Chronic Feelings of Emptiness in Borderline Personality Disorder

The DSM-IV criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder lists ‘chronic feelings of emptiness’ as the seventh criterion. This can be described as:

These episodes may reflect the individual’s extreme reactivity troubled by chronic feelings of emptiness (Criterion 7). Easily bored, they may constantly seek something to do.

source: BPD Today

In many ways it is hard to explain this feeling, because it is just so devoid of feeling. But as the quote above expresses, it is closely linked to boredom which I previously wrote about here.

So what are chronic feelings of emptiness? For me it is like this…

It’s a overwhelming numbness an empitness to the very core of your being.

Something vital to existence is missing.

A huge void needs to be filled.

You are nothing, nobody, immaterial.

Unable to feel anything.

Someone could crack the funniest joke and you stare at them blank faced unable to crack a smile even tough you know what they have said is really funny, it just washes over you not touching a fibre within you.

Something terrible could happen right in front of you and you would not cry or feel sad, again it just breezes past not touching you at all – other than a faint knowledge that you ‘should’ be feeling something, but nothing happens.

When consumed by this emptiness it will often prompt self-harm, undertaken in a vague attempt to feel – to see if you can still feel. Sometimes cutting will work and as you feel pain, then comes relief that you can actually still feel – that you are not numb, that you do exist.

Because when the emptiness devours you it is like you don’t exist.

It is a very surreal experience, almost an out of body experience. It’s like looking at yourself from a distance, you can see you are there and that things are going on around you but you are detached from it, hence no feelings.

Sometimes the cutting doesn’t work, so you cut more wanting to know how much it takes to stimulate feeling.

Luckily, as with any BPD emotional state the chronic feelings of emptiness that numb you to any occurrence are unstable, everything a BP feels or doesn’t feel is unstable, transient. So eventually it passes, overtaken by some other emotional state, although this could take hours or days.

The chronic feelings of emptiness are also closely linked to the unstable sense of self of BPD.  It’s that phase of running on automatic pilot.

Doing things, but not really being there.

Not knowing who you are, what you are.

A fake, a phony, a robot, an actor in a play.

One of the important things during the phase of chronic emptiness is to avoid isolation, being along enhances and prolongs these periods – the difficulty is being able to avoid isolating oneself is a struggle when you have no motivation.

It is also a time when there are no masks in place, you are open, bare and vulnerable. Having no ability to feel for yourself it is a time when mirroring others feelings can just possess you, then at least you may ‘appear’ to be someone, something. Having no sense of self at these (and other times) makes it easy for you to slip into a role that gives you meaning, existence – even if it is only temporary.

It can be like ground-hog day, replaying the same scenes over and over, but nothing changes – until it does, often with a snap, bang or crash back into reality that stings, but the pain is irrelevant – because at least you are feeling again!

That is chronic feelings of emptiness as I see it.

How does this experience compare with your own?

Can you describe how ’emptiness’ feels to you?


69 comments on “Chronic Feelings of Emptiness in Borderline Personality Disorder

    • For me it is like watching myself from the outside, seeing a robot going through the motions of ‘doing’ life but not being ‘part’ of life. All the things I describe in the post are the ways it feels for me – nothing feels real and I am numb 😦

    • It is like looking at life in the reflection of a mirror. I can see everything going on around me, I can see myself, but things are just off, because the image is reversed, and I can’t feel ME. I have always described myself as a non-person. I had to make myself choose a favorite color. A favorite anything. I still am not even sure if they ARE my favorites! I am just staring into the mirror every day, trying to keep up with what is going on, but not getting it. Not understanding the point. I am addicted to my meds now and I love taking huge amounts. Not because I want to die, but because when they kick in like that, I FEEL loving, and happy and like I am alive. I don’t want to die. But I don’t want to live either.

      • I can see the people around me, working, enjoying, talking….and I feel I’m invisible. I feel like Im an spirit just watching. Is painful…I don’t have the words to describe it. I can have a good reason th be the happiest person in the world but still the emptiness kill this happiness without even let the happiness to come up.I cant enjoy anything because Ifeel dead inside. Invisible.

  1. The description of the emptiness is vaguely familiar. There was a time, when I felt I was watching, not participating in life. Bad things were happening to the young lady I watched and I knew she must be sad, but I felt nothing. Eventually I crashed and got help and I am happy to tell you that all that is in the past. I am as normal as anyone else and feel great, Happy, sad, scared, confident, all the feelings are there and I am not depressed about it, in fact life is good. I tell you this because, your healing will come. I know it will.

