How To Cope With Feelings Of Emptiness & When To Seek Help, From Therapists (2023)

Mental Health


expert reviewed


Expert reviewer:

November 27, 2022

By Stephanie Catahan

mbg Contributor

Stephanie Catahan is a health coach and writer with a psychology degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a health coaching certification from Duke Integrative Medicine.

Expert review by

Chamin Ajjan, LCSW, A-CBT, CST

ASSECT-certified sex therapist

Chamin Ajjan, LCSW, A-CBT, CST, is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and AASECT-certified sex therapist based in Brooklyn, NY.

Why do I feel so empty?CausesPossible meaningsFeeling empty all the timeFeeling numbFeeling tiredFeeling empty after sexFeeling empty after cryingFeeling empty at nightEmptiness vs. depressionHow to stop feeling this wayWhen to seek help


November 27, 2022

The phrase "dead inside" is popular across the internet. Memes, jokes, and popular media have been created around the phrase "dead inside" so we can collectively cry and laugh at the concept of feeling empty inside.

But underneath the humor, what's actually going on?


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Why do I feel so empty inside?

The word "empty" may imply that this is just a feeling of nothingness. However, it goes beyond just a lack of feeling.

A 2021 study1 of people with bipolar disorder dealing with feelings of "chronic emptiness"' found it was largely experienced as "a feeling of disconnection from both self and others, and a sense of numbness and nothingness which was frequent and reduced functional capacity."

The researchers also found the feeling of emptiness was closely associated with feelings of purposelessness and unfulfillment, and most people in the study found the feelings to be "distressing."

That impact on your daily life is what mental health professionals are concerned about. Although it's common to feel empty from time to time, it is not a pleasant experience and can negatively affect how you live your life. There may be cause for concern if this feeling of emptiness, paired with a lack of motivation or enthusiasm for life, is persistent across many or all parts of your life.

What causes feeling empty?

There are a few possible root causes for feelings of emptiness:


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You just experienced trauma.

A recent experience of trauma can lead to feelings of emptiness, according to Steph Tuazon, LCSW, a licensed therapist who specializes in trauma work.

"A traumatic experience is an experience that threatens safety, sense of self, and causes lasting distress. After a traumatic experience, whether a recent event or a retriggering event reminding you of an event from the past, it can lead to feeling empty," she explains.

Studies have shown that trauma can be stored in your body, so feeling physically empty might be your body's way of telling you that it needs protection.


You use numbing or disconnection as coping mechanisms.

Coping mechanisms like numbing and disconnection can be used to survive through negative life experiences like loss, trauma, or other highly distressing events. Sometimes, it's easier in the moment to emotionally detach yourself from an experience rather than emotionally engaging with the situation.


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You're experiencing burnout.

Burnout can happen in many areas of life. Researchers describe burnout2 as being characterized by:

  • Overwhelming exhaustion
  • Feelings of cynicism
  • Detachment
  • Sense of ineffectiveness
  • Lack of accomplishment

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Whether it's related to a personal relationship, caretaking, or professional work, burnout can affect anyone. The feelings of emptiness can be a result of elevated negative emotions for a prolonged period of time.


You're emotionally overwhelmed.

Without the proper tools to navigate complex emotions, it's common for people to push their emotions aside. If you are having trouble identifying sadness from anger or frustration from anxiety, you may become apathetic as a way to deal with your emotions later.


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You're sleep-deprived.

"When we are physically, emotionally, and energetically depleted, we naturally will have difficulty feeling like ourselves and have minimal capacity for the responsibilities in our lives," Tuazon says.

This is why self-care through sleep, especially during times of distress, is crucial to well-being. When our bodies are depleted, they cannot help sustain us through navigating our lives.


You're unhappy with where you are in life.

If you're ruminating on just how unhappy you are, you might be driving yourself to feel empty. (Here are signs you may be unhappy, if you're not sure.) Unhappiness can cause you to feel unmotivated to care for yourself physically, mentally, or emotionally.

What it means when you feel empty inside.

Feelings of emptiness can impact how you move through your days. Emptiness is oftentimes paired with other negative experiences and emotions like:

  • Sadness
  • Irritability
  • Overwhelm
  • Disinterest
  • Apathy
  • Numbness

Living with emptiness can look like just going through the motions. You have a to-do list, you do what needs to get done, but at the end of the day, you have felt no joy, fulfillment, or gratitude from anything you've done.

