Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/4/2022
Feelings can be quite a trip. When you’re happy and content, it’s as if you can conquer the world and absolutely nothing can go wrong. On the other hand, you might be angry, devastated, suffering from a traumatic event, experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) or feeling empty.
Chronic feelings of loneliness are one thing, but an empty feeling can be disconcerting. Often, you know you should feel something — but you don’t. Instead, you’re numb.
Getting to the bottom of what causes feelings of emptiness can help you stop it.
Feeling empty is a subjective experience. Since it’s not a medical condition, there’s no strict definition of what it means or how it feels.
Researchers who’ve looked into the feeling of emptiness have said it’s a complex, negative state of emotion experienced by individuals in different ways. Further, emotionlessness can affect both your mental and physical health.
The state of mind may also include feeling alone or disconnected socially. And some people experience numbness as a part of this empty feeling.
This sense of emptiness can affect your quality of life. After all, emotions are often what we use to connect with other people.
For example, you might share a laugh with a pal as a way of bonding or seek out thrills with a partner to grow closer. If you’re feeling empty inside, this shared connection is hard to build.
If you’re feeling a sense of emptiness, it’s important to understand what’s causing it. Knowing the root of this feeling (or lack of feelings) can help you seek out a treatment or solution.
A mental health professional is the best person to partner with to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Many things can lead to a feeling of emptiness, and a healthcare provider is trained to help you figure it out.
Here are some factors they may consider.
There are a few mental illnesses in which feeling empty is a sign or symptom. Again, a mental health provider can best determine if your lack of emotion is tied to a mental health condition.
Mental health issues most commonly associated with a sense of emptiness include:
Borderline Personality Disorder. This mental illness influences a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. This can lead to impulsivity and may negatively affect relationships. Feelings of dissociation are common with this mental illness, which can make you feel empty.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). An overinflated sense of importance and entitlement are signs of this disorder. On the inside, people with NPD often feel insecure or empty.
Schizophrenia. A very serious mental illness, people with schizophrenia often seem as though they’ve lost touch with reality. Left untreated, people with schizophrenia may have trouble enjoying life and may feel empty as a result.
Being physically lonely — like when all your friends go out and you’re left at home — may not make you feel empty inside. But that’s not the only kind of loneliness to be aware of.
There’s also something called internal loneliness. It’s marked by low self-esteem, mental distress and bad coping strategies. When you feel lonely on the inside, you’re literally noticing the absence of something (or many things), and it can create an empty feeling.
Losing someone or something you love can hit you hard. And while there’s no single way people experience grief, feeling empty or numb isn’t uncommon, especially in the beginning phases.
This sense of emptiness can happen because you’re in shock over the loss of a loved one. It could also occur when you try to block out all feelings as a way of preventing yourself from experiencing the pain of loss.
Some people have temporary feelings of grief, while others experience them for a long time. And for lots of folks, grief may come in waves.
A sense of emptiness can have a devastating effect on your life circumstances. You may feel out of touch with your daily life and unable to connect with those around you.
That empty-all-the-time vibe can also make you feel personally unfulfilled, bored and without purpose.
But chronic feelings of emptiness can be even more dangerous. Some believe they may lead to thoughts of self-harm or even suicidal ideations.
If you’re at risk of harming yourself, call for help immediately. Dial 911 or call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
Learning how to stop feeling empty isn’t always cut and dry.
But to curb feelings of unfulfillment, despair and emptiness, you’ll want to work with a mental health professional who can help you figure out what’s causing this state of mind.
Whether you have a depressive disorder like clinical depression, borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder, identifying the cause of your emptiness can lead you to treatment and ultimately allow you to live the meaningful life you deserve.
One common way to treat many things that cause feelings of emptiness in life is through therapy. Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be beneficial. Research has found it can help improve depression (among many other things).
When you do CBT, you’ll work with a therapist to identify patterns and behaviors that may contribute to that feeling. For example, if you tend to isolate yourself or block out difficult emotions, you’d find ways to change these behaviors. The hope is that, as you work on these things, you’ll stop feeling as empty.
As discussed, feelings of emptiness may be a symptom of depression. If this is the case, antidepressant medication may also help.
Antidepressants that may be prescribed include:
Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as venlafaxine
Explore our full antidepressants list to learn more.
Feelings of emptiness can lead to a pervasive sense of discomfort and malaise in your life. And they can have a huge impact on your emotional health.
Some may feel emptiness from time to time, while others might notice chronic emptiness. In any case, this mindset can make it tough to form meaningful connections and enjoy life, both of which are vital components of the human experience.
Mental health conditions (like depression and substance use disorders), loneliness and grief can cause a feeling of emptiness.
To get to the bottom of what’s causing this complex feeling, it’s best to speak with a mental health professional. You can do this in person or through an online consultation with Hers.