    • Thanks Maggie, yeah that is how I feel when the emptiness creeps in – like I am watching myself as I fall apart :/ I hope that I will get past this eventually 🙂

  2. I can relate to what you’ve described in this post. I have that feeling sometimes, that feeling of emptiness, numbness, detachment. Where I just feel nothing, and like I am nothing. At times when I feel like that, I just want to be able to feel and cry when I need.

  3. I will definitely have to come back and re-read this. It is very deep and emotional. Except for the not smiling at jokes and the cutting, a lot of it relates to the numbness widows and widowers experience. My heart goes out to you. I will be back to read it again. Thank you for the understanding.

      • In some ways I think the grief was easier because the BPD was having a much stronger effect on me and my life at the time my husband passed, in some ways I didn’t get to grieve in the normal way as I already had too much emotional stuff going on anyway within myself :/

  4. Yep, you pretty much summed it up for me. Spot on.

    Thanks for the post. It’s somehow comforting to know that there are other people out there who feel the way you do.

    For me also, it’s the big questions in life, like what is the point of it all. I have no wishes, dreams or aspirations and therefore life seems pointless. Very empty indeed.

    Feel good.

    The Quiet Borderline

    • Thanks Quiet 🙂

      I think it is my wishes, dreams and aspirations that keep me going when everything else drags me down – without them I would be as dead on the outside as I often am on the inside! xx

  5. The emptiness is just a horrible, horrible thing. If in indeed emptiness/nothingness can even BE a thing.

    I once described it as being as though my body is just a thin, fragile shell between the nothingness inside and the nothingness outside.

    More recently, I described it as being like “the big Nothing” from the Neverending Story. Just pure Nothingness and Emptiness eating you away from inside.

    I’m not sure either description really conveys it though.

    • Indeed, while some of my other posts were hard to write because of the content and personal details, I found this one hard because how do you convey the ‘void’ of emptiness in a way that people who have not felt it can understand!?

      Like being in a vaccum?

      Like floating weightless in space?

      I loved the song you wrote and shared on facebook that this post reminded you of 🙂

  6. this was very interesting, and i am wondering if you have been or have been offered any form of counselling regarding any of this, to enable you to effectively intigrate and learn from these feelings and the originsof this feeling. How do you think its diferent from peoples normal feelings of lonely ness, or detatchment. I often feel dettached or an observer

    • I am still on a waiting list for NHS resources (therapy, treatment, whatever) and am paying privately for psychotherapy where I am exploring many of my BPD issues but most of my learning and growth is coming from my own work. I think the main difference from normal feelings of loneliness and/or detachment is the intensity and subsequent responses that having BPD triggers (such as self-harm, suicidality and impulsivity) basically any emotion is amplified to severe and sometimes dangerous (for oneself more-so than for others, as it is inwardly directed for most BP’s) levels and cannot be reigned in and controlled in the way that non-bp’s can ‘pull themselves together’

  7. Yeah that totally sums me up Sharon. Thanks (I think). No, it is really good to have this written about because most people just don’t get it. But I’m not joking (for those who don’t want to believe me) but it leaves me feeling… empty. It is comletely me and it’s what I fight every day. Thanks, I really appreciate this.

  8. thanks so much for the post. I sat in group therapy today where someone was talking about feeling empty and I was envious that he knew he could feel that!
    For me, I understand the concept in the diagnosis theoretically as somehow applying to me, but I can’t quantify *how*. I’ve realised recently that I lack a sense of permanence and of continuity, and knew for a while that I lacked sense of purpose (or needing to create a purpose and being unable to stuff for my own ends) and it’s only in having read this that I’m thinking, well, perhaps for me that is what emptiness is? thanks!

    • Thanks Urban, yeah that sounds like emptiness too. I think learning to recognise the different elements in ourselves is a huge step towards being able to work on how we can change and get better (although there is still a long way to go from that point) 🙂

  9. I cannot thank you enough for opening my mind up to bpd. I had always assumed it was, perhaps, a quirk. I think the term bpd is very misleading.

    Some things are making alot of sense to me now. I know that’s cryptic, but I just wanted to let you know that you’ve reached me.

    I am sending you all my good thoughts and encouraging your great courage!

