Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Life As a Repetition of Feelings

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 2, 2015

Love is experienced for someone today in terms of the love felt for someone in the past. as Freud would explain feelings. More recent psychoanalysts, such as Janet Mackenzie Rioch MD  has stated that relationships do not repeat, but they expand on prior relationships. New relationships feel so awesome, because, she would say, they extend the interior of the individual. Old relationships, from childhood, she likens to hypnosis, as certain repetitive messages become etched in one’s identity, such as “you are dumb, you are a nuisance, you always make mistakes, mother loves a good boy who does what I tell him.” Since the child has no other frame of reference about himself, he typically adopts the characterization which is repeated the most. This hypnotic “spell” as Dr. Rioch explains, becomes the transference in psychoanalysis. The adult patient feels like a nuisance, even though the therapist does not experience the patient in that way. Or, the patient makes himself a nuisance to the therapist in order to communicate that is how he is used to being seen. This is why the analytic work is to not be authoritarian, so as to allow the patient to display how he works with the idea of authority. In so doing, both the patient and the therapist can learn about the childhood hypnotic state which has shaped his view of himself.

Colt, forty-one, comes to mind. He comes from a family of published authors. Both his parents and his four siblings have achieved both financial and literary success with their writing, but he does not seem to be able to find his way. He teaches English, and he enjoys that, but he believes himself to be intellectually inferior, not just in terms of his family, but in terms of the world. He does not see that he was in a “hypnotic trance” as he was made to feel inferior because he did not pursue a writing career. As he explores his past, he relates to me, that in his family, writing was the only measure of intelligence, and since he did not have a passion for writing, he believed himself to be dumb. As he sits with me, he is “absolutely certain” that I see him as intellectually inferior, when, in fact, I am in awe of his wit, and his humor, which I take as evidence of his superior intellect. I cannot reassure Colt that I find him stimulating. I mean I could say that, and he would listen, but he would experience me as “trying to make him feel better, because that is what I am paid to do.,” as he has told me in the past. Instead my approach is to help him see how he thinks, to examine his own language, so that he can see that he is generating interesting ideas. Plus, I attack, gently, his certainty, about his intellectual inferiority, and propose a new way of understanding that the message given to him by his family, may, in fact, not be an adequate reflection of his strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps his family never studied him to know his intelligence, but with a high narcissistic endowment, the family thought that since he was not like them, he must be inferior. In other words, together, Colt and I can come to see that beliefs about himself which he has held on to tightly, may, in fact, be generated by people who did not really know him. “Consider the source,” I want to say early in our work together. As time goes on, our relationship strengthens, so  I do say it.  Colt gets it and opens his mind to a new look in the mirror. The work is slow, but over time, the change is huge.

4 Responses to “Life As a Repetition of Feelings”

  1. Shelly said

    Would it help if Colt were able to say any of this to his family of origin? I imagine that speaking with you is not the same as speaking with his family. The only way that he will get validation is if they “buy into” the new way of thinking, I suppose. If Colt were able to make his mark on the world in his own way and for them to learn to appreciate it as well as being published authors, I imagine that would mean alot to him, even more than rewriting his adult narrative. Thoughts?

    • I do not think that Colt talking to his family of origin is likely to be helpful as they would get defensive and dismiss his thinking. In order to have these conversations both parties need to be able to open their minds to new points of view, and his family is not ripe for this. His validation needs to be both internal and from friendships he cultivates. He needs to rewrite his adult narrative in order to see that the narrative he grew up with was flawed with agendas which did not factor in his personality. Thanks.

  2. Ashana M said

    What’s interesting to me is not so much the idea that he sees himself as “less intelligent” than his family members–that’s hard to say, since you’ve never met them–as the implicit idea that some people are worth more than others. For his family (and himself), human beings exist according to a hierarchy. In their view, we aren’t all human and therefore all worthwhile. Like intelligence, some of us get more of that than others too. There’s an overarching belief system at work, and Colt gets the short end of it, but that belief system makes you an unpleasant person generally–even if you see yourself at the top of it. It’s a belief system that translates into differential treatment of others–there’s no idea of inherent human dignity, no concept of unconditional love, no understanding of civility and respect as things everyone ought to receive.

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