Since everyone's experience with emptiness is different, it's worth noticing your specific experience by asking:

  • When do you feel empty?
  • How often do you feel empty?
  • Where do you feel emptiness in your body?
  • Who's around or not around when you feel empty?

Once you have an idea of where and how your emptiness shows up, you might be able to identify with one of the following scenarios:

Feeling empty all the time:

Persistent feelings of emptiness may be cause for concern. "Emptiness can be a telltale sign that your needs and wants aren't being met," says licensed professional counselor Shani Tran, LPCC. "The first thing is to ask yourself, 'Am I advocating for my needs and wants?'"

Your needs might not be met in more than one area of your life, including work, your marriage, your friendships, or your relationship with yourself.

Feeling numb:

Feelings of numbness can result from overwhelm or trauma. It could be your body's defense mechanism to protect you against feeling tough emotions and feelings you might not be ready for. Tuazon adds, "​​Numb is a dulling of emotions. While we don't need every sensation or emotion to be polarizing as something good or bad, feeling numb is a form of apathy and strong disinterest in things we typically have interest or care in."

Feeling tired:

Feeling tired can be just the physical feeling that you need more sleep. It can also be your body's reaction to a highly emotional or stressful situation or your body's signal that you need to take a few moments to refresh. Feeling tired can also be caused by rumination.

If you're holding on to negative thoughts or situations and repeating them in your mind, you may be exhausting yourself. Just as our bodies need a physical refresh with sleep, your mind and emotional body may need to refresh with a spark of joy or happiness.

Emptiness after sex:

If you have negative feelings or feelings of emptiness after sex, you're not the only one. This experience is known as postcoital dysphoria, and it can present as feeling empty after sex.

"Postcoital dysphoria (PCD) is the experience of negative affect following otherwise satisfactory sexual intercourse," a team of researchers explained in a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Sexual Health. "Individuals who experience PCD may express their immediate feelings after sexual intercourse in terms of melancholy, tearfulness, anxiety, irritability, or psychomotor agitation."

Due to pleasurable highs and postcoital lows, some people may have feelings of emptiness to cope with the extremes in emotion. There may also be underlying relationship issues, or past experiences of trauma, that are surfacing in response to the heightened intimacy experienced during sex.

Emptiness after crying:

Crying is an emotional outlet. Letting yourself cry can be cathartic and a healing experience. After a period of feeling emotional, you may experience a wave of nothing. "Crying takes a lot of energy, and for many of us, while it is a release, it can leave us feeling even more depleted initially," says Tuazon.

Emptiness at night or when you wake up:

Feeling empty at the end of the day or when you wake up could be a sign of prolonged emotional processing and your body being depleted. Since feelings of emptiness are oftentimes paired with other negative feelings, it could also mean that you are experiencing a mental health issue that should be explored with a licensed professional.

Is it depression?

Depression is a clinical diagnosis that requires a licensed professional to test for. It's important to note that depression isn't just one thing. It's not just immense feelings of sadness or emptiness. There are many factors that professionals consider before providing a final diagnosis.

"Feeling empty alone does not automatically mean it is depression," says board-certified psychiatrist Pia Quimson-Guevarra, D.O. "However, if you feel empty along with other symptoms such as having a sad or depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, decreased interest or pleasure in activities, weight changes, fatigue, concentration difficulties, sleeping difficulties, subjective feelings of moving or thinking slower or faster, or thoughts of death or suicide, it could be depression."

If you suspect you may be dealing with depression, consider finding a therapist who can support you in managing your symptoms. If you are considering harming yourself or someone else, call 9-8-8 (in the U.S.) to be connected with confidential support from the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or text HOME to 741741 to get connected to Crisis Text Line.

How to stop feeling this way:


Examine your life.

"Examine what things you can add to your life to bring more positivity and love," Quimson-Guevarra recommends. "Do you need more connection? Then try reaching out to loved ones or making new connections. Are you feeling like all you do is work? Try to add more time for rest and meaningful hobbies or activities. Work on adding more moments of joy in your life."


