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The feeling of emptiness is stark in contrast to the emotions that a person is supposed to feel. It sits like a black hole in your chest, devoid of the substance that is supposed to be there.
It dulls emotions, interests, desires, hopes, dreams, and can even go beyond what we expect from negative emotions. The emptiness can eat sadness just as easily as happiness and hope, leaving you feeling barren and void.
To call emptiness a negative feeling may not feel correct, as it is a strong, palpable sense of nothingness. It certainly doesn’t feel positive, but it may not feel negative either. It’s just absent.
You may feel like nothing matters, everything is boring, or that you can’t feel any sort of strong emotions.
Despite that absence, the feeling of nothing is actually an emotion communicating something to you about yourself, your health, or the way you’re living your life.
Humans are creatures that thrive in the vibrancy of emotions and the energy they bring. The absence of that energy can be so crushing when you live with it often or have never experienced it. If you’ve never experienced emptiness before, it can be incredibly alarming to feel nothing when you’re supposed to feel everything, or at least something.
People choose to deal with that emptiness in different ways, many of them not healthy. We may try to fill that hole with sex, money, consumerism, video games, distractions, drugs, alcohol, and in more extreme cases – self-harm and even suicide. After all, the physical pain is at least a reminder we’re still alive, can still feel… something.
Anything at all.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Emptiness is a symptom pointing toward a larger problem that the person may not realize they are experiencing.
That problem isn’t always mental illness either. There are a variety of circumstances and problems that can cause that feeling of emptiness.
The cause of the emptiness will dictate what kind of actions may help alleviate that feeling. In this article, we will discuss some of the common causes and some suggested solutions for addressing that empty feeling.
Emptiness can be a difficult thing to tackle on your own. It’s a problem that may be best tackled with a trained mental health counselor, particularly if you have a mental illness that can cause these types of feelings. Don’t hesitate to seek out professional help, particularly if you’re experiencing prolonged periods of emptiness.
What causes the feeling of emptiness?
1. Absence of purpose.
Many people struggle with finding a sense of purpose in this vast universe of limitless possibilities.
What do I do with my life? Does this mean anything? What should I be doing with myself?
The existential dread that comes with lacking purpose can fuel emptiness as it feels like we are missing something we are supposed to have. Some people try to fill the emptiness with their actions, like doing volunteer work or getting a job in a field that can help people.
Seeking purpose is an interesting matter because you may not be ready to find a particular purpose. And we don’t mean that in an abstract, destiny kind of sense. Instead, there might be life experiences you need to have and work you need to do before a fulfilling purpose can click with you.
Perhaps being a parent offers you the kind of fulfillment that would fill that emptiness, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that until after you have a child. Or maybe it’s something more career-focused. Maybe your heart and mind are in tune with being on the sea, something you may not know until you set foot on a boat.
You may even feel a pull toward something that could offer you fulfillment, like a persistent interest or something that really speaks to you. That could help you find a direction.
2. Grief, the death of a loved one.
Grief is a natural emotional reaction to the death of a loved one. Sometimes we can see the end coming and have some time to mentally and emotionally prepare for it. Other times we may lose a loved one unexpectedly. There is always a flood of emotions to deal with when a death occurs, even if it’s not immediate.
Many people turn to grief models to better try to process and understand their grief without really understanding the models. The “Five Stages of Grief” is one such model. What people tend to get wrong about these models is that they are not hard and fast rules. It’s impossible to shove the full scope of emotions into such a narrow box, a fact that the creators of such models regularly talk about.
They may serve as a general guideline. There are stages that you may or may not experience. Some people experience multiple stages at the same time. Others bounce around through different stages as they are mourning their loved one.
Many of the models talk about “numbness” or “denial” as being involved in the grief process and this might explain the emptiness you feel. It can be a difficult experience because, rationally, you know that you should probably be feeling sadness along with lots of other emotions, but you don’t and that’s hard to reconcile.
Grief and mourning are more complicated than they appear. That makes it a good idea to seek a grief counselor. A grief specialist may be able to help you through those persistent empty feelings and mourning.
3. Drug and alcohol abuse.
Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the traumas of their life. There’s nothing inherently wrong with periodically having a drink or using legal substances. The problems really start to pick up when those substances are used excessively or as a way to help moderate one’s emotions.
Filling the void of emptiness with a substance can lead to addiction, worse relationships with other people, losing jobs, and changing life circumstances.
