Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Shark Bait

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 19, 2014

Ever feel like shark bait? That, no matter what you say, or how you say it, the person on the receiving end is going to become antagonistic and aggressive? This was our discussion today, or more specifically, how one feels like a victim, in situations which feel perplexing. “The moment I started teaching,” one student says, “I knew that I was in for trouble.” “Does this represent the student’s persecutory internal world, or is there more context to the situation?” another student asks. “It is hard to know what sets people off, sometimes, and it is also hard to say what feels disproportionate, but this is the realm of our work, ” I say, highlighting this never-ending struggle to understand human behavior. “Persecutory feelings,” a student says, “come up for people and then they can become aggressive.” Yes, that is one way of thinking about it.” I say, reminding them that we are merely speculating, but with the background of reading great thinkers like Melanie Klein and Albert Mason. “How do you explain that feeling when you just want to vomit after speaking to someone?” I say, thinking of times where I am feeling lied to, but I can’t be sure that is happening. “Feelings of internal persecution can make the other person uncomfortable,” explaining that moods happen within the interchange of ideas, and as such, when we pay attention to those feelings, we can gather ideas about how the other person is feeling.


Edna, fifty-five, comes to mind. At the beginning, at each session I felt angry and uncomfortable, and I worried about being personally attacked. Over time, I have ventured comments which describe my experience of her, and with many therapy sessions under our belt, she has come to see how her anger has been unconscious, but that it stems from her perceived rejection from her parents. “My mom told me she was not proud of anything I have done, and I have just not recovered from that body blow,” Edna says, with me now not feeling angry and uncomfortable, but rather sympathetic and compassionate. As we explore the roots of her negative feelings, there is a bonding and deepening of the relationship, that in previous sessions had seemed impossible. I no longer felt like shark bait.



5 Responses to “Shark Bait”

  1. Jon said

    On the subject of persecutory feelings, I remember the line given to Dr. Sidney Schaefer (played by James Coburn) in the wonderful spoof film of 1967, The President’s Analyst. The set-up is that Dr. Schaefer is becoming increasing paranoid by being spied on, and is under physical danger. However, when he literally dodges a bullet, I recall he exclaims, “How wonderful, I am not paranoid. They are trying to kill me!”

    While this is only tangentially related to your post, I still find it somewhat relevantly bemusing.

  2. Shelly said

    Interesting how attune you were to Edna’s internal world and you experienced it as feeling angry and uncomfortable. That is countertransference, is it not? Do you always feel like a parental figure with all your parents?

    • Shelly said

      Oops, I meant with all your patients….

      • Countertransference is a debatable word, as technically it means my unconscious processes when I am with a patient, but this post was more about my conscious reaction to Edna, which, of course, is further grist for the analytic mill, but might suggest that Edna suffers from chronic feelings of persecution. No, I do not feel like a parental figure with all of my patients. Sometimes I feel more like a consultant to their internal processes and of course feelings change from one person to another and from one session to another. Thanks.

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