The void is developed through the failures in nurturing and attunement of external objects, limiting ego development and rupturing the ego-self axis. The child lives in fear of disintegration, fear of the living dead and is cut off from their life force. The intrusion of the void into their conscious experience will result in severe trauma and the capitulation of the individuation process. The memories of past events and trauma are disassociated and rejected, sucked into a black hole. To feel the void is to reach the edge of the known world, inner or outer. For the distorted ego to live and stand alone, it must deny or live unconsciously the existence of the void. They create non-void attributes, defended rigidly against them, struggling to find any structure or meaning in their lives.
The void is also known as the abyss, maw, chaos, darkness and madness with the experience of loneliness, emptiness, loss/lack of meaning and a continuous sense of falling. The conscious ego experiences the space that is unoccupied, empty and lacking a full identity. The divine being (the Pleroma) is the fullness of abundance and the opposite of the void. The Pleroma contains all the opposites in harmony, cancelling each other out who cease to exist as separate entities. The pleroma can’t be internalised if the mother is unavailable, creating the void, who themselves have not resolved their own void issues. The compulsive caretaking dynamic creates a parentified child who believes that not caring for their mother would result in death, leaving the child orphaned and bereft. The newborn feels incompatible with the mother’s bond, stuck between too close an identification (engulfment) and a distant misidentification (abandonment). The child losses the contained container through parental punishment and rejection, the ultimate emptiness and void experience.
If the reflection of the self is defended against, there is no way of getting to know the mirror. By shutting out the reflection, you shut out the mirror out too. The object in the mirror behaviours is made explicable only in terms of subjective perception and not out of the person’s nature. They see people as subjective objects that can be manipulated to behave and fulfil their needs. The impaired sense of identity is unsustainable, as they exist primarily in the mother’s imagination, which, when not mirrored, the child drifts into chaos. If I am more lovable and better behaved, then the mother /object will need me more and approve of me. The healthy child develops a sense of self with object constancy, evoking a memory of the absent object by whom they can be seen, able to mirror themselves with good and bad aspects integrated. The borderline is caught in the “void”, unable to escape or maintain a state of feeling involved and having a relationship with a sustaining other.
The rational consciousness skirts with reality rather than filling the void, reflecting the collective unconscious. The ego is the organ of differentiation that can only know about itself and the world it perceives, the pleroma transcends the differentiation, and the void is undifferentiated. Because the parental /Mother archetypes have not been humanised, they remain one-dimensional, undifferentiated, contaminated, and biased. The ego will identify with the more comfortable aspects of the whole and close any possibility of wholeness. The erroneous and undefined archetypes need to be incarnated and made more human. The repressed aspects become the shadow or personal unconscious, removed from one’s awareness and projected onto others. Unable to respond to innate instinctual desires and feelings, they forcibly split themselves off their core personalities, forever being numb and dismembered. They are always dependent due to a lack of an interior sustaining sense of being ok, supplying others with the needs they need for themselves.
To overcome the emptiness of the void requires immense courage, discipline and determination with an openness to accept the enormity of the whole psyche.
Wisdom surfaces from the yawning depths, out of the chaos linking both the all and the nothing. Clients often discuss the abyss of emptiness and despair, the pit of depression extending in all directions and dimensions. The image of the hero being swallowed by the dragon depicts the masculine being empowered or conquered by the feminine, the unconscious over the conscious. The darkness is a space that can be filled with imagination if we are willing to fall into the unknowing and find the unconscious to be revealed to us. We can get to know our shadow, the heir of the paralysing shame of the punitive superego. Darkness keeps us hidden but may allow us to see.
The nigredo, the blackness, is associated with the loss of vitality and meaning, the experience of evil, and letting go of facts and theories to embrace the void. We need to revise and let go of previous assumptions, dissolving into the ashes, swirling into the waters of the unconscious amniotic sac. The ego is no longer on solid ground, trying to surf the dark waters of creation. We enter the world of uncertainty; nothing is definite or true, lose of something we once had, feeling disconnected, where there is no protection or safety. Embracing a new attitude and perception will at first feel like a loss of the ego, feeling disorientated and confused. Opening our imaginative eyes to the loss of a false identity allows for the full expression of the individuated self.
