The sense of emptiness is one of the most complex mental aspects, whose continuum ranges between being a universal human experience, in which everyone comes into contact with himself and from which someone can take the opportunity to know and grow, up to a feeling (transversal to some psychopathological disorders) of loss in the perception of oneself. Let’s dive into what feeling of emptiness is.
The different ways in which the sense of emptiness is experienced could overlap, follow one another or be individually experienced and can be summarized as follows:
- A transient boredom due to the lack of active needs. Usually in these cases the sense of emptiness emerges after a definitive failure or paradoxically after the achievement of an important goal, in which the person feels, in fact, empty because someone has no longer a goal to aim for. When, to this lack of purpose is added the inability to make decisions independently, to impose one’s wishes and to take any initiative, the void becomes a component of the depressive experience.
Sense of Emptiness
- The sense of emptiness can also be perceived as the impression of “having to do something”, without however knowing how to finalize this need and leads the individual to experience a sense of frenzy, agitation, which, however, does not find immediate explanation. Leading to another often associated phenomenon, the so-called chronic sense of dissatisfaction.
Lack of Sense of Existence
- A lack of sense of existence, which becomes a more generalized aspect (abundantly described by poets, writers and philosophers including Leopardi, Beckett, Schopenhauer) and is connoted as a loss of meaning with respect to one’s life. The person feels like a grain of sand, insignificant, in front of something vast and incomprehensible.
- The sense of emptiness is sometimes experienced as a disturbing anticipation of death in which the sense of self is lost, a characteristic expression of those who experience dissociative states. In particular, during depersonalization (a form of dis-integrative process of consciousness), the individual can experience a terrifying mental void, a “black hole” from which one can only escape through powerful painful sensations (such as for example cutting oneself or burning oneself).
- The sense of emptiness can also be the cause of other emotions that emerge at the very moment in which it is experienced: fear, sadness, anger, anguish, restlessness, terror are often consequent to this sensation. In this case it is important to recognize that the triggering factor of these emotions is emptiness, as the therapeutic intervention will be declined differently.
The sense of emptiness has a strong clinical relevance given that suicidal gestures, self-harm and / or impulsive behaviours occur more frequently in it. In the event that, when the emptiness is experienced, the “need for something” emerges, such as compulsive sex, binge eating, substance use, these behaviours become means whose end is to get out of the void state.
These needs are different from desires (characterized by the anticipation of satisfaction that brings joy), but are rather described as automatisms necessary to get out of a space where nothing makes sense. The goal is not to eat or have sex, but to feel a high physiological activation that can help you get out of this state for no purpose.
On the other hand, when intolerable emotions are experienced (for example fear due to a sense of vulnerability), the only way to manage them is to implement dysfunctional behaviors that can reduce emotional activation and evoke an absolute detachment from the world.
Emotional anesthesia may be used by some patients to avoid coming into contact with the unworthy and dirty self that they cannot tolerate. In this case the sense of emptiness has an initially pleasant connotation, of control, in which the use of the self-injurious or suicidal gesture occurs within a sense of omnipotent detachment, in which everything is possible, even death.
The sense of emptiness in personality disorders
Among the disorders in which we find this sensation most frequently are personality disorders : in these cases the sense of emptiness is the expression of a deficit of self-direction. The latter is a component of the functioning of the self and refers to having short and long term goals perceived as one’s own and pursued persistently; furthermore, the difficulties in this psychological function indicate the inability to use constructive, prosocial internal standards of behaviour and poor self-reflexive abilities. In general, these types of patients seem to have a constant lack of active goals in the mind and difficulty in pursuing their goals.
The sense of emptiness is not only present in borderline personality disorder, as the current nosography suggests. In fact, we also find it in Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Dependent Personality Disorder. In borderline personality disorder, the DSM – 5 (the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) reports in criterion 7 the following wording: ” chronic feelings of emptiness “. Indeed, people with this disorder often describe mental states of emptiness and emotional detachment, which they usually experience after coming into contact with an unworthy, lousy, vulnerable self that cannot be tolerated.
