Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Denial Through Fantasy

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 2, 2013


Lesli, fifty-two, believes that Alan, fifty-nine wants to marry her. Lesli and Alan are married to different people. Lesli and Alan work together, but not closely. They have never shared a meal and they do not know how many children the other has, or how many siblings, for that matter. Still, Lesli is convinced that Alan wants to leave his wife, which might include a family, for her. Lesli tells me this, with the certainty of measuring someone’s height. I question her confidence, not knowing what Alan is thinking, but knowing that Lesli is unhappy in her marriage, and hence this tale could be about a defense that helps Lesli cope with her troubled relationship. As she wishes she were married to Alan, and not to her husband, Zeke, she self-soothes, but at the same time, she is not aware that Alan does not share her fantasy, leading to a collision course of expectations. My job is to help Lesli understand why this fantasy occurs to her, and to then explore the possible meanings behind it. The first step is to help Lesli entertain the notion that her certainty, could, in fact, be a wish, and in this wish is a window into her unconscious. The stronger Lesli holds on to her certainty, the more Lesli is thickening her access to her emotional interior. Examining her hold on to, what she believes is “truth,” is the beginning of our psychotherapeutic experience.



4 Responses to “Denial Through Fantasy”

  1. Jon said

    It is always a good idea to check one’s assumptions (including checking this assumption!). While this is true in general, it can also be most disconcerting. As Michel de Montaigne stated over four centuries ago: “Nothing is so firmly believed as what is least known.” We can look backward from Renaissance France two millennia to the Greeks (since I must go back to the Greeks). The statement of Socratic Wisdom is to know that one is not wise. Socrates knew he was not wise, and hence he was wiser than those who thought they were.

    Lesli needs to check her assumptions. You state, “Examining her hold on to, what she believes is ‘truth,’ is the beginning of our psychotherapeutic experience.” This will be indeed therapeutic. If all one wanted to be was tactful, we can consider the words of Abraham Lincoln “Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.” Questioning “personal truths” necessarily goes beyond tact.

  2. Shelly said

    Shirah, what will happen when Lesli comes face to face with the fact that Alan doesn’t really want to leave his wife and family to marry her? She has built up a very powerful defense mechanism that helps her live in her fantasy world. For a time this self-soothing works for her. By tearing down her fantasies and exploring these wishes, will Lesli be able to face the reality and continue to see Alan at work, since he is the object of her fictitious fantasy-world? Will she have to change jobs in the end?

    • Yes, you nailed it. Defense mechanisms defend against bad feelings, and as such, taking away coping skills can leave the patient feeling very raw. The hope is that the trust which builds up in our relationship, enables Lesli to experience these feelings in a safe environment. Thanks.

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