8 Signs That You Have Empty Feelings
It’s like I have no emotions. I’m numb a lot of the time.
Something is missing in me.
I have no idea how I feel about anything.
Sometimes my chest feels hollow.
I feel empty inside.
What might seem like five unrelated statements is actually five different people describing the same feeling. It’s a hard emotion to identify, and even harder to put into words. Everyone says it differently because there is no standard label for it. But for these five people, and thousands more, it is the same feeling, caused by the same problem.
The one word that sums it up best:
Of all the different emotions that a person can have, Empty is one of the most uncomfortable. To feel Empty is to feel incomplete. It’s a feeling of something absent or missing inside of you, of being different, set apart, alone, lacking, numb.
This is a feeling that can drive people to do a myriad of unhealthy things, like overeat, overdrink, over-shop, or even use drugs. This is a feeling which gradually, quietly erodes a person’s joy, energy, and confidence. It flies under the radar and carries with it a tremendous power to degrade your quality of life.
Just as every feeling we have tells us something about ourselves, so also does empty. It tells us that we are missing something vital in ourselves. Something that is required for happiness and fulfillment. Is it something different for every person? I don’t think so. What’s missing is the same for all who feel empty. What’s missing is:
From talking with scores of people who have this feeling of emptiness, I have been able to identify what I believe is its cause. It’s a childhood experience which each has lived, but few are able to remember. It’s Childhood Emotional Neglect. Each of these people grew up in a home in which his emotions were not accepted, responded to, or validated enough.
Our emotions are hard-wired into us. They are the most deeply personal, biological part of who we are. When you are raised by parents who ignore, invalidate, or fail to respond to your emotions, you learn quickly to do that for yourself. It is not a child’s conscious choice. It is an invisible message with invisible power. The adaptive child automatically adapts. He ignores, invalidates, and fails to respond to his own feelings.
So as an adult, when you feel empty, what is missing in you is the same ingredient that was missing in your childhood: acceptance, responsiveness, and validation of your emotions. But now, in adulthood, it is not from your parents that you need this acceptance. It is from yourself.
“But I do have emotions,” you may be saying to me right now. “So why do I still feel empty?”
Picture a wall inside yourself. On one side of that wall is your feelings, and on the other side is you. Your feelings exist, and they are real. Sometimes one breaks through the wall and you feel it. But the wall is still there.
8 Signs That You Feel Emptiness
- At times you feel physically empty inside
- You are deeply uncomfortable with feeling, or appearing, needy
- Sometimes you feel numb
- You question the meaning and purpose of your life
- For no obvious reason, you sometimes wonder whether you want to live
- You feel mystifyingly different from other people
- Some important ingredient is missing from your life
- Deep down you feel you are alone
If you feel that this article applies to you, please know this: Yes, something is missing. Yes, it is vital. You are not needy, and you are not numb. You are not different, and you are not alone. Everything you need to fill yourself is already there inside of you. Waiting for you to open your eyes, break down the wall, and see.
The fuel of life is feeling. If we are not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. Otherwise, we will find ourselves running on empty.
For help understanding and healing your empty feelings see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.
Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and invisible, so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out if grew up with CEN, visit EmotionalNeglect.com and Take The CEN Test. It’s free.
Having read both books, along with numerous articles by Dr. Webb, it seems clear that we each have a Neglect/Attention spectrum or axis.
The furstration and consequent situational resentfulness I had, made healing difficult in several ways:
The learned neglectfulness in others prevents success in attempting ot overcome and change from neglectful relationships.
The neglectfulness learned – absent from childhood modeling, – required years to even see where I was and am neglectful.
I often assert that culture is what is passed on during developmental periods, especially as these are powerful periods when attention is naturally occurring in the young. Just as other animals (you might see it mostly in domestic companion dogs. they are highly attentive and communicative, but when exposed to a familiar human, signal for only a short period, perhaps just once, and seeing no response, shut down attempts to communicate.
Babies are profoundly absorbent of behavioral cues, storing what is repeated or emotionally arousing/salient to form assessments of both what is of value to their intimates, and thus, what is of social value to themselves to imitate, remember, know.
There are too many factors occurring in siblings – my own sister, once emotinally attentive, predictive, compassionate, as she attempted to instruct and expand her children’s love, care, prosociality, formed resentments unrelated to reality, due top having experienced both extreme neglect and some significant verbal and behavioral abuse (our father scored pretty much Zero on parenting scales, while our mother shunted emotional interaction and attention to delusional religion, dissociating love from real individuals, misattributing it to judgmental illusions of autocratic deity, whose rules must be strictly adhered to).
Her emotional abilities deteriorated so much that she is unreachable. The fact that she is a Registered Nurse, exposed to so many individual in her work, in emergency rooms, seems to have made her exhausted, more callous.
One would think that we learn that babies, friends, intimates, can do no actual wrong, but instead communicate what they have learned and not learned, seeking more healthy intimacy.
Neglect implies lack of full attention, in the present moment. The problems appearing in marriage and like relationships, in my experience are due to reduced willingness to attend, to value the partner.
Coming into relationships perhaps too late – my first occurred at age 24 – I have found no one seemingly unscarred, no one not avoidant. I am slow to realize, having the combination neglected childhood – and experiencing abusive rejection from grandparent as well as parents.
Children are resilient; we learn to function in spite of neglect and abuse. But as we mature- age 25 or so is cognitive maturity, we reflect behaviors that appeared to work for others. I happen to resist the most egregious – for example, I do not separate the sexual act from the aroused emotions of love, attachment that arises, feelings like gratitude and attention.
While excuses ar made for urban hectic life, that is just stress, stress similar to that of danger war,.
There are limits to our ability, and constant “dating” and other immersion in unrelieved novelty, makes us want to skip the necessary time or steps to intimacy.
We blame – a rejective heuristic having no function other than ending relationship. I do not blame parents, etc. who were neglectful, as it became clear that they, too, had NO ability to comprehend the neglect they persist[ed] in, for their lifetimes.
Yet, I expect anyone else to act as a peer, not resisting simple attention, not blitzing their senses in the effort to avoid emotion. I think of therapists and clients as entering a contract of Openness. This presumptive contract is what we expect from anyone intimate. Yet it is vanishingly rare that any commit to just plain openness.
I keep looking at my own actions; otherwise, I would blame and resent those who reject. Our very family long disintegrated.
I see that the practitioners of therapeutic psychology have embraced the recognition of stultifying neglect, even though the US culture (indigenous aside) exists in a state of normalizing neglect.