Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 23, 2014


The Japanese language gives us a word to describe how a person, often a child, demands that he be loved and admired, not just to feel good, but in order to grow up and flourish. When I child says “mom, look what I have done,” they are seeking Amae, affirmation and recognition for their accomplishments. This need never changes, but hopefully, with maturity it evolves into a conscious need, such that the person can find constructive outlet for this need, such as running marathons, or producing art.

Psychotherapy, through transference and countertransference, helps to make this need for Amae, conscious, as the patient often pleads with the therapist for attention, which often highlights significant areas of emotional neglect in his past. continuing with the Edna and James dynamic, Edna needs to understand she needs to feel affirmed, not just sexually, but emotionally and intellectually as well. Likewise, James needs to feel like the rescuer, bringing him into a helping profession, but without full consciousness of his need to rescue, to feel affirmed. Amae is not shameful, especially once it is recognized and made conscious. The universality of psychoanalytic principles lives on. Language gives us a way to explore these concepts, and sometimes we need to shift to other cultures and other languages, to convey the many ways in which relationships promote growth.

6 Responses to “Amae”

  1. Jon said

    Thanks for the bon mot. The pithy word “amae” captures a deep human emotion. It is gratifying to have more insight to the human condition though multiple lenses.

    • Yes, since I work in a language based therapeutic environment, meaning that language is my healing tool, it is often frustrating that there are just no English words which convey the meaning, and hence it is often useful to bring in other languages to express an idea. I have often thought that psychoanalysts should be forced to be multilingual, not to do psychotherapy in multiple languages, but to have a bigger tool box in which to express ideas. Thanks.

  2. Shelly said

    Just wondering if when your patients cancel appointments, does this make you feel like you are not needed and affect your self-regard? Basically, isn’t almost every normal interaction, say between boss and employee, amae? (I know that you are going to say that the work environment can often be an example of the parent-child dyad as well). Or between spouses? Don’t we all want affirmation for the things we have done?

    • Dear Shelly,
      Cancellations, some would say, are an “assault” on the treatment, and as such, need to be understood as potentially, an act of aggression, and hence like all other aggressive acts needs to be understood in the context of both the here and now of the psychotherapy, along with the historical issues that have been discussed. As you suggest, there are times when an aggressive act of any kind, including a cancellation, can penetrate deeply into my psyche, but like all other aspects of psychotherapy, it is my job to explore my contribution, including my sensitivities and vulnerabilities. In essence, a cancellation is more grist for the therapeutic mill. This is cliche, but it is also true.
      Amae is a particular behavior where we consciously or unconsciously seek praise for our activity. This is meant in a superficial way, in that one behavior, one email for example, needs a great deal of affirmation. Yes, we all need affirmation, but as we mature, we need it more intermittently than we did as children. Thanks.

  3. Eleanor said

    Awesome to see you back and blogging Shirah! Your writings continue to offer sorely needed insight into the depth and complexity of psychoanalytic “thinking, reasoning, seeing, understanding, knowing, etc etc” that is so helpful to many many people. If you are so inclined ….(and have the time in your already busy schedule!!…;-) would still like see you possibly consider doing a professional Facebook page. Again….Welcome back….and thanks for all your efforts 😉 Eleanor

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