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Deficient Emptiness

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Deficient Emptiness

Deficient Emptiness Depends on the Vulnerability of the Personality Structure

The sense of deficient emptiness depends on how vulnerable or incomplete the personality structure is. For normal and neurotic structures -- where there is a stable sense of identity -- the deficiency is very much unconscious and successfully defended against. For those with severe mental disorders, the weaknesses or rips in their structures expose them more readily to this deficient emptiness and the anxieties and pains accompanying it or in reaction to it.

The Void, pg. 128

Deficient Emptiness of Holes

For each lost aspect of Being, a different form of deficient emptiness results. These different forms can be seen as the various holes in one's being or in one's personality. Each hole is a deficient emptiness in which the feeling of the deficiency manifests as an affect of the lack of a specific quality... We see that the experience of deficient emptiness -- which is the interface of space and mental content -- is of paramount importance, not only for understanding mental disorders, but for the process of unfolding of human potential.

The Void, pg. 138

Genesis of Deficient Emptiness

We propose the following hypothesis ......:
* At birth the human infant has no sense of self.
* He is Being. He is his being without knowledge or self-consciousness. There is no mental functioning yet.
* Slowly, through experiences of pleasure and pain, memory traces are retained, forming the first self-impressions (self-representations).
* As the infant starts taking himself to be this or that (this or that self-image) he separates from his sense of Being, because any image is not his being.
* As the ego-identity and sense of self develop and become stable, the contact with Being in its various aspects and qualities is mostly lost. The extent of the loss also depends on the adequacy of the environment and the infant’s relation to it.
* The process of loss of contact with Being leaves a sense of deficiency, a state of deficient emptiness, as if the Being is left with many holes in it. The deficient emptiness is the state of the absence of contact with or awareness of Being.
* Space, which is the open dimension of Being, is lost in the formation of the self-image. This self-image includes the unconscious body-image of having a genital hole.
* For the normal individual, the development of the personality happens relatively smoothly. The self is highly integrated and stays stable throughout most of one’s life.
* In those with mental disorders, for reasons already known in depth psychology, the development of the personality and its sense of self is incomplete, or happens with various distortions, malformations, or inadequacies.

The Void, pg. 127

Space Obscured by Ignorance and Falsehood

In other words, deficient emptiness is nothing but space experienced through the filter of ignorance (which is composed of images from the past taken to define oneself, accompanied by wrong beliefs and emotions associated with the images). This explains why when the deficient emptiness is experienced, it transforms into space as soon as the wrong beliefs and their accompanying emotions are seen and understood. Of course, the ignorance has in it, connected to it, the memories of the original childhood experiences that led to the various self-images. The psychodynamic understanding removes the dullness and darkness of ignorance by shedding light on its specific content. This brings about the clarity of understanding, which dissipates the ignorance and reveals the true nature of the deficient emptiness, which is immaculate space. This argument shows that deficient emptiness is nothing but space obscured by ignorance and falsehood.

The Void, pg. 137

The Painful State of Emptiness Characteristic of Narcissism

Deficient emptiness: One of the most characteristic manifestations of narcissism is the painful state of emptiness, in which one feels a deficient inner nothingness—a vacuity, as if one has nothing inside, no substance. This poverty of inner life, experienced as an actual phenomenological nothingness, is usually accompanied by feelings of unreality, meaninglessness, pointlessness, and insignificance. He feels his life has no meaning or sense, his existence has no significance, and his action no point or real aim. These feelings reflect his alienation from essential presence, which is, in the deepest sense possible, the true significance and meaning of his existence, for the presence is his true existence. There might also emerge other painful affects, accompanying the emptiness or separately, such as feeling lost, aimless, purposeless, disoriented, not knowing what to do, and the inability to initiate any meaningful action. These affects are specific manifestations of the loss or absence of the feeling of identity, which may be experienced directly as a sense of no self, as a feeling of not being able to feel one’s familiar identity. The lack of identity may also manifest as the specific feeling of having no center and no orientation, because identity functions as the center of the self.

