Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Impoverished Ego

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 12, 2014

 

Miley, the subject of my previous posts, struggles with feeling “empty” inside. She feels she has little to offer others, and in turn, withdraws from relationships with her peers, which in turn, causes her great despair and loneliness. Miley does not experience sadness, as much as she feels she is “missing” something, but not sure what that something would be. “Perhaps you are missing a good sense of yourself, a sense that you can meet your goals, that you can care for others, without resentment, that you can develop aspects of yourself, that to date, have not been tapped.” I say, understanding Miley’s sense of “empty,” which I translate in my head to mean impoverishment.

Miley, by her account, never felt good about herself. This latest chapter of taking care of her elderly parents, comes after many previous chapters in which she was a loner and was too fearful to try new activities. Socialization, the few attempts she made to meet new people, landed her in deeper despair. When she stayed home alone she could deny her loneliness and feel “empty,” but when she tried to join groups, and she saw how others had long-term relationships, her loneliness sky-rocketed, causing her to retreat into her private psychic space of “emptiness”. The “emptiness” as we examined, although painful, was far superior to loneliness, which Miley experienced as “excruciating”.

Miley’s insight into this aspect of her loneliness supports the clinical notion that as bad as certain feelings may be, usually they are covering up worse feelings. We, psychoanalysts, call this a defense. Feeling empty, in Miley’s case, defends her from feeling lonely, and hence the “emptiness” is held  tightly. For Miley to have personal growth, she needs to be able to tolerate loneliness so that she can then propel herself to explore new relationships. Our hope is that through the safety and security of our relationship, Miley can tolerate feelings which up until now, have felt soul-crushing and scary. The psychotherapeutic relationship provides access to difficult feelings because these feelings are experienced in the context of love and support. Miley, can, theoretically, move from feeling empty to feeling lonely to feeling connected, and in so doing, enjoy her last chapter in a way which pivots significantly from her previous chapters.

2 Responses to “The Impoverished Ego”

  1. Shelly said

    How does Miley see your explanations of her feelings, as defences, etc..? I’m sure she doesn’t constantly only empty because in previous blogs (and in this one) you’ve described her as feeling lonely and not socially connected. Sometimes it isn’t enough to go out and seek new relationships. It is how others perceive us that can be the problem as well.

    • Miley has an intellectual understanding of her social inhibitions, but emotionally, she continues to feel stuck and despairing.
      Yes, the external realities, such as prejudice, make entering into a social situation not an even playing field. The hope is that with a healthy sense of self-confidence, the treacherous waters can be navigated, leading to some safe harbors, which combat loneliness and despair. That others have negative perceptions of us, is hard to accept, but universally true, such that the stronger one’s inner sense, the easier that is to cope with. The major problem enters when we feel negative perceptions, and then that resonantes with our own low sense of ourselves, then hibernation and isolation seem to be the best option. To put it more succinctly, we “can’t let those bastards get us down.” Thanks.

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