Get familiar with your emotions.

There are many reasons you may become disconnected from your emotions such as experiencing trauma, not yet having the right tools for emotional processing, and possibly being emotionally unavailable.

But the more familiar you can get with your emotions, the more accurately you can identify what is causing your feelings of emptiness. For example, getting really specific about how anxiety shows up in your body: This can feel like churning in your stomach followed by shortness of breath, which leads to feelings of overwhelm, then emptiness. Knowing these signals can help you have a deeper understanding of your emotions.


Keep a journal.

Once you know how to describe your experience and emotions, keeping a journal can help you express and track what's going on in your life. Not only is it cathartic to get thoughts and emotions on paper, but you can also look back to try to find patterns and root causes for your feelings.


Lean into action.

Tran suggests doing things that created happiness in the past, such as:

  • Going to your favorite coffee shop
  • Dancing
  • Cooking
  • Going outside
  • Reconnecting with friends

Reminding yourself of what has worked in the past can help spark some inspiration to get into action. Getting your body, mind, and emotions moving forward is key to getting away from feeling empty.


Build structure around what brings you joy.

Aiming to improve on adding more joy and happiness first takes realization of what joy and happiness means for you, and this may take a bit of work.

Tuazon recommends starting small—even if it's engaging in something that brings you joy for just 30 seconds—and then building up the practice and staying accountable to it.

"Accountability in this sense means being intentional about creating this structure daily versus based only on feeling or convenience," she explains.


Practice mindfulness.

"One thing I would try to avoid is consumption without any mindfulness," Tuazon says. "For example, while watching a TV series may bring a sense of joy initially, spending hours without being intentional can often lead to feeling worse." Choosing an activity that you can engage with mindfully and with intention will help alleviate feeling empty.


Give yourself grace if healing doesn't look perfect.

Springing into action may feel like a big jump while feeling empty. So be kind to yourself. "Practicing and feeling joy may be challenging, so please give yourself grace in this and know that this feeling empty is not permanent," Tuazon says.

When to seek help.

Sometimes you are taking action for yourself, but it doesn't feel like it's helping you make meaningful progress. You still feel like your feelings of emptiness are impacting the way you live and negatively affecting your work, home, and relationships.

The biggest sign that it's time to seek help is if your feelings of emptiness are debilitating, causing you to not perform at work, neglect tasks at home, and turn away from your relationships.

The good news is that you don't have to keep moving forward alone. Resources are available. Reaching out to a licensed professional can help get you past chronic feelings of emptiness. A therapist can serve as your guide to get you unstuck and moving forward.


What does it mean when you have an empty feeling inside?

Feelings of emptiness can mean many different things depending on the context of where and when you're experiencing it. Taking a moment to reflect on possible causes for emptiness may be worthwhile to gain a better understanding of what's going on emotionally. Possible reasons for feeling empty are experiencing trauma, rumination on negative emotions, or feeling dissatisfied with life.

Is feeling empty common?

Feeling empty is common. However, the severity and pervasiveness in your life are what you need to look out for. If you feel empty and it's affecting your ability to live your life fully, it may be a more serious situation to get checked by a licensed mental health professional.

What can cause feelings of emptiness?

Feelings of emptiness can be caused by a wide range of things, from sleep deprivation to experiencing trauma to the first warning signs of depression. It's best to work with a licensed professional for a diagnosis.

The takeaway.

Feeling empty is a common experience for most of us, which is why the phrase "dead inside" feels so relevant. However, there are certain contexts where this feeling may point to more serious problems than just feeling empty. It may be connected to life dissatisfaction, trauma, depression, or a combination of things. Depending on the severity of the feeling, you may want to take time with a licensed professional to tease out possible root causes and solutions to alleviate your feelings of emptiness.


How do you fight the feeling of emptiness? ›

How to Cope With Emptiness: 10 Ways to Fill the Void
  1. Start a Meditation or Mindfulness Routine. ...
  2. Spend More Time Connecting With Others. ...
  3. Be Intentional With Your Free Time. ...
  4. Set & Work Towards Goals. ...
  5. Find a Creative Outlet. ...
  6. Feel Your Feelings. ...
  7. Heal Old Wounds. ...
  8. Learn More About Yourself.
Aug 6, 2020

What does emptiness feel like? ›

Sense of nothingness, numbness and disconnection from self and others. Participants largely defined feelings of chronic emptiness as a sense of nothingness or a feeling of numbness.