- Narcissist – the most common form of the void with a sense of alienation from self, others, or both.
- Borderline – the ego falling adrift in space, attacking itself for lack of cohesion, history and meaning, reinforcing lack of self-knowledge of oneself. A scattered and complex sense of sense due to the splintered shards of the psyche.
- The schizoid – internal fantasy of being self-sufficient to cover feelings of emptiness, loneliness and ineptitude, which would render them useless and hopeless. The fear of annihilation encapsulates fantasies of being buried within oneself.
Void characters have boundary issues alternating between the image of skin being too thick or thin and hypersensitive to stimuli of the five senses. Caught between the inability to keep out unwanted stimuli and intrusions and the inability to hold and contain the individual together, which may fall apart and leak away. Healthy skin should contain, protect, and breathe, allowing for flexibility, movement, and growth with the ability to shred what we longer require.
Connecting the Void
The emptiness feels like one is continually in the void, dropped like a baby with no protection or containment, no container to contain and be separate. We have built walls to prevent us from knowing and experiencing the void, and when these walls collapse, chaos ensues, where there is nothing and all. Depression creates the hole where we can grow and be still, endure the shredding of the old and bring in the new. The impending doom of meeting one’s inevitable nature, crossing the threshold into the resurrection and eternal life. Only aspired to once the external false mask is no longer identified with or serving us. A new life arises within the void created by the caterpillar’s death, metamorphosing into the beautiful butterfly. One forgets the pain the caterpillar must endure to become the butterfly and accept its death in the process.
The capacity to experience the void is dependent on a certain level of consciousness, ego strength and awareness of self. The therapy experience helps differentiate the void, becoming separate from the darkness of the maternal interior, enabling the separation of mind, body and soul. We can now feel the opposites of good and bad, experience and endure the differences and then reintegrate them as a healthy whole.
The borderline has not achieved solid evocative memory about affective object relations, prone to respond to recognition memory as they have not developed object constancy. Separation leads to upset rage to decompensation/regression, where feelings of aloneness and panic develop. They need to risk suffering and relinquish some of their ego defences, such as clinging and distancing, increasing vulnerability to the felt experience of abandonment and rejection. Cycles of rage and panic develop as awareness is increased and integrated, eventually neutralising the aggression and embracing their individuated self. Learn to be comfortable when alone in their own company, with the capacity to have memories and fantasies of a positive feeling of sustaining others.
The ego suffers by becoming more conscious of its archetypal aspects of the self, where the ego stands against the self and risks defeat against the more persuasive and power of the all-encompassing self.
We need to build an ego strong enough to resist fragmentation when close to the experience of the void whilst creating a space to experience the full awareness and knowledge within the void. When the person starts to engage with the aspect of the felt emptiness, the emptiness becomes grounded; they can start to differentiate what is and what is not part of the void and set limits to it. The yearning for fullness and connection is experienced, with a sense of meaning, desiring for all that never was and never can be. Trying to hold the yearning and the hopelessness together is very difficult, and the client may try to act out to relieve the tension of opposites and relieve the void experience. We are back at the immature ego stage, needing the mother’s support to experience the world on our own, make mistakes and suffer whilst being accepted for taking risks. We can develop the thinking, feeling, sensory and instinctual modes of functioning with full experience.
The conjunctio connects that which is above with what is below, achieved through active imagination and integration of the shadow. We get to know the unconscious aspects of the discarded self and embrace them emotionally and previously intellectually. The union of the whole man with the world outside time, the transcendental process of connecting one’s relationships, identity and persona with the transpersonal. The child embraces his masculinity, and the father extricates the child from the devouring mother and helps him witness the world outside the mother’s realm. The father symbolises the world of spirit and brings light into the darkness, aiding differentiation from the mother. The integration of the masculine and feminine is met at the conjunction and merging of opposites.