Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘judgment’ Category

Privacy vs. Secrecy

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 16, 2012

Therapy is a play space, a circumscribed time, a specific place, where ideas can flow without consequences. It sounds like a dream come true for some, and an anxiety laden area for others. Within one person, there are times when both are true. Yet, people carry secrets in which the disclosure, even to a therapist, is filled with guilt and shame. Meredith, a devout Catholic, was having an affair with her male yoga teacher. Her shame and guilt around this activity made it intolerable for her to talk openly about it with me for many years, until ultimately, she wanted to “shine light” on this area of her life. Why did she decide to do it now, I always wonder. Is the “why now” issue a function of a deeper trust in our relationship, or is it that something happened in this affair that she felt like she needed to talk about it, or are both true? “This is a secret within a secret,” I say, highlighting that everything that happens in our relationship is private, or a secret, yet even without this private space, there are deeper private spaces that I am not privy to. This is always true, but in the case of Meredith, this deeper space was pressing on her consciousness causing her to feel bad about herself, yet happy and excited at the same time. The uncovering of these private spaces is the exploration of therapy. The timing and the content of these areas are what make psychotherapy a unique and ever fascinating process. Did I suspect that Meredith was having an affair? Yes and no. I detected a terrible sense of unease about her, such that there was a constant feeling which we discussed, that was pointed towards deep personal discomfort. Is there hope now that this secret has been exposed? Yes and no. Meredith worries that I judge her, even though, the problem is that she is judging herself. On the other hand, she feels relieved in the disclosure. Our work has deepened. We have had a before and after moment. She looks closely at me to detect my reaction. I look closely at her to see how she feels now that she has told me. There is intensity in the room. My job is not to look at the moral or ethical implications, but rather to help Meredith understand how she got here, to help her see how her brain leads her down a decision tree which ultimately has deep emotional consequences. Understanding is my job. Judging is her assumption. As we walk the narrow path between feeling understood versus feeling judged, Meredith might learn to heal herself from her bad feelings. She might begin to repair her relationships with those she deeply cares about. Maybe.

Posted in Confidentiality, Guilt, judgment, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

Judgmental Feelings

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 15, 2012

Annie, fifty-seven, comes in with piercing eyes making me feel like I spilled coffee on myself, but I don’t know it. My self-consciousness explodes the moment she walks in, so I began to ponder that experience. Over many years, I came to see that my feeling of judgment in those first few seconds, mirrors how she felt growing up. She often described to me how critical her parents and her grandparents had been, but only when I began to reflect on my own feelings with her, did I feel like I understood her sense of scrutiny. “I know I make people uncomfortable,” Annie says, showing some insight into her behavior, but with a vagueness which suggests that she does not connect her childhood experience to her judgment of others. She has turned passive into active, as psychoanalysts like to say. “I think I have a better idea of how you felt as a child,” I say to her, trying to show her that she does to others what was done to her. “I am not aware I am doing this,” Annie says in protest, not exactly denying her role in our interaction, but also not accepting that she feels judgmental. “It is true that I often don’t like what you are wearing, no offense. I have come to accept that I think you could dress better.” Annie says with a bluntness that I appreciate. “It is interesting that you are thinking about my clothes,” I say. “Well, of course, I am. Who wouldn’t? ” Annie says as if there is no other choice. “I understand that you do, but I could also imagine a situation where you come in here to explore your own thoughts and so the intricacies of my wardrobe are less important.” I say, highlighting how different people approach the same situation so differently. “I just can’t imagine,” Annie says with vigor. “I know. that is the point,” I respond, showing her that she is locked into her way of thinking which likely reflects a history of how she was treated. “Maybe we should try to imagine together,” I say, hoping to expand her way of thinking. “I am not sure I want to do that,” Annie replies, reminding me that she is not necessarily unhappy with her thought process. “Repeating childhood patterns is so interesting to me,” I say. “Not so much to me,” Annie says, reminding me that she does not feel like being cooperative in these moments. “When it becomes interesting to you, let me know and we can bat some ideas around.” I say, hinting that repeating childhood patterns makes it difficult for her to reflect on them.

Posted in judgment, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy | 4 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 »

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