I Feel Empty: When A Lack Of Meaning Is Something More Serious
By Sarah Fader
Updated March 06, 2020
Reviewer Lauren Fawley
Feeling empty is a strange and uncomfortable sensation. It can be momentary, situational, or if long-lasting, a symptom of a serious condition or related to substance abuse. When you're feeling empty, this emptiness can feel unfulfilling, confusing, and upsetting. It's important to recognize when you're experiencing emptiness that goes on for an extended period of time (with no apparent end in sight). This article will explore some of the common causes of feeling empty, and provide tools to help you identify and work through this.
What is Emptiness?
It might sound strange, but emptiness is a feeling or emotion. Some people report emptiness as a physical sensation in their bodies that keeps them from being able to live life the way they want to. You may have a hollow feeling in your chest or feel lethargic. You might feel bored most of the time and think nothing matters. It's like an emotional numbness that you can't shake. Feeling empty can be scary and make you question why you feel the way you do. It may make you believe you're helpless.
For some people, emptiness is a chronic feeling. They are detached from their lives and have the sense that something is missing. There's a void that can't be filled. This feeling can happen to people who seem to have everything together: a healthy family, a good job, and a busy social life. Emotional numbness isn't exclusive to those who are missing these life achievements. That's because emptiness does not come from outside; it comes from within, and it can affect every aspect of your life.
If you're sitting there feeling numb, you likely want to know the cause of the emptiness. There likely isn't just one reason for feeling numb, but there are ways to cope and move past these feelings.
Is it Normal to Feel Empty?
Are you thinking, "I feel empty and alone?" One thing to remember is that emptiness is a normal feeling. Many people have experienced what you're experiencing; many people suffer from these feelings. You are not alone. However, if this feeling is persistent and causing you suffering, you may need to identify why you feel this way and trigger your desire to get going again.
Why Do I Feel Empty?
When you feel empty or numb, it can be alarming. The emptiness makes you uneasy. You don't feel like yourself, which can be strange. You may be wondering if the emptiness has been caused by something outside of yourself. However, external factors aren't the cause of your emptiness. It's not due to the absence of money, a relationship or a successful career. Emptiness is an internal state, and while it's not easy to get rid of, you ultimately have the power to manage and shape this internal struggle. This article will cover common reasons for feeling empty below, before going over tools to combat feelings of emptiness.
- Stressful or Hard Situations
You might feel emptiness because you've experienced a lot of anxiety recently, and it's taken a large amount of energy to sustain your body and mind. For example, if you've recently lost a loved one, you may be left with a sense of emptiness while you've grieved. Maybe you have dealt with a recent breakup or have escaped an abusive situation. When you're in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze, you're spending your emotional resources. After a while, you don't have anything left, which can explain those empty feelings.
- An Unfulfilling Job or Other Unrealized Goals
You might be bored with life and want to change directions. Maybe you're not fulfilled at your job, or you're finding that you want to pursue another line of work. You may have what is considered a "'good job," and maybe you're making plenty of money to support your lifestyle. Regardless of what you have or don't have, you can feel discontent. Because we spend so much time at work, unsatisfying work life can take a toll on our overall satisfaction with life.
Furthermore, goals related to both your personal and professional life often change, and sometimes you need to adjust your plan or re-evaluate whether the goals you set are still what you want. Remember when you feel like you're not achieving the goals you set for yourself that it's natural to shift directions. Don't punish yourself if you're not where you thought you'd be.
- Anxiety and Depression
Feelings of emptiness may be an indication of serious mental illness, such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. When anxiety takes over mind and body, it's overwhelming. You may react to these feelings by going numb or becoming apathetic. You may consider giving up on trying to feel your feelings.
Many people who have depression report feeling empty rather than sad. Sometimes, an empty feeling that coincides with depression has a tangible cause, such as long-term grieving over a death. But, for others the emptiness they feel from mental illness may not have an identifiable cause. Talking to a mental health professional can get you started on the path to treating your anxiety or depression and erasing the empty feeling inside you.
- Alcohol and Drug Addiction
One reason why you may be feeling empty is because of alcohol and drug addiction. Emptiness can lead to alcohol abuse or drug abuse, but sometimes, alcohol and drug addiction is why you feel empty. It's a chicken and egg situation.
You may feel like you need to drink alcohol to feel an empty void. Maybe it's because you are socially awkward and you need it to loosen up. Then, you experience alcohol abuse, and no matter how much you drink, it's never enough. A glass of wine or a beer on occasion isn't a bad thing, but always drinking can lead to various problems.
