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Avoid A Void

Updated: Dec 7, 2022



I feel like...a void” said an ex-client of mine during a therapy session. He described it as a feeling of emptiness that is likened to being in “an eternal black hole that sucks in all my vitalities and happiness in life into this bottomless pit…”.


Based on my understanding of this ex-client, Mr A’s (name changed for confidentiality) experience is shared by Brandon Worthy, who said, “This is the most devastating feeling that I have ever felt. It's just an emptiness inside of you, a void that can't be healed.”.


Indeed, the feeling of emptiness is harmful and destructive, and could paralyse a person’s body, mind and soul. The question then is, what would make a person suffer such a distressing and damaging feeling of emptiness?


While there are several possible reasons, the main cause is usually due to a detrimental outcome of some traumatic events, life transitions and confrontations. Generally speaking, these include abuses, accidents, tragedies, sicknesses, disabilities, deficiencies, inabilities, failures, rejections, maladjustments, loss of someone or something, heartbreaks, devastations and so on.


Therefore, a thorough intervention and treatment are recommended to restore and refill the void for those who had experienced such an exhaustive and adversative affection.


Create A Void

Mr A was in his early 30s and recently married. When his wife of one year was confirmed to be three months into an unexpected pregnancy, Mr A started to get easily irritable and grumpy, especially when he was at home.


Mr A’s irritability and crankiness escalated from verbal expressions of frustration and annoyance to physical damage and destruction of items at home. Fortunately, he did not turn violent and abusive towards people then.


It was at this point that Mr A’s wife demanded he seek treatment for his “anger management” immediately. His wife warned him that she was prepared to leave him and stay with her own parents during her own challenging prenatal period, as his unusual and unreasonable behaviours were already beyond her limits of acceptance.


At the start of the first couple of therapy sessions, Mr A was cooperative and compliant as I pursued to understand the possible triggers and stimuli for his expressions of outrage when he could not keep calm and controlled.


However, as I sought Mr A’s views on his role as a father-to-be, I started observing some uncomfortable reactions from him. He would utter, “I’m not ready to be a father…” to brush off my probing. Finally, Mr A lost his patience and yelled “I don’t know how to be a father!” and “I don’t want to be like my father!”.


It was obvious that I had touched Mr A’s pain points. I acknowledged and affirmed his reactions, and declared that I would revisit these aspects in the future. I then steered the therapy to focus on the prevalent pressing issue, anger management in him.


To address Mr A’s inappropriate manifestations of resentment, I personalised a self-stabilisation intervention plan for him in the subsequent therapy sessions, based on his conditions and profile. The intervention took reference from the “Body . Mind . Soul” framework, which connected to his Affect, Behaviour and Cognition as well.


Body – Affect:

Mr A was trained to mindfully identify the signs of irritability and frustration in his physique before they escalate further. These distinctive physical warning indicators that he needed to be aware of included sensations of shallow breathing, fast heartbeats, raised body temperature, trembling of limps, etc.


It was also suggested that Mr A walk away from stressful and uncomfortable scenes tactfully and politely, when needed. We practised a few possible scenarios and roles which he might face and play. Such a quick-fix was particularly handy when the circumstances were beyond his control and influence.


Some other useful techniques for Mr A to restore his equanimity and calmness included the applications of progressive muscle relaxation, physical anchoring and grounding processes etc. Upon achieving composure, he could then return to the scene to address any taxing and vexing issues in a more relaxed and balanced stance.


Mind – Cognition:

Mr A was also guided to recognise his thoughts, perceptions, and interpretations when facing a situation that he considered “adverse” or “opposed” to his needs, wants, desires, preferences, and interests.


The practice of awareness provided Mr A the time, options and freedom how to respond instead of reacting. With intentional reflection and recalibration, he could make his informed choices and decisions more rationally.


By deliberately creating a void, or buffer zone in Mr A’s head space, it prevented him from reacting reflexively and out of habit. As such, with these skills, Mr A could be kinder to himself and others, rather than falling into a downward spiral of remorse and regret.


Soul – Behaviour:

During the therapy process, I discovered that Mr A was spiritual and he believed in the causal effect relationship.


As such, I psycho-educated Mr A with an analogy that his triggers of anger were like seeds, which could grow into fruit-bearing trees. The seeds were “causes” whilst the trees with fruits were “effects”.


However, this would not be possible without the “enablers” – soil, water, air, and sunlight, that nurtured and cultivated the right conditions for the seeds to sprout and ultimately become the trees with fruits!


