Empty Nest Syndrome
Paula's last child had just gone off to college and Paula was struggling with a deep inner emptiness. While she knew this day was coming, she was not really prepared for the intense hollowness that welled up within. After all, she had a life of her own. Her work as an occupational therapist, which she had gone back to after all her three children were in school, was fulfilling to her. She was fortunate in having been able to schedule her time to be home when her children came home from school so she could take them to their various activities. Paula had been a loving and devoted mother and was very proud of her children. She had been looking forward to this time for herself and her husband, but now that it was here, Paula felt lost.
It's not that she didn't have things she loved to do. She was a talented and athletic woman and had many creative and physical activities that she enjoyed. She and her husband had a good relationship with a wide circle of friends they often spent social time with. So, why this emptiness?
Paula sought my help when she realized that she was slipping into depression.
"I just can't figure out what's wrong," she stated in our first session together. "My marriage is fine, my work is fine, I have lots of friends and activities I enjoy. I don't understand why I'm feeling so unhappy."
I asked Paula to tune inside to the unhappy part of her and let this part of her speak. "Imagine that the unhappy part of you is a child within. There is some very good reason this inner child is feeling so unhappy, and you need to ask her. Start out with asking her how she feels about you as the inner parent."
Paula asked and was quite surprised at the answer. "You never want to know how I feel," her inner child complained. "You always wanted to know how the children felt, and you were always there for their feelings, but not for mine. You spend your time in ways you think make us happy, but you never ask me about it. While the kids were growing up, you were able to ignore my sadness, but you can't ignore me anymore. I'm here, and I need you to pay attention to me."
"I don't get this," said Paula, "What does this unhappy part of me want me to do?"
"Ask her," I stated.