Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Feelings’ Category

Listening To A Story

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 21, 2013

Most Wanted / Snap Judgment, "Walk in My Shoes"

This podcast speaks to the value of psychotherapy. “You showed me love,” Richard, the deceased criminal tells the chaplain who visited him one on one, every week. This is the love of listening, of hearing the pain, the suffering, the loneliness, and the fear. Richard was a man, it seems to me, who wanted to be known, and he made that happen, in the last chapter of his life. I know he was a hardened criminal, who was sentenced to life in prison, but at the same time, he was a young man who realized what he did not get, and so  he lived in fantasy, dreaming of a life he could have, as he invaded homes. As he suggests, the intrusion, gave him a substrate, in which to imagine another life; a life so different than what he had. A life, where he had stability, and consistency. He speaks to going into a home, sitting in a living room, and using his thoughts to bring himself away from his past of being cast about in the world, at an age, too young, for him to cope on his own. This is a sad and happy story. Richard found love, at the end of his short life, through a chaplain, who experienced love, in return. This brief relationship illustrates the power of connection; the power of one human to connect to another, and thereby bring, for a moment, a sense of meaning to both parties. I am moved.


After writing this, I saw this comment posted on the internet….by Lisa1122 “I was so touched by Chris’ account of Richard and his life story. It brought tears to my eyes and I thought – this is the reason that I do therapy! To validate those stories that are less than perfect, often times tragic. I believe they were both enriched by the time they shared together. Thanks for the great story.”

Posted in Feelings, forensic psychology, Listening | 2 Comments »

Scary Feelings

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 13, 2013

“How are you?” I ask, Whitney, fifty-seven. “I don’t know,” she responds, as she says each time I see her. “You need not to know your feelings,” I say, changing her words slightly to give her more of a sense of agency. It is not that she does not know her feelings, as she believes, as she takes a passive stance, but rather, it is more that she NEEDS not to know her feelings, since she is scared by them. Whitney’s husband of twenty-two years passed away two years ago. Her kids are grown and independent. She has a boyfriend. She works as a therapist. Yet, her feelings remain “not knowable” to her as she walks in my office. She then agrees. “Of course, I need not to know my feelings. I miss my husband terribly and so if I get too close to those feelings, I will hurt my boyfriend’s feelings, and my kids think I should be over that by now.” She says, defending her position of detaching from her feelings. “Yes, but you can feel them in here,” I say, pointing out the obvious, that my office, this play space, enables her to be free to talk about her feelings without fear of judgment or hurt feelings. “Yes, but then I have to leave, and my feelings do not just zip up as soon as I leave your office,” she reminds me that the transition out of my office can be quite challenging and she has to be mindful of that. “Yes, I understand that, but the price you pay for being detached from your feeling is also a large one.” I say, pointing out that there is a challenge in  both feeling and not feeling her inner world. “What do you mean about the price?” she asks, wondering about my choice of words. “The price of not experiencing the texture of life.” I say, even though I know she knows that. “I think it is worth the price,” she responds, keeping my choice of words. “Well that is where you are today, but you might not feel that way tomorrow.’ I say, pointing out that the ‘price’ might change for her with time and distance from her husband’s passing. Making her aware of the “price” is making her more conscious of her unconscious decision not to feel her feelings. The word price is carefully chosen to suggest that she is deciding how she interfaces with her world. Agency is established. Victim-hood recedes.

Posted in Feelings, Resistance, Teaching Psychoanalysis, Unconscious Living | 7 Comments »

The Feeling of Understanding

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 9, 2013

Desiree, seventy-one, wants people to understand her, even though, she does not understand herself. She feels lonely and isolated, and yet, she cannot “trust” anyone, so she feels trapped in hopelessness and despair. She has joined many types of support groups, only to feel more lonely and alienated. “At your core, you do not feel that anyone can really be there for you, and so you don’t let others into your life and then you despair.” I say, explaining that relationships begin with a hope that others can be helpful in sharing the pleasures and the pains of life. Without that initial hope, or belief, then connections cannot begin. “It is amazing that you have allowed me into your inner world,” I say to Desiree, marveling that she has allowed herself to trust me. “Yes, it amazes me, as well,” she says. “You know my inner demons and you know what I struggle with. You seem to understand, better than most people,” she says. “Yes, I feel like I understand, but you had to trust me enough to see if you could feel that understanding coming from me and that is what I am amazed by.” I say, recognizing how hard it is to trust people enough to determine whether they are trustworthy. “I agree that was a huge step for me. I did not trust you for many many years, but over time, I thought that maybe I could.” Desiree explains what I deeply believe, which is that the time in the relationship is critical to getting to deeper and more delicate issues. I am left to my musings that feeling understood, is so critical to human existence. Those mirror neurons which fire when we feel what the other person might be feeling, seems essential for human development and survival. Desiree would agree.

