Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Family Constraints

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 9, 2014


“I am the only one in my family who is divorced,” Karina, fifty-two, says, pointing that out of her six siblings, and twenty cousins, she is the only one to split from their spouse, as if somehow that matters to her. “That is interesting that your comparison group is your family, and not your friends or society, or the national statistics. “It sounds like it is very important to you to blend in with your family, and now you feel like an outcast.” I say, highlighting her need for acceptance from a family, which, until this point, has been one she has desperately tried to separate from. “I just think it is remarkable that I am the only one to get divorced,” she repeats with insistence, as if I did not hear her the first time. “In that your family generally tends to marry others who make them happy and/or they stay in relationships whether they are happy or not,” I say, that the lack of divorce does not reflect relationship satisfaction or finding one’s soul mate. “Regardless, I really stand out,” Karina repeats her shameful sense of being different, as if divorce is a scarlet letter for the tribe she wants membership in. “Maybe you stand out as the one who is true to your ideals, and not afraid to take a step in life which is challenging and scary.” I say, highlighting that standing out is not always about failure, which Karina seems to feel like, at the moment. “If I did not have so many siblings, maybe it would not be so bad,” she says, reminding me how many people she is talking about, and how the numbers weigh on her. “Maybe not, but it also sounds like the burden of your many siblings is a strong need for conformity,” I say, reminding her that families come in different varieties, and her family was one of constant comparisons, and competition, and now she has taken that pattern on herself. “I take your point,” Karina says tearfully, “that is why I need to get away from all of them,” Karina says wreaking with pain and confusion.

4 Responses to “Family Constraints”

  1. Jon said

    It appears as though Karina is in an approach/avoidance or more correctly approval/avoidance relationship with her family. She seems to want their approval by being similar to them, and yet she wants to, no, “need(s) to get away from all of them.” Yet, we do not know if her family as an opinion as to her status as a divorcee. Do they? If so, what is it? Also, we do not know her reasons for being a divorcee. Was it her desire to divorce? If so, why? There seems to be many unknown factors in this vignette.

    • Dealing with the unknowns is one of the fun parts of my work. Like a novel, or a movie, the unknowns become more known over time, in ways that Karina wants to unveil them to me. For now, I am peeling away the part of her which both wants to individuate and maintain membership in her family and the struggle which ensues as she deals with her perceived conflict. Thanks.

  2. Shelly said

    I agree with Jon. Karina very much wants to conform with her family, although in this post, you didn’t state whether her family supports the idea of divorce or not. You did mention that she would be the only one who would be divorced, implying that everyone else in the family was “happily married.” I sense that Karina wants to be accepted by her family and fears being different. Perhaps they are her main support system and is afraid of rejection? Like a person who lives in a very tiny community where divorce is unheard of, if someone gets divorced, he or she would be the talk of the town and would have to leave. Divorce then becomes not only the dissolution of a marriage but basically the dissolution of a life as well.

    • Yes, I am dealing with Karina opening a window into her feelings about getting divorce, and as time progresses, there will be more details. For now, you are right, that the more uniform a community, the more a change in life circumstances, such as a divorce, means a complete change in social structure, as well. Even in large, more diverse communities, people getting divorced, often need to change their entire life, as social structures are usually grow around a married couple. Thanks.

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