Filling the Void
Filling the Void
by Kathy Ryndak and Gord Riddell
From time to time we can all feel like we are living in a void. It can often be precipitated by an event, usually associated with a loss. The loss of our health, a loved one through death, our job, or a relationship can be primary catalysts to feel like a big part of us is missing. For others that feeling of emptiness has always been there and we spend a lot of our time trying not to feel it. Becoming aware of what we are feeling, how we manage or cope with this feeling can help us to deal with it in healthy ways.
The first thing we need to understand is this feeling of emptiness is a normal thing. You have done nothing wrong. It is probably the most pervasive feeling that humans have and we do not talk about it, at least, not very often. Given how we as children experience our early years we are totally dependent on others outside of our self to stay alive. We are dependant on food , love, warmth and shelter from the outside. When something is not right a child cries and their needs are hopefully met. The internalized messages we have received is that comfort and safety come from outside of our self. Given the helplessness of the human child there is no getting around this. Children must have their needs met physically and emotionally by the parents in order to survive. Literally, this is a life and death situation for survival.
Doing What We Know
Given we now have imbedded in us the experiences of looking outside our self to fill the void and find safety and comfort, we will probably make a number of choices that can actually make the emptiness feel worse. Again to emphasize, we may not know that we may have other options open to us. We need to learn that when we acquire new information and make changes based on this new information, judging our self for not knowing in the past is counter productive and only makes us feel worse.
What we learned to make things better include:
Relationships: we look for that one person who we think will meet all of our needs and make us feel better. Fact: Relationships give us relieve from our emptiness but only for a short while. If we are expecting someone else to make us feel better we will eventually feel they will failed us and start pushing them away. No one can fill the void except our self. It is too much to ask another person to try to make us feel whole and meet all of our needs.
Alcohol, drugs, and food: Ingestive behaviours do give temporary relief, no doubt about it, but they can have long term devastating effects on our bodies and emotions. Alcohol is a natural depressant, add that to a feeling of emptiness and we will feel even worse as the alcohol wares off. The same is true for recreational drugs and to a lesser degree, food.
Work: Throwing our self into work can certainly provide a nice distraction however, the emptiness is still there and any time you take time off and not work, the feeling will come flooding back.
Basically anything you can imagine, will have a soothing short-term effect on the emptiness we may feel and since they work for a while, we can build powerful attachments to them. People, places and things are all substitutes outside of our self for feeling okay and filling the void, temporarily.
Learning To Do What We Need
- We would want to learn that we can meet many of our own needs and not rely on outside stimuli to meet all of them. However let us remember that we as humans are highly social creatures and need to have other people to interact with. We are not saying, meet all of your own needs. Learn what you can and cannot meet.
- Discover what things are triggering your emptiness. If you are experiencing a loss in your life then emptiness is part of the grieving process. If you experience emptiness a lot then see what makes it worse.
- Look at what you do to fill the void. Chances are high that some of your behaviours may be making it worse.
- Learn to connect to yourself. When you are connected to yourself you will feel the emptiness much less often. The most important thing you can do to connect to yourself is simply to breathe. Nice deep breathes down to your toes can make a big difference and you can breathe anywhere, anytime and it only takes a few minutes for the connection to be felt.
- Spiritual exercises like meditation and prayer allow you to connect to your self, higher self and higher power.
- See and feel where love is all around in your life from your family and friends. If you are looking for it in only one place you will probably never see it or experience it.
- Fill your life with things that interest you outside of work and obligations. Hobbies and special interests are great ways to fill the void.
- Surround your self with people who enhance your life experiences. Negative people do nothing to help you experience the joy of living.
- Give of your time and volunteer to help others. Getting paid to help others is one thing but iving for the point of giving of your self is a good connector.
- Practise gratitude for all that is in your life. Stop feeling sorry for your self, it only focuses your energy onto what you think you do not have, as opposed to focusing on what you do have.
- Take part in mind, body and spirit oriented practices like Tai Chi, Yoga, Drumming and body centered therapies.
Filling the void can take some work and time until we learn to stay connected to our self. Knowing that this feeling of emptiness is natural, and there is nothing inherently wrong with you, is an important first step. Learning to fill the void with life enhancing behaviours is actually harder than embracing destructive behaviours that give us short-term relief. The long-term benefits however are enormous.