The same applies to drugs. You may take drugs to escape the empty feelings you have in your daily life, but it just makes the problem worse. It can lead to abuse problems and an emptier void. It's important you find a therapist if you're experiencing drug abuse problems.
- Too Much Media
Unwinding with a nice show or playing some computer games aren't bad, but some people consume too much media to fill an empty void. The result is abuse problems relating to too much media. It can kill motivation and looking at a TV or computer screen all day may lead to sleep issues. You may feel anxiety, depression, or another negative emotion when you're away from your media. Find a therapist if you're dealing with media abuse problems.
- Too Much Social Media
Social media isn't a bad thing when you spend time moderation. It allows you to connect with the world and speak to all of your acquaintances. However, there have been some problems with consuming too much, and we're starting to see the effects. People who spend time on social media and use is as a substitute for real social contact may feel empty.
Examples of how social media can make you feel empty include:
- Fear of missing out, or FOMO. Your fear of emptiness is intensified when you see your friends having a good time or doing better than you are. Even if you feel happy for them, you may feel envy, which can be another kind of emptiness.
- Social media can be a bastion for negative emotions. You always see a lot of suffering, be it from your peers or world event. While keeping up with the world is a good thing, always seeing negative news can give you emptiness, a lack of motivation, or apathy.
- We can't stress this enough. Talking to people online is a good thing and does give you a sense of meaning, but only having online friends can give you a sense of emptiness.
- Social media can be addictive. There must be something in their terms of service that mentions that you will get addicted. Well, it's not the terms of service, but instead that dopamine rush you get when you refresh, see new notifications, and when you confront someone over having the wrong opinion. The effects of social media still need to be studied, as it can be quite addictive and give you that empty feeling.
- Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, involves intense emotions that last for a long time, including feelings of emptiness, and it's hard to regulate them.
With BPD, the feelings of emptiness don't seem to go away. If you're feeling empty, it lasts a long time and is likely related to how you perceive yourself in the world and how others seem to respond to you. You're experiencing emptiness for what seems like forever, and no matter what you do, that emotional emptiness just doesn't go away.
It's important you seek help or find support groups.
- Death of a Loved One
Grief can give you a large feeling of emptiness. When you tend to think of grief, you may imagine the five stages. However, these stages are a general guide and not what many people may experience necessarily. Often, the death of a loved one can lead to a slew of emotions. You're feeling empty, and then you feel better. Then, those feelings of emptiness return.
You may feel like you're can't find meaning with your loved one gone. Expressing your grief is a good thing, but when it's consuming you, seek professional advice or find a support group for grief.
- Feeling Like You Don't Have a Purpose
Another reason you may experience feelings of emptiness is because you're feeling empty over a lack of a purpose.
This is a philosophy that many have explored to help relieve their feelings of emptiness. For some people, their purpose is to live a great life, raise their kids, and achieve their dreams. For others, they're finding meaning in their faith or other spiritual practice.
However, the universe just feels so big and can give you a sense of emptiness. What is the meaning of life? Is it all for nothing? Getting professional advice about the meaning or purpose of your life isn't going to answer the big questions of life, but it can help relieve that sense of emptiness you may have, and help you discover your own meanings, including the meaning of emptiness.
- Eating Disorders
Sometimes, your body image can give you a sense of emptiness. People who feel like their body just isn't good enough may resort to eating disorders to relieve their sense of emptiness, but instead they end up achieving emptiness.
With body dysmorphia, it's a large mental illness. No matter what you do, you may feel like your body is never good enough. It's good to explore your feelings about your body and make improvements, but body dysmorphia is often a mental illness that hurts people who feel empty.
- Friends, Relationship, or Family Issues
Sometimes, you have people around you, but you may have problems with them. Sometimes, emptiness is related to problems with the people you care about. Maybe you have an estranged family member who is refusing to speak to you. Other times, your state of emptiness is due to the relationship spark just not being there anymore. Or it can be due to you losing a friend.
A marriage and family therapist may be able to help you. One of the many types of therapy that is effective is speaking to a professional who can help you reconnect with family members and friends you've lost, or if you're experiencing relationship issues, you may talk to a therapist who can give you and your partner advice, diagnosis for your relationship, and give you ways you can fix it.
- Other Medical Reasons or Mental Health Reasons
When it comes to emptiness, there can be other medical reasons for feeling this way. For example, some people feel numb due to a temporary side effect of taking medication for depression. According to a 2014 study, 60 percent of the people surveyed who were taking antidepressants had a feeling of emotional numbness.
This begs the question, "Will the feeling of numbness go away after taking antidepressants?" The answer, the majority of the time, is yes. Numbness tends to be a short-term side effect of taking medication for depression. In an article on PsychCentral, J Raymond DePaulo, Jr., M.D., co-director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center, says that the treatment for depression will likely improve the feeling of numbness.
