Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Intensely Exciting And Extremely Dangerous

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 15, 2014


Athletic thrills, jumping out of airplanes, having an illicit affair, all share the combination of excitement and danger leading to a bind of push/pull. Both the danger and the excitement add up to what might feel like an “addiction” in that although the person might feel they are making for themselves a difficult existence, at the same time, they are unwilling to change course. This contradiction is the human dilemma of wanting and not wanting at the same time. Ki, forty-two, female, comes to mind. She has been married for twenty years and she has had an affair with her high school boyfriend for the last ten years. She feels guilty and excited, at the same time. Her husband may or may not know, but he has never confronted her. She has no desire to break up with either her husband or her lover, and yet she feels uncomfortable in her “skin” and she cannot seem to find a relaxed position in her life. At the same time, she thrives on the excitement of her secret life, and she feels her life would be dull and empty without that. She comes to therapy to find comfort, but at the same time, she adamantly refuses to consider another way to be in the world. This ambivalence, like so much of my work, is the struggle that we engage in, each time going deeper into her mixed and intense feelings. Giving up excitement might make her feel less guilty, but she fears monotony. Maintaining her lifestyle feels wrong and uncomfortable. If her husband finds out, she would be massively unhappy as she does not want to marry her lover. If her lover were to leave her, she would feel bereft. Her life feels confusing and, at the same time, better than she ever imagined. At times, she feels she has the best of both worlds. As we explore her many feelings, we uncover a childhood that was equally confusing. Her mother was devoted, but at times self-centered and not there for her, leading her hesitant to trust only one person, she explains to me. Having two people in her life is her form of emotional insurance. If one man lets her down, she turns to the other one. She does this at the expense of a more intimate relationship, but to Ki, this contract seems right, at least it has for the last ten years. Understanding Ki’s push and pull towards her relationships is our work. Excitement and danger often go together because it is the danger that creates the excitement. Without the threat of catastrophe, the thrill would diminish. As Ki matures, she is reconsidering her drive towards such “excitement”. As we explore her mind, we will see where she settles. Therapy gives her the opportunity to transition to a different “contract” with her partners. Stay tuned.

2 Responses to “Intensely Exciting And Extremely Dangerous”

  1. Shelly said

    It always fascinates me that people take such extreme risks like skydiving, bungee jumping, and other unbelievable acts in their lives. It must feel exhilarating and freeing on the one hand, but on the other hand, absolutely terrifying. Why would someone want to be so close to the fire and perhaps get burned? Why the terrible risk to life and limb? On the other hand, who wants to be predictable and live the routine all the time? I understand Ki and why she wants the security from both her husband and her lover. I also understand why she wants to play the game. But what is it you can offer her other than to understand herself?

    • Yes, the excitement of risky activities is in the risk. I can offer Carla more consciousness about her need to live in this “risk zone” at the expense of intimacy. She is making a choice, which, up until now, she was not aware of. With awareness, she develops more control over her life,and hence more satisfaction. Thanks.

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