In this article, we will talk about the inner feeling of emptiness, its origins and manifestations.
We will also discuss how to heal the feeling of emptiness.
The feeling of emptiness and the connection with the first stage of the psychic life
The feeling of inner emptiness or emptiness of soul is a diffuse, weakly defined feeling which, precisely because of these ambiguous characteristics, causes a lot of anxiety.
The mental anxiety associated with the feeling of inner emptiness is all the greater as the person in suffering does not find a clear symptom or a specific condition to associate with this feeling.
The feeling of inner emptiness is a feeling that is difficult to define and difficult to put into words.
You might feel off but don’t know the reason to it. This difficulty comes from the fact that the feeling of emptiness refers to a primitive stage of our life, a stage that will later be repressed, which means that we will not have conscious memories of it.
We can say, therefore, that the sensations and emotions that are difficult for us to describe, to put into words, to call them are related to archaic life experiences when the delimitation between internal reality and external reality does not exist in our psyche when the boundaries between me and the other were blurred and were just beginning to take shape.
These archaic experiences present in each of us remain imprinted in memory in the form of sensory and motor elements.
Even if we consciously do not remember that we lived them in the first days of existence or in the intrauterine period, our memory will keep them in the form of sensory and bodily impressions.
The feeling of inner emptiness that a person has in adulthood and that causes mental suffering refers to a primitive stage of life in which the feeling of emptiness was lived but, for various reasons, failed to be integrated into his personality.
In other words, there was a failure in the primary development that did not allow the psychic metabolism of the sensation of emptiness and inner emptiness.
Because of this people often forget who they are, what do they want to do in life. I will try to explain in the following paragraph.
The feeling of emptiness according to psychoanalysis
If the Bible tells us that in the beginning was the Word, psychoanalytic research shows that in the beginning was fear.
In fact, the two statements do not contradict each other, but one complements the other.
The word, the language is the one that structures the psychic apparatus, the one that allows growth and development, but it is not a given.
Before the word, language, there is another type of communication, a special type of communication that is found especially in the relationship between a baby and his mother.
We all know that the first words appear around the age of 1-2 years and that this is possible only if there is interaction with another human being.
Before this period in which the human being begins to experience autonomy and develop a sense of reality, there is another stage characterized by total helplessness and absolute dependence on the person who cares for us.
This stage corresponds to the first months of life in which the baby’s psyche begins to structure due to its relationship with the mother.
In this archaic stage, the baby experiences some primitive fears called archaic anxieties.
We all keep in our psyche and body sensory impressions of these anxieties, but they are more clearly seen and can be studied in certain psychopathologies.
Psychoanalysis teaches us that starting from pathology we can learn about the psychic processes present in normal psychic life.
This is a method of researching the psychic apparatus that satisfactorily answers the question “how do we know what a baby lives and feels?”.
Against the primitive anxieties that are rightly called “thoughtless”, a series of defences are mobilized that can succeed or fail in their defensive purpose.
Primitive anxieties, according to D.W. Winnicott (Fear of Breakdown, 1963), are:
- return to a state of non-integration, of fragmentation;
- endless fall;
- loss of psychosomatic collusion;
- loss of sense of reality;
- loss of the ability to relate to other people.
These archaic fears are integrated and overcome if things go well in the first stage of life.
For things to go well, it is necessary for the mother or the person who takes care of the baby to be able to exercise a function of vital importance, namely that of putting herself in the baby’s place and understanding what his needs are.
It is a preverbal communication that, as natural as it seems, is as sophisticated in terms of psychic mechanisms and the interactions it entails.
The body care that the child’s mother offers, the way she holds and looks at her baby, the way she feeds and caresses him, the way she talks and introduces the baby to other people in the family, her mental state when doing all these are of vital importance to the mental life of the baby.
The feeling of inner emptiness and its symptomatic manifestations in adult life
The state of emptiness present in adult life can take various forms: refusal to eat or, conversely, compulsive need to eat, inability to learn, inability to feel the joy of living, deep feelings of futility and uselessness, etc.
These symptomatic forms represent defence attempts against anxiety generated by the state of inner emptiness.
Paradoxically, the person tries to get rid of these feelings, to solve them and to integrate them, putting himself, unconsciously, in situations that generate the same feelings over and over again.
For example, a person who feels empty inside tries to get rid of this sensation by compulsively ingesting a large amount of food.
The paradoxical effect will be that, as a result of this action, the feeling of emptiness will deepen even more, and the mental suffering will not diminish.
What is feared and threatening will be sought repeatedly and compulsively in order to be overcome, removed.
In the example above, compulsive eating will not remove the feeling of inner emptiness because, in fact, the person does not know what it is like to really eat and does not know what the experience of real physical and mental satisfaction associated with the act of eating means.