He says, "If the treatment is sufficiently helpful, it will go away." He cautions that if it doesn't go away to consult your doctor. It could be that your dose needs to be adjusted or your medication can be changed. Consult a doctor and tell them about your symptoms and let them help you with this issue.
The above is not an exhaustive list of what can contribute to feelings of emptiness, but they are some of the most common.
How to Combat Feelings of Emptiness
It is important to understand where feelings come from, and you may be able to take steps to realize the root of the issue; if you don't find some means of addressing the issue, you may try to fill the void with unhealthy choices that don't the problem. If you find yourself turning to food, alcohol, or drugs for comfort, you are avoiding the real issue.
None of these temporary comforts bring meaning to your life. The same is true of mindless pursuits like spending your time binge-watching television. These activities are likely to increase your feelings of dissatisfaction with your life, even if they feel good for a fleeting moment. Instead of ignoring your feelings, try some of the steps outlined below.
Write down your feelings in a journal. You may not understand what's going on in your mind and why you're feeling a particular way. Begin journaling about things that happened throughout your day. Once you establish this routine, take time to not just write down events that happen but assess each event as well.
By assessing each situation, you can determine if each event is positive or negative and ask yourself how you should feel and respond to the things that happen. Writing down your feelings can be a gateway to help you process what's going on inside yourself.
Set Life Goals that Establish Meaning
An essential part of getting your life moving again and finding meaning is setting goals. A lot of the time we flounder and feel lost because we haven't set goals for what is important to us. Without a plan, we could do nothing. Sometimes this means reevaluating or revisiting past goals, and other times you have to brainstorm goals for the first time.
One of the reasons you may be feeling empty is that your goals have changed. What you once wanted in life isn't what you desire now. Another reason may be that you have never thought seriously about things you want to accomplish. It's time to sit down and make a list of short-term and long-term goals. Having a list of goals on paper is going to make you feel a sense of purpose.
You have something to work towards- rather than sitting with a sense of emptiness. Share your list with your loved ones. Tell them about what you're looking to achieve in life and get validation from your support system. You can also bring your list to share with your therapist if you're in therapy. Having a support system that holds you accountable to these goals can be extremely beneficial.
Make a Conscious Effort to Acknowledge Your Feelings
Many people who are suffering from emptiness are trying to avoid or disconnect from their feelings. They started feeling nothing because they reached a point where their emotions become overwhelming and caused them anxiety. The first thing you will need to do after acknowledging your emptiness is to start reconnecting with your emotions; allow yourself to feel again. Your feelings may come out inappropriately at first, such as sadness being expressed through anger, but remember no feelings are wrong or bad, as long as you continue making an effort to recognize them and grow.
Start thinking about how you might feel about your life if it did not feel empty. 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 determine whether they are commonly associated with positive or negative feelings.
Engage in Activities 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 yourself. 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 can establish a self-love and reconnection to your feelings, which can combat the emptiness.
Talk To Support Groups
You can find various support groups that deal with the concept of emptiness. These support groups may consist of people who have a mental illness that gives them a state of emptiness, or they may consist of people who are just trying to figure out how to find a meaningful life.
Support groups can come in the form of online forums. These forums are completely anonymous, and you can talk to people from all around the world; not just the United States. Alternatively, you can go to group therapy. Group therapy helps people who have a state of emptiness by allowing them to communicate with one another and help find solutions that way. You'll be surprised how often an empty group of people can find the treatment for their state of emptiness by speaking to one another.
Go to a Treatment Center for Severe Issues
Work is unsatisfying, or you don't have the time and energy to make friends. There are many reasons why you may feel empty. However, if you feel severely empty to the point where it's hurting your mental health, or you have a severe mental illness, going to a treatment center can help.
There are many types of therapy you can choose from. If you have any substance use disorders, a therapist can help you manage that mental illness and more.
They may also test you for mental health problems. For example, they may give you a personality test, which is something you can easily do with an outpatient therapists, or even at home. Personality tests can give you insight into how you behave and how you look at the concept of emptiness. Taking a personality test usually involves answering questions.
Treat Substance Abuse ASAP
Another thing you need to remember is that if your feelings of loneliness are due to substance abuse or substance use disorders, you should seek help as soon as you can.
It doesn't matter what substance abuse you're facing. For example, if you're an alcoholic, alcoholism can lead to poisoning, brain damage, or can lead to drunk driving.
If your substance abuse consists of severe drugs, it's important that you seek a doctor as soon as possible. Substance use disorders can lead to addiction, which is a key aspect of substance abuse. With addiction, a treatment center can help you detox when you're experiencing substance abuse.
