What’s it like to feel empty inside?
People who feel empty inside have the feeling that they are merely silent observers of their own lives. They are restless, doubt themselves a lot and yearn for recognition. Feeling constantly dejected, incomplete or lonely can tear a big hole in us, which we then try to patch up by any possible means.
Much like a grumbling stomach when we are hungry, inner emptiness can be described as a hunger for meaning, for self-control and completeness. Instead of genuinely seeking the right food to satisfy this emotional hunger, we often start looking for replacement solutions – anything to fill the void we feel inside.
Impulsive eating, excessive alcohol and drug consumption, compulsive shopping and obsessive attachment to certain people are a few examples of such behaviour. However, the satisfaction we gain from these behaviours is only momentary and soon gives way to the next craving, like an insatiable appetite. That’s why, in many cases, this behaviour can develop into a serious addiction.
This creates a dangerous vicious circle: for fear of remaining forever stuck with this inner emptiness and deprived of our needs, we begin to avoid those situations that cause us to feel particularly empty inside. By acting this way, we isolate ourselves further from our social environment and feel even more alone and helpless. Anxiety disorders and depression may start to take hold.
How does inner emptiness come about?
There are numerous reasons you may start feeling empty. Sudden events like losing someone close to you, being made redundant or finding yourself far from home can be a trigger. Equally, it may stem from a traumatic experience at a young age. However, these situations do not themselves produce inner emptiness. The crucial thing is how we perceive the cause of our experience. Psychologists call this attribution, and they distinguish between two basic types:
1. With external attribution, when an event occurs, we look for the reason in our environment or in the abilities of other people – we attribute it to something external.
2. With internal attribution, we attribute the event to ourselves and our own abilities.
If life were solely about nurturing and maintaining our self-esteem, it would make strategic sense to explain our successes in terms of our own abilities while attributing failures to other people or external factors.
When we feel empty inside, we tend to behave the opposite way. Whenever we don’t succeed at something, we tend to think that we’re not good enough. Yet when we experience success, we believe we simply got lucky. As a result of this misinterpretation and the lack of pride in our own successes, our self-esteem and confidence in our own abilities deteriorate and decline.
Like other behaviour patterns, we acquire patterns of attribution in childhood and store them subconsciously. For instance, we usually give little thought to how we walk or talk. And in the same way, we rarely tend to question the way we attribute causes to events. Once we have adopted a negative pattern of attribution, as is the case with inner emptiness, it’s difficult to break out of that pattern, because it seems so normal to us.
How to counteract inner emptiness
Since patterns of behaviour and attribution are learned, you can also learn to overcome your inner emptiness. Here are four tips to help you on your way:
Try to engage closely with yourself, your emotions and your thoughts, and to reflect on them. For example, you could keep a diary of your thoughts, feelings, fears and desires. By writing them down, you allow yourself to observe them and bring them out of your inner self. Meditation or yoga can also help you to explore your thoughts and feelings more deeply.
2Seek out new experiences
Rather than filling your inner emptiness with addictive behaviours and consumption in the short term, seek out meaningful activities and experiences that create new impressions and memories. Focus on things that will do you good or things you have always wanted to do.
Scientific studies have also shown that we tend to experience happiness and satisfaction more intensely when we share our experiences with other people. So try out a new sport, do something special with your friends or set out on a day trip with the family.
3Focus on people you care about
One thing that can lead to feeling empty and miserable is when we make ourselves dependent on the approval and validation of others. Our social circles and personal contacts are important for our wellbeing, but at the same time it is important to recognise that, for some people, you are just a means to an end. Reflect on those people who are important to you, who enrich your life and who also care about you. It can help if you open up to these people and share your feelings of inner emptiness with them.
4Get support from a therapist
If the tips above don’t help you to address your inner emptiness or if you feel you would benefit from some extra support, psychotherapy may be the right step for you. This is especially important if you have been feeling empty inside for a long time and you don’t notice any improvement, despite trying to follow the advice given here.
If you can’t find a therapist or have concerns about going to conventional therapy, our online course Depression Prevention may help you to fill the void you are feeling inside. The course focuses on finding and maintaining happiness and improving your personal wellbeing.