I facilitated Mr A to see the connections of his body/affect and mind/cognition to his soul, which fostered and developed his behaviour in creating the existence of his anger, “the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions”, as cited by Seneca. Mr A sat in silence after listening…



Fill A Void

When Mr A’s self-regulation and self-monitoring on anger management improved and stabilised, we began to explore a possible root cause for his behaviour – his role as a father.


Having established a strong therapeutic alliance together, I led Mr A to describe his typical moods after an angry outburst. After a long pause, he confessed that the feelings were like a void in him – a black hole that created an engulfing and endless emptiness in his body, mind and soul.


Mr A’s illustration echoed Olga Tokarczuk’s quote, “Anger always leaves a large void behind it, into which a flood of sorrow pours instantly, and keeps on flowing like a great river, without beginning or end.”


Yet, “If you look long enough into the void, the void begins to look back through you,” stated Friedrich Nietzsche.


Hence, to me, the only way to fill a void is to get oneself to explore the void itself and discover possible insights through experiences. With this, I agree with what Laozi emphasised, “The eternal void is filled with infinite possibilities.”


A Memory Lane:

When Mr A was ready and willing, we revisited his role as a father-to-be. With much effort and self-control, he slowly recalled some episodes of domestic violence during his childhood, where the abuser was his father, whenever the latter was drunk.


Being the eldest child, Mr A was always the target of his father. His mother was unable to physically protect him as she was shielding his very young siblings. Mr A could only endure the horrible situation until he was 15 years old, when he could protect himself better. His hatred for his father was so severe that he did not shed a tear when his father suddenly passed away due to liver cirrhosis.


When Mr A discovered the unexpected pregnancy of his wife, the past hurts and fears resurfaced. A lack of a proper father figure in his formative years ill-prepared him for fatherhood. This was a role that had reminded him of his traumatic childhood. He was also in a terribly anxious state of fear that he would follow in the footsteps of his incompetent and incapable father!


It was evident that Mr A’s pains and traumas were not properly processed and reconciled; thus, he inevitably carried these wounds into adulthood.


A Repeated History:

With this knowledge, it was essential for me to lead Mr A to an understanding that he has to fully accept the irreversible and unamendable misfortunes of his childhood.


With Mr A’s agreement, I structured and conducted a therapy technique called “Empty Chair”. This approach is about creating an imaginary conversation between him and his late father.


During the process, Mr A noticed many interpretations and understandings of the series of miserable events, based on different possible reframings, perspectives and angles.


A critical moment came into the therapy process when Mr A recollected his mother ever telling him that his father was also physically abused during his childhood by his paternal grandfather.


With this revelation of a suppressed memory, Mr A suddenly realised that his father was himself a victim of abuse and his father could have unknowingly repeated his grandfather’s harmful behaviours due to his father’s untreated and unresolved traumas. This imperative awareness and recognition prompted Mr A to eventually come to terms with his unrecoverable and unalterable pasts.


A Cat’s Eye:

With this breakthrough, I took the opportunity to add another layer of the therapy process for more thorough comprehension, by inviting a third character in the imaginary dialogue - a pet cat at Mr A’s childhood home.


I requested Mr A to see things from the pet cat’s point of view, how it witnessed the series of incidents that occurred at home objectively and impartially.


Immersing himself, Mr A declared that they were all misfortunate episodes that brought massive distress and depression to his grandfather, his father, and himself.


These three men were miserably and helplessly drawn into a vicious cycle. The only solution for getting out of this malicious cycle was to accept fully what had happened, and forgive each other, including themselves!


It was indeed a cathartic and epiphanic experience for Mr A to acquire such a philosophical insight! Such a vital consciousness reflected what a wise person had attained, “When we heal ourselves, we heal the next generation that follows. Pain is passed through the family line, until someone is ready to feel it, heal it, and let go!”.


It was a pleasure to be updated by Mr A that shortly after the therapy process, he gathered his mother and siblings to perform a rite for his late father. This was a complete closure for his resentment and regrets with his father, for which he agreed with me that he shall “remember and recover”. In addition, this closing allowed him to move on with his life freely, including being a loving and caring father to his first child!


There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled. There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled. You feel it, don't you?

Rumi


Note: As this article is mainly catered to general members of the public, the case conceptualisation, intervention formulation, discussion and terminologies used are deliberately simplified and presented for an easy reading, comprehension and relevancy.




This article is written based on Krish Phua's greatest aspiration to be a mind healer, facilitating his clients to cultivate and explore "Inside Mind Insights" for improving their Wellness, Wholeness and Wiseness.


Other articles of Krish Phua:

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