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Childhood trauma
Emotional intelligence

“Why Do I Feel Empty?”

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8 min

“Why Do I Feel Empty?”

Life’s richness often masks the underlying sense of emptiness that many of us grapple with. It is a strange, all-encompassing feeling, a hollow feeling in the chest. Like the strange quiet of a city that is left empty or the tense calm before a storm.

When this emotional emptiness happens over and over, it can lead to a profound sense of dissatisfaction. The logical questions from that are, “Why do I feel so empty?” and “What is it that’s missing?”

To figure out how to unravel its web of complexity, we need to explore and understand this emotional state. In this blog post, we will solve the puzzle of emptiness by looking at what causes it and how to deal with it. 

Why do I feel so empty?” What is emotional emptiness?

To understand what feeling empty means, we need to look at things from all angles. 

For instance, research defines it as “a complex, negative emotional state that is experienced in different ways by different individuals. This feeling includes a physical or bodily component, a component of aloneness or social disconnectedness, and a component of a deep sense of personal unfulfillment or lack of purpose.

Overall, emptiness is a feeling that might include a lot of different emotions. From being bored or lonely, numb to feeling disconnected from self and others.

Also, according to a study, feelings of emptiness are linked to depression, ADHD, c-PTSD, and schizotypal personality disorder (StPD). Plus, constant feeling like you are empty inside can be a sign of borderline personality disorder. 

So, in a nutshell, it is a blend of sensory and emotional deprivation. What causes one person to feel empty may be vastly different for another, but at its core, it usually represents an unmet emotional need or deeper psychological unease.

Mental health professionals have identified several common causes of emotional numbness and emptiness that we’ll explore in detail. 

Depression v. emptiness

You can think of those words as referring to the same mental state. There is a significant overlap between feeling empty and experiencing depression. 

It is possible for a person to feel empty as a symptom of depression or, conversely, for someone experiencing a sense of emptiness to fall into a depressive episode eventually.

Generally, depression is a mental health condition that has many symptoms, such as

  • feeling down and hopeless all the time
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • being unable to concentrate
  • not motivated and lacking energy
  • anhedonia, loss of interest in activities one used to enjoy
  • feeling guilty or “not good enough”

Another sign of depression could be a feeling of emptiness or numbness. Let’s also examine another eight reasons why you might feel lost and empty.

8 reasons why you feel empty and emotionally numb & what you can do about it

It’s time to break down these complex human feelings. Here are some reasons you might be asking yourself, “Why do I feel empty?” and some ideas from mental health professionals on how to fill those gaps.

here is 8 reasons why I feel so empty

Loneliness

Centuries ago, Aristotle said, “Human beings are social by nature.”  Today’s neuroscience agrees with that idea, too. 

Meaningful relationships provide us with support, love, and a sense of belonging. Unfulfilled social needs can lead to emptiness. It is important to build healthy relationships (not toxic relationships) that make you feel good. 

This might involve setting boundaries with toxic people and deepening existing romantic and platonic relationships. Or seeking new connections through support groups or shared interest communities.

Unresolved childhood trauma

Childhood trauma, whether from a single incidence or a prolonged period of difficulty (c-PTSD), can create a profound sense of emptiness. It shatters one’s trust in the world, making it difficult to find joy or fulfillment in adult life. 

For example, you may have learned to feel numb as a way to deal with too many strong emotions when you were young. 

If you grew up in a dangerous and violent environment, you may have felt like you had to cut yourself off from what was going on and deal with it by avoiding or suppressing emotional responses, leaving feelings of emptiness and numbness.

Through trauma-focused therapy like EMDR or CBT, you can process and integrate these traumatic experiences. It might help you find a sense of wholeness and renewed hope.

Lack of Meaning or Purpose

A life devoid of purpose is like a ship without a compass, aimlessly wandering the vast ocean of time. It’s no surprise that a lack of clear objectives can lead to feelings of emptiness and constantly asking yourself, “Why do I feel so lost?”

A common symptom of emptiness is the feeling that life lacks meaning. 

A world-known example of psychologist Viktor Frankl. During the years he spent in Nazi concentration camps, he understood that people need to find meaning in their lives, even when their environment is a constant stress and threat. 

So, he came up with his own therapy to help people find meaning in all parts of their lives. He called it logotherapy, which comes from the Greek word logos, which means “meaning.”

