Do you know the feeling I'm talking about? That emptiness inside – the feeling that something important is missing? Maybe as you've gotten older, you've developed a nagging suspicion that the emptiness might be getting bigger, or at the very least, less easy to ignore?
If you're like me and many others, you've had moments when you've felt that emptiness quite sharply. It's a difficult experience and it's common to go to great lengths to distract yourself from having to acknowledge it. The fact of the matter is that it takes courage and bravery to face the emptiness head on. You know on an intuitive level that exploring the roots of this feeling could become overwhelming. It has the power to either paralyze you or shake up your life, catapulting you toward big changes – and change, for many of us, can be quite frightening.
The goal of this series is to offer insight into what is missing and how to cultivate it in your life. But before I do that, I think it is extremely important (and all too frequently overlooked) to give voice to the fears and underlying causes behind the emptiness I've described. With this first part of my series, I invite you to step gently out of your comfort zone and begin to explore the fears buried beneath that feeling of emptiness. It isn't always easy, but it is such an important first step on your journey!
Spoiler alert: Growth happens outside of your comfort zone. I want to encourage you to challenge yourself to become more comfortable with discomfort. One of the most important pieces of insight I could ever offer you is that there is power in getting to know your fears. There is power in acknowledging the emptiness and taking the time to learn about it. And since I am fully aware of how hard it is to do just that, it seems only fair to me that I offer you the best tools and support I know along the way.
Does one of these scenarios resonate with you? If I'm honest, I see parts of myself in all four of them. Maybe you do, too. So what is the common denominator here? While there are some similarities on the surface – things like feelings of guilt, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, unmet expectations, and frustration – it is actually what lies underneath these feelings that powerfully connects these different life stories. Effectively, each scenario looks outward for what's missing (a path, an answer, an experience, a person, etc.) when in fact the emptiness can only be filled from the inside out. The scary truth is that when you've tried these other paths, you eventually come to the realization that the only option remaining is filling up the emptiness with You. And ... are you enough? With all of your flaws and mistakes and lacks, you come face to face with a terrible sense of shame and inadequacy. How can you possibly be enough? And if you aren't enough, if you just don't have what it takes to fill up the emptiness, doesn't that mean that the emptiness will ultimately be permanent? That's a heavy, profound fear to face! No wonder we go to such great lengths to avoid acknowledging it!
So let's be clear about the vicious cycle that can develop around these fears. Brace yourself. It is one hell of a merry-go-round!
At some point, you start to notice that something essential is missing from your life. You feel dissatisfied because the life you've been living isn't as fulfilling as you would like. You can't help but think about why that's the case, which leads to a second layer of dissatisfaction – those deeper feelings of betrayal, helplessness, confusion, guilt, frustration, or disillusionment. If you muster up the nerve to look even deeper, you start to experience a sense of hopelessness because you're painfully afraid that you aren't enough to change things for the better. So then you can't help but feel miserable about being resigned to the possibility of being unfulfilled for the rest of your life. You try hard to ignore it altogether and live as best you can, but eventually that nagging feeling starts coming back - something's missing. And the cycle repeats.
Wow. That's unbearably depressing, right? This isn't any way to live a life! And yet this is exactly what so many of us are doing day in and day out because we don't know how to release ourselves from the cycle. Instead, we try to push those difficult feelings way down below the surface or go to other great (and sometimes destructive) lengths to avoid having to feel them. Part Two of this series explores the unhealthy, but understandable ways in which we try to cope with this cycle.
But there is hope, counterintuitive as it might be. The way to assuage these fears and start filling the emptiness from the inside out is by turning toward your fear rather than running from it. If you set a goal of slowly becoming more comfortable with discomfort, you become able to sit still long enough to learn more about the source of your fears and how to ease them. Working one day at a time to become more compassionate and less reactive to your fear strengthens your wisest mental muscles and allows you to start questioning the voice inside that says 'You are not enough".
A significant part of the coaching experience is helping people work through their limiting beliefs. That process is ultimately a life-long journey, one that I attend to in my own life every day. This blog series isn't designed to outline that journey in detail, but I can't in good conscience simply suggest what you need to do without also offering you some assistance on how to do it. With that in mind, I've included a YouTube video at the bottom of this post featuring and important talk on freeing yourself from fear. It is presented by world-renowned psychologist, mindfulness leader, and author Tara Brach. It is my hope her words and insights resonate with you as much as they do with me and others across the globe.
In conclusion, it is essential to form a healthy relationship with fear so that it doesn't paralyze you, send you into a destructive tail-spin or control you by forcing you to live a life of hugely risk-averse limitation. Fear is asking each of us to acknowledge it, accept it, and hear it, and we must learn to do so as lovingly and compassionately as we can. There's no denying that being able to do this is a long-term process and requires intention and discipline. But when we come to appreciate that the emptiness and fear is actually a catalyst for some seriously positive change, when we slowly begin to live from a place of "I am enough", we experience less of "the void". We start to fill up the emptiness with self- knowledge and self-acceptance. These are big parts of what has been missing all along.
The next time you become aware of that nagging empty feeling inside, resist the temptation to ignore it or suppress the feelings and thoughts that come with it. Instead, use it as an opportunity to be still and explore the discomfort. Notice where the discomfort is in your body. Gently question the message of unworthiness your discomfort may be sending you. Trust yourself to be strong enough to handle your fear, and most of all, trust that you ARE enough to fill up the emptiness.
P.S. Keep your eyes open over the next few weeks for Part Two of this series: The Unhealthy Ways We Try To Cope.
Hi! I'm Jennifer
I’m a professional life coach and business owner in the Washington, DC area living my dream of helping purpose-driven people experience deeper fulfillment and personal transformation. I'm also an active professional violinist who thrives on connecting with people of all ages and backgrounds through the power and beauty of music.