Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for the ‘Shame’ Category


Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 8, 2012

“I don’t like my kid,” Eloise, seventy-four says about her thirty-year old son. Her tone and lack of eye contact speak to the horrendous shame she feels as she gives sunlight to these feelings. “I think my husband should take a long extended vacation away from me,” Annabelle, thirty-two says in a similar way to Eloise. The discomfort that both of these women feel makes me think that coping with these negative feelings is complicated by their sense that they are bad people for feeling this way, as opposed to accepting that negativity is part of relationships. The fairy-tale notion that one loves their children and their spouse, without an ounce of negativity towards them, is an idealized view which seems to grow out of a childhood in which disturbing feelings were shunned and turned into representing the quality of the person having the feelings, rather than emotions which come and go. Mindfulness has gained huge popularity countering shame in that the practice of mindfulness teaches acceptance which attempts to neutralize the judgment, the shame, associated with difficult thoughts and feelings.  Although I support Mindfulness, I also think that we need to focus on teaching parents to help their children bifurcate negative thoughts from negative self-esteem. In other words, the message is “you may be mad at your sister, but you are still a good person, and maybe you will be able to work through your anger with her,” as opposed to “you have to love your sister and be nice to her because she is your sister.” The latter is bound to make the child feel bad about himself for being mad at his/her sister, whereas the former accepts the fact that relationships are complicated. Old ideas, needing to be brought back to public awareness. Inner lives are complicated. Let us embrace that and be awed by that. Let us not feel bad about ourselves because of that.

See also…

Posted in Mindfulness, Parenting, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Shame | 7 Comments »

Feral Cat

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 25, 2012

Ursula, forty-one, has been orphaned since she was sixteen. Both her parents were killed in a car accident, leaving her to the care of her not-so maternal grandmother, who then passed away when Ursula was twenty-one. For the last twenty years, Ursula has had menial jobs, “getting by” as she says. Ursula, to her surprise, met Patrick, forty-five, ten years ago and now they have been happily married for ten years. Ursula’s issue is with Patrick’s parents. She feels them to be “abusive” to Patrick, since they sometimes comment on his life’s choices. “I feel like a feral cat,” she says, “since I can’t really remember having parents, I am not sure what role they play in adult children’s lives.” I begin to think about her “feral cat” comment. When are parents helpful and nurturing and when do they become intrusive?  How does an adult child take in the advice of parents without feeling shamed and bewildered? Is the issue one of self-confidence? If Ursula were more internally secure, then maybe she would be more appreciative of the support offered by Patrick’s parents? Or, are Patrick’s parents trying to ground themselves by latching on to the lives of Ursula and Patrick? “Tell me more” I say, in characteristic fashion. “They think that Patrick should shoot for a better job and I think it is not their business.” Ursula says with a tone of self-doubt. “I mean, I agree that Patrick could do better, but that is for Patrick to decide,” Ursula says, almost inviting me to argue with her. “What if we entertained the thought that Patrick’s parents have a point. Maybe they see a problem and they want to prod Patrick into a more challenging job.” I say, trying to examine this issue from all sides. “That is what confuses me. Maybe that is true, but I just don’t understand parents. I am not a parent, so I do not understand that relationship.” Ursula says, with humility and confusion. She also points to her own sadness for her losses. “Maybe, you feel envious that Patrick have parents who think about his life, and maybe it is just so painful for you to think about what you don’t have.” I say, treading lightly on a profoundly difficult subject. “Maybe,” Ursula says, as she cries deeply.

Posted in Families, Grief, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Shame | 6 Comments »

Shame: The Hallmark of Early Adolescence

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 20, 2012

Douglas and Barbara Schave proposed that early adolescence, ages eleven to fourteen is a distinct developmental stage, marked by shame as the main disruptive affect, which can be further differentiated into affects of dishonor, ridicule, humiliation, mortification, chagrin, embarrassment or disgust. Reading their paper made me think of Lela, fifty-two, who did not follow-up with her primary care physician in getting her mammogram and her colonoscopy, such that she felt such shame that although she had a relationship with this physician for fifteen years, she felt she could no longer go back. She was convinced that because she did not do what he recommended that he would think so poorly of her that their relationship could not continue. “What if you explained to him that you were nervous to get these screening tests done and so you procrastinated?” I asked, knowing that the issue is not one subject to logic, but to deep-seated feelings of shame and humiliation, leading Lela to need to hide and withdraw. Lela said “well, I just could not face him.” “That reminds me of how twelve-year-old girls feel when they get a pimple. They feel that everyone is looking at their face, so they just cannot go out in public,” I say, trying to tie Lela’s feelings to a developmental phase without further humiliating her. “Yes, it may be like that,” she says without getting defensive, “but I am trying to explain to you how I feel.” “Yes, I appreciate that. I think I understand the deep feelings of shame because I can relate it to that phase in life in which shame is felt so much of the time.” Lela looks at me a little calmer now. “Compared to my mom, I have a lot less shame,” she says, with a touch of defensiveness. “Well, I am sure that your mom’s sense of shame has a lot to do with yours as well,” trying to tie the two together, rather than making it a competition. “Yea, of course, but I am glad I am not as bad as she is,” Lela says to comfort herself. “Maybe you can go back to your physician. Maybe it is important to maintain the relationship, since he has known you for so long,” I say, encouraging her to re-examine her resistance. “I will think about it,” she says, convincing me that our session meant something to her.

Posted in Adolescence, Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy, Shame | 2 Comments »

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