Substance abuse can also lead to different physical or mental health issues, other than substance abuse disorder, like sparking a latent mental illness or liver disease. It may also make preexisting health issues worse.
Alcohol is known to impact people with mood disorders, like depression and bipolar disorder, far more severely than people without. It just works differently in their minds and may fuel emotional instability and make depression worse.
One of the reasons people use substances is to help them survive something they are going through. They believe it helps them because it calms them down at the moment. The problem is that extended substance use can have long-term effects that can worsen mental health issues or cause new ones to crop up in the future.
4. Long-term stresses.
Humans aren’t built to cope with long-term stresses well. Stress causes different hormones to be produced to help a person get through that immediate stressful situation, but those hormones can cause more significant problems the longer they are present.
Long-term stresses can cause depression, anxiety, and in some cases, PTSD. Survivors of domestic abuse, child abuse, and poverty may develop Complex PTSD, which results from never really getting a break from the circumstances they survived.
Avoiding long-term stresses or changing living situations may help. But if mental health problems have developed, it will require a trained mental health professional to heal and recover from.
5. Family, friends, or relationship issues.
The people around us severely impact our mental and emotional state. Emptiness can be fueled by tumultuous relationships, estrangement, or just the stresses that our loved ones sometimes cause us. It gets much harder to maintain your own mental health when someone you love is suffering or making bad decisions.
Romantic relationships can bring all kinds of additional stresses that may fuel that emptiness. Perhaps the partner has problems they aren’t addressing. You may not be on good terms with their family, which is a source of stress and difficulty. It may also be that the relationship is waning and on its way toward ending. That kind of heartbreak when things don’t work out can always fuel some negativity.
These issues may need to be worked out personally or even with the help of a relationship counselor. Of course, there are also some issues that you just can’t fix, and you may need to reevaluate whether or not the relationship is healthy for you to remain in.
6. Excessive social media use.
In recent years, the adverse effects of excessive social media use are starting to come to light. Being continually bombarded with negative news and the highlight reels of the lives of others is fueling massive insecurities, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, and a host of other issues.
It turns out that’s not a good combination when your life may be less than the perfection that many people using social media choose to portray.
That’s not even counting the scummier parts of social media. Social media companies incorporate the human dopamine reward system and Fear Of Missing Out to keep you scrolling to fuel engagement and collect likes.
Like all things, social media needs to be used in moderation if it’s going to be used. Too much is not mentally healthy and can fuel negative feelings like emptiness.
7. Excessive media and video games.
Much like social media, excessive media use can do similar things.
How many jokes or references have you heard of people binge-watching entire seasons of shows on streaming services? That type of behavior is not healthy because it lets us zone out into what we’re watching instead of dealing with the life going on around us.
That kind of behavior facilitates negative emotions like emptiness, but it causes additional complications in life because we may not be paying attention to our responsibilities.
Video games act the same way. It’s so easy to get sucked into a video game designed to be a time-sink to keep you engaged and keep you regularly playing. MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Games) and MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas) are game genres designed to be treadmills that never end.
Sure, they’re a fun way to pass some time. But using video games as an escape from real life can cause video game addiction in a similar way to gambling addiction. You get hooked on tangible reward loops and just keep coming back for more.
There’s nothing wrong with these things in moderation, but one does need to exercise moderation to avoid making their mental health worse.
8. Significant life changes and transitions.
Life changes and transitions bring with them stresses that can be difficult to deal with. Sometimes these are planned, and sometimes they are thrust upon us by a job loss, relationship ending, changing of housing, or some other serious occurrence.
It’s normal to be stressed and uncomfortable when going through a transition like this, mainly if you aren’t sure where your future leads.
The overwhelming nature of these changes can cause your brain to want to shut down and avoid stress. Those feelings can include emptiness.
You may find that the emptiness passes after the situation is resolved and you’re moving on to something else.
Yes, you may have lost a job, but you put in some applications and have an interview lined up. Relationships end, and that’s unfortunate, but there’s always the chance to find a new opportunity and a better love that fits the person you’re growing into.
These transitions will pass, and you will find your way. Sometimes we just need to have a little patience while our life is burning down around us.
9. Unrealized goals and regrets.
Few weights are heavier than regret. Everyone has something that they wish they would have done differently or done at all. Sometimes people have far more than one or two of those regrets stewing quietly in their minds.
