I Feel Empty: When A Lack Of Meaning Is Something More Serious
Feeling empty inside can make you feel helpless, like nothing you do can get rid of this state of being. You may even try to blame external factors for your empty feeling. But the truth is, none of those external factors are the true cause of your emptiness. Feeling empty is not caused by lack of money, lack of a romantic relationship, or lack of attention. Emptiness is about your internal perspective and expectations. That, however, does not mean an empty feeling is easy to get rid of.
Meaning is essential to our lives. And each of us finds it in different ways. Don't write off your feelings as normal or how everyone else feels. Giving in to emptiness can lead you down a road to more serious emotional and health problems. Instead, take these steps to recognize when a lack of meaning has become something more serious and needs to be addressed.
What emptiness feels like
Some people report emptiness as a physical sensation. You may have an empty feeling in your chest. Or you may feel tired and lethargic. Others feel the sensation in an emotional way. You may simply feel bored all the time and think nothing matters, an emotional numbness. You may feel a sense of despair that you can't explain. All of these sensations point to a serious problem with your emotional state.
A feeling of emptiness can happen to anyone. Many people experience this at some point in their lives. The feeling can be triggered by events, such as loss of a relationship or the death of a loved one. Often, we go through temporary bouts of feeling empty. The support of friends and family can be helpful at these times.
But for some people, emptiness becomes a chronic feeling. They are detached from their lives and just can't shake the sense that something is missing. This can happen even to people who seem to have everything: a healthy family, a good job, and a fit body. It is not relegated only to people who are missing these life achievements. That's because emptiness does not come from outside; it is very much an internal state. That being said, it can affect every aspect of your life.
You may start to recognize your empty feeling when you notice aspects of your life not going according to plan. You are suddenly underperforming at work or you are losing friends. Your intimate relationship or family relationships are suffering. You are putting on weight. When you feel empty, it is difficult to put in the effort required to keep these parts of your life functioning well.
Why do I feel empty?
You may ask yourself, "Why do I feel so empty?" When you're feeling this way, it can be difficult to figure out the root problem on your own. That's where a mental health therapist can step in and help you to discover what's at the bottom of your empty feeling, and what you can do to find more meaning, enthusiasm, and joy in your life.
Emptiness may come from something that is missing in your life. Maybe you had certain ideas about where you would be at this point, and you aren't quite there. Life goals often change, and sometimes you need to make a new plan for those goals or re-evaluate whether the goals you set are still what you want. That empty feeling can be a catalyst to make positive changes.
Life goals include relationships with friends and family, career goals, and health and fitness goals. Did you plan to have a family by now but you're not even dating anyone? It's okay. That may leave you feeling empty, but once you recognize that's what is bothering you, you can take steps to fill that space or evaluate why you aren't currently in a long-term relationship. And you can also learn to fill the space by spending time with nieces or nephews, or volunteering for activities with children.
Is it your job that is leaving you unfulfilled? You may have what others consider a good job, and you may make plenty of money to support your lifestyle. Or you may really have a job that few would consider good. Either way, you can feel discontent. Because we spend so much time at work, an unsatisfying work life can really take a toll on our overall satisfaction with life. Again, once you recognize the cause, you can make a plan to take back your enthusiasm.
Maybe you can take classes to learn a new skill so that you can eventually change careers and move on. Or maybe you can find hobbies outside of work that give you fulfillment. Another possibility is that it is your work relationships are not satisfying and you feel alone and secluded. If that's the case, it may be time to find a workplace where you can meet new people, start taking an interest in your current job's social activities, or find friends outside of work who can fill that void.
Another possibility is that you've given up hope on having the body you want or feeling healthy. Some health issues cannot be fixed, and when that is the case, you may need to seek therapy to overcome your feelings of emptiness while living with your disease or disability. But if you can do something about the issue, making a plan and taking the first steps may be all you need to regain enthusiasm in your life. Don't give up on yourself. You are the only one who can create meaning for yourself. No one else can give it to you.
Emptiness caused by mental health issues
In other cases, a feeling of emptiness may be an indication of a mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. When anxiety becomes overwhelming, your brain may react by going numb and feeling nothing. You may have a feeling that you've given up and no one cares, also many depression sufferers report feeling empty rather than sad. Emptiness caused by anxiety or depression cannot always be fixed just by setting goals. Sometimes, an empty feeling that coincides with depression has a tangible cause, such as long-term grieving over a death. But, the emptiness you feel from mental illness may not have a tangible cause. That does not mean you can't do anything about it. Talking to a mental health therapist can get you started on the path to treating your anxiety or depression, and erasing that empty feeling inside you.
Filling the emptiness void
It is important to understand where your feeling of emptiness comes from. You can gain understanding through meditation, journaling, taking alone time without electronic distractions, or working on understanding this feeling in therapy. But if you don't find some means of addressing the issue, you are likely to try to fill the void with unhealthy choices that don't fix your emotional problem.
If you find yourself turning to food, alcohol, or drugs for comfort, you are avoiding the real issue. None of these quick comforts can bring meaning to your life. The same is true of mindless pursuits like spending your time on long bouts of television watching, Internet surfing, social media perusing, or wasting money is likely to increase your inner feeling of dissatisfaction with your life. You certainly don't need to be productive every second of your day, but a better plan is to start thinking about what is important to you and how you can take action on that.