In addition, a therapist may teach you how you can identify triggers associated with substance use disorders. Often, relapse in substance abuse is because there are subtle triggers that you may not have noticed. Certain smells or sights may remind you of substance abuse and get you to relapse.
Don't Avoid People and Reach Out to Those Close to You
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 may increase your feelings of emptiness. Your existing support system cannot support you if you alienate them. If you find yourself spending a majority of your time at home, go somewhere where other people gather.
You don't have to interact with anyone. Just try putting yourself amongst the crowd, whether that means going out to see a movie or making a trip to the coffee shop. Once you get used to being around people again, try talking to a trusted friend or loved one. Confide in someone you trust; tell them that you're feeling a sense of emptiness. They don't have to fix the problem, but it can help to have someone listen. If you find this doesn't help with your feelings of emptiness, consider speaking with a professional.
When Emptiness is Too Hard to Handle
Whenever 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 a 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 can help you get to the bottom of your feelings of emptiness, so you can improve your mental health and live the fulfilling life you want.
An online counselor can support you in exploring those feelings of emptiness, finding the source, and working through them. Many people have talked with online counselors about their emotional numbness, received support, and moved forward. According to the APA (American Psychological Association), many research studies show that online counseling is just as effective as in-person therapy.
BetterHelp Wants You to Feel Your Emotions
Many people who have dealt with similar issues have emerged as more resilient and fulfilled individuals. In fact, one study by the Berkeley Well-Being Institute found that clients with depression reduced their depressive symptoms by 70% through BetterHelp services.
The counselors at BetterHelp want you to experience all the emotions life has to offer. If you're feeling empty, they won't judge you. People have come to BetterHelp feeling stuck and gotten the support that they needed to process their feelings and begin experiencing a full range of emotions. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors.
"Rachel is one of the best counselors I have ever worked with. She is kind and encouraging, she's not judgmental and is incredibly understanding. She's also not afraid to tell me what I need to hear, even if it's a difficult conversation. Without Rachel, I would have been stuck in the rut that I had been in for years. She is truly a blessing."
"Dr. MacLeod is a deeply caring and insightful counselor. She offered a number of helpful and practical coping strategies that enabled me to overcome a particularly challenging season of my life. In addition to her thoughtful advice, she is also a fantastic listener. I'm very grateful for the support she has offered."
When you are feeling emptiness, there are several things you can try on your own. But if these are not enough, reach out for help. Don't hesitate to seek therapy or counseling when you can't seem to feel anything. You deserve to get the support you need and live a fulfilling life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
How do you fill a void?
In order to begin to find solutions to fill a void, it's important that you recognize what is happening to you. Ask yourself important questions to get to the root cause when you're experiencing feelings of emptiness or seemingly devoid of happiness. Take the time to evaluate your life and circumstances and rule out possible mental illness factors by speaking with a licensed professional to get support.
What does it mean to fill a void?
To "fill a void" is to eliminate feeling empty, what it means is that you've found a more positive and constructive ways to improve the quality of your mental health. Filling a void can mean learning to engage in more positive activities in order to achieve important goals, resolving issues with substance abuse, mental illness, or ending ongoing arguments with family members.
Why do you feel empty?
When people say that you're experiencing emptiness, what they mean is that you've lost interest in participating in life and no matter what you do, nothing seems to satisfy you. Anxiety symptoms can compound feelings of emptiness as you struggle to understand the root cause of why nothing seems to bring you joy.
Family members may notice that you've become apathetic and disinterested in participating in family activities. When drug abuse or mental health issues are the cause of feeling empty, it's time to get help.
What is feeling empty?
Feeling empty is a loss of interest or zest in life. Some call it "losing your mojo." Many people go through periods of life where nothing can satisfy them. People lose interest in their families, careers, friendships and other activities that used to bring them joy.
Personality tests may reveal symptoms of mental illness when this empty feeling lasts for an extended period of time. Mental health issues like bipolar disorder and substance use disorder are major contributing factors to feeling empty, what it means is that you can no longer go it alone and it's time to seek professional help to feel whole again.
When you are feeling emptiness, there are several things you can try on your own including taking personality tests online from reputable mental health providers to learn if your issue is related to an underlying mental health condition like depression, bipolar disorder, or substance use disorders.
If you're finding that you're unable to combat feelings of emptiness on your own, or if these feelings are related to drug abuse, substance abuse, or mental health issues like bipolar disorder--it's important that you get professional help. Don't hesitate to seek therapy or counseling when you can't seem to feel anything. You deserve to get the support you need and live a fulfilling life.