    • Thanks Tovah, I’m glad what I write is helping others. I guess it’s different explaining the diagnostic terms through personal experience rather than professionals providing opinions in books!? 🙂

  10. I found this really interesting as i always struggle to describe my “emptiness”…its a feeling, as some others have said, of being on the side-lines looking in at myself and not really “being there”, just going through the motions of living but being devoid of all feeling. Admittedly i do not always feel that way….sometimes the “feelings” overwhelm me completely to a point where i cant deal with them and i selfharm yet the self harm is about “feeling”……i know that probably doesnt make much sense but its the only way i can describe “me”….i either feel absolutely nothing or have intense feeling – actually i dont know which is worst!!

    • That makes a lot of sense! With BPD the instability of emotions is dramatic and forceful like bouncing round a pinball machine as I described in another post

  11. Pingback: Unstable Moods in Borderline Personality Disorder | Day in the life of a Busy Gal…

  12. Pingback: What is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)? | Day in the life of a Busy Gal…

  13. i might just be the best actor alive, everyday i learn new tricks, reactions people do,
    things they say…
    this sense of missing a purpose is what makes me wonder the most, much of this is too hard to explain, it’s not sadness, anger, or anything
    but as i said i could act out the entire day, however in the end nothing satisfies this hungry black hole, i am incapable of having affection, life or death of anyone or anything is of no great importance to me,
    and non of this bothers me, but living in the city, having to act everyday is wearing me out,
    i wish to live in the distant desert, somewhere in the middle of the ocean , somewhere… i dont know i was never good with words

  14. Pingback: 2012 First Quarter Blog Round-Up and Inspiring Blogger Award | Day in the life of a Busy Gal…

  15. Pingback: You know you’re a Borderline when… – 10 signs you have BPD | Day in the life of a Busy Gal…

  16. Pingback: ROW80 2012 Round 2 – Slow progress | Day in the life of a Busy Gal…

  17. Am glad to find this article, I am 23 very energetic kinda person but sometimes this “EMPTINESS” feeling all gets all over me!!! I am in this phase right now searched a lot and finally landed here! Even from the comments i get somewhat relaxed that it is normal! am not the only one here… I know this phase goes and gets back again but Am still looking for the next level to be reached!!! I sense it to be something related to spirituality!! because this is how you feel when you put a step in understanding your inner self!

  18. as soon as i found out what it was and that it’s not chemical it was easy. mentally i know every way to kill it. but i feel it everyday anyway. and i’m just tired of this whole borderline thing after only 21 years.

    • Yeah, it’s a constant battle to overcome naturally occurring intense emotions! After 36 years I’m finally heading towards ‘living’ again rather than just existing…

  19. Came to this posting from a google search “Emptiness in BPD”, because I was so desperate to connect with another human who gets it. I’ve struggle with intense and prolonged periods of numbing depression all my life, though the compounding losses of life and my increasing age is making me feel that I must get healing. I want so much to marry and always wanted to be a mama, but kept hoping the depression and exhaustion would ease up so I would have the energy to be a healthy wife and a good mama. I just turned 43. The emptiness inside mirrors the lonliness in my life, and I just feel as if time and energy and patience is running so thin. I’ve been treated for depression for over 2 decades, but only this year diagnosed with BPD and entered outpatient DBT, which I feel is my last oppertunity to climb out of this pit inside and create/sustain a life worth living. I feel as if I have merely existed much of the last 20 years… lost so much life. I need hope that this can get better. Can anyone who has begun to find relief please post? Having trouble looking for a light at the end of this tunnel and just cant imagine having the strength to continue this fight if all that lies ahead is more of the rollercoaster I’ve been on. It’s been such a long road. Praying for strength to press on.

    • Hi, thank you for sharing. I have to say I think you have finally found the beginning of the light, I spent the last year using DBT techniques and psychotherapy and now feel I am ‘recovered’ from BPD, now you are getting this help I think you will soon find your life improves a lot, you can get better! 😀 It is still hard and even though I consider myself recovered I know I still have a lot of work to do on controlling certain emotional aspects but I know now that I can beat it. Good luck to you, I hope you find the peace you are looking for 🙂 xx

  20. This links together so many of my issues. I feel like a cardboard cut out. Moved from place to place but not a 3D person. Like a film set there is a facade of a building that looks real from the front but if you look behind there is nothing really there. Fake, unable to create or recognise a consistent identity. Who am I? Nothing seems genuinely me. It’s lonely even if there are people and I feel like a fraud when I have to deal with anyone. I am terrified that I can never change this. It impacts practically on my life too, I can’t be productive or useful, just exist. Been like it for so long. Signs were there in struggles as a child and now I am 40. Have tried so many therapies etc, none worked. If it could change would it have happened by now. Terrified this is it forever.

