Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Understanding One’s Own Mind: The Work Of Mental Well-Being

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 1, 2016

The mind both inhibits and punishes. To quote Fred Busch “unless the analyst is willing to make some attempt to understand the patient’s mind, and comes reasonably close to doing so (especially with regard to those ways of thinking that brought the person into treatment), a primary component of what has led to the patient’s unhappiness will be ignored.” To continue, “Within the areas of conflict that bring the patient to treatment we see an ego frozen into rigid, repetitious ways of seeing and living within the world based on ancient but still active fears.” The goal then of treatment is an expansion, or de-icing of the ego, rather than  symptom relief, which is the goal of third-party reimbursement. With the expansion of the ego there is reflection instead of action. With reflection comes compassion and peace.

My “Technique” class begins this week and so I will start the discussion about what happens in the office? What does it mean to think “analytically”? What are the tools of our trade? Bianca, fifty-four, will be my imaginative case example. She is a successful attorney. She likes her job. Happily married, she is  the mother of adult children, who are doing well, by her report. Yet, Bianca constantly thinks about how pointless life is. She is not suicidal, but nor does she embrace life. She denies feeling depressed in that she says “I don’t feel anything but anger.” With time, Bianca has come to understand that her “anger” follows the path of her mother’s anger, in that her mother raised five children with a husband who was often gone and not available. Bianca being the oldest child felt her mother’s anger and felt helpless in that she could not make her mother happy. Bianca identified with her mother’s anger such that all these years later Bianca still carries the negative feelings which she says are often directed to my husband, which “sometimes he deserves, but most of the time, I am being unfair and then I feel horribly guilty.” In helping Bianca to see how her mind is still punishing her for not being able to make her mom happy she can reflect on how her past is influencing her present. This reflection replaces the tantrums she used to throw when her husband did not put his socks in the hamper. Her ego expands. Her coping skills improve not because we talk about coping skills, but because she can see that the intensity of her disappointment with her husband stems from her mother’s disappointment in her life. From the “analytic surface” of “persistent anger,” together, Bianca and I can explore the repetitions in her life which leave her feeling either dead or guilty inside. Her ego does not have to punish her.

2 Responses to “Understanding One’s Own Mind: The Work Of Mental Well-Being”

  1. Shelly said

    It is often said that the spouses we choose are representations of the parents with whom we wish to repair our relationships. Could it be that Bianca married her husband because she wanted to “make it right” with her mom? Then her continues the cycle over and over in her daily life by trying to “fix it” with her substitute mother and gaining little, then blames her husband. When this doesn’t work, her life seems pointless and she feels disappointed.

    • Precisely. That drama, often unconscious, is the source of much suffering, and so by making that dynamic conscious she can improve her marriage and grieve the loss of her idealized relationship with her mother. Thanks for adding on.

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