When I am counseling kids, there a few themes that always come up consistently…anxiety, depression, and some form of addiction. Symptoms of anxiety and depression come out in their typical formats, but addictions come out in a variety of ways. I tend to refer to them as “void fillers.”  The “void” being the emotional hole that exists that prohibits us from feeling fully whole and content.

I believe that each time we experience intense pain (and levels of intensity are relative to each person), it burns a hole in our emotional self, which is part of our ego.  The ego is our downfall for most things, but that’s a discussion for another day.  Because we rely heavily on how we are feeling at any given moment, we strive to feel “good” as often as possible and avoid feeling “bad” at all costs. And because we typically rely on our ego to determine how we are feeling, the larger we feel the hole is, the more we believe the bad feelings get stuck.

How we choose to fill those voids will determine how long our satisfaction will last and the impact of our well-being.  But how do we know which void fillers work for us? Most of use trial and error tactics to determine what works and what doesn’t work. The hard part is when you think something is working because you feel good, but the satisfaction is short lived and damaging.

The goal is to find something that feels good consistently AND benefits you.

Common void fillers that are damaging would include: any illicit drug use, excessive alcohol consumption, over use of various pain medications, bulimia, anorexia, gambling, promiscuity, cutting or self injury, and excessive spending/shopping. The list could go on and on. The feeling of content when engaging in these activities is real (at least chemically so), but short lived, with no lasting positive impact, and more often, damaging short and long term impacts.

Common void fillers that are beneficial would include: exercise, playing sports, artistic and creative hobbies, reading, practicing religion and volunteer work. The feeling of content gained is also real, but has lasting positive impacts on the mind and body. This list could go on and on as well if you personalize it to your own interests.

Because we are our child’s primary and most influential educators, it’s important to help them understand what the void is, how it feels and why its there.  Tap into your own void to answer this question and define what it is for you. How do you fill your void and how well does it work for you?

Once they have a basic understanding of the void, you can teach them examples of ways that people fill their voids. Make sure they understand that there are two categories and teach them the damaging fillers as well as the positive. Shielding them from reality is not always the best way to protect them.  By educating them you give them an armor like no other.

Does that mean that if you educate them early on that they won’t experiment with negative void filling behaviors later on? I wish.  But in reality, experimentation to learn for themselves is a developmental norm. The hope is that if they do choose to experiment with the negative void fillers, they will have an understanding of and even more experience with positive void filling behaviors to fall back on and ideally, stick with.

Parenting is fun, isn’t it?

I jest, but truthfully, you can have great fun in teaching your children the benefits of void filling in positive ways, learn a few new ones along the way…and maybe rename it to Joy Filling behaviors. Ahhh, much better.