Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Emotional Vacancy

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on May 2, 2013

Stuart, sixty-three, a beloved teacher, psychiatrist, mentor, creates feelings in his students, which Jerry, forty-four, also a psychiatrist, leaves him feeling “vacant.” “I do not think there is a there, there,” Jerry explains to me. By that he means that Stuart, although enthusiastic, clear-thinking, and an excellent teacher, does not appear to have a deep sense of himself. Although this is a vague concept, Jerry is trying to describe the feeling of Stuart as a shell of a human being, a person who says the right things, but in his core, he appears to feel insecure and as a result, uncaring of others. I begin to think about the “no there, there” feeling that sometimes happens in the presence of others, which is so hard to pin down, yet manifests in a feeling of emptiness. “It feels like you are sensing that Stuart is detached from himself in certain ways, and as a result, you have a sense that he is not capable of deeply caring for others.” Jerry gets excited by my comment. “Yes, that is how I feel.” “Authenticity of feeling is quite the personality challenge.” I say, elaborating on the notion that for someone to feel authentic, one must accept the entirety of feelings which include both positive and negative life forces. One imagines that Stuart has to shut off a part of himself which is unsavory, and in so doing, he makes himself more shallow, and hence less emotionally available to others.

4 Responses to “Emotional Vacancy”

  1. Jon said

    Pithiness continues…

    Vacant emotions yield emotional vacancy; authenticity of feeling yields feeling authentic. Thus is the unintentional, but deep, lesson that Stuart has unwittingly taught to Jerry.

  2. Shirah Vollmer said

    Yes. The subtelty of detecting vacancy is, at times, quite challenging, especially in people who you admire and bring a lot of other dimensions to the table. Thanks.

  3. Shelly said

    Shutting off one’s feelings does not mean that those feelings are not there, just that they are extremely hard to access. Not caring deeply for others, or at least giving the impression that one doesn’t care for others, reminds me of the PDD personality. However the difference between an Asperger’s patient and Stuart, who obviously is not an Aspy, is that one is an inherited condition, and the other, a learned one. One needs to ask, therefore, why would the beloved teacher and mentor close off that part of himself that projects authenticity and caring? Has something happened to him? Or is this only a feeling that Jerry has in himself and which needs to be explored and better understood?

    • Shirah Vollmer said

      Yes, Shelly, you hit on many salient points. One issue is that Aspy adults and “shut-off” adults appear the same. In other words, problems with compassion can be biological or traumatic, or a bit of both. Jerry’s hypothesis is that it is a result of early trauma that Stuart has shut himself off from his emotional being, his ego, in order to protect himself from feeling tremendous pain. Yes, Jerry could be wrong, as “feeling” other people is always subjective and vulnerable to error. Thanks.

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