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Pointers for a Broken Heart: How to Heal the Emptiness Within

These sandstone statues decorate the outside of a cathedral in Nuremburg, Germany. They’re the seven virgins of something-or-rather (my memory has faded out the details). And, after some crumbling of the facade, one of them is pointing to the place her heart used to be. It’s missing. Broken off. Gone.

And now she stands with an emptiness, a square of pain that’s plainly visible.

Have you ever felt like this before? Where some piece of you was missing?

Maybe you lost something, or someone, that just seemed to fit your life, completed it in a way that nothing else quite can, and made it (and you) feel whole. And now they’ve vanished.

What do you do? 

Sometimes the desire can be to try to recapture or re-create what existed beforehand. To will the clock to turn back. To re-build the city just as it was before it fell into ruin.

(Interestingly, that’s actually what happened to this very cathedral in the photo. After the Second World War, all the old parts of this city centre were rebuilt almost precisely as they’d once stood before the bombs dropped; faithfully restored from town planning maps).

Or perhaps, when faced with great pain or heartache, you just want it to stop. To ignore it. To turn away from it (maybe even run away).

Or maybe your style is more to fill the hole, cover the void, block it all up with anything that’s distracting enough to work for a few minutes.

And all of these are potentially very valid ways of coping. Of just getting through it in whatever way you can, minute by minute.

Yet maybe the statue is also pointing to another way.

For maybe there’s also a place for just standing there and really feeling the emptiness for a while. To acknowledge the shape of it. To honour it in some way, and to come to know it as another, perhaps equally valuable, part of your life.

Michael Leunig (cartoonist, philosopher and ‘Australian Living Treasure’) seems to think so:

‘When the heart

Is cut or cracked or broken

Do not clutch it

Let the wound lie open


Let the wind

From the good old sea blow in

To bathe the wound with salt

And let it sting.

Let a stray dog lick it

Let a bird lean in the hole and sing

A simple song like a tiny bell

And let it ring.’

Perhaps all of this is simply about allowing more mindfulness in.

What do you imagine that might be like?

What sounds might you hear, if you just ‘let it ring’ for a while?

And how might that cavernous space within you feel, if you stopped ignoring it or stuffing it full of distractions, and just let it resonate for a while with what is …?

Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy, the author of a private practice blog, and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

Pointers for a Broken Heart: How to Heal the Emptiness Within

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2019). Pointers for a Broken Heart: How to Heal the Emptiness Within. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
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