The State of No Self

The narcissistic emptiness sheds its deficiency and reveals its truth, as an emptiness that has no sense of self, but is spacious and peaceful. The deficient emptiness is actually nothing but this inner spaciousness, experienced through the judgment of deficiency. The state of no self is actually a pure manifestation of inner spacious reality, Being in its openness, we experience it as empty space, immaculate and pure, light and clean, empty of everything structured by the mind. However, the self reacts to the sense of no self in many ways—as a loss, as a deficiency, and so on, plus the associations, memories, and feelings that go with these interpretations. All this psychic content pervades the inner spaciousness so that we lose sight of its lightness, purity, immaculateness, and freedom. Instead, we feel it as deficient emptiness, dull and flat, heavy and dark. Only when we allow this emptiness to be, without judgment or rejection, without reaction or opinion, does it shed its obscurations and reveal its inherent truth: the state of no self, the freedom and openness of our Being. We experience ourselves then as a luminous night sky, transparent and pure, light and happy, cool and virginal, deep and peaceful. An emptiness, yes, but a stillness, a silence, where we recognize the absence of the familiar identity as the absence of agitation. This is black space, an inner spaciousness that manifests naturally when we accept the absence of self with no reaction at all. It arises when the self is free from identifying itself through representations. We experience freedom from the familiar identity and its structure. We experience ourselves without any structure, as openness, spaciousness, as boundless and infinite space.

The Subjective Experience of Emptiness

The existentialist interest in emptiness as a fundamental condition of man might not be of much concern to most individuals; however, the subjective experience of emptiness is something that is commonly and frequently experienced and acknowledged. It is usually felt in a very general and vague way. An individual might feel, “My life is empty, I don’t feel any richness in it.” Another might experience it more inwardly: “I feel dry, empty. I am not interested or enthusiastic about anything.” Sometimes the feeling becomes more philosophical: “What is the meaning of life? I don’t see the point of everything.” This condition of emptiness, seen as depletion, alienation, and meaninglessness, is painfully apparent to the psychological or psychiatric helper who is treating patients suffering from the so-called severe pathologies. In fact, emptiness in the deficient sense is taken by many as one of the signs or symptoms of such disturbances as psychoses, borderline conditions, narcissistic disorders, character disorders, and schizoid phenomena. We encounter in these mental disorders experiences of, or fears of, experiencing emptiness, nothingness, hollowness, disintegration, fragmentation, dissolution, disappearing, annihilation and so on.

The Void, pg. 113

Two Separate and Distinct Experiences of Emptiness

From our study in this book so far we see that it is not merely a matter of different reactions to emptiness, but rather of the presence of two separate and distinct kinds of experience of emptiness. The Great Void of the Taoists is not the impoverished emptiness of the schizoid, and the compassionate Nothing of the Buddhists is definitely not the restless and angry emptiness of the narcissistically structured personality. More accurately, we can say that the subjective experience of space is felt as completely different from that of the experience of deficient emptiness, although both experiences have in common the sense of voidness. The obvious and intriguing question, then, is: are these two types of experience related, and, if so, how? In investigating whether there is a relationship between these two types of experience, we turn towards what we already know in terms of what precipitates each. We saw in Part I, “The Void and the Self,” that the experience of space is precipitated by the dissolution of self-boundaries. And we saw that these selfboundaries—which are self-images—form the sense of identity or self. Our confusion could become compounded when we find out that similar processes lead to the experience of deficient emptiness. In fact, it is the prevalent understanding at the present time in psychoanalysis, and specifically in object relations theory, that it is the loss or absence of self-boundaries that leads to the experience of deficient emptiness. The sense of emptiness and depletion is seen as the loss or lack of part of the psychic structure. For pathological narcissism it is seen as due to the loss or weakness of the sense of self itself.

The Void, pg. 118

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