Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

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Disappointing Siblings

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 27, 2013

Zoe, fifty-seven, does not know how to handle her anger towards her sister Berkeley, fifty-nine. They are the youngest of six children, with four older sisters and an older brother. They have never gotten along, through good times and bad, they have looked at each other with contempt, or rather Berkeley has looked down on Zoe, making Zoe feel little and ineffective, although at the same time, Zoe understands that Berkeley feels little and ineffective. With never-ending, perhaps naïve optimism, Zoe extended kindness to Berkeley, looking both consciously and unconsciously for appreciation and love, knowing that the most likely outcome is anger, resentment and a deep sense of ingratitude. Sure enough, when Berkeley was visiting from out-of-town, Zoe invited Berkeley to join her for home yoga. Actually, Berkeley was staying with Zoe for a spring break, which was startling given that the last time Zoe stayed with Berkeley, twenty-five years ago, Zoe was so profoundly miserable and felt so deeply unwanted that she swore, and until now, kept her promise never to share a residence with Berkeley ever again. With all those years gone by, and with Berkeley sweet talking her way with Zoe, Zoe began, on a deep level, to hope that maybe their relationship could pivot. So, part of sharing Zoe’s home, was sharing Zoe’s experience of home yoga. This, Zoe  thought, was a special treat, given that Berkeley is a big yogi, and that the two of them doing it together, could be a memorable and unique experience. True to character, however, Berkeley, without telling Zoe ahead of time, scheduled someone to come to Zoe’s house at the time of Shavasana, the time in yoga, which requires deep quiet and concentration as one transitions from a meditative, internal stance,  to a stance of being open to the external world. As this time came, the doorbell rang. Berkeley was leaving to visit relatives, and she had their niece pick her up at the house, such that when the niece arrived, she said “oh, am I interrupting your yoga,” suggesting that Berkeley was aware of how things would play out. The yoga session closed, as Berkeley hurriedly, left, without much appreciation or gratitude for the experience, and with a deep sense left in Zoe that the effort to please Berkeley was not only wasted, but assaulted. The relationship is strained even more. I listened to this sibling tale with sadness for Zoe and Berkeley. They are not caring for one another. They do not watch each other’s back. They hurt each other or they are estranged from one another. There is occasional hope followed by deep disappointment. Acceptance of this cycle of pain and coldness is hard for Zoe. I can understand that. Downloading the tale was helpful to Zoe, but the pain was still there. Zoe knows she needs to find support from folks who are capable of giving it to her. Still, harsh reminders hurt.

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Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 14, 2011

  Jesse,, is the middle of three sisters. Elaine is two years older and Janal is two years younger. “I have struggled with being invisible my whole life,” Jesse tells me with both resignation and sorrow. ” “Has anything made you feel that way recently?” I ask, trying to understand why she is talking about this now. “Well, yes. My nephew had a birthday party and I saw my sister Elaine. Elaine introduced me to her friends as ‘one of my sisters,’ even though Janal was not there. I know this is no big deal, but I felt hurt that she did not say that I was her sister. I had to be ‘one of her’ sisters. My whole life I was a ‘one of’ and so I have never felt that I was treasured for my uniqueness. I was part of a herd, but not a particularly nice or warm herd. I know it sounds like I am whining, and I know it was just an off-handed comment, but I was reminded of my life in this pack of girls, never feeling particularly loved or special.” Jesse tells me as if she fears that I am sitting with her in criticism. “What do you think was going on in your family that caused this impersonal feeling?” I ask, wondering if Jesse has a narrative, since she usually does. “I think we were all struggling to survive in an environment in which there was very little love to go around, so we were all fighting for the morsel.” Jesse says, describing this desperate childhood seeking love, with occasional success. “I guess you are saying that if there was little love in the first place and then there were three lives depending on it, the environment was a struggle, so it was hard to nurture one another. That is interesting,” I say, thinking about Jesse’s narrative. “I suppose you are also saying that those childhood years of needing love, receiving a bit of it, but still feeling like you need to fight for it, persists, even though your parents are deceased,” I say, re-stating Jesse’s point. “Yes,” Jesse says, “I doubt we will ever stop fighting for something we will never get.” Jesse says with known irony and pain.

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