The Faces of Emptiness: The Paths to Healing
The Fuel of life is feeling. If we are not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. Otherwise, we will find ourselves running on empty.
A quote from the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect
There are legions of fine people walking around feeling numb or empty, and for good reason. They all grew up in homes that did not notice their feelings or respond to them enough.
There is, indeed, a real connection between this type of childhood and that feeling. And the short quote above, in some ways, says it all.
But to summarize in a nutshell how this happens: Your parents act as if your emotions are invisible or irrelevant, so you do too. You block your emotions off to “protect” yourself from being bothered or burdened by them. You lose access to this deepest, most personal expression of who you are.
Then, as an adult, you feel it. Perhaps you know you should be feeling something but you’re not. Perhaps you look around and see other people living in a bright, colorful world but yours seems gray. Perhaps you have a deep sense of something missing inside you. Perhaps you feel an empty feeling in your belly or chest or throat.
Perhaps your body is trying to tell you that something is very wrong.
Healing Your Emptiness
Healing your emptiness is not necessarily simple, but it is definitely possible. It has been done successfully by many people before you, and it will be done by many after.
The healing process takes place in three different areas, outlined in the table below. Once you’ve looked through the 3 areas of healing your emptiness, continue on to see the steps you can take to work on this.
3 Areas to Heal Your Emptiness
|Thoughts/Behavior||Relationships||Your Inner Life|
|Recognize what you didn’t get in childhood||Increase emotional connections||Grieve what you didn’t get|
|Emotional awareness & management||Boundaries (distance?) with parents as needed||Develop compassion for yourself|
|Self-care||Work on trusting others||Decrease self-directed anger|
|Decrease self-blame||Therapy relationship||Self-acceptance & self-love|
|Increase self-knowledge||Share your pain with another||Value your emotions|
|If you have depression or anxiety, consider therapy and medication||Let down your walls||Reclaim the parts of yourself that your parents rejected or ignored|
If you find this Table overwhelming, please don’t be alarmed. As I said above, all of these can be done. I know this because I have been through them with many people in therapy, and have witnessed amazing progress.
However, please take note of two things: It takes commitment, a conscious effort, and time; and it often helps tremendously to work with a skilled therapist who you feel very comfortable with.
Follow These 3 Steps to Heal Your Emptiness
Step 1: Recognition and Grieving: The first and most vital step for everyone who feels Empty is to recognize that your empty space represents something that you didn’t get in childhood. Identify what is missing (emotional validation, connection and perhaps rejected parts of yourself), and grieve it all. This may involve feeling sad and/or angry. It’s okay. You have to feel it to move forward.
Step 2: Start to Fill the Holes: Befriend your emotions; start noticing when you have them; learn to name them and to manage them. Listen to what they are telling you.
Step 3: Work on Self-Care: Put yourself first, learn to say no. Pay attention to your own needs and recognize that your needs matter. Stop blaming yourself.
Steps 1, 2 and 3 can all be worked on by making a conscious effort, paying attention, and self-monitoring on the tracking sheets from the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. You may want to enlist the help of a CEN therapist. Visit the Find A CEN Therapist List to find a CEN-trained therapist to help.
Step 4: Let Down Your Walls: Share with a trusted person that you are working on getting closer to people, and to accept and feel more connection and love. Try to express your feelings more and to be more assertive.
You may make more progress here by getting some emotional or physical distance from your neglectful parents. The distance can be temporary, while you work on this.
Step 5: Learn to Love Yourself: Yes, it is easier said than done. This process involves seeing yourself as the child you were, growing up as you did. What parts of you did your parents ignore or reject? Know that they did so because of who they were, not because of who you were.
Have compassion for that little child, and for yourself as an adult. Your struggle is real, and you deserve more and better. You must reclaim, and learn to love, all of the different parts of who you are: your emotions, your needs, your inner you.
Above all, as you do this work, please carry these words with you:
Your emptiness is an important part of you. It represents the old and the past, but also the future and the new.
It is not an absence but free space filled not with pain, but with possibility. It is room for your new story, the one you will write yourself. It is room for your life, your feelings, and the people who you choose.
Fill it with self-knowledge, self-care, self-compassion, self-love, and your people.
Then you will find yourself running on empty no more.
To read more about healing the effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect on your relationships see the book Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.