Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for February 4th, 2015

Learning Patterns of Interaction

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 4, 2015

“The child tends to carry over into later situations the patterns he first learned to know. The rigidity with which these original patterns are retained depends upon the nature of the child’s experience. If this has been of a traumatic character so that spontaneity has been blocked and further emotional development has been inhibited, the original orientation will tend to persist. Discrepancies may be rationalized or repressed…..The little child who grows more and more negativitistic, because of injuries and frustrations, evokes more and more hostility in his environment. Some people are so injured that they are not able to make use of kindliness or decency when it does come their way. They meet the world as if it were potentially menacing…..Despairing of real joy in living, they develop secondary neurotic goals which give a pseudo-satisfaction…When the reference frames are made conscious, then reality gradually becomes undistorted. ” Janet MacKenzie Rioch MD


Nellie, sixty-three, comes to mind. She is ALWAYS angry, bitter and expressing stories of unfairness and persecution, be it about herself or a member of her family. She has no ability for spontaneity. Many might see her as dour. She is obese, which she attributes to those “dumb doctors which gave me medicines that made me fat,” despite the fact that she has been obese since childhood, long before she had to take chronic medication. She got into a fight with her sister because she was SURE that her sister wanted to harm her kids, even though she had no evidence for this. Nellie is not psychotic. In fact, she functions as a high-level executive, although she works independently and no one reports to her. Yet, when it comes to her personal relationships she is quite certain that all of her friends and relatives use her for their own needs, and have no feelings of love for her, while at the same time, she states she has no feelings of love for them either. Nellie’s emotional world is characterized by feelings of paranoia and victimhood. Going back to her childhood, she describes her mother as very similar to herself. The world, according to Nellie’s mother, was one in which everyone else was happy, but not her (meaning Nellie’s mother). Nellie’s mother raised her children to be financially successful, but she did not instill in them a sense of love for themselves or each other. Consequently, Nellie describes her relationship with her six siblings as distant, but in touch. She also tells me that she, and ALL of her siblings have expressed an emptiness, despite academic and financial success.

Nellie treats me like I am using her to make money. She comes, with ambivalence, and wonders aloud, saying “you obviously want to make money off of me, so it is not in your best interest for me to get better.” I respond, “it must be hard for you to imagine that I care about helping people and that might trump my need to make money,” suggesting that although making money is important, the satisfaction of people developing independence and autonomy is also important to me. I am also hoping to slowly instill in Nellie a sense that her bitter remark towards me could be symptomatic of her frame of reference, where no love was ever exchanged, and people were seen as objects to advance one’s standing in the world.

Nellie’s mother, apparently, seemed to use her children to reflect well on her, rather than allow them to develop self-empowerment and creativity, such that their accomplishments felt empty. Nellie, by my formulation, was an object to her mother, and as such, with that kind of emotional deprivation, she has carried the flag forward, continuing to see her relationships as objects, as people who can get her somewhere in life, rather than as people she can enjoy and cherish. Without consciousness, Nellie will continue her life repeating this pattern of seeing people who have no feelings for others, but only have the ambition which mandates that they use people to advance themselves. Psychotherapy and psychoanalysis are pattern busters. Patterns are exposed, allowing the person to see the pattern in which they are living, and thereby giving them an option to make new patterns, new kinds of relationships. Life does not have to be a repetition.

Posted in Psychotherapy, Teaching, Teaching Psychoanalysis, Transference | 2 Comments »

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