See also…

Posted in Feelings, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

Feeling Left Out: For No Good Reason

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 13, 2012

Heidi, fifty-five, reunites with relatives that she has not seen in forty years. It was not that she has hard feelings towards her cousins, nor do they have hard feelings towards her, but their parents, siblings, had a falling out, causing the children, the cousins, to have no contact. Heidi, as an adult, wanted to change that. When visiting other relatives in the Midwest, she decided to try to connect with her cousin Alan. Alan appears to Heidi to be willing, but not excited, to connect. Heidi conveys the story. They go out for lunch, after not seeing each other in decades, and they have a very pleasant interaction with only one “glitch”. Heidi says, building my anticipation. Alan begins to talk about how their mutual uncle, Uncle Leo, who just passed away, gave an endowed chair to a very prestigious University in honor of Alan’s dad, Louis, who was a prominent neuroscientist, and who passed away over a decade ago. Alan, with tears in his eyes, describes the ceremony in which this endowed chair is celebrated and how “all the family” came to this event to mark this momentous occasion. “Why was I not invited?” Heidi says to me with anger. “I mean, I know that I do not have a relationship with Alan, or any of my cousins for that matter, but I am part of the family, and he could have invited me, and I would have wanted to come.” Heidi says, yelling at me, as if somehow this is my fault. “I know what you are thinking,” Heidi says to me. “I am crazy to think I would have been invited, since Alan does not consider me to be part of his family. I know that, but it still hurt.” Heidi says, as if I am going to solve this puzzle for her. “You were wishing you had an extended family,” I say to Heidi, “that is why you felt so bad.” “Yea, I know, but I was still stunned by my internal reaction.” Heidi says, not embracing the idea that feelings pop up in all kinds of places. “My mom talked about Uncle Leo my whole life. I always heard that he was going to do this when he passed away. I also heard about Uncle Lewis and all the wonderful work he did. I felt like this was my story too, but Alan reminded me that I was not a part of it.” Heidi says, expanding on her hurt feelings. “You were a part of it, but just not in Alan’s mind,” I say, reminding her that she is part of the family, and the stories of Uncle Leo and Uncle Lewis are part of her mosaic, but it was up to Alan to decide who he thought was family and so from Alan’s perspective, Heidi was not important. “You have no idea how much that gets to me,” Heidi says, returning to her angry voice. “I think I am getting the idea. I think this situation is bringing up feelings of anger towards your mom for creating a large wedge in her side of the family.” “Exactly,” Heidi says with the enthusiasm of recognition. “I sure am angry at my mom. May she rest in pieces.” Heidi says, using a frequent joke to transmit her hostility. “Maybe you detected a lack of enthusiasm in Alan because he was afraid of the feelings that your interaction would bring up in him.” I say, bringing us back to Heidi’s opening remarks. “Yea, I see that now,” Heidi says. “I guess he was more in touch than I was. I did not think it was going to be difficult to see him. The two of us have no bad blood.” “Yea, but bad blood crosses generations,” I say, knowing that the intergenerational transmission of trauma is a well-known phenomena. “I guess it does,” Heidi says, now no longer angry, but despondent.

Posted in Belonging, Feelings, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy | 2 Comments »

‘Why Do I Want To See You Everyday?’

