Today brings us to the ninth competency of healthy families: Each person is allowed to have his or her own emptiness. There is no attempt made to fill it up.
It’s impossible to move through this life without feeling emptiness, even without experiencing adverse events. The natural development of life from one stage to another stirs up anxiety and a growing realization as we age that we’re in this alone: we’re born alone and we die alone. In between, we can have the enriching experience of connecting with others and finding guidance, comfort and support, but ultimately we have one life to live and it’s our responsibility to live it to our fullest capacity.
Face, Feel and Deal
Part of natural growth, however, is experiencing difficulty and learning to face, feel and deal with the adversity on our own. This builds our emotional and intellectual muscles so that we’re stronger for the next challenge that life brings our way.
Allowing each member in the family the freedom to feel their emptiness, without trying to fill it up, can be a challenge to the degree that we try to shield others from the natural growth that results from effectively resolving painful problems.
Emptiness in Children
Of course, children need guidance and comfort while they learn to handle life. They need help in learning to soothe themselves, to develop their own solid selves, because they will eventually be out in the world on their own, leading the next generation. What they don’t need is to be handicapped by parental over-protection from life’s natural challenges.
Emptiness in Adults
Partners, too, must guard against over- and under-protecting each other from life’s natural challenges and the pain that inevitably comes with them. They must also guard against asking (or demanding) that the other shield them from that pain when doing so would prevent personal growth. Healthy families recognize and support each other through the pains of life, without either trying to fill the other up and without being insensitive to the difficulties other family members.
The Joy of Being Present
It’s hard to see loved ones suffering, and it’s tempting to try to fix the problem so that we don’t have to see the suffering anymore. Allowing the pain to work it’s magic in the life of the other is an acquired taste–a bitter sweet one that requires a long-term focus, rather than a short-term one. Simply being present with the other in his or her pain, without having to change anything, is an honor that brings its own reward in the end.