    • Living with BPD is like living in a nightmare you can’t wake up from, only you can, eventually. It does get easier with the right help, support and understanding even if most of this has to come from yourself as I have found. Others can rarely understand, relate and even less accept the difficulties we live with but by ourselves we can develop a better understanding of what we are living with and work on ways to improve the symptoms we can tackle, knowledge is the key learn as much as you can and keep battling to apply what you learn to changing your behaviour, a long and hard road but it gets easier with time. I wish you all the best 🙂 x

  21. you had said isolation is not good when you are in this state and i agree i hate to be alone but i have become a homebody within the last few years. I went through some stuff and now trust no one and dont want to meet new people for the fear of being hurt or stabbed in the back as i was before so i stay home and have very few friends and also dont let them in as a fear so i was wondering how to get through this state faster.

    • I think the only way to do it is by just dragging yourself out even if you really don’t want to go anywhere or meet anyone you just have to do it anyway, regularly until it becomes something you can handle, it takes time but eventually forcing yourself in this way helps lift your mood and you start to relax a little around people (that doesn’t mean you have or have to trust or let your barriers down) 🙂

  22. I’ve recently diagnosed myself as a BPD – I have a history of leaving jobs and relationships at the ‘drop of a hat’ leaving people bewildered and devastated and every time I used to find something about them/or the job to blame it on. Now I understand it’s about me and always has been – there’s the guilt to contend with. I’m currently in an ‘isolated’ state yet have one dear friend who is desperately trying to keep me eating, drinking, getting out ‘there’ and doing things rather than completely closing down. So the BPD diagnosis I took along with everything at the moment – in a cold, numb way – understanding that what everything thinks are major depressive episodes – are masks for the BPD.
    I don’t know what this means, or how I’m going to live from here in – my personality seems like a ‘void’ like I’ve always been pretending, that I have no opinions or heartfelt ideals really ( I just pretend) – scaringly true, how does one really try to feel…especially when you feel you have been living a lie for so long…
    Thanks for your posts, it really is sadly comforting to know you’re not alone…:)(

    • Thanks for sharing, I know what you mean about isolation, masks and the void 😦 It really is a sad comfort that we are not alone x

  23. i feel hopeless as if there is no need for me to be existence is unnecessary.this feeling makes me feel empty.can you help on this one.take care.

  24. I feel numb/empty most of the day rightnow, my best friend cut contact totally off, She said I became to clingy and needy which is true. i could not give her the space she needed, I was trying hard but failed, she blocked me everywhere I think i must been very very needy, and the ohter few friends I got left I dont let close at all, I think this one special person filled my void that I became addicted to her and without her I feel like im nothing, i cant be my own person, I always need a ”magical” person to be someone.

  25. My BPD partner relieved his feelings of emptiness and numbness vicariously through me…my reactions. He needed me to be animated and excited when we were participating in an enjoyable (or what should have been enjoyable) activity. If my reactions were not what he needed, he would get angry and insult me. He complained that I am not happy enough for him. He “wants someone who can laugh and cut up and be happy”. He thinks that is how he is, but he is not. And if he is not, it is someone else’s fault. I was with him three years, and a more miserable person I have never known. And on the occasion when he was happy, he was over-the-top happy, so charged up and overly-excited and animated it wore those in his company out. It is like a motor has been turned on and is revving up non-stop. During those episodes (I call them such because they are not consistent), I tried to calm him or help him take the edge off the top, but he couldn’t control it. He couldn’t handle me being sad or sick. When I was, I knew I was in for the splitting (valued and devalued) thing. I broke it off with him 2 weeks ago. I love the man, but it wore me out. I am 55 years old and my own life troubles have taken their toll. I don’t want to spend the rest of my years in such turmoil and agony. There are mental health issues in my own family so I believe in them, understand them, and have a heart for those suffering with them; but at the same time, I am a person, too, and can only take so much.
    I did not know what name to identify his illness with. I knew he had all the signs of something, but what? I started searching the web and discovered your site, and there he was on your pages. It was like I was reading his life and my life with him. Have you ever considered that Fate afflicted you so that you could help countless others? I know that isn’t much comfort, but I often think that is how life works. My best to you and everyone coping with, or living with those coping with, BPD.

