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Roiphe, A. (1975). A Writer Looks At the Void. Am. J. Psychoanal., 35(1):55-61.

(1975). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 35(1):55-61

A Writer Looks At the Void

Anne Roiphe

We are all familiar with a frightening sense of aloneness, emptiness, loss of connection to people and events. We know it personally, we know it psychologically and philosophically. As with some other stubborn demons, insight and knowledge do not forever banish or control these plaguing states of mind or mood, moments in which a crack has been made in our daily structures and the universe with all its distance slips in, overwhelms us, reminds us of our death, robs us of our single significance, and leaves us paralyzed under a sense of vacancy that merely echoes the vacancy of the skies.

In small children, infants and toddlers, we speak of separation anxiety, of the struggle to be an individual, to be apart from the mothering figure, and there are moments in that developmental struggle when it seems natural and normal for the child in our society to experience a sense of loss so deep he feels himself empty, disconnected, purposeless, and helpless. Most little children, just like the rest of us, learn that these unpleasant feelings come and go. But of course for many the mother is either depressed or unavailable or the environment is so chaotic and disturbing that seemingly irreparable psychic damage occurs, and the child is unable to connect to the loved object and is forever orbiting within the confines of his or her own mind. These kinds of disturbances, which the psychiatric profession sees with increasing frequency, are of course personal and private tragedies spreading patterns of failure from generation to generation.

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