Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Expressing Disappointment: Experiencing Relief

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 13, 2013


Carrie, seventy, does not like that I sometimes cross my arms as I listen to her. “I feel like you are being judgmental,” she says, about my body language. “Gee, I did not know that I was making you feel judged,” I respond with surprise and concern. The next session, Carrie tells me, uncharacteristically, that she was very much looking forward to seeing me today. “Is that because you told me how I upset you and I was able to hear that?” I ask, thinking that perhaps she feels relief, as she seemed afraid that giving me negative feedback would make me feel defensive and not concerned. Her predicted outcome did not happen, and as such, she felt closer to me. “I suppose that in your life, you have never had the experience of expressing disappointment, or pain, and then receiving more curiosity, as opposed to anger and defensiveness.” I say, knowing that Carrie comes from a family in which only positive things can be said, and negative ideas are thought to reflect poorly on the person feeling negativity. The idea that a negative idea could be heard was a novel experience for her; one that made her relax and hopeful that she no longer had to live a life of pretend where everyone always made her happy. Honesty and authenticity bring positive feelings, when they can be heard and understood, even if the honest and authentic feelings are unpleasant. This is one of the many nuances of psychotherapy. Expressing oneself is grist for the therapeutic mill, and even after Carrie’s many decades of existence, she can still experience life, and relationships, in a new way, with a new outcome. She is a poster child for the value of late-life psychotherapy. Suddenly, she looked so much younger. The anxiety of holding in negativity aged her, and in kind, expressing herself honestly seemed to return her to a youthful appearance. Relief is a marvelous feeling.

4 Responses to “Expressing Disappointment: Experiencing Relief”

  1. essemdee said

    Thank you for your comment about the value of late-life psychotherapy, and for your website. I am 61, and 17 months into therapy, and I have spent most of that time worrying that I am too old to be doing psychotherapy. I enjoy, and learn from, all your posts, but I am especially comforted by the ones that feature us late-lifers. Thank you for your humane approach to the various troubles that lead people to seek help from mental-health professionals. I can’t have back the decades that I spent diagnosed and medicated, but for the first time maybe in my life, I have hope, which has come from the weekly sessions with my psychotherapist and the generous insights of people like you.

  2. Shelly said

    Did you tell Carrie that in body language, crossing your arms is considered a “self-hug,” and it’s not a negative sign at all? We all do it and it can be a sign of relaxation, even though people often misinterpret it as being a negative sign. I wanted to ask you about the families like Carrie’s, in which everything always has to be “happy happy,” no negativity at all, even when there is a death in the family. What is that about? I know one such family and it is MOST annoying. They are always the best, most, happiest, grandest family in the West. That is their trademark.

    • The trademark of happiness-I love it! I am going to think about that. In short, I can imagine that the “happy” family is deeply invested in maintaining this image, perhaps to cover for deeper, less “pretty” feelings, which they are fearful to expose. Thanks.

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