“The strongest guard is placed at the gateway to nothing. Maybe because the condition of emptiness is too shameful to be divulged.”

These words from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel Tender is the Night have haunted me ever since I first read them. They give profound and disturbing insight into human nature. I believe this principle is true: The more empty and hollow we feel inside, the stronger the guards we place to keep others from finding out who we really are.

Hiding our Emptiness

Emptiness is a feeling we all experience to some degree or another. It’s the feeling that we are adrift without purpose and unable to find stability; the feeling that life is chaotic and nothing really matters because we are just pawns. It’s the feeling that we are not important, we are not valued, we are not loved.  Emptiness is the feeling of being alone and lost with no way out. It is the realization that we don’t have answers to life’s deepest questions and most painful situations. In emptiness we come face to face with our imperfections, failures, finitude, and insignificance. No wonder we want to hide these thoughts and feelings from the world! So we build walls to hide behind, and these barriers cut us off from others. This makes deep, genuine, and meaningful relationships that much harder to cultivate, which only serves to make us feel more lonely and more empty.

We all have a fear of being exposed. To keep people from finding out who we truly are or how we truly feel, we will fiercely project an image of wholeness and purpose. People do this in a variety of ways. It could be through how we dress—we want to appear put together even if we are falling apart on the inside. We do this in the virtual world by carefully and meticulously selecting which picture to post online even though we know deep down that these images are projections of what we want others to think about us and are often not based in reality. We fill every moment of our lives with people and things, using “busyness” to convince others and ourselves that we are not empty. We are important! We use our work or our salary as evidence that we have life figured out, but inside we are hollow. We search for pleasure, fulfillment, joy, and stability, yet we do not seem to find it. We hope that spirituality will bring peace and balance, and yet life is still frustrating, painful, and absurd. When this is our experience we can become terrified that our secret will be found out, and people will see us for what we really are: insecure, insignificant, and unimportant. To prevent this from happening we put up barriers between ourselves and others. If anyone gets too close to our secret we cut them off, shut them out, or lash out at them. We repel anyone who comes close to discovering and exposing the reality behind the walls we construct.

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