Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Friendship’ Category

Friends’ Kids Getting Married?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 15, 2012

Corie and Kirk, friends of Beth, announce that their son, Kyle, twenty-seven, is getting married and they would like Beth and her husband to go to the wedding. “I am not old enough to go to my friends’ kids wedding,” Beth tells me in utter disbelief. The passing of time, the marking of life events, seem to catch Beth by surprise. “What does that mean that you are not old enough?” I ask, wondering what Beth is thinking about. “I just feel like I am a kid and I want to go to my friends’ weddings, not their kids,” she says, again reinforcing her wish that the next generation is not rising up, pushing her aside. “Are you feeling like you have lost your time in the sun?” I ask, thinking about how hard it is for Beth to see that younger people are beginning their lives, signaling to Beth that she has lost opportunities. “Yes, absolutely,” Beth responds with affirmation. “I feel so sad that life has passed me by and that I cannot seem to get a grip on time,” Beth says with tears generated. “I can feel your pain in thinking about the past, and that you cannot start your life again, such that seeing the next generation get married stimulates this pain for you. “Yea, I need to embrace middle-age,” Beth says, reminding me that she believes that half of her adult life is over. “How would you do that?”I ask, wondering why she chose the word ’embrace’. “I need to see this phase in my life as the opportunity to be more self-centered, more focused on what I want to do without the responsibility of taking care of my parents or my children.” Beth says, reminding me that her kids are grown and her parents have passed away. “Transitions are hard, even good ones,” I say, empathizing with her shift from caring for elderly parents and little children, to being released from those burdens and those joys. “Watching people get married can also be hard,” I say, knowing that weddings, although generally happy events, stimulate so many layered feelings. “I hope I get happy when the wedding comes,” Beth says with characteristic humor and honesty. “I hope so too, but if you don’t, you don’t. You will feel how you will feel and you will be well-mannered about it.” I say, pointing out that her private feelings can be whatever they will be, but her public expression will share the joy of the event. “Thank you,” Beth says with uncharacteristic gratitude. “You really helped me today. I mean you help me every time I see you, but today in particular, I felt like you said some important things.” Beth says with a smile. I am not sure what was particularly helpful, but her happiness as she left was uplifting.

Posted in Friendship, Psychotherapy, Relationships | 2 Comments »

Broken Friendship

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 9, 2012

Maureen grieved Leslie as a friend after she felt “iced out.” Unexpectedly, Leslie ran into Maureen at a coffee shop and with seeming disregard for their past, Leslie said they should have dinner. Maureen, hesitantly agreed. “I asked her why we stopped talking for a few years,” Maureen relates to me. “Leslie said she was going through a hard time so she could only think of herself, but then I said that friends are there for when you go through a hard time, and then she said, ‘well, that’s not how I work.’ I was stunned. Leslie could not imagine what it was like for me who cared about her, suddenly being pushed aside from the friendship.” “It must have killed you that unlike in other break-ups, Leslie had no compassion for your experience.” I said, sharing that stunned feeling with Maureen. “Yes, that is right,” Maureen responds enthusiastically that I was understanding her pain. “Leslie was completely self-centered. I was astonished. I guess I had always known that in the relationship, but I guess I pushed that aside since our conversations were so entertaining and stimulating. I am ashamed at myself for not having a better read on her, but at the same time, I know that it is hard to get to know people and it takes a long time before they deserve your trust.” “Yep,” I respond, understanding Leslie’s point of view and trying to support her through this difficult reminder of her previous ‘break-up’ with Leslie. “Self-centeredness, narcissism, is hard to get comfortable with, especially if you have not appreciated that before,” I say, continuing with our theme that lack of empathy from someone you care about is a very hurtful experience. “That Leslie drew into her shell is one thing, but that she did not imagine the impact that it would have on you is another,” I say, stating the same idea in another way. “Yea, I am in a lot of pain right now,” Maureen cries.

