Emptiness encompasses a wide range of emotions, including loneliness, sadness, and a sense of being numb or disconnected. These feelings are normal when they occur as a direct result of a loss, trauma, or another traumatic life event. When these feelings last longer than the stressful circumstances, or become chronic and impair your ability to function, an underlying mental health condition is often to blame.
What Causes Emptiness Feelings?
When feelings of emptiness are consistent and long-lasting, they frequently indicate a deeper psychological problem.
Emptiness is frequently associated with a trauma or loss, possibly even one that occurred a long time ago. People who have experienced childhood abuse, particularly emotional abuse, are more likely to report chronic feelings of emptiness, according to research.
- Suffering a Loss
People who have lost someone or something they care about frequently report feelings of emptiness. This could have been due to a loved one’s death, a miscarriage, a breakup, or even the loss of a job. While grief is a natural reaction to loss and includes feelings of emptiness, these feelings should gradually diminish and fade.
- Feeling as if something is wrong or missing
Sometimes, feelings of emptiness reflect something wrong or missing in a person’s life, such as continuing to work in a job, relationship, or place where they no longer feel connected.
- Personality Disorder or Mood Disorder
Other times, feelings of emptiness are caused by an internal psychological problem, such as a mood disorder or a personality disorder. Because the term “emptiness” is used to describe a wide range of emotions and subjective experiences, there are numerous internal and external causes that could be at the root of the problem.
- Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms Develop Over Time
People, who have experienced something painful or traumatic, such as abuse or the loss of a loved one, frequently develop unhealthy coping mechanisms. People may, for example, use drugs, alcohol, sex, or even throw themselves into work or a new relationship to numb or repress their emotions rather than work through them. People cannot normally selectively suppress difficult emotions without affecting their positive emotions, which explains why these unhealthy coping strategies can lead to feelings of emptiness.
Experts have not agreed on a single definition of emptiness, so it is sometimes used as a catch-all term to describe a variety of different internal experiences.
Other emotions that may explain long periods of emptiness include
- Anhedonia is characterized by a loss of interest and pleasure in previously enjoyed activities. People suffering from anhedonia may continue to engage in these activities, but they may become bored or unfulfilled as a result.
- Loneliness is the feeling of emptiness and sadness caused by a lack of social connection. Loneliness can occur even when people are surrounded by others but believe that those people do not see, understand, or care about them.
- Hopelessness is a type of emptiness that people begin to believe will never end or go away. Feeling hopeless can occur when a person loses faith in the possibility of things improving in the future, causing people to give up or believe that life is meaningless.
- Worthlessness is a sense of shame or not being “enough” in one or more ways. People who feel worthless frequently describe feeling small and insignificant, and the emptiness stems from a belief that they lack good qualities, talents, or strengths inherently.
- Despair: Despair is an intense form of emotional pain that can feel overwhelming and bottomless. People who are depressed are not emotionally numb, but rather devoid of any happiness or hope.
- Disconnection: Disconnection can mean a variety of things. Some people feel emotionally or physically disconnected from others, while others feel emotionally or physically disconnected from themselves. Others may feel detached from life, as if they are just going through the motions.
- Numbness: Feeling numb or unable to experience any emotions is a common defense mechanism used by people to cope with emotional pain. This can happen as a result of trauma, abuse, or loss, or it can happen as a result of “checking out” with drugs or alcohol or simply distracting themselves from their emotions.
- Longing stems from a sense that something is missing in one’s life. Sometimes it’s obvious what’s missing, and other times it’s not, but there’s a pervasive sense of being dissatisfied or unfulfilled, wanting something but not knowing what.
What Medical Conditions Are Related to Feelings of Emptiness?
Many of the feelings listed above are symptoms of a mental health disorder, such as:
- Personality Disorder with Borderline Personality (BPD)
People with BPD have frequently experienced intense trauma and have developed maladaptive coping mechanisms for their emotional pain. People with BPD frequently have intense abandonment fears, chaotic relationships, difficulty controlling their emotions, and avoiding impulsive and destructive behaviors.
People with BPD frequently experience chronic feelings of emptiness, which can lead to destructive behaviors such as self-harm or causing relationship storms in order to “feel something” and counteract the numbness they feel.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
After a traumatic event, some people with PTSD experience emotional numbness or feelings of emptiness, which is often an unconscious attempt to protect themselves from the emotional pain associated with the traumatic memory. People suffering from PTSD frequently have nightmares, flashbacks, or memories in which they believe they are reliving the trauma and may numb themselves or “dissociate” to cope.
- Trauma of Complexity
Complex trauma is not a formal diagnosis, but it is increasingly recognized as an experience distinct from PTSD symptoms, which frequently manifest as traits and behaviors associated with BPD. Complex trauma survivors frequently use maladaptive coping strategies, struggle in interpersonal relationships, and struggle to regulate their emotions. They frequently report feelings of emptiness, numbness, or disconnection from their identity.
