What Causes Emptiness? | Jonice Webb, PhD

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From Dr. Jonice Webb/Running on Empty: “Emptiness is not a clinical term among mental health professionals. It’s not a common term among the general public. It’s not something that people generally talk about. Yet in my 25 years of practicing psychology, I have encountered many people who have tried to express it to me in some way. Few of them have had the words to describe it. Mostly I had to intuit what was going on for them and give them the words. Each time, it brought the person great relief. It is incredibly healing and connecting to put a label on a plaguing, undefined feeling that has dogged one for years. A label offers understanding and hope, and a path somewhere.

I have a theory about why emptiness has gone so unnoticed, unknown and ill-defined. It’s because emptiness is not actually a feeling; it’s an absence of feeling. We human beings are not wired to notice, define or discuss the absence of things. We have a hard enough time talking about feelings. But the absence of feelings seems almost too vague, unimaginable, invisible; too difficult to grab hold of.

This is why so many people live with this feeling on and off throughout a lifetime. Many people don’t even know they have it, much less what it is. They just know that they feel ‘off’; like something just isn’t right with them. They feel different from other people in some inexplicable way. One person said to me, ‘I feel like a bit player in the movie of my own life.’ Another said, ‘I feel like I’m on the outside, looking in at other people who are truly living.'”

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7 COMMENTS

  1. Could it be emptiness is the lack of fully felt happiness or joy on oneself? Maybe some form of “disembodied” happines or joy? Like: I know it’s there, it’s just at the bottom where I can’t easily reach it…

    Sounds from the final paragraphs some of the folks aluded to are more apt at perceiving hapiness/joy in someone else than in themselves. Which sounds incongruous if they come from families that cut emotions short or unacknownleadge them. Like looking in the wilderness of joyfull mirrors to catch a glimpse…

    Maybe emptiness is not all encompasing, maybe more limited to happines/joy on oneself?

    😛 Maybe some oxitocine meassurement when smilling to one self in the mirror might pick up a statistical significant, clinically relevant meassurement? particularly vs seeing someone else smile? :/

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  2. Emotional emptiness usually stems from having experienced serious emotional neglect sometime in childhood, (or even later), something that unfortunately often results in becoming disconnected from the deepest, most authentic parts of the Self. Healing often begins by acknowledging (even if only to one’s private Self) that overwhelming things (trauma) did indeed happen, and then by recognizing how much it has affected one’s emotional/psychic life. Now begins the long-suppressed grieving has hat time and patience usually resolves. But contrary to what most people are led to believe, NONE of this automatically requires engaging with some “professional’s'” godawful acronyms, fees, or worst of all, ego.

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  3. Emptiness is used as a clinical term. It’s one of 9 criteria used to diagnose borderline personality disorder. (A person only needs to meet five of the criteria, all of which are equally vague and subjective, in the opinion of a treatment provider, to get the diagnosis.)

    If emptiness is, in fact, a common and “normal” thing to experience, that’s more reason for psychiatry to get rid of the BPD diagnosis, which, it’s been documented, leads to mistreatment of those diagnosed by health care practitioners. I myself experienced this mistreatment for 20 years (until I stopped seeking any form of health care). It is a label that did not give me hope. It crushed my hope.

    We should get rid of all psych diagnoses.

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