Posted in Friendship, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Relationships | 1 Comment »


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 6, 2012

Leo, fifty-four, divorced, two grown children, financially secure, wants to “get off the grid.” He dreams of living in a remote area, far from “civilization,” but he is afraid he will get lonely and depressed. “That is an important consideration,” I say, emphasizing that although we all need time to ourselves, too much time to ourselves increases the likelihood of withdrawal and apathy. “Trying to find that balance is really tricky,” I continue, understanding Leo’s dilemma. “The rat race is getting to me. I talk to people all day long and although I enjoy my work as a financial planner, I am tired of talking about money all day long. “Do you have a relationship with your clients?” I ask, wondering if the joy in his work comes from helping people, in addition to the mental stimulation of creating strategic placement for financial affairs. “Yes, many of my clients are also my friends,” Leo responds without much feeling. “Would you miss them if you moved off the grid?” I ask, wondering how he feels about the notion of being separated from people he cares about. “Yea, a little, but I still dream of having a simpler existence.” Leo says, again in a flat tone. “Why can’t you have both?” I ask, wondering the obvious question. ” I could, but I don’t dream about both. I dream about giving this life up.” Leo says, with remarkably absent affect. I am perplexed by Leo’s tone. I wonder if he has been so hurt in his relationships that he feels that he has to retreat to lick his wounds. On the other hand, maybe Leo needs to create a safe environment for a while in order for him to connect with his inner being. It is hard to say, as I am just getting to understand Leo. He makes me curious.

Posted in Friendship, Psychotherapy, Relationships | 8 Comments »

“I Want Someone In My Life I Can Call When I Go To Trader Joe’s”

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 29, 2012

Thais, bemoans the fact that “no one cares about me.” I raise my hand in opposition. “Well, yea, but I mean, I want someone in my life I can call when I go to Trader Joe’s. I want someone to be in my orbit.” I paused to understand her loneliness. I began to see the need to chat about little things, like finding the frozen food or the irritating person ahead of her in line, and that without someone who cares about those things, life can feel so empty, so deserted. As another patient said to me, “no one really cares if I had trouble finding a parking space and that makes me sad.” The sweetness in wanting to exchange life’s little annoyances is so touching, and the lack of a village in which to do that, is so exquisitely painful. Sometimes I wonder if social media, the constant postings on Facebook or Twitter, serves this need-creates this village. Most people need to be heard, not just about the life-changing events of death, divorce or a new job, but more often, for the small, everyday experiences of living life. Thais did not say anything that I had not pondered before, but I was impressed that she was in touch with what was missing in her life. She understood where the hole is, and as such, she knows what she is looking for in a relationship. In the past, Thais would say she wanted “better friends,” but the vagueness of this comment did not articulate what exactly she felt was missing in her life. As she matures, she sees how relationships, both male and female, help her cope with life’s challenges. She no longer “needs friends” in order to be in the “right group,” as she had felt in the past. Now, she needs friends to share her experiences. This is a sea change, and yet subtle at the same time. It is a sea change because she is looking for more depth in relationships. It is subtle because she wants what we all want: she wants to be heard.

Posted in Adolescence, Friendship, Musings, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Relationships | 5 Comments »

The Judgmental Friend

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 13, 2012

Amruti, my fifty-eight year old female patient, relates a story to me about her connection to a long-term friend, Kirsten, age sixty-three, whom she met when they were both raising their sons who are now in their mid-twenties. “Kirsten told me about her younger daughter who was going to a high-end college and that really hit me hard,” Amruti says. “Since high-end meant that other colleges were low-end,” I said, tuning into the knife of judgment that Amruti felt. “Yes, that is it, exactly,” Amruti says with enthusiasm in the recognition that I understood her reaction. “I just felt like Kirsten must be so judgmental, and yet, I have known her for years, and yes, I have seen that part of her, but it has never hit me like it did last week,” Amruti says with confusion and curiosity. “Why do you think you were so sensitive to it?” I ask, with the same confusion and curiosity. “I just think that we needed each other when we were raising our kids. We were two working parents in a world in which most moms were at home. We had to join forces and overlook our personality clashes. Now that our kids are grown, we are less dependent on one another, and so our flaws, or at least my perception of her flaws, are more obvious and more painful.” Amruti says with striking clarity of thought and interesting insight. “In other words, friends use each other to get through hard times, and then when those hard times are over, the friendship is sometimes challenged.” I say, understanding how friendships sometimes end, but also sharing Amruti’s curiosity about how relationships can change over decades. “The knife of judgment is off-putting,” I say,  repeating Amruti’s dilemma. “Yes, I am not sure how to handle it. I have to think about whether I will confront her on that, but I don’t think it will do any good. I can’t stop her from bragging about her daughter.” Amruti says. “No, but you can tell her how it made you feel.” I say. “Yes, I am not sure she cares,” Amruti responds. “Well, if that is true, that tells you a lot about the relationship.” I say, stating the obvious. “Yea, it is sad,” Amruti replies, “but I am not sure if I am reading the situation correctly. I think I will think about it some more.” Amruti says, returning to her confused state. “It makes sense to give yourself time to ponder this relationship.” I say, stating that quick decisions in these situations do not make sense. “Yea, but I certainly did not like the sting.” Amruti reminds me. “Yep, I am sorry about that,” I say, understanding the “sting,” but also thinking that Amruti must have a certain sensitivity about college status as well. That sensitivity, I will discuss with her another day. This session was about reflecting on the friendship. It was interesting.
“Image (c) 2005 Tony LaRocca”