- Complicated Grief
This disorder renamed persistent complex bereavement disorder, occurs when a person’s grief over the loss of a loved one lasts for an extended period of time, causing feelings of sadness, loneliness, and emptiness, as well as a deep longing for the, loved one. When the loss occurred within the last 6 months, the disorder is not diagnosed because these symptoms may be a normal indicator of the grieving process.
- Major Depressive Syndrome
People suffering from major depression frequently experience prolonged bouts of sadness, loneliness, or anhedonia, which they may describe as feelings of emptiness. When depression worsens, these feelings can intensify into feelings of despair and hopelessness, which is often a risk factor for suicide.
- Anxiety Issues
While it is less common, some people suffering from anxiety disorders may experience feelings of emptiness. This may be especially true for anxiety disorders that cause people to isolate themselves socially, such as agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder. People with these disorders frequently desire social interaction but avoid it due to their fears, and prolonged isolation can lead to feelings of emptiness, sadness, and even despair.
- Addictions to Substances
People suffering from substance use disorders have developed a dangerous habit of using drugs or alcohol even after they have caused significant problems in their lives. Feeling emotionally empty or numb can be caused by the direct effects of a substance.
Emptiness can also be felt as the addiction progresses and people become more disconnected from themselves and their previous lives. Addiction can also lead to feelings of despair, worthlessness, and hopelessness as people become increasingly unable to make changes and overcome their addiction.
How to cope with emptiness?
Aside from seeking counselling, there may be some things you can do on your own to start dealing with your feelings of emptiness. Making changes to how you respond to and cope with your emotions, as well as how you spend your time, is usually an important component of feeling better.
Here are ten strategies for dealing with feelings of emptiness:
- Begin a Meditation or Mindfulness Practice
Meditation and mindfulness are terms used to describe the practice of becoming more aware and present in your day-to-day experiences, which can help people feel more connected to themselves and their surroundings. Mindfulness and meditation also require the ability to step back and gain distance from difficult thoughts, stories, and feelings that you may have been numbing or avoiding unconsciously.
- Spend more time socializing with others.
Humans are social creatures who rely on connection and interaction with others. Social connection is essential for your physical and mental health, and it can alleviate feelings of emptiness caused by being lonely, disconnected, or depressed.
- Make the Most of Your Free Time
Instead of binge-watching TV on weekends, make the most of your time off. Plan activities for weekends and evenings that are normally enjoyable, interesting, and fulfilling to you, and push through any initial resistance you may experience because you “don’t feel like” doing them. Often, getting started is the most difficult part, and you will feel better afterwards—both about yourself and about making good use of your time.
- Goals must be set and worked toward.
Setting goals can help you direct your efforts toward improving your life and circumstances in measurable ways, combating the emptiness caused by hopelessness, worthlessness, and longing. Setting goals gives your life purpose and meaning, and it encourages you to keep a positive outlook on the future.
- Locate a Creative Outlet
Being creative is beneficial in many ways, including challenging your brain to think in new ways, providing an outlet for your thoughts and feelings, and providing the satisfaction of seeing your ideas come to life. Many creative pursuits are also “flow” activities, which are mentally stimulating and engaging activities that are good for your psychological well-being and provide a sense of calm confidence.
- Feel Your Emotions
Emotions contribute to the richness and meaning of life by connecting you to yourself, others, and your experiences. People who suppress their emotions may feel an emptiness. Learn to sit with your feelings without getting lost or caught up in them or the thoughts that feed them, and you’ll discover that they often come and go fairly easily.
- Heal Past Wounds
Emptiness caused by past traumas or losses necessitates the difficult work of revisiting and healing these old wounds. This is best accomplished in therapy with a licensed and experienced Best Therapist in India, but you may be able to work on it outside of sessions by reading self-help books, joining a support group, or practicing self-compassion.
- Discover More About Yourself
Many people who describe feeling empty on the inside are disconnected from themselves and could benefit from some introspective work. Consider taking a personality test, such as the Myers Briggs or Big Five, to learn more about yourself and how your personality influences how you think, feel, and behave. You could also work on identifying your core values, which represent the things in life that are most important to you and can help you find your way.
- Increase Your Activity
Physical activity and exercise are beneficial to both your physical and mental health. Being more active aids in the balance of brain chemicals that regulate mood, reduce stress, and provide energy. Making time to be active also helps you become more in tune with your body, which is especially beneficial for people who experience emptiness as a sense of being disconnected from their bodies.
- Find a Way to Help or Give Back
Helping others is one of the most rewarding and psychologically beneficial things you can do with your time and energy. Finding ways to contribute alleviates feelings of emptiness caused by a lack of connection, purpose, or self-worth.
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