Why Do I Feel So Hollow Inside?

From the Sources: Preface to The Gulag Archipelago

Hollow. Empty. Alone. Hopeless. These are some of the thoughts and feelings and fears that haunt survivors of child abuse and cult manipulation, often for life.

Why is this? Why is it that, no matter how far we progress in our recovery journey, these dark thoughts and feelings continue to plague us long after all our other symptoms and problems disappear? 

See if this sounds familiar.

We have built a successful career. We’re financially stable. We have friends, romantic partners, maybe even children. On the outside, everything looks rosy.

So why do we feel that, underneath the collected exterior, it’s all rotten and hollow? Why do we feel that the slightest insult would bring the whole façade crashing down to rubble?

Many survivors live their lives burdened with Imposter Syndrome. They work their tails off to construct lives that look normal, that match what we think society wants from us.

Underneath, we’re petrified that someone is going to find out what we’re really like. We live our lives in mortal dread that someone will see that we’re faking it, that we aren’t really as secure and as strong as we pretend to be.

We suspect, in our heart of hearts, that our loved ones don’t really love us for who we really are. We fear that, if they found out who and what we really are, they would run away in fear or disgust.

This is a terrible way to live and yet millions of us suffer in silence for years. Society offers no real way out, which is why so many survivors take their own lives to escape.

Why?

That’s the question I ask myself all the time.

Why do so many people have to suffer needlessly?

I know I can help them, so that’s what I’m going to do today.

First, let’s talk about why we feel hollow and empty and hopeless. Let’s talk about why we feel so much of the time like we’re treading water in shark-infested seas and that, any second now, we’re going to sink beneath the waves and drown in our own misery.

To do that, we need to look at what childhood is designed to do for us. In the most ideal childhood, loving parents, extended family, and supportive adults and community would surround us with affection, safety, guidance, positive discipline, and boundless acceptance.

Year upon year, they would build a foundation that would support and nurture the rest of our lives. We would exit childhood confident, enthusiastic, secure in our own identity. We would enter adulthood emotionally prepared for future relationships and career pathways that would give us a sense of belonging in the world community.

That’s the ideal. Isn’t it a beautiful picture?

That is the foundation. That is the bedrock upon which we would build a strong, secure, and lasting lifetime. When times got tough, we would fall back on our families, our communities, our identities. That solid support structure would keep us going when the storms of life battered us.

Most people reading this blog didn’t get that. We’re talking about a continuum of abuse and mistreatment that ranges from a single, isolated incident of insult or abuse on the mild end all the way to daily, consistent, isolated brutality over the course of years 

Depending on our individual circumstances, each injury and trauma chips away at the foundation and the bedrock of who we are. It erodes the solid structure of who we are until, as we mentioned above, there is no bedrock left. For some of us, there never was any solidity at all and there never will be. There’s only the choppy waves of a vast, dangerous sea of uncertainty.

Each incident of abuse or mistreatment increases the likelihood that we will end up with nothing solid to stand on. If we had a beautiful, supportive childhood and only encountered mind control and manipulation as an adult, say in a cult or controlling relationship, then these experiences occur on the same continuum depending on how bad they were.

The sad news is that we can’t undo the past, especially when our entire childhoods are involved. The more traumatic our childhood experiences, the more lost at sea we will be in adulthood. When hard times come, as they are certain to do, we will feel around beneath us for the tiniest scrap of something solid to stand on and we won’t find it.

That is an awful feeling and it is one that I have suffered all my life. Sometimes I still do, but I found a way to deal with. So let’s get to work.

While you’re bobbing alone in shark-infested seas, I want you to imagine a boat sailing out of nowhere and drawing to a stop alongside you. Someone leans over the side and calls down. They offer to pull you aboard, but you’re too far away to reach. You feel your strength starting to ebb and you fear that you’ll sink at any second.

That’s me in the boat. I’m here to help you. I can’t pull you aboard my boat, but I have a solution that might be the next best thing.

I’m telling you that there is an island not far away. I’m pointing to it on the horizon. You’re too low in the water to see it, but trust me, it is there. I want to help you get to it. You can rest there. You can dry off and get warm.

The question is how you’re going to get there.

This is where HomeFree comes in.

I’m going to start handing you down planks of wood, hammers, nails, tools, sailcloth—everything you need to build a boat of your own. These are the tools, information, and guidance that I offer on HomeFree. These are the boards and nails you can use to build your own boat that will carry you to the island.

It’s gonna be damn hard to build that boat while you’re treading water in these choppy waves. I realize that, but the alternative is sinking—or maybe floating here for the rest of your life. You don’t want to do that.

While I’m calling instructions and encouragement, I’m telling you that I was once just like you, that I thought I was going to drown. I tell you that, many times, I wanted to give up and let myself sink because I just couldn’t stand the agony and exhaustion anymore.

I tell you that I built my own boat and you can do the same thing. I tell you that I’ve been to the island and I describe how beautiful and sunny and peaceful it is. You don’t have to tread water out here by yourself anymore.

Piece by piece, you start to put your boat together. You have to stop and rest many times. Many times you want to quit because it is so agonizingly difficult. I don’t leave you alone. I stay by your side. I hand you food and water and I keep encouraging you when you want to give up.

One stick at a time, one nail at a time, you build your boat until it’s big enough for you to climb onto. It still takes a long time and a lot of work before you’re ready to hoist sail, but in the end, you do it.

Now you can see the island. The sun bathes its shining beaches. Palm trees wave in the gentle breeze. It looks as heavenly as you could ever dream.

One of these days, my friend, you’ll get to the island and you won’t have to tread water anymore. When that happens, after you recover and regain your strength, after you build yourself a house and rebuild your life, maybe you’ll cast your eye out to sea. Maybe you’ll start to look for a tiny head bobbing out there and you might think about going to sea again.

Or maybe not.

In the meantime, I’m right here next to you. I’m holding the first plank, all ready to hand it down to you. Please, please, take it. Let me help you get out of this situation.

You can contact me right now. You don’t have to suffer alone anymore. You can leave a comment here or you can use the chatbot button in the bottom corner of the screen.

We’ll get your problems solved so you can start living a better quality of life.