Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Emptiness

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 19, 2010

           Maravel, fifty-six, received a large year-end bonus on top of her “substantial” salary. She feels good that she can start a college fund for her four young children. Beyond that, she has no emotional connection to her success. She worked hard on a deal for her company. The deal went through; she was rewarded generously. Maravel is flat. She has no sense of joy. She recently left her husband of fifteen years for another man. She feels this was the right move; she is in love, “sometimes” she says. Maravel dreamed of the day when she was successful at work; now that that day has come, she is disappointed with how it feels for her. “Maybe you have some ambivalent feelings about leaving your husband,” I say, thinking that Maravel’s marriage was troubling, but it was also rewarding at the same time. “No, I don’t think that is it,” she says, quietly, thoughtfully. “Maybe the transition in your personal life is causing you to pause to see that professional success is not always as sweet as it sounds,” I say, thinking about Maravel’s terrible sense of emptiness. In some ways, it is as if her professional success exacerbated her emotional state of confusion and flatness. “I don’t know,” she says, exuding a painful internal disturbance. “I wonder if you feel that your husband helped you to succeed and so now it is almost not fair that your success is yours alone and you do not need to share it with him.” I say, thinking that Maravel might have painful guilt for dividing her family. “Yea, sort of,” she says, recognizing that her life is different since her new boyfriend does not have the same history with her as her husband did. “I am not sorry I left my husband,” Maravel says hastily. “Did I say that?” I ask, helping her to see that she is responding to her own sense of agony, rather than responding to my inquiry. “I guess not,” she says sheepishly. “It is time to stop,” I say, feeling the helplessness and confusion in the room. “OK,” she says, as she slowly leaves.

4 Responses to “Emptiness”

  1. Shelly said

    How can you tell if Maravel’s emptiness comes from changing spouses and business accomplishments and not from some outside forces not yet investigated?

    What is your definition of “flat” and “emptiness”?

    • I can’t tell, it is just a hunch-something for her to think about and see if it feels right. Flat means that things are happening which ordinarily would elicit an emotional response, but Maravel experiences that she feels nothing about it. For example, in the past a big bonus would have excited her; now, it feels the same as she does when she puts gas in her car.

      • Shelly said

        And emptiness? (Is that the same as flat?)

        • Emptiness means a loss of meaning. Something happens, but the person observes that they have no emotional response. Yes, it is mostly the same as flat, although it also means a more profound sense of having a whole in which relationships and accomplishments do not ring bells of deep feelings. One could be flat about one issue in their life, whereas emptiness refers to a bigger problem.

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