girl when she got sick, no one seemed to pay attention, and so she has carried over the feelings of neglect into our relationship, where she feels that I do not show enough concern for her headaches. This failure of the litmus test brought so much pain to Laurel that she considered abruptly terminating our five year connection. Fortunately, we were able to articulate just how important my attention is, in general, but also specifically about her somatic complaints. Once again, making the unconscious, conscious, changed the course of the relationship. In these cases, the unconscious litmus test was a helpful window into the deep pains of childhood mishaps.

Posted in Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

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