Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Projection’ Category


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 25, 2013

When Marty speaks, the feeling of ennui pops up for me, but not for him. How do I understand that?  Shelly asks. I think about how that happens. How, I do not begin our conversation feeling a sense of boredom, but upon reflection, that feeling bubbles up. Am I feeling that because I have somehow lost interest, or am I feeling a feeling that he is having, but he is not aware.? This question prompts the hypothesis testing in the clinical interview. “I wonder if you are feeling ennui,” I say, as a way to test out my speculation. I shoot my idea over the bow, watching and thinking carefully about how it lands. If Marty supports this idea, then together we can conclude that the process of projection has occurred, whereby his feelings are somehow transmitted to me, and then I feel his unconscious experience of his life. If, however, Marty categorically denies a sense of ennui, then it could still be deep in his unconscious, or I could be completely, or partly off-base. Either way, my experience of being with Marty is critical information to my work in trying to understand his subjectivity. In a similar way, Connor, thirty-two, always makes me feel anxious in his presence. He makes me wonder if he experiences anxiety, on a deep level, despite his protest, that he is feeling in control and does not experience internal discomfort. “Somehow when we are together, I begin to feel uncertain about what I am saying, in a way that is not typical for me, so I am wondering if, perhaps, I am picking up on your distress.” I say to Connor, again, launching over the bow, a hypothesis based on my subjectivity. Paying attention to my internal process is an obvious, and yet fairly new, area of inquiry in psychoanalytic studies. The area known as “Intersubjectivity” speaks to this to and fro of thought from imagining the patient’s experience, to examining my experience, all going on simultaneously, to come to a question about deeply held, although perhaps shameful, feelings. This multiple layers of thinking and feeling, occurring all invisibly to the naked eye, is the challenge of both my work with patients and my teaching, as there are no right or wrongs, but only ideas which make more or less sense.

Posted in Projection | 3 Comments »


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 23, 2012

Stacy, thirty-two, wants to travel world for a year and then decide how she wants to make a living. Her aunt Mo thinks she is making a horrible mistake. Stacy and Mo love each other, but now they cannot be in the same room. “She called me myopic,” Stacy says, bewildered.  “What does she think you should do?” I ask. “She thinks I should get a career path, get married and have kids. I want those things. I just don’t want them now.” Stacy says, with a sound of protest which resembles an adolescent. “It sounds like Mo hit a nerve,” I say, implying that she has some insecurities about her travel plans. “Well, yes, I am really not sure what I want to do with my life and so traveling postpones that decision for a year, but I don’t want to admit that to Mo.” Stacy says with candor and shame. “You don’t want to admit that to Mo because you want her to believe that you feel more confident than you actually do.” I say, pointing out her embarrassment over her uncertainties. “Yea, and I don’t want to tell her that she has a point.” Stacy says, as if she and Mo are at war. “Why can’t you tell her that you understand and appreciate her concern?” I say, pointing out that people who are interested in your welfare are hard to come by. “I have told her that, but I also think she should trust me that I will figure it out.” Stacy says, with the irony that she does not trust herself to “figure it out.” “You mean that her questioning your decision makes you feel that she has no faith in you?” I say, trying to show her that Stacy is projecting her insecurities on to Mo. “Yes, when she questions me, I question myself and I don’t like that feeling.” Stacy says, revealing that the problem with the question is that it makes her uncomfortable because it hits on unresolved issues for her. I repeat, “So Mo hit a nerve and now you are in pain.” “I guess so,” she agrees, but still confused about how to handle her relationship with Mo. “Maybe you can tell her that your life is uncertain, and that you can live with that and you hope she can too.” I suggest, hoping that an honesty about her internal state might be helpful. “I will try that,” Stacy agrees, with a hopeful tone.

Posted in Adolescence, Career Dilemmas, Projection, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 12, 2011

     Liam, had a full body rash and he was scared. He made an appointment with his physician; the next appointment was in two weeks. He waited. Nora, comes home early from work and hears the message on the machine, reminding Liam about his appointment. She wonders to herself, as she thinks that message must be some mistake. The doctor’s office, as is typical in her mind, is making a mistake. Liam comes home and says that is his appointment, but he does not want to talk about it; “maybe later,” he says to Nora. Nora knows something is up. “What is going on?” she asks him. Liam, reluctantly, confesses about his rash. Nora is furious. “How did you not tell me?” she asks.

   Liam goes to his therapist. He reports back to Nora that he did not tell Nora because Nora is “critical”. Nora, feeling blamed for Liam’s poor communication skills goes nuclear. The way Nora sees it, first she is hurt that her husband did not tell her an intimate detail of his life, and second, he then blames her for not telling her. Nora understands that the best defense is a good offense, but this knowledge gives her cold comfort as she confronts the frailties of her marriage. Nora leaves the house and sleeps in a hotel. Liam goes to sleep and wakes up in a panic. Both feel worse for wear.

  Owning one’s inadequacies allows for mending and reconciliation. Blaming creates greater damage and hurt. Nora and Liam are in the midst of a deep wound. Liam gave Nora a one-two punch. First he withheld information, and second he said she was the problem. Unraveling those wounds is going to take a lot of time.

Posted in Projection | 4 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: