I Feel Empty: When A Lack Of Meaning Is Something More Serious
By Sarah Fader
Updated April 15, 2019
Reviewer Tiffany Howard, LPC, LCADC
Feeling empty is scary. Why do you feel this way? Feeling empty inside can make you feel helpless, like nothing you do can get rid of this uncomfortable feeling. It might be hard for you to determine why you feel this way and that's okay. You're entitled to your feelings including not feeling anything at all. You may try to blame external factors for your emptiness. This makes sense because you want relief from this uncomfortable state of being.
The emptiness you feel makes you uneasy and not like yourself. External factors aren't the cause of your emptiness. Feeling empty isn't determined by the absence of money, a relationship or success. Emptiness is connected to your internal state. Emptiness is not easy to get rid of. It takes effort and working through your problems to get to the source of why you feel this way.
Meaning is essential to our lives. This is why many college students study philosophy, to find purpose in their lives. Each of us finds meaning in our lives in different ways. Don't write off your feelings as normal when they might not be! Giving in to emptiness as the norm can lead you down a road to more serious emotional and medical problems. Instead, take these steps to recognize when a lack of meaning has become something more serious and needs to be addressed.
One issue that you might be experiencing is comparing yourself to others. There's an expression that might help you with this pattern: "compare and despair." What do they have that I don't? You don't know what other people are thinking or what goes on behind closed doors. For all, you know they could be feeling empty too!
What Emptiness Feels Like
It might sound strange, but emptiness feels like something. Some people report emptiness as a physical sensation in their bodies. You may have an empty feeling in your chest, or you may feel tired or lethargic. Other people report that they emotionally feel the sensation. You might feel bored all the time and think nothing matters, like an emotional numbness. You may feel a sense of despair that you can't explain or seem to shake.
All of these feelings 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 is helpful during these times.
For some people, emptiness is a chronic feeling. They are detached from their lives and can't shake the sense that something is missing. There's a void that can't be filled. This can happen to people who seem to have everything together: a healthy family, a good job, and a rocking body. It is not exclusive to those who are missing these life achievements. That's because emptiness does not come from outside; it comes from within. That being said, it can affect every aspect of your life.
You start to notice an empty feeling when parts of your life do not go according to plan. You begin underperforming at work, or you notice that you're losing friends. Your intimate relationships including family ones are suffering. You find that you're putting on weight and your self-image begins to suffer. Maybe you're losing weight because you're feeling hopeless and thinking things like "what's the point?" and "why should I try?" When you feel empty, it is difficult to make an effort to keep these parts of your life functioning at full capacity.
Why Do I Feel Empty?
You may ask yourself, "Why do I feel so empty?" It can be difficult to figure out the cause of your numbness on your own. That's where a mental health professional can step in and help you to discover what's at the root of your empty feeling, and what you can do to find more meaning, enthusiasm, and joy in your life.
It's possible that emptiness comes from something that is missing in your life. You had certain ideas about where you would be in life, and you aren't quite there yet. Life goals often change, and sometimes you need to adjust your plan or re-evaluate whether the goals you set are still what you want. Remember that it's natural to shift directions when you feel like you're not achieving the goals you set for yourself. Don't punish yourself! Your empty feeling can be a catalyst to make positive changes.
Life goals include relationships with friends and family, career goals, as well as health and fitness goals. Did you plan to have a family by now but you're not dating anyone? It's okay. That may leave you feeling empty, but once you recognize what is bothering you, you can take steps to fill that void or evaluate why you aren't in a long-term relationship. You can fill the space by spending time with nieces or nephews or volunteering for activities with children in an afterschool program or at a community center.
Is it your job that is leaving you feeling unfulfilled? 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. Once you recognize the cause of your emptiness, you can make a plan to take back your enthusiasm.
You could 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 gives you fulfillment. Another possibility to consider is that your work relationships are not satisfying, and you feel alone at your job. If that's the case, it may be time to find a workplace where you can meet new people, start participating in your job's social activities or find friends outside of work who can make you feel like a part of something larger.
Perhaps you've given up hope of having the body you want or feeling healthy. There are chronic health problems can't 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 what you need to regain enthusiasm in your life. Don't give up on yourself! You are the only one who can create meaning for you. No one else can give your life purpose to you.
Emptiness Caused By Mental Health Issues
Feelings of emptiness may be an indication of serious mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. When anxiety takes over, it's overwhelming, and your brain reacts by going numb. You are feeling nothing, and that's alarming to anyone. You may feel like giving up or that no one cares; in the case of clinical depression, 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 an identifiable cause. That does not mean you can't do anything about it. 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.
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 your 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 the root of 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, Internet surfing, excessively using social media, or wasting money. These activities are likely to increase your inner feeling of dissatisfaction with your life. You don't need to be productive every second of your day, but it's better to start thinking about what is important to you and keeping those things as priorities.
Reaching out to others to develop meaningful relationships can help, but engaging in activities just for attention will not. Find a balance between tackling your pursuits and engaging in social interactions that can support those activities.
Building social relationships is important to your mental and physical health, but it is not the solution to your feeling of emptiness. It is imperative that you understand emptiness comes from being abandoned by yourself; It comes out when you stop loving yourself. You don't need the love of others to fill that place inside. 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?" Remember that other people are going through the similar emotions that you are struggling with right now. Understanding their perception of this emptiness may help you to pinpoint where your issues derive from. Here are some quotes about feeling empty from people who have been there:
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 a fight, flight, or freeze. Have you ever seen a squirrel stop in the middle of the road when a car is speeding by and about to hit it? That is an example of the freeze instinct. Animals may freeze to avoid capture by remaining motionless or by pretending to be dead. Emptiness is the result of something that provokes your instinct to freeze in place. You need something to trigger your desire to get going again, your will to live.
How To Set Life Goals That Establish Meaning
An important 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. 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 trying to avoid or disconnect from their feelings. They started feeling nothing because they reached a point at one time where their emotions became 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, and that's okay. 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; 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 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 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 make your emptiness more. 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 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 and 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 be removed from the list later, but for now, you need to come up with ideas, so don't be afraid to write down anything that comes to mind.
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 larger achievements that may take a year or more to accomplish.
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 an old habit of doing nothing about your feeling of emptiness. Now that you have a list of some short-term and long-term goals for the most important aspects of your life choose the top three from each category that is 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, you can 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 can work towards your gold goals pretty much every day, taking small steps toward these meaningful priorities in your life. When you have extra time, you can 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. 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 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.