Reaching out to others for meaningful relationships can help, but engaging in activities just for attention will not. You will need to find a balance between actively tackling your pursuits and finding appropriate social interactions that can support those pursuits.
Building social relationships is important to your mental and physical health, but it is not the solution to your feeling of emptiness. It is absolutely imperative that you understand emptiness comes from being abandoned by yourself and it is present when you give up on you and stop loving yourself. You don't need the love of others to fill that place inside you. So, open yourself up and start treating yourself the way you would want others to treat you.
You're not alone in feeling empty
Are you thinking, "I feel empty and alone?" Know that others are also going through the same difficult emotions that you are right now. Understanding their perception of this emptiness may help you to pinpoint where your own issues come from. Here are some quotes about feeling empty, from people who have been through it:
I feel nothing.
I'm detached from people and activities.
I'm an empty shell.
I feel like I'm just going through the motions.
I don't know who I am anymore.
Life is not worth living.
There is no hope.
These feelings can stem from our natural instincts of fight, flight, or freeze. Have you ever seen a squirrel stop in the middle of the road when a car is speeding at it? That is an example of the freeze instinct. Animals may freeze to avoid capture by remaining motionless or by pretending to be dead already. Emptiness is the result of something that triggers your instinct to freeze in place. You need something to trigger your desire to get going again, your instinct to live.
How to set life goals that establish meaning
An important part of getting your life moving again and finding meaning is having meaningful goals. A lot of the time we flounder and feel lost simply because we haven't set goals for what is important to us. Without a plan, we may just do nothing. Here are some steps that will move you toward finding your own meaningful goals and accomplishing them.
Feel your feelings
Many people who are suffering from emptiness are in a state where they are trying to avoid their feelings. They started feeling nothing because they had reached a point at one time where feelings became overwhelming. The first thing you will need to do after acknowledging your emptiness, is to start reconnecting with your emotions. Allow yourself to feel about things. Your emotions may come out inappropriately at first, such as sadness being expressed through anger, and that's okay, as long as you continue making an effort to recognize this and grow from it.
Start thinking about how you might feel about your life if it did not feel empty; it's not a trick. Logically look at your life, since you cannot emotionally respond to it. Do you have an excellent job? Have you spent enough time with your family or friends? Did something happen that you want to forget about? It's time to look at the various aspects of your life and whether they are related to positive or negative feelings.
Do the things you used to enjoy
Right now, you may not feel like doing your usual hobbies or rituals, but do them anyway. This is a part of taking care of you. Pay attention to how you feel when you are doing these things. You may be able to connect with some of the joy or peace you used to feel, or you may find that it is time to replace this activity with something else. Either way, doing things that are just for you establish the self-love you need to escape emptiness and find meaning.
Don't avoid people
You may not be ready to actively plan a time to hang out with friends or family. But if you get invited somewhere, go ahead and accept the invitation. Isolation will only make your emptiness worse. Your existing support system cannot support you if you alienate them. And if you find yourself spending a majority of your time at home, at least go somewhere where other people gather. You don't have to interact with anyone. Just put yourself amongst the crowd, whether that means going out to see a movie or making a trip to the coffee shop.
Start writing down potential goals. Divide them into four categories: health, relationships, career, and personal growth. You can write down as many goals as you like. You aren't going to focus on all of these at once. Some of them may even come off the list later, but for now you just need to come up with ideas, so don't be afraid to write down anything.
Once you have several goals under each category, divide those goals into short-term and long-term objectives. Some of the goals will be able to be completed within a few days or weeks; those are short-term goals. Other goals are bigger achievements that may take a year or more to succeed at. Ideally, your short-term goals are moving you closer toward the big long-term goals you have set. For instance, if one of your long-term goals is to become a personal trainer, a short-term goal may be to be able to complete twenty push-ups or to memorize the names of all the major muscles in the human body.
At the top of these lists, write down a simple one-sentence statement about where these goals are taking you. It is the reason why you are working toward them. The goals themselves are steps, but this statement of purpose is the real motivator behind them.
You can only complete so much at once, and having too many goals can overwhelm you to the point that you revert to doing nothing about your feeling of emptiness. Now that you have a list of many short-term and long-term goals for the most important aspects of your life, select only the top three from each category that are the most important to you right now. Looking at your statement of purpose can help you in narrowing down the top priorities.
Once you have these new, shorter lists, rank each of the three sets of goals by order of importance. The top-most important goal in each list is your "gold" goal, the next is your "silver" goal, and the third is your "bronze" goal. You should work towards your gold goals pretty much every day, taking small steps toward these meaningful priorities in your life. And when you have extra time, you can also work towards your silver and bronze goals.
When you achieve a goal, move the others up in priority and add a new goal to the short list. The new goal doesn't necessarily have to start at bronze level; it's okay if you change your mind about what is most important at the current moment. Just make sure you stick with any goals that have made it to your priority list. The worst thing you can do with goals is to get into a habit of dropping them when they get difficult.
Whenever your emptiness starts to rise and makes you feel like what you're doing isn't worthwhile, take out your list of goals. These are your reminders that your life does have purpose and you do have a sense of direction. If you're finding it difficult to take steps toward your goals, or you feel stuck, don't be afraid to reach out for help. An online therapist is excellent example of someone who is able to help you get back on track and remember what your motivation is.