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 4, 2011

    Luke, twenty-four, comes twice a week and has for six years. He has dedicated himself, with the financial support of his parents, to “working on himself.” He is never late; he never forgets, despite our changing times given his changing work and school schedule. He is my prime example of how our next generation can be responsible, reliable and motivated for self-improvement. Over the past six years he has “hated me,” “loved me” and he has felt that I was “annoying and too motherly” towards him. Positive feelings, negative feelings, neutral feelings never seem to change his commitment to our process. He almost dropped out of high school since he could hardly get out of bed to go to school, but now he is in medical school, soon to be a caretaker of others who need his services. His parents told me that they feared that with all of this psychotherapy he might want to become a psychiatrist, as if that would be a bad outcome. Luckily for them, he is on his way to being a surgeon. As he says, “I have little interest in talking to people. I would hate to have to deal with people like me who yell and scream at you like you are their mother.” I almost felt that to be an apology for our many rough times together, but he has no need for remorse. We agree that we are engaged in an honest struggle of working together, and frustration and anger, are inevitable. Both of us have shared behaviors that make us  wish we could have been more circumspect and controlled.

   “Why do I want to see you everyday,” Luke asks me in a way that was sweet, endearing and challenging. “You are evolving and you are having growing pains,” I say, explaining that he is now going through an emotional growth spurt where he is trying to decide which of his many flirtatious encounters he wants to pursue as a more serious long-term relationship. With a huge smile, he says “gee thanks, Dr. Vollmer. That makes me so happy to hear that.” Suddenly, I framed Luke’s pain as a means to a deeper end, and so suddenly he went from feeling bad about his indecisiveness to good about his thoughtfulness. Luke has had a lot of trouble with relationships. He has often liked girls who like him, rather than considering his own feelings towards them. Consequently, he has grown quickly dissatisfied with most of his intimate experiences. As we explore his own desires in a relationship, he has become more cautious about entering into monogamous love affairs. Now, Luke has to tolerate loneliness in ways in which he defended against before by constantly being in unsatisfying relationships. His perceived need to see me daily reflects his new challenge to manage these difficult feelings. I saw the growth and then commented on it in a way in which we did not have to meet more often; we just had to understand the need.


See also….

Posted in Adolescence, Attachment, Feelings, Psychotherapy, Relationships | 16 Comments »

Feeling Feelings

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 26, 2011

   “I only want to feel positively about things,” says Monique, a peruvian born sixty-two year old patient. “My daughter does not call me very often but I don’t feel bad about that,” Monique continues.  “How can you control your feelings?” I ask, wondering about the cultural understanding of feelings. “Well, when I was a little girl and my aunt told me that I had to change seats at the dinner table, I was so hurt that I went to bed without eating dinner. I just could not take the insult of having to move because someone was more important than I was. Ever since then, I realized that my feelings never helped me. They just hurt me. So, it was better not to feel my feelings and move on.” “Well, you can feel your feelings but not act on them,” I say, feeling like I am saying something very basic, but, it might be an important reminder. “You mean I could just come here and tell you how I am feeling,” Monique says with a childlike sense of wonder. “Yes, that is what I mean,” I respond, realizing that managing feelings is a new experience for Monique.

    “I feel very confused by this discussion. I feel like I should write it down so we can talk about it next time,” Monique says, surprising me with her confusion. “We were talking today about how you are trying to control how you feel, but at the same time, you were telling me things that were disturbing you,” I say, pointing out that her feelings do get hurt and she shares that with me to help her feel better. “I thought we were talking about those experiences so that I could get an American point of view. Maybe in the United States adult children don’t stay in touch with their parents as much as they do in Peru.” Monique explains why she mentioned her experience with her daughter. “I am not sure I represent the American point of view, but I can tell you that it felt to me that you are hurt by the emotional distance between you and your daughter.” I say, struggling to lay a landscape of feelings which do not result in any action, other than trying to understand them. “I hear what you are saying, but I am not sure I understand. I will think about it, but this feels very foreign to me.” Monique says with her heavy accent.  “Maybe there are some cultural issues here that I need to understand better, but I also wonder if you have spent so many years of your life trying to control your feelings that you have lost touch with yourself in the process.” I say, thinking back to her moving story of emotional pain at eight years old. “I did not like myself very much so I am not surprised I lost touch,” she says with a matter of fact tone. “I know that is a very painful comment, but I also think that is funny,” I respond. “Glad I could make you laugh,” Monique says, “it is good to be positive.”

Posted in Feelings | 8 Comments »

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