The act of feeding, in this example, is a dissociated, unintegrated function that probably leads to a failure of the feeding experiences he had as a child.
How to heal the feeling of inner emptiness?
The path is not an easy one, but it can be found in the therapeutic relationship.
In psychotherapy, due to the special type of relationship it facilitates, the person can manage, together with the therapist, to reach the psychic significance of his state of emptiness, to tolerate it better and to integrate it.
Why can’t a person heal herself?
The answer is this article itself. All these states have their origin in an early stage of life in which the relationship with another was defining.
The source of mental suffering and, to the same extent, the source of healing is in a relationship with another.
The relationship is the one that opens the way to healing, and the therapeutic relationship, in particular, is a healing relationship.
Conclusions about the emptiness in your soul
The emptiness in the soul can appear after you have lost a loved one, after a breakup or even after a disappointment.
Be careful, if this sensation persists and you try to fill the gap with things or people, you are only covering the real reason why it appeared.
The emptiness in your soul cannot be filled with material things. Many people try to make up for their emotional shortcomings by finding refuge in material things.
We talk about the moments when you do uncontrolled shopping, which later make you feel guilty.
Spend money trying to distract your attention from the cause of your suffering. But this method does not solve your real problem, but only covers it.
At the same time, some people try to fill their void by attaching themselves to other people. They may even try to use and manipulate those around them so that they do not feel alone.
This behaviour is wrong because all the people involved end up suffering. Unfortunately, the outcome is painful and unhappy.
The feeling of emptiness in your soul fills you with despair and makes you attach to objects or people that give you a feeling of well-being, but only for a moment.
Often, sufferers resort to compulsive eating or self-harm because the feeling is unbearable, so they look for ways to avoid the problem.
The feeling of emptiness in the soul can have its origins in childhood. As you already know, childhood is a very important period of life.
These years create emotional deficits that can cause problems throughout life.
If you grew up in a dysfunctional family or if your parents had a problematic relationship, you probably didn’t get the affection you needed. As a child, you adapted to the situation.
Thus, there may not have been a significant impact when you were young.
But when you grow up, the situation changes. The things you went through explode in your life stronger than ever.
Past experiences come to the surface and show you how much they have actually affected you and how many problems they are causing you now.
Sometimes you don’t even remember what happened in your childhood. That is why the intervention of a specialist can be extremely useful.
Psychotherapy can help you discover the cause of the problem. In addition, the psychologist can give you the tools you need to heal your wounds.
The feeling of emptiness in your soul causes you unhappiness. No matter how hard you try, if you try to fill the void with people, new clothes or food, it will not disappear.
Even if you choose to continue the relationship in which you put all your hopes, you still feel empty inside.
You can buy a thousand things, but when you have them in front of you, you realize that you don’t feel whole.
These “patches” are useless. On the contrary, they can turn into a vicious circle, generating even more anxiety.
Sometimes you hesitate. You are afraid to ask for help, although this would be the best decision you can make.
You can’t face everything on your own. Even if you know what is happening to you, you may not have the tools to choose another path.
The time has come to stop filling the void in your soul with unnecessary things and to blame your parents.
They did what they could. Now you are responsible for your own well-being, so accept the situation and ask for help.
A void in the soul can only be filled with self-love. All you need is a push, a “you’re not alone” to move on.
After all, we all get lost at some point. But that doesn’t mean we can’t find the right path.
The most important thing is to remember that if you have a void in your soul, you can only fill it with self-love.
FAQ about emptiness
Is empty a feeling?
Feeling empty means having no purpose, goals of feeling like you have no meaning.
In some cases, feeling empty may be a symptom of other chronic mental issues.
What is meant by the emptiness in Buddhism?
Emptiness in Buddhism means that things do not exist the way our grasping self supposes they do.
How do I fill my emptiness?
To fill the inner emptiness you have to practice self-care and self-love.
Have patience and be kind to yourself, trying to understand what is happening to you right now.
Reflect, forgive yourself, commit to loving yourself, do things that make you happy.
What causes emotional detachment?
Emotional detachment is usually caused by traumatic events, such as severe childhood abuse or neglect.
Why That Emptiness Feeling Inside, by Jeffery Vanderpuil
Emptiness: The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, by Geshe Tashi Tsering
Introduction to Emptiness: As Taught in Tsong-Kha-Pa’s Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path, by Guy Newland
Emptiness: A Practical Guide for Meditators, by Guy Armstrong
Emptiness Dancing, by Adyashanti
Levy ST. Psychoanalytic perspectives on emptiness. J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 1984;32(2):387-404.
D.W. Winnicott – Fear of Breakdown, 1963