Find what ignites your passion and invest your time in meaningful pursuits. Volunteer, start a project that speaks to your values, or set goals that give your life direction. 

Meaning doesn’t have to be grand; it’s often found in the little things when they resonate with your core values.

Suppression of core emotions

Sometimes, we suppress our human emotions instead of dealing with them.

Psychoanalyst Anna Freud came up with the idea of repression. She said it is a way for the ego to protect itself from stress. Suppressing emotions is a survival mechanism we develop to cope with overwhelming situations and unpleasant feelings.

However, when this becomes habitual, it leads to a disconnect from our innermost feelings and eventually to feelings of numbness and emptiness.

Mental health problems like major depression and general anxiety disorder are often made worse by repressing emotions. 

A person’s repressed emotions also need to come out and fill that emptiness, so there is a higher risk of substance use disorders and eating disorders.

The first step toward healing is recognition. Accepting and expressing your emotions, even the painful ones, can be profoundly liberating. Find safe outlets for emotional expression—such as therapy, journaling, or creative pursuits—to prevent their suppression.

Burnout and emotional exhaustion

In our ever-increasing pursuit of productivity and success, burnout has become endemic. A survey from June 2023 found that 22% of employees in the United States rated their current level of burnout as high or very high.

The millennial and Gen Z work ethics bear the burden of a socio-economic climate that’s less forgiving than that that nurtured previous generations. 

A life characterized by “hustle culture” can leave youth feeling as though they must always be working, achieving, and producing. 

The paradox here is that for all the time and energy poured into work and success, an increasing number of young adults find themselves feeling empty, devoid of the fulfillment they’ve been promised.

Addressing burnout is not about taking a vacation; it’s about restructuring one’s life to value personal time and set boundaries. 

Young adults can rediscover balance by practicing mindfulness at work, setting realistic goals, and learning to say “no” without guilt.

A symptom of borderline personality disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a serious mental health condition mainly defined by instability in mood, relationships, and one’s sense of self. As well as struggles with impulsivity, anger, suicidal, and self-injurious behaviors.

People with BPD may experience extreme emotional swings—love and hate, innocence and guilt—often on a completely different reality axis than everyone around them.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), one of the nine requirements for a diagnosis of BPD is having persistent feelings of emptiness.

Around 70% of college students who took part in the study “felt empty” before they hurt themselves. Another study on a different college group found that feeling empty and having trouble with identity were linked to self-destructive behaviors and what may drive them.

Several studies have shown that therapies like dialectical behavior therapy and psychodynamic therapy can help young people develop stable feelings of self-identity and make these empty feelings less severe.

Grief and loss

The loss of a loved one, a way of life, or an unfulfilled desire can be a profound, shattering experience—one that can significantly alter their relationship with the world and themselves. 

Although everyone feels grief, how it shows up is different depending on the person. 

The void left in the wake of loss often manifests as an emotional numbness that replaces what was once a source of joy. 

The prescribed course of action here is to lean into grief. Honoring the active expression of pain through art, support groups, or conversational therapies is healing. Accepting loss can fill the void with memories and meaning.

Constant stress and anxiety

In our fast-paced, hyperconnected world, stress and anxiety have become commonplace among adults. Whether it’s academic pressure, financial worries, or the constant stream of social media, these factors can contribute to a feeling of emptiness and numbness.

So, how to not feel empty for these reasons? Mindfulness is not just a buzzword; it’s a way of reclaiming one’s present and, by extension, one’s life.

Practicing mindfulness means savoring each moment and banishing the anxiety of the future and regrets of the past. Also, grounding exercises can help. These are activities like the 333 rule that brings you back to the present moment in the real world, including your own body and the world around you.

A word from Breeze

The MA and LAC Hannah Schlueter talked about emotional emptiness The pain and challenges that accompany feelings of emptiness can be all-consuming. Whether it’s a pattern of suppressed emotions, burnout, or an underlying mental health condition, finding the right support and tools to cope with feeling empty is crucial for one’s health and well-being. Bringing more meaning and purpose into your life starts with determining your core values, setting achievable goals, and developing a consistent mindfulness practice.
Hannah Schlueter, MA, LAC photo

Reviewed by Hannah Schlueter, MA, LAC

Hannah is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She sees kids, teens, and adults...