I have been thinking lately about scarcity and how it drives hunger. I’ve been thinking about it specifically in the context of the dysfunctional family and how this hunger drives the dysfunction. Sometimes when I am listening to people describe the behavior in their families or their own great grief and struggle, I can hear the scarcity in the family and the way that hunger can create greed. It makes me think of No-Face from Spirited Away.
No-Face (カオナシ Kaonashi or Faceless in Japanese) is a lonely spirit who, when hurt by the protagonist, Chihiro, devours everyone in their path, causing absolute wreckage. No-Face’s hunger is enormous, truly all consuming and terrifying.
When Kaonashi is first rejected by Chirhiro he cannot contain his rage. He eats until he is a bloated, monstrous thing and is still unsatisfied. He has no self and devours others to try to fill the emptiness. He is destructive, chaotic and dangerous.
It is this image of his ravenous rage that stays with me. It’s the image that comes to me when I hear about family members destroying relationships. At the root of that person’s behavior is an insatiable hunger because they did not get what they needed and they haven’t been able to step back and understand why. They don’t understand that the hunger they feel now is a symptom of their original loss. Until they accept that they cannot replace what they lost, that replicating the hungry system of their original families will not feed them, they will continue to hurt the people that they are meant to love.
There are times that those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families might feel like No-Face ourselves. We may feel empty and abandoned. We may feel like we want to eat the world. His loneliness at the start of the film, when he gazes in at the warm, well-lit bathhouse from the dark chill of the garden, may resonate with us. We may yearn for a good witch like Zeniba to take us in, serve us tea and cake, and teach us to knit. Of course we do.
Feeling like Kaonashi is not the same thing as behaving like Kaonashi. Feeling lost and alone and ravenous is pretty normal for those of us who had challenged childhoods. But we do not want to become No-Face. We don’t want to follow the family patterns that tell us to devour the people around us, pull them to us and eat them for fear that we will never get enough. We have the ability to heal and the first step is understanding that it is our responsibility to do so.
In the end No-Face finds a safe place. There are limits there, expectations. There is food and kindness. There are things to occupy his time. These are the things we can learn to give ourselves. We don’t have to keep looking for them in the families that raised us or demand that the families we have now supply them. We don’t have to be No-Face.
We also don’t need to be afraid of the No-Faces around us. We can recognize when their insatiable hunger is driving their behavior and realize we are not responsible for their feelings. We do not have to allow ourselves to be devoured. Their gnawing dissatisfaction does not belong to us. Like each of us, they are responsible for their own well-being and their own behavior. We cannot fix it and it’s not our job to do it.