Yesterday I had an appointment downtown of a nearby city to where I live.
While walking to the reception I saw a store next door: Empty Store.
It wasn’t empty, of course.
It had clothes and shoes and various things inside. (Empty is the name of a clothing brand here in this part of Brazil.)
But the store name got me thinking about the feeling of being empty inside and what it leads to in life.
These are my thoughts on the 10 things that happen when you feel empty inside.
1) You stop faking it
The first of the important things that happen when you feel empty inside is that you stop faking it.
You don’t go out to get togethers the way you used to, you don’t say you’re “great” when people ask, you don’t act gung ho anymore.
You stop faking it.
You stop trying to be a people pleaser or live up to others’ expectations…
You stop initiating conversations so much and putting yourself out there.
A feeling of emptiness can be a leading sign of depression, but it can also be a spiritual reality and phase: a kind of “dark night of the soul” where going through the motions just isn’t going to cut it for you anymore.
2) Your desire to talk to others diminishes
As I mentioned, when you feel empty inside, your desire to talk to others diminishes.
Even very fascinating subjects start to seem humdrum.
Behind every interaction you have a feeling of “what’s the point?”
And no matter how much you wish to shake it, you can’t shake the feeling that there really isn’t much point.
You’ll find that you end up sleeping more and experience many symptoms of depression as well.
The Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl explained this emptiness as a lack of meaning.
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
Frankl suffered in the Holocaust and had family including his wife die in the death camps.
He managed to save his philosophy of logotherapy and continue it after the war, buoyed by a constant conviction that the worst tragedy is a life without meaning.
When you’re empty you feel a craving for this meaning, and your conversations with others don’t bring it to you.
As a result…
3) You lose touch with old friends who knew the old you
When you stop really valuing the socializing with friends and others, old friends break contact.
You’re less willing to “fake it” as I said, which means you get tired of always initiating conversations or having to provide the meat of them.
The same goes for friendships.
You may head out for a drink with an old friend, but you’re unlikely to be very expressive or interested in meeting again and fostering the friendship.
You may even have the feeling that you’re tired of friendship.
We keep healing how beautiful friendship is and how rewarding, but a feeling of emptiness can leave you doubting this.
You are feeling lost, and having more friends just isn’t on your priority list, especially when most friends seem so busy with their own lives and worries.
Which then brings up the next point:
4) You stop chasing love and romance
Love and romance can be difficult, especially if you’ve had your heart broken and your hopes and dreams dashed by past partners.
When you start feeling empty inside, your desire to try again wanes.
This is where alcoholics and recluses are made.
This is a dangerous zone, because it’s not just that you become shy and hesitant to take a risk, it’s that you actually start actively avoiding opportunities to meet or date others.
You just feel nothing.
The pain of the past is numb now, but your desire that you had formerly to establish a loving relationship or find a real connection seems gone.
Your love pulse is dead. Or it seems to be.
This is not a good place to be, but forcing yourself out of it or trying to fake being interested in dates you find boring doesn’t work either and only makes the feeling of emptiness grow…
So what do you do in response?
5) You spend a lot of time alone
The next of the things that happen when you feel empty inside is that you spend a lot more time alone.
Your desire to be around others, even those close to you seems to fade a lot.
While you still appreciate those who care for you, your desire to spend time with them goes down, and you just crave time to be alone.
This may be out in nature, contemplating the great outdoors, or sitting alone reading in a quiet nook.
When you feel empty inside, you feel like you have nothing to give or offer, and this makes you often avoid the company of others or get away from groups and social occasions as much as possible.
You may even become known as a loner or strange because of your lack of communication and seeming desire to be alone all the time.
6) You try to pinpoint why you feel so empty
In this time alone, some of that reflection will be spent trying to figure out why you feel so empty.
Was it the breakup a year ago?
Was it leaving your religion or spiritual path?
Was it a death of someone close to you?
Is it a job that leaves your soul feeling crushed day after day?
Maybe it’s a feeling of not knowing your mission or why you’re even here on this planet.
Whatever reason you come up with for why you might be feeling so empty, if you’re like most of us then you’ll respond to the emptiness by trying to get rid of it.
The way most people do that is by looking to a quick fix, which brings me to the next point.
7) You try to fill the void with outer things
The next of the things that happen when you feel empty inside is that you try to fill the void with outer things.