Dwelling in that past and the thoughts of what could have been can easily cause negative emotions like sadness, regret, mourning, and emptiness.
Time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds. Sometimes, it just compounds them and makes them worse if we haven’t found a way to actively deal with them and heal from them.
That may require the help of a counselor to find acceptance for what was and didn’t come to be so that you can look forward to better things for your present and future.
10. Neglecting spiritual health.
Spiritual health does not mean religion or a religious type of spirituality. Instead, it’s a phrase that the medical community uses to describe the emotional self’s intangible aspects.
Spiritual health encompasses things that make us feel whole, happy, good, or complete.
Some people use religion to find that kind of feeling, but it can also be found in volunteer work, creating art, doing good for other people, nurturing loving relationships, being out in nature, and so many other things.
We live busy lives where there is always something to be done. There rarely seems to be enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished. That leaves little time for recreation and fulfilling our spiritual side unless we purposefully create time for play.
Trying to be on the unending grind with no breaks, vacations, or play is a surefire way to burn out, fuel depression, and create emptiness.
11. Medical or mental health issues.
Many medical and mental health issues may cause feelings of emptiness – mood disorders, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, schizophrenia – and physical illnesses that affect our minds and bodies.
If it doesn’t seem like there is generally anything off in your life and you’re feeling empty, it would be a good idea to consult with a doctor about the problem. The emptiness could be a symptom of a physical illness rather than a mental illness.
How do I deal with temporary bouts of emptiness?
As we’ve discussed in this article, many of the problems that cause emptiness will likely be longer projects that need some kind of professional help. That’s helpful information for making long-term life changes. However, that isn’t necessarily as helpful when you’re mired in those feelings at the moment.
Let’s look at some ways to get through those low times until you can get the professional help you might need.
Reach out to your support network.
You may be able to find support with your friends and loved ones while you’re experiencing this low.
However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have people like that in their life. You may also find support through online sources like social media groups or even an online counselor to provide some temporary support.
It’s tempting to want to fold in on oneself when feeling empty, but try not to. Force yourself to reach out as much as you can to people that you know you can trust.
It’s a good idea to make this kind of arrangement ahead of time with a particular friend or supporter, though. Ask them if they are willing to give you some support in your low times, so they know when things are serious. It’s a better option than shooting out messages and hearing back from no one.
Journal your day and emotions.
Journaling is a powerful tool when wielded correctly. It may help to write about the events of the day, what happened to evoke emptiness, and explore the event’s feelings.
Emptiness can also be a sign of trying to suppress emotions, which is necessary sometimes to get through the day. After all, you can’t spend your day crying at work, really.
What you can do is come back and revisit those emotions later when you have time for yourself and some privacy.
There are many unkind messages to “suck it up” and get through it, which is sometimes necessary. What that kind of mentality neglects to mention is that you can go back and explore those feelings later.
Most people who do shut down their emotions to cope don’t go back and explore later. That gives those emotions time to compound into more significant issues that create and maintain emptiness.
Consider your goals and what you are working toward.
Do you have goals? If not, you should set some short and long-term goals. Knowing that you have things that you’re working toward can help kick start emotional processes surrounding those goals.
Being able to push through with a burst of hope or acknowledgment of past accomplishments may be enough to spark a light through the emptiness for a little bit.
Do keep records or journal about your goals, how you want to reach them, and what you hope to get out of them. It’ll be helpful to look back through to see how far you’ve come when you’re experiencing a difficult time.
Do the things that you used to love.
Depression, emptiness, and the negative feelings surrounding these things can strangle our enjoyment of the activities we love most.
Even if you can’t enjoy them at the moment, it may be helpful to engage in them anyway. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with happiness and joy you won’t have if you zone out into mindless or unfulfilling activities.
Do these things in moderation and with consideration. Try to think of what makes you happy about the activity.
Try to avoid activities that you can too easily zone out into, like binge-watching your favorite show. That can too quickly turn into a mindless activity that fuels the emptiness instead of combats it.
Do seek professional help.
Do seek out professional help if you are experiencing persistent feelings of emptiness. They are not normal, and they are not a healthy way to experience your life.
The longer it goes on, the harder it is to deal with and heal from. If you’re struggling or can’t seem to find a solution on your own, there is no shame in reaching out to a professional for help.
Still not sure why you feel so empty inside or what to do about it? Speak to a therapist today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one.
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