Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 28, 2014
What is the difference between wallowing and self-reflection? Jon, my frequent commenter (is that a word?), brings up this discussion. To stay with pain, with affect, requires a patience and tolerance for discomfort. To run quickly away from this discomfort brings about defensiveness and limited understanding of deep processes. On the other hand, to stay in a place of pain, can mean a paralysis, which to caring others, can be frustrating and difficult. Where is this line between paralysis and sitting? This is the challenge of my work, both as a psychotherapist and as a blogger who hopes to bring psychological issues, and their struggles to the forefront. As a teacher of psychoanalysis, sitting with pain is a consistent theme in my class. Helping people just sit with their experience, without a mandate for change, is often the first step towards deepening one’s understanding of one’s experience. The effort to sit with challenging feelings creates a variety of reactions in others. Anger, withdrawal, somatic symptoms, can all be manifestations of this resistance to self-reflection. Ina, forty-two, comes to mind. “My husband keeps telling me that I should get over the death of my father, which has already been six months, but I still feel a lot of pain around that,” she says, as if wanting me to get mad at her husband. “And how do you handle that?” I inquire. “I tell him he is an asshole and I leave the room,” she says, as if I already knew that. “Maybe you could explain to him that this is where you are in your journey, and you hope he can understand that and be patient with you.” I say, giving her words to help her husband help her deal with her loss. “I guess I feel guilty for not being over it,” Ina says, helping to clarify her mental space. “That guilt is something we can explore,” I say, feeling hopeful that our work is going to lower levels of her mind. I begin to see how she is helping me understand that although she yells at her husband for not being more understanding, she is also mad at herself for feeling grief. Projection presents as anger. Having feelings can be seen as wallowing. Understanding and patience is my plea.