Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Rescue’ Category

The Rescue Compulsion

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on December 9, 2013

People rescue dogs, cats, birds,  and children. Therapists often feel they are rescuing their patients. Sure, if someone is drowning, as in the picture above, most people would throw a life-preserver, but my question is, why do some people seek out professions or hobbies that involve rescuing? Is there a clear indication that the rescuer is hoping to restore his self-esteem by saving another? Is there some sort of reductionistic equation that dictates that saving a life compensates for previous bad deeds? Is this a positive reaction formation to feeling troubled and so using that pain for constructive purposes? Or, maybe there is no pain at all, and merely pleasure in a sense of importance and meaning?

Margy, sixty-four, comes to mind. She has rescued fifteen cats, most of which live with her, a few she has given to friends. She is single, divorced twice, and no children-“the classic cat lady,” she tells me.  Each rescue makes her feel good in a way that “nothing else does,” she explains. “The world suddenly feels like they need me, and I never feel that any other way in my life,” Margy says, not with sadness, but in a matter-of-fact manner. “Do you feel you matter to yourself?” I ask, wondering whether her sense of herself is fragile and that with each cat rescue, she feels more “whole”. Maybe, if she can rescue a cat, she can also rescue herself. I begin to wonder. The cat rescue, I think, is a vehicle of hope: evidence that love is possible, that relationships can happen, with no expectation of material reward or security. The cat, I ponder, symbolizes the baby Margy, who needed rescuing, perhaps, but could not ask for it directly.

“Do you think you relate to the cats on some deep level, as helpless creatures, which remind you of the time in your life when you were a helpless child?” I ask, swirling these ideas around in my mind, deciding to give them fresh air. “Yes, in a way,” Margy replies in a tender manner. “These cats are my babies, so yes, maybe they remind me of my baby life, and the love I needed, I give to them, and that feels healing,” she says with a tentative sense to her words. “So the cats get a home, and you feel better. It sounds like a win/win.” I say, trying to determine whether how much the cats enhance her life versus how much the cats serve as protection from human relationships. “Maybe one day I won’t need to rescue any more cats, but I am not there yet,” she says, with the anxiety that I am going to suggest to her to change her behavior, as so many of her friends have told her. “You rescue cats. You feel good about it. It is hard to argue,” I say, not hearing a negative aspect to her cat passion. “It is just very interesting to think about the motivation,” I say, ending our session with the notion  that understanding does not need to lead to a behavioral change.

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Posted in Rescue | 10 Comments »

The Rescuer Needs To Be Rescued

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on September 20, 2012

Name:patrick rescuer Sponge bob coloring pictures.jpg

Unconscious agendas, the need to rescue, found in so many therapists, so many relationships, and so many seemingly altruistic acts, like saving a dog from the pound, results in anger when the object of the rescue does not comply with the hopes and dreams of the rescuer. So says, one of my students, Frank (not his real name) in today’s ‘Play Class’ where we discussed the dynamics in the story of a fictional seven-year old child, Sam, both parents unable to take care of him, leading a very distant relative, Gerard,  to step in and provide parenting, but over time, Gerard has shown an edge of anger and disappointment that this child is not showing the world the benefits of his deeply devoted caretaking.  Frank nailed it. The unconscious need to rescue, often results in anger and disappointment because there is an unspoken agenda, in which the dependent soul is vulnerable to not fulfilling, causing despair and agitation in the rescuer. The rescuer, in this case Gerard, seems to be hoping that taking care of Sam is going to make Gerard feel good about his core self. If Gerard’s core self is poorly formed, then Sam will  feel the pressure to take care of Gerard, and thus Sam is not able to grow and develop with the freedom to find his core self. Sam, as a sensitive child, perceives this, and then resents Gerard for putting pressure on him to “show off” Gerard’s altruism. Gerard feels this resentment from Sam and then becomes even more angry, that not only is Sam not grateful for his intervention, he is angry at Gerard. This negative dynamic leads both parties feeling unappreciated. If, on the other hand, Gerard did not need Sam to prove that he was a good person, Sam would be free to express himself, and then in that case, he would more likely grow up to be grateful for Gerard’s intervention. In essence, primitive personalities, like Gerard, in this fictional case, begets more primitive personalities, like Sam, since his development is obstructed by Gerard’s unconscious demands. Relationships do best when people appreciate each other, without being too dependent on one another for a sense of confidence and well-being. This applies not only to friendships, romantic relationships and to parenting relationships, but to therapeutic relationships as well.

Posted in Parenting, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Relationships, Rescue | 4 Comments »

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