Posted in Friendship, judgment, Parenting | 4 Comments »

Bank of Good Feeling

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 25, 2012

   Wendy and Jo, both age fifty, have been good friends for twenty years. They met when they worked together, but they both separated from that employer nineteen years ago. Still, they remained good friends. They were both married when they met. Now, Jo is remarried. Wendy is single and dating on and off. Wendy and Jo are not getting along, according to Wendy, my patient, who reports with dismay about how Jo disappoints her. Jo seems not to be interested in Wendy’s dating life. “It sounds like you have such a deep bank of good feeling that it is hard for you to reconcile what is in the bank, versus the feelings that are currently in your wallet.” I say, trying to talk about how relationships are complicated because past, present and future feelings are always at play. “That’s right,” Wendy says. ” I don’t know how much that bank should count for things, since Wendy is so not there for me now, but she used to be, when we were both single.” “It is a terrible dilemma,” I reply, understanding that it is hard to give up a relationship that used to be satisfying, even if it has felt empty for many years. “I think the bank is running dry,” Wendy says, working with my metaphor. “That is too bad,” I reply, helping her grieve a relationship that is no longer there for her.

Posted in Friendship, Psychotherapy | 2 Comments »

Friendship Up

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 11, 2012

   So often, I hear about friendships gone South. Life-long friends who suddenly, or gradually, part ways. The sadness, the loss, and the grief are sometimes profoundly disturbing to both parties, yet the irreconcilable differences, the hurt feelings, prevent obstacles to reconciliation. Today, I heard an “up” story, one that also comes up in psychotherapy in that the consultation room is an area for airing one’s feelings, be they good or bad, or confusing or scary. Lisa, my patient, aged fifty, and Maya, also fifty, went to high school together, but they were not close. They never spent time together after school. They did not know each other’s families, and they did not have close friends in common. Nevertheless, they were fond of one another. There was no contact, “as one would expect” Lisa tells me, until Maya started planning their 30th High School reunion. Lisa tells me “of course, I would never go. I was fat and ugly and isolated in high school, so why should I go?” she asks me rhetorically. Yet, Lisa responded to Maya’s plea to attend, by saying that she would love to get together, just the two of them and “catch up.” This started a surprising three-year friendship which continues to deepen and surprise both Lisa and Maya. Over the last three years they have become familiar with each other’s spouses, children and parents. The usual middle-age discussions of getting kids off to college and then paying for it, followed by the more serious discussion of aging and dead parents. Lisa says, “I don’t think I have found a new friend in about ten years. I don’t know if Maya counts as a new friend, since I knew her so long ago, but she feels like a new friend.” Lisa relates with youthful enthusiasm for finally finding a friend she trusts. “It sounds like you and Maya are falling in love,” I say, highlighting my theme that platonic friendships can be deeply meaningful. “I guess you could say that,” Lisa says, accepting the loving nature of her feelings. “I am happy for you,” I say, emphasizing what a wonderful feeling she must be experiencing. “Thanks,” she says. “It is nice to share something positive for a change,” she says, reminding me of all the tough times we have gone through together. “Oh yea,” I say, mirroring her feelings about that.


See also…


Posted in Friendship, Psychotherapy | 2 Comments »

Fictional Friends

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 8, 2012

Nate and Kip, both in their sixties, see each other once in a while at garden club meetings. They like each other, but they hardly get together outside of their monthly discussion about their garden. For years, they were two single men: Nate was divorced, Kip has never been married, never lived with anyone. Eight years into their ten-year friendship, Nate fell in love and married Tracy, age sixty, with two grown children. Tracy knew that Kip was important to Nate, so she started including Kip in their family holidays, dinners and birthdays. Kip enjoyed being part of Nate’s new family. Kip, according to Tracy’s report,  created a narrative in which he and Nate were “really close” and now Tracy and her adult children were added to this “closeness.” This equilibrium lasted for about four years until Tracy started feeling distress over how Kip was impacting her family.

