Most patients who seek psychoanalytic treatment go for a similar reason: they feel disconnected. 

    You want to do something, be someone, but you don’t know how. You want to grieve a loss, but something stops you from being able to; the emotions you’d usually reach for aren’t there: you feel empty. 

    I’ve found there are different types of empty. There’s an empty where all you can hear are echoes, and there’s an empty where no matter how much you fill yourself up, something just keeps you from being full.

    That’s the empty of our generation. 

    The disconnect does not come from our emptiness, though. The disconnect comes from where our emptiness comes from: a constant, unwavering, powerful need for attention. 

    Three years old. You go down a slide for the first time and when you get to the bottom your mother is on the phone. She wasn’t watching. You yell her name, do it again, but she’s still not paying attention. 

    Ten years old. You hit your head on the soccer field and you’re trying not to cry, you’re trying not to cry but you do it anyways. And the second you do you hear someone whisper “he’s just doing it for attention.” And that’s when it hurts, even though you know it’s true.

    Seventeen years old and there’s a boy who you think you love, but he doesn’t look at you like you want him to. So you smile a little wider and you straighten your hair a little more and you spend the extra 15 minutes in the morning looking into the mirror and wondering why your eyes look so sad. You say his name and he walks by. You just want him to turn around.

 

    And now you are where you are and you need to feel full. You need to feel wanted, you need to feel appreciated. We all have the same void to fill. The void your mother left when she didn’t clap, the void you needed filled when you hit your head on the soccer field, the same void that disappears as soon as someone says “good job,” or “I love you,” or even “hello.”

    My theory is we feel so empty because we don’t give ourselves the attention we need.

    Maybe you never thought you’d hear that, because we’re the generation that invented the word selfie, the generation that tells everyone over social media exactly what’s happening at every moment in our lives. We are the lazy generation, the cream-puff generation, the front-facing camera generation, the self obsessed, ignorant, narcissistic generation.

    But that’s not true. 

    You’re not supposed to have dark circles under your eyes, you’re not supposed to fall asleep in math class, you’re not supposed to know the answer to 127 times 9 but blank every time someone asks you about your day.

    You need to start giving yourself the attention you ask for every time you cry, every time you take the 15 extra minutes, every time you go down a slide. 

    You need to learn how to fill your own void.

    That takes time, a lot of it. It takes time because you will need to learn how to get over your brain saying not enough every time you look in the mirror. You will need to learn to get over yourself saying that you could’ve done better.  You have to stop putting all your time and effort into things that don’t matter and never turn out right, like staying up until 2 a.m. on a Tuesday trying to finish an essay, like trying to finish something that, like yourself, never feels completed, never feels connected. 

    If you learn to let go of it all, you will find, with time and tears and hard work, that you don’t feel so incomplete anymore. That you no longer need your mother to clap or a boy to turn his head, that all along all you needed was yourself, and a little bit of love, a little bit of courage.