I’m a Word Nerd, self-confessed. Sometimes words have a way of explaining themselves that I find enlightening. One such word is ‘avoid’. Now we all know that it means to stay away from something, but if you really look at it and break it down you get a-void. Ok, you say, so what?
Well, it suggests to me that the action of staying away from something actually creates a void, an empty place. Nowhere is this truer than in psychology. Half my job is helping people to come back to the parts of themselves that they have abandoned, denied or repressed. That can be feelings, impulses, memories, desires or dreams.
This avoidance doesn’t happen randomly. People only avoid parts of themselves because that is what they had to do to adapt to the world they found themselves in, usually as a child. The reality is that for many people, maybe most people, it is not entirely safe or wise to really be their whole self in the families they come from. They are forced to modify or re-present themselves (did I mention I’m a word nerd) in such a way that they escape the punishment or disapproval of their care-givers.
I think this may be why the old idea of people being ‘well-adjusted’ fell out of favour. There were too many people who were tremendously ‘well-adjusted’ to their environment who were absolutely miserable and longing to make their environment adjust to them. Sometimes ‘fitting in’ is a recipe for a lonely and unsatisfying life.
So, why is creating these ‘voids’ inside ourself such a problem?
Well, nature hates a vacuum, and she always tries to fill it. Also true of human beings (who are part of nature). We end up trying to fill these voids with all sorts of things that are mostly bad for us. Alcohol, drugs, food and bad relationships just to name a few. Most of the problems that people come to see me about aren’t really the problem, but the way the person is unconsciously trying to solve or avoid the problem. We try to fill the hole within us because its emotional gravity threatens to drag us back to that place where the forbidden and rejected parts of us live. Over time we have come to see these rejected parts as monsters, dangerous impulses that try to drag us to the dark side and threaten our social acceptance or survival. This is understandable, but also a little ridiculous once we really understand what they are.
Everything that nature put inside us has life-giving purpose to it.
Our feelings tell us how we are doing at meeting our needs. (Do well, feel good. Do poorly, feel bad).
Our desires drive us to express the purposes that nature has intended us for, from procreation to expressing the talents and abilities we have been given.
Our aspirations lead us to happiness.
Our impulses to a pleasurable life.
Our memories seek to resolve, and to strengthen our identities in the process.
It is not the impulses that nature gave us that creates problems, but our rejection of them. Any part of us that is repressed or abandoned will become more intense, louder, more demanding and ultimately distorted by the judgments that we have used to repress it. That which we exile into the darkness will always struggle to come back to the light, and so often we mistakenly interpret it’s bid to escape as proof of its darkness.
Every void we create by a-voiding ourself is centred around an important, vital and life affirming part of us that is trying to take us to a life worth living. It is our abandonment of our selves that creates our real suffering, and reclaiming them that brings us back to peace and empowerment.
These abandonments rob us of our psychological resources, drive us to unhealthy addictions and behaviours and ultimately become self-fulfilling prophecies. Any part that we repress will eventually find expression, and it usually looks like the very thing we feared, because we have given it little choice but to show up that way.
So what do we need to do to become whole and happy?
That’s simple. We have to stop a-voiding ourselves. We must learn to become present to every part of our experience, to fill the void with our light, our courage and our compassion. We created the void when we left. It is only our unconditional return that can truly fill it.
It’s not always easy, but neither is a life of addiction and suffering. One leads us to joy, the other to a downward spiral of shame, guilt and misery. Beyond the emotional event horizon (I’m also a sci-fi nerd) of our a-void-ance is a rebirth into a new life, without the empty bits.