You may have felt “empty” at some point in your life, or you may have heard someone else describe themselves that way. But while this may be a relatively common feeling, it is often not spoken of as a symptom of mental health difficulties. Typically, “feelings of emptiness” are only considered a symptom of borderline personality disorder – a mental health condition characterized by challenges with emotions, relationships with others, and feelings of chronic emptiness.
But, after meeting many people who reported that they felt empty when they accessed it mental health services in Scotland, our research team wanted to know more about the feeling, which was rarely mentioned in mental health research. We started asking the people we interviewed if they had ever felt this way.
This started at four-year project which involved listening to the perspectives of more than 400 people. We wanted to shed light on how common people feel empty and why it’s important for researchers and doctors to start paying attention to that feeling. Our research has allowed us to provide the first definition of emptiness based on descriptions of people who experienced it first hand. This has not only demonstrated the importance of this feeling, but also allows for future research.
“A bottomless jug”
We spoke to over 400 people aged 18 to 80 who had reported feeling empty at some point in their lives, a few times, some always. We asked them to complete one online survey where they described what it was like to feel that way.
This resulted in hundreds of first-hand emotional accounts. Some described feeling empty as “a kind of bottomless jar that can never be filled” and “a sense of alteration and separation from society” that “sucks your whole life and energy.”
As one participant told us, the gap is, “When you feel like everything you do doesn’t make sense and you’re just going through the motions. You just try to fill the time until you die. Sometimes you have fun or something good happens. that may distract you for a while, but in the end there is a void inside that never goes away.It’s like you’re transparent and anything positive like love or joy goes straight through you without sticking and then it looks like he was never there. “
Others spoke of “full zero” levels of motivation, and another said, “I felt like I wasn’t part of the world, I couldn’t feel anything and anything I did impacted events or other people,” there “but I wasn’t” alive “.”
Interestingly, half of the participants had never had mental health issues, which shows us that emptiness is not only experienced by people who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, but can be experienced by people with and without mental health problems.
We also identified a strong link between feeling empty often and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, with those who always felt empty more likely to have thought or attempted suicide.
And while they were never given a definition of what was meant by emptiness — and instead were asked to speak from their own perspective — hundreds of participants described the same sentiment. We found that emptiness was characterized by a feeling of inner emptiness, along with a lack of purpose in life and a sense of disconnection with people from their lives and the world around them. This made people feel that “movements were happening” and that they could not contribute to the world and their lives as they would like.
This research has led to the first definition of emptiness based on people’s personal accounts that has been published in a scientific journal. Our hope is that this will make it easier for clinicians to ask people about the vacuum and for researchers to begin investigating this feeling that had previously been neglected in our conversations about mental health.
Our findings lead us to believe that the vacuum is much more widespread than previously recognized. Anyone can experience feelings of emptiness, regardless of their mental health history, and for some it can be chronic and life-threatening. This experience is clearly complex and affects all aspects of a person’s life and relationships.
So far, the vacuum has received little mental attention Health researchers. But our research has given a new definition to this feeling and highlighted the seriousness of this experience for the people who perform it. Our research also suggests that it might be time to change the way we think mental health, anxiety and the support that is offered, as many people struggle with the void, regardless of whether they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition or not.
But there are still many we do not know. For example, why do people feel empty and why do some people feel more empty than others? What can we do about it? Answering these questions will likely have a big impact on many people. By understanding what emptiness is, how it develops, and how to support people who feel this way, lives can be made more meaningful and suicide death can be avoided.
The next step in this research will be to develop a way to accurately measure people’s emptiness experiences, which will help us study it, and can ultimately help reduce the suffering caused by this complex feeling.
Citation: Many people feel “empty”: understanding what it means is important for improving our mental health (2021, July 1), retrieved July 1, 2021 at https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-07 -people-important-mentalhealth. html
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