Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Secret Lady

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 15, 2013

Lindsay, thirty-three, comes to therapy for years, sometimes twice a week, sometimes more, sometimes less, and yet, there is “so much I don’t know about her,” she tells me. “You have a lot of secrets, ” I say, knowing that she has a deep private life which she finds both tormenting and pleasurable. “Yes, I do. I don’t want to tell you,” she says defiantly, as if I demand that she tell me her private thoughts. “You need to keep things private because that gives you a sense of power,” I say, knowing that her private thoughts give her a sense of superiority over me. I imagine that her fantasy life gives her the power that she feels she lacks in her daily life. “Yes, I am in control with my thoughts,” she says, affirming my suspicions that the private ideas, for Lindsay, are associated with control. “So interesting, ” I say commenting on her style. “And I am not going to tell you,” she repeats.

8 Responses to “The Secret Lady”

  1. Jon said

    “So interesting” you say at the end of your conversation with fictional Lindsay. “Interesting” is such a wonderfully equivocal word. Here – if you were allowed to be direct, which I understand you are not – I would substitute “So counterproductive.”

    • Hmmm…counterproductive, looking at Lindsay from the outside, but from the inside, it could be “productive” in that it gives her a feeling of power, whereas otherwise she would feel helpless and depressed. Thanks.

  2. Ashana M said

    Autonomy might be a more appropriate word for what she’s seeking. She is maintaining her normal adult right to determine for herself what to share and what not to share what others–rather than deferring to your obvious wish that you would tell her more. What’s interesting is her assumption (expressed as defiance) that this won’t be allowed, that in fact she isn’t entitled to make that choice for herself. I would speculate she hasn’t in the past been given that right to privacy or the right to make choices about closeness, and it feels to her now that her act is one of snatching at a privilege that she doesn’t own. But she does own it. Everyone does. This is good practice for her, this saying no to you, but it may also be replaying an old childhood dynamic: someone with more authority decides what is shared and what isn’t and how close to be, while all she can do is hold out as best she can.

    • Yes, Ashana, I see your point that everyone is allowed private thoughts. Thomas Ogden PhD talks a lot about this issue. Respecting that right is fundamental to human development. Still, as you say, the nature of how one keeps private thoughts is the interesting issue here. Lindsay’s defiance is her style, representing years of history in family dynamics. Thanks.

  3. Shelly said

    I would agree with Jon, for isn’t Lindsay your patient because she wants to develop more self-awareness and understanding? She isn’t in your office because to hold back and keep secrets from you, although she may see it as a means of gaining control over her life. But really, who is she fooling? Unless your patient-therapist is adversarial, there isn’t any reason for Lindsay not to tell you everything that could help you gain some understanding into her thoughts and behaviors so that you could help her. After all, she came to you for help.

    • Yes, getting help is push/pull experience, hence the “struggle” as I teach my students. She wants help, but she also wants to maintain dignity, and so how she navigates these waters is the subject of our work. Thanks.

  4. Eleanor said

    My personal experience with the psychoanalytic method over the years has been that rarely is there one reason for behavior…the unconscious must be taken into consideration. Our actions are often multi- determined. Our mind is incredibly complex and reasons and opinions regarding one aspect of behavior can easily be at odds with each other and can be quite contradictory. Psychodynamic work is somewhat like bush whacking for sure…there is no single simple path/reason/truth . All areas must be explored and and understood and integrated. My personal experience has shown this concept to be a bit frightening and intimidating to most folks, including the fictional patient in this example. While she wants help, part of her runs the opposite direction in an attempt to undermine the treatment she wants and needs. Understanding our actions are wonderful opportunities for insight and growth.

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