Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Screen Memories

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 31, 2012

“Screen-memories,” Freud, 1914 said has important elements of childhood experiences. Freud said that recalling childhood is like talking about a dream. There are memory fragments, which when unpacked, yield volumes of insights into past experience. Troy, sixty-three, spoke about how he always loved chocolate, always! Yet, every birthday, his mother would buy him a vanilla cake. This could be seen as a “screen” for all the times when Troy’s mom was unresponsive to his needs and desires. A lack of responsiveness, Peter Fonagy MD from Baylor College of Medicine, would say contributes to abnormal brain development such that the individual no longer understands how his own brain works. In other words, we only know how we think if there is another person who guides us through the path of understanding our own minds. “I am good at thinking,” five-year old Armada, says with the self-assurance of a confident child. She knows she is good “at thinking” because adults in her life have told her so. Indeed, Armada is a bright child, so she, in all likelihood, will be able to develop a coherent narrative about her mental processes. If, on the other hand, when Armada came up with a new idea, she was shamed, told that her ideas are “stupid,” then Armada would have a hard time understanding the power of her brain. In other words, without the appropriate positive reinforcement, we, as humans, are left in a painful state of confusion and insecurity. We may not remember all of the times we were shamed, but we will have certain memories which stand out, and thus provide a window, or a screen, into more experience. “But you are guessing,” Mila, forty-two, tells me, as I float hypotheses about her childhood experiences. “Absolutely,” I say, “our work is about speculation. There are no definite answers, only ideas for us to play with.” I emphasize that we are trying to construct a narrative, but at the same time, we are humbled by the idea that we cannot go back in time. No one who does not have a conflicting internal agenda, can report on our childhood experience. We must work with what we got-just like a dream.

2 Responses to “Screen Memories”

  1. Shelly said

    Since it is obvious that our children will blame us for all the ills in the world when they grow up and it is very fashionable to blame the parents, what can we, as parents do to ensure that our children grow up with positive experiences and be attentive to their needs? While some of us work outside of the home and have our faults, there is no parent who is perfect but in some way impacts their children both for good and bad. Of course children are impressionable. How can we ensure that the impressions we make on our children is for good and not bad?

    • Shirah said

      As Winnicott would say, the important thing is to be a “good enough” mother, meaning that no one can be empathic all of the time, but if a mother (or father) is empathic some of the time, then the child will learn to understand himself and have healthy self-esteem. In other words, being there sometimes is enough to foster healthy growth and development, so you do not need to be so hard on yourself that you are not “perfect” as you say. Thanks, as always.

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