Loneliness is due to a painful void
Published on: Sunday, November 29, 2020
By: Rev Dr Peter Abas
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Rev. Dr. Peter Abas

One of the four essential themes is the existence of a painful void. This essential theme of the existence of a painful void is fully explained through the feeling of emptiness, a feeling of a need to fill an empty hole, and a feeling of incompleteness.   As Sonia describes “loneliness is a kind of emptiness; an empty feeling of being alone and abandoned.” A feeling of emptiness. The incidental theme of having a feeling of emptiness becomes one of the most significant commonalities explored among the participants. These participants profoundly associated feelings experienced while in the state of loneliness with definite and pronounced feelings of emptiness. 

Weiss’s (1973) emotional isolation is described as a state in which one experiences a sense of utter aloneness and a pervasive apprehension; one’s outer world feels barren and desolate and one’s inner world feels empty, dead and hollow. Besides the short-term feelings from this feedback, a longer-term effect also comes to the forefront according to Natale (1986) and Rubenstein and Shaver (1974).

Other people have described loneliness as a sense of emptiness that recurs with successive failed attempts to fill the hole in their lives, and this may develop into feelings akin to fear, anxiety or depression when it appears that this pain may never end (Natale, 1986; Rubenstein et al. 1974). Further, according to Rokach and Brock (1997) feelings of loneliness range according to certain “paired up” emotions. Emotional distress often described by the lonely, (Rokach et al. 1997) can be broken down into the feelings of agony and turmoil and/or emptiness and hopelessness. 

Based on the descriptions of the participants in this study, the word emptiness or empty feelings are associated with the lived other, lived time and lived space components of the participants’ lived experiences. It is the underlying emptiness that has a profound effect on the state of loneliness experienced by these participants. As Moustakas (1961) stated: Everything is geared toward filling and killing time to avoid feeling the emptiness of life and the vague dissatisfactions of acquiring possessions, gaining status and power, and behaving in the appropriate and approved ways. The escape from loneliness is actually an escape from facing the fear of loneliness. (p.33)

Moustakas establishes that loneliness is that which should be feared when people experience elements that can possibly lead up to actually becoming immersed in the feeling of loneliness itself. After the interviews in my study became solidified, the feeling of fear was exemplified and pronounced by the participant; as an inevitable outcome of being afraid to face their lives alone. It was this feeling of being afraid that heightened the feeling of loneliness to the highest degree.

The understanding that inner emptiness is an important aspect of loneliness comes from the traditional Christian church. It is believed that only when one comes into personal relationship, through faith, with God, does fulfillment occur (alone with being a gift from God) as far as our humanity is concerned (Davis, 1995). The descriptions of emptiness in fact directly coincided with the loneliness literature and showed congruence with the candid and decisive responses given by the participants in this study. Similarities were noted afterwards as well when comparing certain phrases and explanations.

As for Sandra, she narrates that loneliness is emptiness, as it is a hole that needs to be filled. A feeling of a need to fill an empty hole. The incidental theme of a hole that needs to be filled encompasses much emotion and rationale among the participants. Alleviating the problem of having a hole, has a solution attached to it, namely, filling that hole instead of accepting the emptiness.

In the aforementioned text the example of emptiness was highlighted and rated high among the true meanings of what feeling lonely actually entails. But now we must further delve into just what is empty and why that “thing” that is so empty needs to be filled in order to achieve completeness; completeness that can truly and thoroughly override loneliness. The concept of an empty hole was a metaphor used by a good number of participants most leading one to believe that the vastness of an abyss-type emptiness causes the manifestation of lonely feelings.

In one psychological research study, the most frequently stated description of loneliness by the subjects was that “it feels like there is a hole or space inside my chest” (Rubenstein & Shaver, 1982). Loneliness is experienced as the recognition that something is missing in our lives. It is the recognition of this inner emptiness that is the cognitive-affective clue that tells us we are lonely. Loneliness is a presence that is marked by emptiness. Referring to the descriptions made by the participants in this study, the word hole was repeated by five participants. The experience of a hole in their lives was identified in their lived other and lived time components and was very prominent among the participants. They all feel the need to become full again, and obviously fullness, posed a great deal of comfort and security for these participants. In other times their lives, fullness was always being able to reiterate the experience. But after realizing the feeling of loneliness even the most fulfilling experience is now met with skepticism and doubt because of the underlying loneliness that is ever present. 

Sandra elaborates, “ It (loneliness) is the incompleteness of life.” A feeling of incompleteness. Although feeling incomplete is also an incidental theme, it is in general, much more difficult to extract concrete data (literature) about this theme. In the literature there is limited information pertaining to the word incompleteness except for this statement by Leiderman (1980): Loneliness is an affect within the awareness of the individual. It appears as a sense of incompleteness, a longing for or yearning for another individual. In its normal manifestation, it is probably clearly related to feelings of nostalgia. (p.391) 

Five participants in this study stated that their feelings of incompleteness covered the lived time, lived space, lived body, and lived other components of their existence.  Most of these descriptions fall into reminiscences of how they had a feeling of incompleteness; of being alone in their lives now. They yearned for someone or something to make them whole. When thoughts of their spouses, parents, siblings and children, who were no longer around them, came to mind, they become aware of the loss and of the incompleteness in their lives.   

It is quite evident that physical and emotional attachments contribute to a true feeling of completeness. These participants had been at one time or another, alone. But being alone was not a situation that could not be tolerated. However, when the reality of a person or persons never returning sets in, incompleteness occurs and precipitates a metamorphosis of the state of being alone into a state of being lonely. It is the shifting from temporary situations, in reality, into permanent ones. According to one participant, “My children are grown and gone, really gone and the situation created loneliness.” She also stated that she now knows she feels lonely because she misses her family.


It was mentioned earlier in the data collection and analyses that the incidental theme of emptiness was very common among the eight participants. Others spoke also about incompleteness in their lives that produced a hole that needs filling. They found it very difficult to express their feelings and to describe their experiences of loneliness in one word. Due to the manifestation of these feelings there was a creation of a circumstances called a painful void; which upon close analysis indirectly applied to a number of descriptions. More specifically, the descriptions of loneliness associated with the feeling of emptiness, incompleteness, and having an empty hole that needs filling have been interpreted as the existence of a painful void. (Next week, I will continue to delve into essential themes of how they are supported by the incidental themes in the light of pertinent literature, it should be noted that names used in the article are pseudonyms)

- Rev.Dr. Peter Abas is a mental health counsellor and psychologist, founder of Home of Hope: Counselling and Professional Development Centre, a non-profit organisation. He was also specially trained as project Rachel counsellor, a post-abortion healing programme for women and men.


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