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Empty Inside, Short-Lived Emotions, Hard Time Feeling Empathy

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I have for at least the past 3 years been feeling very empty inside. Not sad nor happy, just emotionless. I can be happy, but it usually is very “in the moment” and the joy I feel inside lasts for at most a few seconds and then returns to emotionless. Anger, frustration, and regret can be long-lived. I have a hard time feeling sadness, I’ve been on the verge of crying many times (randomly or pain-induced) and can even do so at weird times (telling a joke that I don’t even find funny, yet get teary-eyed).

During my 7th, 8th and 9th grade in school my friend circle was basically people who continuously teased and “bullied” me, either words or punches. They were my only friends, so I sucked it up and kept hanging around with them (during school only, I was never invited to activities outside of school, except being a stand-in for multiplayer video games via the internet). Whenever they saw me sad, happy or angry it just made the situation worse. They’d always joke about how funny it was when I was genuinely sad or mad, and they were quick to shut me down when they saw me happy (as in “Stop laughing”). Is this why my body is basically programmed to not show any emotion, or even feel them?

I have become good at faking emotions though (and feign interest so they think I care), so that I can still be and also make friends. Not that I don’t care for them, but I just don’t feel anything inside. This usually gets worse for people I’ve known for a long time. With new people I am usually more social and kind I of “feel” more, but it usually dissipates quickly. Even so that when they talk about a horrible event I usually have to act shocked and give myself some more time to think of an appropriate & ingenuine response.

I kind of proved this recently when I cried for the first time in 4 years, but almost had to force myself to get tears flowing and couldn’t get myself to go into a full bawl, and soon after felt emotionless again.

Am I exaggerating this, or is this a sign of something that I should talk to someone about? (From Sweden)

Empty Inside, Short-Lived Emotions, Hard Time Feeling Empathy

Answered by on -

A.

I can appreciate the emptiness and the struggle to express yourself. I have a few different ways that we can approach this, but before I jump into discussing them let me first say how much courage I believe you have and such perspective to be able to witness your own emptiness and comment on it. I find this ability to be so helpful and important in helping people unravel their inner emotional landscape.

There are many reasons why an emptiness manifests. It could be a type of detachment, a defense against feeling something unwanted, a dissociation, a type of repression, or indifference. But your description doesn’t seem to follow any of these paths specifically. What you’ve said is that you have specific access to a feeling that gets hijacked by the emptiness — or eclipsed by it. This is different. In my way of thinking the emotional emptiness is a type of default state that you return to after having a feeling. If I am understanding you correctly the issue is continuing to have the feeling — not feeling empty all of the time and void of feeling.

I am making this distinction because it is a different thing to work with emptiness as the only thing you feel versus emptiness not allowing you to feel something fully.

The key to expanding your feeling state is to find ways to activate and savor emotions. Good movies, engaging books, experiences of beauty and awe are all ways to naturally activate emotions. Your work (once you have been activated) is to find ways to linger with the feeling, reflect on it, and deepen your experience of it. The action scene from the movie, the sunset, the betrayal of a character in a book, are all ways feelings can be sampled. As you begin to notice what activates you savor it by noticing where it is in your body if the image of it can recall the feeling, and what it feels like to have the emotion covered over by the emptiness. In this way, you’ll be giving a vocabulary to your emotional well-being. As William James famously said: My experience is what I agree to attend to.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Empty Inside, Short-Lived Emotions, Hard Time Feeling Empathy

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Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: http://www.dare2behappy.com/. He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2020). Empty Inside, Short-Lived Emotions, Hard Time Feeling Empathy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2020/04/05/empty-inside-short-lived-emotions-hard-time-feeling-empathy/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Apr 2020 (Originally: 5 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 3 Apr 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.