What Is an Empty Self?


Leaders, if you use people simply to grow the company’s profits or to advance your agenda, you’re prostituting them.

Leaders, if you use people simply to grow the company’s profits or advance your agenda, you’re prostituting them.

Yep. I said it.

We’re prostituting people if we don’t care enough about them as people to develop them as people. Because of our investment in them, it should be our goal that they not only improve as staff, but as people in every facet of their lives.

People matter to God. Therefore, they should matter deeply to us.

The precious people we’re called to care enough about to develop them “unto maturity” are suffering from an American epidemic that Dr. Philip Cushman calls the “Empty Self.” I’m indebted to philosopher JP Moreland for his superb explanation of the empty self in his book Loving God With All Your Mind.

Here are 4 characteristics of an “Empty Self” person.

1. The empty self is very individualistic.

The empty self is all about themselves. Their hopes and dreams revolve around making their lives better at the expense of others. They have very little concern about the needs of the broader community unless meeting those needs help them achieve their desires.

2. The empty self is infantile.

The empty self is dominated, controlled, and seeks to be made happy by, food, entertainment (like video games), and consumer goods. They must have their desires satisfied immediately. They have to be pacified because they can’t handle when their desires aren’t instantly met. They’re preoccupied with sex, physical appearance, body image, and the need to feel good all the time. Boredom is supreme evil and amusement is the highest good.

3. The empty self is narcissistic.

Narcissism is an over-the-top sense of what I call “self-crush,” in which the individual is obsessed by, and only by, his or her own self-interest and personal fulfillment. They manipulate people and God to validate their own need for power and the admiration of others. God and people are the narcissist’s servants to meet his or her own needs.

4. The empty self is passive.

The empty self lives their life through the risks, challenges, and adventures of others. The empty self is passive in the sense that he or she would rather do nothing and let life zip past them than to actually participate in life. Their primary purpose is to be entertained with as little energy expended as possible. Simply put, they are in search of pleasure provided by others.

For twenty-six years of my life, I was an empty self. I’m a recovering empty self.

I’m in recovery now because of this truth:

“All of God lives fully in Christ (even when Christ was on earth), and you have a full and true life in Christ, Who is ruler over all rulers and powers.” Colossians 2:9-10 NCV

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