What does BPD emptiness feel like? ›

While these feelings can be difficult to articulate, many mental health professionals and people with BPD have tried to put the concept of emptiness into words. Emptiness has been described as a “deadness”, “nothingness”, or a “void” where all inner experience is excluded.

Is therapy a good solution to tackle sadness? ›

Psychological treatments for depression

Psychological treatments (also known as talking therapies) have been found to be an effective way to treat depression. They can help you change your thinking patterns and improve your coping skills so you're better equipped to deal with life's stresses and conflicts.

Can emptiness be treated? ›

Individual therapy may also help people whose feelings of emptiness are interfering with their relationship, particularly when those feelings stem from an unresolved mental health issue such as depression or borderline personality.

What are the types of emptiness? ›

The six rubrics which the notion of emptiness is used in the Zen tradition are lack of ownbeing, formlessness of ultimate reality, distinctionless state of meditative consciousness, no-mind in the action of non-action, emptiness (or emptying) of emptiness, and emptiness of words.

What triggers emptiness? ›

Causes of Emptiness

“These experiences might include the loss of a loved one, rejection or distinct difficulty finding meaning and fulfillment in their lives.” Other factors that may lead to a feeling of emptiness include boredom, stress, communication issues and lack of emotional connection with others, adds Del Toro.

What is a chronic feeling of emptiness? ›

However, based on the studies reviewed, chronic emptiness is a sense of disconnection from both self and others. When experienced at frequent and severe levels, it is associated with low remission for people with BPD.

Why do I feel like I'm not here mentally? ›

Passing feelings of depersonalization or derealization are common and aren't necessarily a cause for concern. But ongoing or severe feelings of detachment and distortion of your surroundings can be a sign of depersonalization-derealization disorder or another physical or mental health disorder.

What medication is used for chronic emptiness? ›

Antidepressants are used to treat depressive symptoms like chronic feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction with life (dysphoria). Examples include tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

How do I know if I'm dissociating BPD? ›

Those with BPD experiencing dissociation often feel lost, scared, and detached from reality. While dissociation is not the primary symptom of BPD, it is one of the symptoms that make getting treatment for BPD all the more urgent.

What is splitting in BPD? ›

Splitting is a psychological mechanism which allows the person to tolerate difficult and overwhelming emotions by seeing someone as either good or bad, idealised or devalued. This makes it easier to manage the emotions that they are feeling, which on the surface seem to be contradictory.

What kind of therapist treats deep sadness? ›

Cognitive behavioral therapy.

This common type of counseling addresses thoughts, feelings and behaviors that affect your mood. It helps you identify and change distorted or negative thinking patterns and teaches you skills to respond to life's challenges in a positive way.

Why am I so opposed to therapy? ›

Individuals fear judgment, change, the unknown, and what they might discover in therapy; additionally, they're too prideful to admit they need help. Additionally, some people doubt the efficacy of mental health treatment: They're uncertain it will work or misunderstand how it works.

Why is therapy emotionally draining? ›

"Talk therapy is often a release, and many are releasing things they have stored up for years," he explains. "That process of releasing and sharing with another person can be emotionally exhausting, which can also assume the form of physical fatigue.

What is the condition of emptiness? ›

emptiness, also called Nothingness, or Void, in mysticism and religion, a state of “pure consciousness” in which the mind has been emptied of all particular objects and images; also, the undifferentiated reality (a world without distinctions and multiplicity) or quality of reality that the emptied mind reflects or ...

Why does the feeling of emptiness occupy so much space? ›

A sense of emptiness is also often the result of an emotional disconnect. Some allow the ups and downs of relationships to make them desolate and helpless, while others suppress their own emotions so much that they stop feeling anything deeply enough, thus leading to unhappiness and hopelessness.

What is a void of emptiness? ›

A void, a gap that needs to be filled even when you have achieved whatever you wanted but still it feels like a black hole as massive as a cliff. It feels like a desolate place within. In simple words, you feel hollow.

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