Self Portrait in Grey

The Empty Places

Self Portrait in Grey
Self Portrait in Grey by Brian C. Rideout (&copy 2010)

Dear Son,

As people grow up they all develop these emotional wounds that I call “The Empty Places”.  They come from needs that have not been met when we are young.

  • A man whose parents didn’t show him enough love might grow up feeling a desperate need for others to love him.
  • A man who was rejected by his friends might grow up feeling a desperate need to get other people to need him.
  • A man who was bullied or abused growing up might be hungry for power and control over his life.
  • A man who spent his youth hungry and anxious about getting enough to eat might grow up obsessed with getting enough wealth to have whatever he wants when he wants it.

As a loving father, I wish I could protect you from the Empty Places, that I could make sure all of the real and painful needs that you have when you are under my care could be met.  Sadly, I am not a superhero.  We all have needs that go unmet and painful experiences as a youth that will leave us with empty places that we are desperate to fill.

All I can do is raise you with care and compassion, and teach you how to be a master of your emotions, so that the hurts you have in your childhood are brief.

The funny thing about Empty Places is that we often don’t remember where they came from.  In our teen years we find ourselves with these sorrows and longings that we can’t quite explain; we don’t even remember where they came from.  All we know is that they hurt, and we need to soothe them.

The human mind is a strange and wondrous thing. When it tries to cope with an Empty Space, the subconscious mind (the part of us that does a lot of the hard work with feelings and attitudes, but that we are never even aware of) imagines ways it could make those hurts go away.  Just as I will help you invent games as a child that will help you process bad feelings around things that can’t be helped, your subconscious imagines up an experience it could have that could help you play out your old feelings of not getting your needs met, and then meet them.  It writes a play that it wants you to perform (a “psychodrama”) with your actions, and then tells you what to do through impulses, urges, and feelings of want.  If you do as it asks, then it can turn the satisfaction you get from that action.

There are many problems with how the subconscious mind handles the Empty Places, though.

Sometimes our little dramas involve other people, and we need them to respond to us in a certain way in order to play out our drama.  This can lead us to manipulate others, bully them, or seek out crazy, toxic people who are happy to play along with our strange needs, but who are dangerous because in return they will pull you down into their own extreme dramas.  If people don’t act exactly how we want, we end up disappointed, and have to keep repeating the drama – which can slowly turn us into a bully or a manipulator without even knowing why or how it happened.  We can’t control other people and the more we try the more we wind up treating them like things.

Sometimes our dramas wind up involving eating junk, buying thing, or taking drugs.  All of these things can fill the Empty Place for awhile, and can feel really good when they do… but these easy fixes never satisfy for long.  Things never make us happy for long.  But the act of eating junk, of taking drugs, or buying things feels so good in the moment that we just do it over and over again until we become an addict.  Shopping in particular can be a powerful drug – and that is why we have a culture so full of useless products and people who live deep in debt to buy houses they can’t afford, fancy cars, and endless toys and knicknacks that never really make them happy.

For grown-ups a lot of drama can revolve around sex.  Sex is powerful!  It does things to our body and brain that can feel like dying and being reborn. It is a time when someone else accepts you and gives you their very body with total trust.  Because it is so powerful, many adults turn to sex to fill in all of their Empty Places.  They can become obsessed with getting certain kinds of sex, or playing out sex games using costumes to get a real drama.  They can become hooked on pornography. They can even choose to have meaningless sex with many different people to satisfy their Empty Places in a way not that different from being addicted from shopping.  But all of these dramas have the potential take the joy out of sex, and they can strain loving relationships.

I believe that almost all Men grow up with a few Empty Places around sex.  It is human nature that men need and want sex badly starting in their early teens, and they will experience rejection, shaming, competition, loss, and embarrassment around sex like they will nowhere else in their lives.  It is why the majority of men cannot feel loved by their wives or girlfriends unless they reassure him with sex.  Sex is never perfect, however, and it takes hard work to keep a lover aroused and interested.  Sex can make you crazy if you put too much pressure on it to be perfect. You have to remember that your lovers are human beings, and learn to be loving and patient, even when you are almost crazy with need.

In the end, the only way to heal the Empty Places is to stop playing out the psychodramas, and spend time with your conscious mind and someone wise that you trust to help you figure out what is going on, and how to let go of the feelings or resolve those memories once and for all.

Son, if ever you find yourself:

  • Bullying,
  • Drinking too much alcohol,
  • Taking drugs to escape from pain,
  • Manipulating people,
  • Starting fights,
  • Sleeping around with people you don’t care about,
  • Spending more than you earn,
  • Overeating regularly,
  • Obsessing over a sex act,
  • Using porn more than a couple of times a week,
  • Hanging out with dangerous and crazy people,
  • Or pulling lots of dangerous stunts.

Know that these are signs that you are trying to fill in an Empty Space, and that this will keep happening and making you unhappy until you confront it.  When that happens come to me, or go to your mother; I will always be happy to help.  If I am not around, seek out a friend you trust, or a therapist and talk it out.  Find out what you can do to finally fill in that Empty Space for good.

With Love,


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