Feeling empty from time to time may be a normal part of the human condition. But if you experience persistent feelings of emptiness, there may be something you can do about it.
What does emptiness feel like?
- You don’t have a sense of purpose.
- You perceive a lack of meaning in your life.
- You’re not happy, but you’re not particularly sad, either.
- If someone were to ask you how you feel, you might say, “I don’t know.”
What causes feelings of emptiness? No one knows for sure, and there may be more than one cause. A common reason you might feel empty is self-alienation—feeling like a stranger to yourself. This sensation develops over time, usually as a result of pushing away unwanted emotions.
Our emotions are an important aspect of our experience of ourselves and our quality of life, yet most of us have some degree of trouble allowing ourselves to have certain feelings. Anger is one emotion that many people try not to experience, for example.
What happens to our feelings when we refuse to acknowledge them? They stick around in the shadows of our minds, gumming up the emotional works and, eventually, cutting us off from ourselves altogether.
The result? We feel empty. We have a pulse, but we’re not really alive.
Life is an emotional experience.
If you come from a family that didn’t “do” certain (or any) emotions, you’re at increased risk of feeling empty.
Here are some ideas for getting out from under this uncomfortable state:
- Stop looking “out there” for a sense of purpose. Your purpose springs forth from your uniqueness. It’s not something that floats around the earth independently like a cloud, waiting for you to find it. If you don’t have a strong sense of who you are, it’s can be hard to feel in touch with your purpose. You are someone in particular. You have a story, of which you’re the star.
- Think about this question: “Who is the person experiencing this feeling of emptiness?” Your authentic self is the person who cries when you’re sad, and laughs when you’re tickled. It’s your authentic self who wants to inhabit the void, filling you with meaning, purpose, and connection. Start where you are: Someone is feeling empty. Who is it?
- Ask yourself how you might feel if you weren’t feeling empty. Look at your life—past, present, and/or future. What comes up as you think about it? Any so-called negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or despair are showing you what might be hiding under a numbing blanket of emptiness. Are you protecting yourself from something you’d rather not know? Be curious, not judgmental. Compassionate, not accusing.
- Embrace your emotions, whatever they are. This is the same as embracing yourself. Although emotions aren’t literally a part of you, they’re a reliable reflection of you in this moment. How you feel in any given moment is the road that connects you with your authentic self. Try a little constructive wallowing in any emotions you have, and remember: curiosity and compassion, not judgment, is the goal.
- Be a joiner. There’s meaning in connection with other people. Consider sharing your sense of emptiness with another person. If there’s no one in your life you trust with that information, a support group could be valuable. A grief support group might be a good choice. Many of us have endured enough loss in our lives to fit right in. You can’t be closer to another than you are to yourself. Be honest and kind to yourself, rather than looking to other people to fill you up.
- Root out shame. There is nothing inherently wrong with you. It’s hard to be close to someone you despise, and shame encourages you to reject yourself.
- Try therapy. A good therapist holds up a metaphorical mirror, helping you see and appreciate who you are. If you need a little help, find a therapist in your area.
You don’t have to live your life feeling empty if you don’t want to. You deserve a good relationship with yourself and a meaningful, purposeful life. Let this article reach that part of you that’s there under the surface, waiting to reconnect and dispel those feelings of emptiness.
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