Tracy comes to see me to discuss her dilemma. “Kip and Nate were never really close, but Kip likes to say he was close to Nate, so that it does not seem weird that he is now almost a member of our family. The truth, as I see it, is that Kip wants us to adopt him as our third child, and this creates a dynamic in which he feels like an added responsibility and not a friend.” Tracy relates to me, suggesting some compassion for Kip, but mostly upset and personal responsibility for creating this messy situation.  Tracy continues, “so I confronted Kip about how I wanted a more mutual friendship. I tried to explain that there needs to be more to and fro, but right now, it feels like we talk about him and his life, and he shows minimal interest in our issues. Then, I said that we both need to plan fun activities and that going out together should be a source of excitement and not dread and fear. I know I might have sounded harsh when I said that, but I wanted him to understand that his anxieties about trying new experiences was getting in our way of looking forward to getting together. Kip got mad at me and he said he did not understand what I was talking about. He said he does enjoy spending time with us and that he never complains when we get together. The truth is though, he does complain about things, but he won’t acknowledge that. ”

“It sounds like you are really frustrated,” I say to Tracy. “It also sounds like you feel that Kip is behaving in an unconscious way in that you feel that he so desperately wants to be part of your family that he has created a fiction about his past relationship with Nate. It also sounds like you now feel responsible for Kip’s well-being and you do not want that responsibility.” I say to  Tracy, reflecting back what I am hearing from her, understanding that Nate and Kip might have a very different version of this narrative. “That’s right,” Tracy says with the enthusiasm of feeling understood, “I don’t want another child, and I certainly can’t cope with someone who is not willing to honestly look at how their behavior might be impacting me. Kip makes me feel so invisible because he seems to really want me to take an interest in him in the same way that I am interested in my children, without any sense that he is my contemporary, and our relationship needs to be more even for it to continue without me feeling so resentful.”

“What does Nate think?” I ask, wondering how this triangle plays out from that angle. “Nate is not a good friend to Kip. He seems to be mildly interested in Kip’s behavior, but mostly Nate is a loner, and except for me and my children, his social thinking is fairly limited.” “So you are caught in the middle,” I say, understanding better why Tracy is so disturbed by Kip’s behaviors. “Yes, Kip is looking to me as a mother, and I guess I played along with that role for a several years, but now I am tired of it. Then, when I expressed myself, he turns to Nate, as if Nate was some sort of deep friend that wants to hear his dilemma. Further, Kip is now trying to put Nate in the middle because Nate is stuck between me and Kip and Nate does not want that either.” Tracy further deepens the complexity of this three-way relationship and how it is slowly unraveling, giving pain to all involved.

“I think it is positive the way you tried to explain to Kip your dilemmas within the relationship. I know that made him defensive, but it seemed like you might have started an honest dialogue about your relationship and if nothing else, that could give you clarity to continue-either to deepen or to withdraw from the connection. ” I say, trying to emphasize that Kip’s defensive reaction did not mean that Tracy made a bad move by trying to honestly talk about her perception of their friendship. “If Kip continues to be defensive, maybe he is not ready to continue his relationship with you right now. Maybe time will help him reflect on his role in the dynamic.” I say, reminding Tracy that initial defensiveness does not necessarily mean that the defensiveness will continue as time progresses. “I just feel awful about it,” Tracy says, with deep pain about the years they all spent together, thinking about how it might end in a sad way. “I understand that,” I say. “The three of you made a little family and that worked for a while, but now it is not working. Kip is creating a fictional history in order for this family tale to make sense to him.” I close, pointing out how fictional histories are common when people try to make sense of a painful experience.


