On the surface, violent serial killers, crack addicts searching for their next hit and insatiably greedy billionaires don’t seem to have very much in common, if anything at all. But they’re a lot more similar than we might think.
What all these people share is the fact that their actions are driven by a powerful need within them. And interestingly, although the choices they make in trying to satisfy this need might be very different, each one of them has the exact same need.
The common motivation of all these seemingly-disparate individuals is the longing to fill a gaping emotional void. It’s an emptiness that can only be filled with love and meaning but unfortunately, these people are trying to fill it up in ways that will never work.
The need for love and meaning is the most basic one we have. In order to thrive and not just survive, everyone must give and receive love, have a strong sense of belonging, and feel like they’re making a contribution.
Everyone needs these things, even if they don’t realize that they do. Only real love and real meaning will fill the void. No substitutions will suffice. If we pursue the real thing, we thrive. If we pursue alternatives like drugs, violence, or material wealth, the void grows deeper and wider.
If we’re lucky enough to grow up with the love, validation and care every human being requires, we’ll develop into healthy, emotionally intact adults who understand the importance of continuing to fill our lives with love and meaning.
If we don’t receive adequate love, affirmation or care during our childhood, we’ll grow up with an aching emptiness inside us that cries out to be filled. It’s up to us whether we fill it with the real thing or with shoddy alternatives.
Even if we didn’t have a loving childhood, proper guidance (in the form of coaching, counseling or therapy) will enable us to turn to real solutions for the love and meaning we’re lacking.
We’ll learn to work on building self-love and self-care; we’ll tap into our innate compassion for others; we’ll practice altruism and focus on making a contribution to the world.
These types of choices will fill up the void within us caused by inadequate love or care during our childhood. No matter how challenging our childhood was, we’ll be able to carve out a fulfilling adult life.
Some people are taken in by false solutions to these fundamental human needs. For example, if an individual was indulged with money and possessions while growing up but was never truly loved, they’re likely to become a greedy materialist in adult life who compulsively pursues wealth.
They’ll believe that having more money and stuff will compensate for the deep well of emptiness within them. Of course, it never will.
Some people grow up with violence, drugs or alcohol. These people will often turn to the same methods of filling the void that they observed their family or community members using, even though it might have been obvious that these methods weren’t effective.
The problem is that a lot of people aren’t fully aware of their need for love and meaning. As a result, they don’t know how to pursue these things directly.
They’re convinced that smoking crack, taking out their hurt and anger on other people, or accumulating further billions is what will make them feel better.
These individuals are certain that whatever solution they’ve chosen to fill the void is the “right” one. They believe that the only reason it hasn’t worked, so far, is that they haven’t done it enough. They figure that if they just do more of it, they’ll finally find satisfaction.
Unfortunately, smoking more crack, accumulating more money or engaging in more cruel behaviour will never come close to satisfying them. The more these people pursue the wrong solution, the deeper the void grows within them, becoming a bottomless pit of unmet needs.
One confounding factor is that the pleasure pathway in our brain responds to any source of gratification with an identical, brief burst of pleasure. The crack addict taking a hit will receive the same jolt of dopamine as the killer who’s just committed a murder or the billionaire who’s just signed a huge deal.
This short-term “high” is enough of a pay-off to convince the person to repeat the behaviour, over and over again, in the hopes that if they do it more, the next time the good feeling will last.
Unfortunately it won’t, because that’s not how the brain works. Sadly, the person doesn’t realize this, confusing the brief burst of pleasure with the promise of a lasting solution to their inner emptiness. Convinced that “more” will do the trick, they escalate.
The crack user goes for a bigger hit. The billionaire goes for an even bigger deal. The abuser turns into a killer. These people are trying so hard to fill the void, but they’re going about it in the wrong way. Only love and meaning will fill them up and take away their longing for more of the wrong thing.
What serial killers, crack addicts and really, anyone engaged in a compulsive behaviour have in common is that they’re all trying to fill a deep void, but they’re so far off-track that they’ll never succeed.
Only if these people understand what’s driving their behaviour will they be able to pursue real solutions to the emptiness within. Otherwise, they’ll be doomed forever to perpetuate this endless cycle of destructive and futile efforts to fill up their bottomless pit of need.
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