Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Lack of Imagination

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 7, 2014



The imagination takes us to places that we do not ordinarily think of in our daily lives. The wider the imagination the more one can strive towards a satisfying life with variation and stimulation. Likewise, the lack of imagination results in frustration and anguish. Helping people to imagine their potential is both the role of parents and psychotherapists. Rooney, fifty-two, female, comes to mind. She has a life filled with a daily routine, but she hardly ever varies from that routine. She says she wants to, “but she cannot find friends to do things with her.” “Maybe if you start doing things you like, you will find friends who like to do that too,” I say, challenging her assumption that if her friends will not go with her, then she has to stay home. “What would it be like if you imagined a life where you had more variety, where you were not waiting for your friends to invite you places,” I say, highlighting her passivity. “I would be lonely without my friends,” Rooney insists. “Maybe, but maybe not,” I respond. “Maybe you use your friends as an excuse not to expand your horizons,” I say, thinking that she is painfully dependent on her friends to invite her to new experiences. “Maybe,” she responds, with despair. “I just cannot seem to change,” she says with a heavy voice. “Let’s start by using your imagination,” I say, helping her to rehearse a different life in her head, before she launches into new challenges.

6 Responses to “Lack of Imagination”

  1. Jon said

    Is Rooney’s problem really a lack of imagination, or is it fear of breaking out of her routine? Perhaps her statement that “she cannot find friends to do things with her” is just a passive/aggressive way of saying that she is wants to do something new, but then she really does not. Granted, an active imagination can conger up many an alternative life experiences. However, many of these can be downright scary to some people. So, perhaps it is not that Rooney is unimaginative, but her imagination needs to be focused in a more satisfying direction.

    • I agree, Jon, that fear shuts down her imagination. I also agree that Rooney’s thought processes are passive/aggressive, and as such, she is, as I tell her, an “angry lady”. She has trapped herself and, not understanding that, she is furious with her life. Baby steps, as you indicate, are the path to allowing her to have her imagination. So, if Rooney is too fearful to have an imagination is that lack of an imagination or fear of imagination? Your point is well taken. Thanks.

  2. Ashana M said

    I think she is using her imagination and is using it well. Our imaginations allow us to use information we’ve learned about situations from past experiences and overlay it over similar future experiences so that we have an idea of what those might be like. Rooney can imagine doing new things alone and based on what she knows about herself from past experiences, she imagines she would be lonely and this would limit her enjoyment severely. But there must be more than two possible solutions to her problem: your solution that she go alone and her solution that she continue her routine-bound life where she doesn’t feel lonely. It’s time for both of you to get more creative and consider a wider range of possible solutions to her problem.

  3. Shelly said

    I’d like to hear more about the parents’ role in helping children to imagine their potential. If our children’s strengths are in the math and sciences, and they dream of becoming bar tenders or something, is it our role to burst their dreams? If their potential is more, should we be guiding them to be something more than they dream about–even if their dreams are limited?

    • First and foremost, as you know, encouraging play in children is the best route to fertilizing imagination in children.This imagination in childhood is likely to continue on to imagination in young-adulthood, so that they can utilize these fantasies to create a fulfilling life for themselves. Further, the deeper a parent understands his/her child, the more he/she can offer thoughtful advice, which may or may not be utilized in the moment, but perhaps over time, the child will consider the advice as life throws them a few bumps.

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