Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Scary Feelings

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 13, 2013

“How are you?” I ask, Whitney, fifty-seven. “I don’t know,” she responds, as she says each time I see her. “You need not to know your feelings,” I say, changing her words slightly to give her more of a sense of agency. It is not that she does not know her feelings, as she believes, as she takes a passive stance, but rather, it is more that she NEEDS not to know her feelings, since she is scared by them. Whitney’s husband of twenty-two years passed away two years ago. Her kids are grown and independent. She has a boyfriend. She works as a therapist. Yet, her feelings remain “not knowable” to her as she walks in my office. She then agrees. “Of course, I need not to know my feelings. I miss my husband terribly and so if I get too close to those feelings, I will hurt my boyfriend’s feelings, and my kids think I should be over that by now.” She says, defending her position of detaching from her feelings. “Yes, but you can feel them in here,” I say, pointing out the obvious, that my office, this play space, enables her to be free to talk about her feelings without fear of judgment or hurt feelings. “Yes, but then I have to leave, and my feelings do not just zip up as soon as I leave your office,” she reminds me that the transition out of my office can be quite challenging and she has to be mindful of that. “Yes, I understand that, but the price you pay for being detached from your feeling is also a large one.” I say, pointing out that there is a challenge in  both feeling and not feeling her inner world. “What do you mean about the price?” she asks, wondering about my choice of words. “The price of not experiencing the texture of life.” I say, even though I know she knows that. “I think it is worth the price,” she responds, keeping my choice of words. “Well that is where you are today, but you might not feel that way tomorrow.’ I say, pointing out that the ‘price’ might change for her with time and distance from her husband’s passing. Making her aware of the “price” is making her more conscious of her unconscious decision not to feel her feelings. The word price is carefully chosen to suggest that she is deciding how she interfaces with her world. Agency is established. Victim-hood recedes.

7 Responses to “Scary Feelings”

  1. Jon said

    I would think that the price to pay for not being in touch with ones feelings is neurosis. Can one successfully hide from oneself and not become neurotic?

    • That all depends on how you define neurosis. In this case, Whitney is more detached than neurotic. Her behaviors are not odd or self-destructive, but her emotional interior is very shallow. The nature of the “price to pay” is part of the intrigue of the human condition. Making this “price to pay” conscious is the first step to determining whether the price is worth it. Thanks.

  2. Ashana M said

    What she seems to so eloquently point out is that fear of judgment or hurt feelings is not really the problem, although that is part of it. The problem is the feelings themselves, because she cannot manage them. The priority for her is to manage life, and she doesn’t know how to feel and also keep managing.

    That’s interesting to me, because I have a very rich (and often painful) inner experience. I have more feelings a day than I know the names of. But I find myself often barely able to manage life itself, and sometimes I find myself at the very edge of doing what I can get away with and wondering if that’s really going to fly and, if so, for how long. But my priority is feeling. Life, for now, has taken a back seat. And I do wonder for how much longer I can do that, or how much longer the balance will be so difficult to maintain.

    • Shirah said

      Yes, that is absolutely true. The feelings are the main barrier to her allowing more knowledge about her interior world.
      As you state, you are heavily immersed in your feelings and there is a “price to pay” for that too, hence you do not know how much longer you can keep paying that price. Thanks for chiming in.

      • Ashana M said

        Well, I’m hoping the price will go down to something I can better afford–just as Whitney may be, as distance from the death of her husband may give some relief. The intensity of my inner life seems a bit more than one would expect from an ordinary, but full life. If it doesn’t, I suppose I’ll need to cut back. It’s interesting to see how our choices spring from our values. We are more motivated to make different choices when we reframe the consequences for ourselves. For Whitney, if the consequence seems to only be for herself–a flattened experience of life, that may be acceptable. But I wonder what she would choose if she realized her inability to connect to her emotions is affecting other areas of her life as well–that she is most likely not as effective a therapist, not as loving of a parent, and not as responsive a girlfriend. Everyone in our lives ultimately pays the price for our choices as well.

  3. Shelly said

    I find it interesting that Whitney’s children have determined that after two years, Whitney should have “gotten over” her mourning period for her deceased husband. How hurtful for Whitney! I don’t think there is ever a limit on mourning! Whitney will be over it when she is ready. On the other hand, internally, she must be feeling as if she is being less than faithful to her boyfriend in that she cannot let go her feelings of loss about her husband of 22 years. I hope her boyfriend can support her through it all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: