Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 1, 2013
Penny, forty-seven, has a nice husband, three teenage sons, a good job, financial comfort, plenty of friends, and yet, she feels something, she is not sure what, is missing from her life. She comes to me searching for what is missing, searching for why she feels unsatisfied. Her life, she tells me, has come to feel mundane. She wakes up, packs the kids lunches, takes them to school, goes to work, comes home, makes dinner, helps her kids with their homework, only to start the routine all over the next day. She is also an avid cyclist, where one weekend a month she does century rides, meaning she rides 100 miles in one day, reminding me that she does take time for herself, to do what she wants, so she does not just feel like her life is constantly doing things for others. She loves her kids and her husband. Her family of origin is emotionally distant, but she seems to have come to terms with that. She describes her mother as “horribly narcissistic” and her father as “non-existent,” even though her parents have now been married for over fifty years. “What do you think is going on?” I ask, wondering whether the issue is her sense of ownership over her accomplishments. I float the hypothesis in my head that although her life looks great from the outside, on the inside, she has never felt like the steward of her own ship. I am wondering if she feels like a “victim” of good things, in that her life has worked out well, but almost, by accident. She responds, “I think I just feel lost. I don’t know how I got here and I don’t know where I am going. What will my life look like when my kids go off to college? Right now, they are my anchor, but I know soon that won’t be there and then what?” As Penny talks, I begin to feel her sense that life is taking over her and she is not taking over her life. I have this strong feeling of helplessness coming from her. “Do you think you could find another anchor?” I ask, helping her to think that she can feel in control of her life, while at the same time knowing, that many things in this world are out of our control. “Yea, I think I can, but before I had kids I did not have one, so I think it is going to be particularly hard for me.” Penny explains how her kids gave her a sense of gravity and she is very fearful of having that free-floating experience where life feels constantly uncertain. “Your friends and your husband don’t seem to make you feel like you belong somewhere, in the way that your kids do,” I ask. “Yes, that is right,” she says with the enthusiasm of feeling understood. “My husband and friends can find other people in their lives, but my kids have only one mother.” Penny responds quickly, suggesting that she has thought about this before. “Yes, that is true, but maybe you have put up walls with both your husband and your friends which don’t allow you to get too close to them,” I suggest, thinking that her only deep emotional investment was with her children, and so now she is running scared. “I think there is truth to what you are saying,” Penny says, with sadness and despair.