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Fear of absence symbolised by a missing puzzle piece

Fear of absence 

Not a blog on work absence

No, this isn’t another piece on the impact of work absence on the bottom line of an organisation or about poor mental health in the workplace.

This is about the absence of things. Those experiences we have when we don’t realise what we have until it’s taken away, permanently, or temporarily.

I’ll speak personally. For me, it’s about not taking life and what I have for granted, be it my health (mental and physical), work, home, or other people. It’s only when one of those things disappears that I feel the pain of their absence and wonder what on earth I had to worry about before whatever it was went away. I guess it’s part of the human condition that, in some ways, we feel inviolate and that the horrible things won’t happen to us. Sadly, they can – and sometimes do.

Earlier this year I thought I’d had a stroke. I woke up and my face had collapsed and frozen on one side. After a nervy couple of hours at A&E I was told it was Bell’s Palsy. I’d never heard of it. If you haven’t either, it’s a virus that attacks the facial nerve causing the impression of a stroke It was truly frightening. Some friends used one of my most loathed expressions and asked me “if it put things into perspective?” I guess it did for a while but what hit me, same as when I had cancer 20 years ago, it wasn’t the presence of the condition that really bothered me but the possibility of what I would lose, that would be absent. Not being able to eat with gusto, smile with confidence or be truthful on my dating profile. Mercifully, it was a short bout and my face fairly quickly returned to its symmetrical self.

But why am I talking about absence? Mostly because it recently dawned on me that all of the counselling I’ve had was about the absence of something or the fear of its absence. The obvious one for me being drugs and alcohol, the absence being akin to the grief cycle. The absence of a way of life and in many ways my identity. After that I explored childhood trauma which at its heart involved absence of nurturing. Then more recently the absence of a loved one – both the fear and actuality.

I believe absence relates to other important beliefs we can have about ourselves too, for example, self-esteem and the perceived lack of personal worth, competence, belonging and so on.

These days I try to counter ideas of absence with presence. What do I have present in my life to be grateful for? I used to think this was a trite thing to say or do but my experience tells me it works. Gratitude keeps me present and stops (well, helps me stop, it’s not a perfect practice!) me taking what I have for granted.

The practice doesn’t always stop me fretting. Of course not, I’m human! But overall, it helps. It can give me enough space and time to stop the big worries getting a true grip of me and for whatever’s bothering me to pass.


I’ve experienced many troubles in life. Some of them actually happened.” Mark Twain


Author: Seán Robinson, Trustee of The Counselling Foundation


We provide a BACP accredited counselling service, however if you are in crisis, please call the Samaritans who are available 24/7 on 116 123 or call 111.

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