Escaping this sense of unworthiness is therefore coveted by the patient, who enters a sort of ecstatic state where everything is perceived as under control and a sense of invulnerability emerges. This is where self-injurious or suicidal gestures usually take place, as they are both the effect of this state and a way to evoke it.
When, in the patient with borderline personality disorder, the sense of perceived emptiness is more similar to the lack of purpose, the transition to acting out is useful to provoke a physiological activation that can make the person move away from this painful lack of meaning.
In this state, everything that activates arousal is functional to fill the void: promiscuous sexual behaviors, binges, alcohol abuse, reckless driving are all behaviors actively sought, which however lead to the confirmation of contempt towards oneself according to an endless circuit.: sense of unworthiness – emptiness – dysregulated management – unworthiness.
The mental state of emptiness in narcissistic personality disorder is described in the myth of Narcissus as a wandering without goals and passions, whose feeling of boredom and dissatisfaction pervades the whole self. In fact, people who suffer from this disorder describe the sense of emptiness as if all their inner experience was devitalized and turned off. Pride is no longer able to ignite the triumphant ego and although fantasies of success and power may continue to exist. They no longer have the same grandiose flavour.
Initially the person can stay in this mental state as he becomes an elevated spectator of the efforts of others and his own self-esteem remains stable. But when this condition persists and anguish-laden boredom, chronic dissatisfaction and the need for the other take over, the state of emptiness is no longer tolerated and becomes a source of suffering from which it is necessary to get out.
If the sense of narcissistic emptiness is more like an apathetic resignation, a withdrawing from the world and one’s desires in order to avoid the failures that are a source of shame and humiliation, we are faced with what the type of narcissist defined as vulnerable experiences ( Russ et al., 2008).
Giving up may be preferable to the effort of pursuing one’s goals, as the needs of the vulnerable narcissist are all related to their self-esteem and not to the pleasure inherent in the activity itself. So better resign yourself, withdraw and avoid any failure, living the grandiose fantasies only in your own imagination.
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Even in the functioning of people with dependent personality disorder, the sense of emptiness is related to goals. In this case it is perceived in the moment in which there is abandonment. Since the presence of the other is fundamental to feel self-effective, active and to remove that sense of self of inadequacy so feared.
The dependent personality, when it enters this state, can perceive a kind of disorganization, disintegration of the self and of its own body scheme. Usually, when the other is missing, the mood undergoes a negative inflection: there are no more desires, needs and the loss takes over. If there is no reference figure who maintains self-esteem, everything lacks meaning.
As described above, the states of emptiness can be of different nature and relate to different personological arrangements. Second and third generation cognitive-behavioural therapies use numerous techniques and strategies useful for emotional management and regulation. Furthermore, the awareness work on impulsive and self-injurious behaviours safeguards the physical and mental health of the patient who is more willing to develop alternative strategies to manage the different mental states.
During the therapeutic process, understanding where the feeling of emptiness comes from, being aware of it and accepting it can be the first step to be able to live with it or perhaps get out of it through functional modalities.
Human beings have evolved through time. The human brain questions different things, like why things are that way or how something is meant to be. This is because it’s human nature to ponder, consider and ask questions about the existence of things. In this article we will find out what is the purpose of our life.
Does everyone need to think about what they want to do in their lives? How do they want to spend it? and most importantly, What is the purpose of their lives? Presumably, Yes! Knowing the purpose of your life gives you a road to follow, a path to go along with.
Everyone sets different goals and achievements for his life. Sometimes, the purpose of their lives may be researching some chronic diseases, finding out ways to produce more food, or searching for ways to help the needy. It’s your own choice. Have you thought about the purpose of your life? If not, then think about it and stop wasting your life! Because a purposeless life is worthless. We highly recommend you to read these following articles to help yourself from feeling worthless or emptiness.
So What is the purpose of life?
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