This may include:
- Video games
- Watching sports
- Prestige and outer recognition
These habits and pastimes can become very destructive when you use them to try to cure feeling empty inside.
But let’s be honest:
Nobody would be trying to fill the void with sex or alcohol if such things didn’t work at all.
They clearly work.
But they only work temporarily for a short while.
Soon enough after the pleasure or high wears off, the abyss yawns back at you twice as big as before.
Because you just stuck a bandaid on a deep cut.
Don’t be surprise that it didn’t work.
A feeling of emptiness requires much more than just filler or a temporary feeling of euphoria.
You try to turn back to tried and true, more wholesome habits at this point.
Perhaps family and friends are encouraging you, so you think why not:
I’ll go back to the gym, or start painting again.
8) You lose interest in many things which used to bring you joy
These activities and wholesome endeavors that you used to do seem to have lost their shine.
You feel no joy in them.
Even temporary enjoyment doesn’t fundamentally alter this feeling of emptiness inside.
You may have the urge to just go back to your couch, become passive, or boot up the latest FPS video game.
You become detached and joyless, a wan echo of who you used to be.
It can start to seem like you’re waiting for a light to shine, but you’re not sure from where, or how.
9) You wonder if life will ever have meaning
The next of the things that happen when you feel empty inside is that you wonder if life will ever have meaning.
The things which used to bring you joy, including other people, no longer do.
In various religious traditions, there’s a reason for this.
In Islam, for example, divine blessing and energy, or barakah is embedded in all things.
When we experience a spiritual crisis or stop caring about the Creator, barakah fades away.
The things and experiences and people which used to make us happy now seem hollow, because we are hoping for them to fill a hole that’s much deeper than any physical or psychological hole.
“Barakah can potentially occur at any time in your life.
“For example, you can gain barakah from the money you own, the time you spend, the work you do, the food you eat and others.”
The lack of barakah doesn’t mean you’re “bad” or a “sinner” in a simplistic sense. It can even be an opportunity for you to leave behind the fixation on the dunya (temporary, transient things) and realize the essence behind them.
But it does mean that something is missing in your life and in your soul’s relationship with the divine and with the values that you’re building your life on.
That’s why the next of the things that happen when you feel empty inside is that you finally turn to religion or spirituality for answers.
You don’t want temporary quick fixes or temporary highs anymore:
You want something lasting, and you look for wise teachers and deep paths to guide you to something that’s true and eternal.
At this point, you come to the cusp of the greatest opportunity and the greatest danger.
10) You try to find spiritual answers and fulfillment
Eventually all deep suffering and alienation from life leads to a search for eternal truth.
When you feel empty inside and you have already tried to fill it with the wrong things, you start trying to make sense of it and, eventually, of existence itself.
This is a big undertaking, certainly!
You may feel drawn to various spiritual paths or religion, but also be worried about following along only with established doctrine.
The desire to find your own way through this struggle can be fruitful, but in order to do so, you need to be clear on the values that are driving you.
What makes you tick?
Blazing your own trail can be powerful and effective.
But there’s also a lot of danger in pursuing your own spiritual and life path without being highly conscious.
It’s at this point that you need to buckle down and find out what’s making you tick at the deepest level.
I especially recommend the free values exercise from life coach Jeanette Brown, because it really helped me pinpoint what I was looking for in life at a time I was feeling very empty inside.
I was lost in my career, my love life and planning my future.
I didn’t know how to orient my compass, and the spiritual and religious ideas I was researching were interesting to me, but they weren’t giving me down to earth answers.
By doing the free values exercise that Jeanette has developed, I was able to figure out exactly what I wanted out of life and what were the unique drivers pushing me forward in my motivations.
I strongly recommend readers to check this exercise out, because it’s highly helpful and insightful.
Filling the void
Feeling empty inside can be the most boring, useless state you ever experience.
Or it can be the start of a new and highly valuable journey to finding out what values are driving you and building a life out of that.
When you feel empty inside, you search for answers and want something, anything, to fill the void.
But if you sit with this lack of feeling and interest for awhile, you can come to see it in a different way.
The emptiness is a blank canvas and an invitation.
What you do with it is up to you, but never ignore the huge hidden potential that’s contained in that feeling of emptiness.