    • Thank you for sharing. I fully agree there is only so much you can take no matter how much you understand a condition or love the person, there does come a time when if things are not going to get better you have to just do what is best for you and your own sanity, no matter how much it hurts :/ Best Wishes

  26. I prefer the emptiness rather than the stronger emotions. Not feeling makes me feel stronger, maybe manly even though I am a woman. Is this the bpd or philosophy? I feel that life is absurd. Pointless. I eat, my body uses food, over and over. People are born to die, I make money, spend it, move it about. Same process repeats. Im supposed to move money about and shove food in my mouth, then one day I will die. I get horny and have sex, only because biology is trying to get my cells to reproduce. Friends are fake, men are playing charades. Fooling their girlfriends and wives. Life is all in vain. Even being hedonistic does not quite give purpose.

    • Thought provoking, BPD or philosophy? what you say sounds like a hefty mix of the two. I can see clear BPD characteristics in the whole ‘life is pointless’ yet as you question, this is also very philosophical… the mind boggles with curiosity!

  27. I’ve never been diagnosed with BPD but I have chronic emptiness. And yeah it feels like you don’t feel anything. No motivation, no emotion, no stimulation. Just sadness, loneliness and boredom.

  28. Before discovering I had BPD, I just thought I was a moody person.

    When I feel the stronger emotions which most of the time is caused by a trigger, I feel like a fully charged battery , being so intense, packed with emotions and energy that have to be relieved.

    When I feel the emptyness, I have no feeling, being numb and feel being very far, alienated from everything. In that phase, there is a kind of silence, calmness, a meditative state. Indulging in spirituality, religion etc just make that stage worst. I would feel more ungrounded.

    In between, there is the addictions phase and this makes me feel like I am acting like a normal person, apart from being obsessive about the addictions. It can be shopping, researching for the ideal product, doing a new project like renovating the house etc. I would then feel alive, doing something worthwhile with my time and energy.

    I basically revolved within these 3 phases, with the addictions phase taking a greater part.

    I also discovered that there is a 4th stage which I call “Blank”. In fact, it happens rarely. In that stage, I do feel normal, being my normal self , not lacking anything and just living rather than existing for a few minutes. Somehow, I don’t want to stay in that stage because like the emptyness stage it seems unreal to me but having a grounded feeling to it. it is like i am scared of happiness and being myself. it is a stage I am not used to and want to run away from as it feel being too good for me.

    So …. that’s my mood swings. Others who do not have BPD cannot understand and put it on account of other things like premenstrual symptoms etc…. Sometimes we appear weird to them and other times it seems to me that they are weird because they just appear so …. normal, having more or less constant emotions, with no intensity within them.

    That’s the way I function. I am 46 years old, recently was so relieved when I finally understand that I have BPD. I don’ think that I can change and be like a normal person as BPD is a part of us. But I can make some adjustments here and there to at least reduce the intensity of the phases.

    • If you just have the intense emotions and mood phases then you are fairly stable anyway, probably as close to normal as BPD gets, without full recovery, I guess. If your moods and phases get worse and suicidal or rage behaviours are becoming more frequent so that relationships are affected that is when you need to step up the work to change, get help and work on defeating BPD before it destroys your life. I managed for years in a relatively stable state, then it got worse as described in my posts here, now after getting help I have recovered, although my emotions are still more sensitive than normal people I know how to manage them now without getting ill again aged 37, and you can too 🙂 x

  29. When I experience chronic emptiness, its as though I don’t exist. I find it impossible to relate to anything, I want to detach myself entirely from those around me. I am aware that this does not help, and so I try to surround myself with people, I try to enjoy myself, when that fails I try to hurt emotionally. I make sure the people in my life know that I am empty, as during these periods I find it hard to filter what I say, i come across as cold and uninterested.

  30. Emptiness to me is like there is a black vacuum inside of me that pulls my skin in. Like There is the form of me, but there is nothing else. It is like someone sucked the air out. Then when the air is all gone, it is a tightness in my throat, and I am left. All I can do is just wait and try and breathe. I do the empty disassociate thing and I wait. I just try and wait for it to be over and for the air to come back and eventually it does. The vacuum though, it never stops pulling me in.

Comments are closed.