The Despair of Emptiness: Narcissism and the Reversal of Giving into Taking

Draft: The Despair of Emptiness IV
Presenters: Peter Shabad, Ph.D.
Discussant: Virginia Barry, M.D.

Human beings create meaning by giving of themselves and having their contributions accepted by others. In this paper, Dr. Shabad will examine how the term ‘emptiness’ may be viewed as a metaphor to express the despair of giving of oneself and not being received by others. Dr. Shabad will present a clinical case to explicate how the intangible quality of feeling ‘unacceptable’ is transformed into an emptiness that seeks to take in quantities of material to fill itself. This emptiness may thus fuel an insatiable desperation to swallow and incorporate quantities of food, drugs, money, land and other people—a search that continues to leave them feeling empty. In this way, feeling “unwanted” is inverted into repetitious “wanting”. For a copy of this paper, please visit the CPS website.

Peter Shabad, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Northwestern University Medical School. He is also on the Faculty of the Institute for Psychoanalysis and the Teaching and Supervisory Faculty of Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis. Dr. Shabad is co-editor of The Problem of Loss and Mourning: Psychoanalytic Perspectives, which was published by IUP in 1989, and author of Despair and the Return of Hope: Echoes of Mourning in Psychotherapy (published by Aronson in 2001). He is the author of numerous papers and book chapters in psychoanalysis. Dr. Shabad is currently at work on a new book to be published by Routledge Press that is titled Passion, Shame, and Generosity.

Virginia Barry, M.D. is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in full-time private practice in Chicago. She has been on the Faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis since 1991 and has taught many clinical and theoretical courses to psychoanalytic candidates. For more than a decade she has taught, and continues to teach, a course entitled “Mind & Brain” that introduces candidates to areas of neuroscience and cognitive science that have relevance for clinical and theoretical psychoanalysis. She is especially interested in thinking about the biology of meaning, the development of language from gesture, the isomorphism between the hierarchical organization of the brain and that of the mind, and the alterations of agency and motivation during the course of a psychoanalysis.

Educational Objectives – After the presentation, the participant will be able to 1) Assess the psychological/ developmental importance of the need to give and be received; 2) Recognize when empathic failure causes a “despair of emptiness,” leading to giving being substituted by taking; and 3) Therapeutically recognize and engage wishes to receive and be received.

Target Audience:
Psychoanalysts, other interested mental health professionals, and members of the community.