See also…

Posted in Friendship, Psychotherapy | 5 Comments »

Selfish Friendships

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 16, 2011

   Marla and Tisa, both in their thirties, have been friends for ten years. They used to work together and be closer friends but over the years they see each other occasionally. Marla dominates the relationship in that most of the conversations center around Marla and her struggles with her family members. Tisa hardly gets an opportunity to talk about herself. This serves Tisa well in that Marla is an interesting story-teller and sometimes Tisa is engaged with Marla’s struggles. Other times, however, Tisa feels resentful that Marla is not more interested in Tisa’s life. In the worst of times, Tisa feels like she is used by Marla as a sounding board, with little recognition that Tisa all has struggles in her life. As Tisa explains to me “Marla has become a C-class friend, whereas she used to be on the A-list.” Tisa says this with great sadness that speaks to Tisa’s disappointment in herself that she does not seem capable of finding friendships which are more mutual. Tisa complains bitterly that most of her friends, when she thinks about it, use her to ventilate their problems, and show minimal, if any interest, in listening to Tisa. Tisa concludes that this pattern must reflect her own fear of opening up, such that she conveniently finds friends who are not good listeners. On the other hand, Tisa wonders, that if her own good listening skills have become a liability such that people are so at ease talking with her that she never gets the opportunity to voice her struggles. Either way, Tisa is unhappy with her friendships-not all of them, but most of them-and she wants my help to understand this problem better.

   Examining friendships are a way of understanding each person’s internal dynamics. Marla seems to use Tisa as a narcissistic object; a person who she can use as a mirror to reflect back her conflicts. This suggests that Marla lacks the ability to appreciate Tisa as a separate and independent human being. Likewise, Tisa is afraid to look inward, so she is attracted to Marla because Marla provides her an opportunity to hide from herself. As Tisa grows a deeper sense of herself, she tires of Marla’s rants about her family, not because she is not interested in Marla, but because these rants dominate their interactions. Their friendship starts to downgrade, but Marla does not understand why. Marla has not changed. Tisa understands this change in tolerance of Marla, but she sees no point in explaining this to her, as Marla is not motivated to change, or so Tisa believes. So the friendship deteriorates and both are left feeling a loss in their lives. It is tough, even though, in this friendship, no one moved, no one got a terminal illness, and no one had a life-changing event. The change was more subtle. Tisa grew up.

Posted in Friendship | 2 Comments »

Long-Term Friends: The Dilemma

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 17, 2011

Mary,,  the fifty-five year old woman who seems to be preoccupied that her long-term friends have disappointed her. Her current concern is about her thirty-year friend, Haley. Haley and Mary also raised their children together, complained about their husbands together, and helped each other through the deaths of their respective parents. Mary, with utter dismay, says “Haley now wants us to hang out with Chloe, almost like she is avoiding the intimacy of the two of us getting spending time together.

” “Have you told Haley that you prefer if your time together is just the two of you?” I ask, wondering if Haley understands Mary’s dilemma. “At first, I was too scared to tell Haley, since I did not want to rock the boat, but then I mustered up my courage and I told her. To my shock, Mary still insisted that the three of us have dinner together-totally disregarding my feelings,” Mary says with teariness and pain. “I have known Haley for so long, I just hate to see our friendship deteriorate, but at the same time, I don’t know how to deal with the fact that she is marginalizing me.” “I see your dilemma,” I respond, feeling Mary’s pain and helplessness.

“Long-term relationships go through many chapters, and I can see that this current chapter is causing you to feel bad about yourself.” I say, highlighting the difficulty that results from Haley ignoring Mary’s feelings. “I can see that the message you take from Haley’s behavior is that you are not that important to her. You are important, but at the same time, she is keeping you at arm’s distance.” I say, explaining how I see the dynamics and their resulting ego bruising. “Maybe Haley will want to be closer to you over time, and maybe she won’t. It is hard to say, but at this point it seems like you want to be closer to Haley, than she wants to be to you.” I say, highlighting the pain of asymmetrical relationships.

“Yea, I am once again looking for love in the wrong place,” Mary says, with a heaviness that hurts. “Yea, I can see that. It is good that you can be honest with yourself and recognize when your needs are not getting met.” I say, saluting her for trying to cope with the pain of this semi-rejection from Haley. Mary leaves, seemingly a little calmer than when she came. “I just want reciprocity and that is very hard to find,” Mary says in an exasperated tone. “Yep, it is hard to find, but lovely when it finally happens.” I say, implying that searching for mutuality, although difficult, is well worth the journey. “Maybe,” Mary says with her characteristic skepticism. “Maybe” I repeat, joining her in her reluctance to completely agree with my notion of a happy ending. Mary still appears to need to settle herself. “I hope you can find some inner peace,” I say acknowledging that Mary was really hit hard by Haley wanting to include Chloe in their time together. “Thanks,” she says, appreciating my wanting to connect with her, but still in distress.

Posted in Friendship | 2 Comments »

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