The Winding Path

Counselling Services provided by Barb Zacharias

April 2023: Hollowness

Posted on Apr 19, 2023

April 2023: Hollowness

This blog entry may have a more clinical tone than my personal intention set out in January; but its undercurrent or raison d’être is purely personal. In order to share in my healing journey, an understanding of therapeutic theory can be helpful. So what follows is the “primer” on Attachment Theory: essentially what I tell clients when putting their experience into context.

Attachment Theory is relatively new on the therapeutic scene, sprouting in the 1960s from the likes of John Bowlby and Virginia Satir (if memory serves) from seeds planted in post-war Europe when orphanages were overwhelmed with infants. The nuns would care for their basic needs as best they could; but even though the wee babes were fed, clothed, and sheltered, these infants kept dying. The theorists claim the babies were dying from lack of attention and affection in the form of eye contact while being held secure in the loving arms of a caregiver. There simply wasn’t enough staff or hours in the day.

Modern medicine now understands, even embraces, the concepts of skin-to-skin touch, eye contact, heartbeats, and loving embraces (but as we know, this was not always so). Scientists and modern imaging techniques have discovered that the lack of consistent attention and affection can detrimentally impact brain development. Establishing safety and security is an integral developmental stage.

Attention and affection are not luxuries or indulgences, but primal needs every infant innately understands at birth. However, I will spare you the brain development details even though I find it fascinating and revelatory. Developmentally speaking, we always have these needs for attention and affection (or physical contact and emotional connection). We just no longer face risk of death if they go unmet as we mature.

But unmet needs do have a way of expressing or manifesting in a myriad of ways from mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression to physical ailments like compromised immune function. The dogs who reside with me beautifully illustrate this concept. I will expound on this if there is suitable space. Entire books have been written on the subject; and I’d be happy to recommend one or two upon request. Most popular is how our attachment style affects how we relate to others—particularly in the context of romantic relationships.

So, where does my healing journey intersect with attachment theory? As noted in the previous blog, I was not blessed with affectionate nor attentive parents which deeply impacted the expression of my genetic predispositions for anxiety and depression as well as the development of OCD and PTSD. There is likely also an argument for a correlation between my developmental deficiencies and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (an autoimmune disorder like fibromyalgia or lupus).

The irony of unmet attachment needs is that it leads to relationship difficulties, but healthy connection with safe people is the only way to heal these childhood woundings. When we have anxious, avoidant, or disorganized attachment styles, we tend to sabotage relationships instead of finding the healing we so desperately need. And due to subconscious drives (which I may blog about another time), we are not drawn to those who can provide secure attachment as it is so unfamiliar to us.

As one can imagine, I fall under disorganized attachment; meaning I am both anxious and avoidant in relationships. Unfortunately, I married someone with an avoidant attachment style which was not good for my psyche but rather perpetuated the already flawed belief system under which I functioned. It has taken a lot of deep reflection to unpack the unmet attachment needs of my childhood, as well as my marriage, in order to find a semblance of healing. This is something that surfaces from time to time, with a particular resurgence in the past couple months.

Unmet attachment needs can also look and feel like a cavernous void that needs to be filled. It is no small miracle that I am not addicted to a chemical substance to “drown my sorrows.” All addicts have been traumatized, but not all those traumatized become addicts. Or what I call obvious addicts. We all develop coping mechanisms to manage the void. Sometimes I use food. Other times it’s music. Sometimes it’s maintaining a clean house. OCD is essentially a behavioural addiction that develops to appease the shame messages that haunt us: If we get “this right,” then bad things won’t happen… Once again, fodder for another blog entry. I mention addiction in an attempt to invoke compassion for those caught in its ugly embrace.

Unmet attachment needs left a huge void in my psyche: a sense of hollowness. I hadn’t really thought of it as such until I no longer felt hollow after the inner child work I’ve been doing the past couple months. I can’t explain what happened exactly. But the image that comes to mind is of turning a key in a mechanism, hearing the interior workings falling into place, and suddenly the music plays, the lights come on, and the dancer twirls.

At its most basic, it is like trading a hollow Easter bunny for a solid one. Remember those days? Fundamentally I remain the same and continue to function with my alphabet soup of conditions. I have not experienced a miracle cure or transformed from a wooden puppet into a real person. It has more to do with a felt sense of integrity in a structural sense. I feel less hollow, more solid. Less rickety, more stable. Less fractured, more sound. I feel less likely to blow away in a strong wind or crumble under extreme pressure.

The other image that comes to mind is that of a scab being ripped off a partially healed wound, allowing pus and ooze to escape. Applying the salve of inner child work (with imagined hugs, reassurances, and bearing witness to her painful experiences) has helped ease the inflamed wound. The opening is closing once again. It is less tender. I never know what will tear off the scab of a psychological wound. But if I pay attention, I can find solace from a variety of sources: from deep within myself to seeking comfort from others who have proven to be safe and trustworthy.

No developmental stage can be skipped. I’ve had to complete several long past their “best before” dates. I’ve no doubt there is more of me to develop and/or blossom. It is a wonderful sensation to feel less fragile and better able to meet what each day brings—including the positive. In my disorganized attachment style, I tend to gravitate to the muck and mire. I need to be open to the security of sunshine and rainbows as well. Not all that glitters is dangerous. 😊


  1. Excellent reflection, Barb. A super primer on attachment theory without a lot of clinical language and your engagement with your own journey is superb.

    • Thanks Darlene!

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