Why Do I Feel So Empty Inside?

by Sep 3, 2013Science of Happiness53 comments

Growing up, I was pretty emotionally unstable.

By the time I got to high school, I cried myself to sleep nearly every other night. I thought no one liked me. I had no one to talk to but my mentally ill father, who didn’t have a good grasp of how to deal with these feelings himself.

I was a strange mix of academically confident and socially dejected. And it hurt. A lot.

Then I grew up and somehow, amazingly, got that life that I always dreamed about.

The stable family that loves spending time together. Enough money in the bank that we can take fun vacations whenever we can carve out the time. Friends who want to get together for tea or go to concerts.

I know when I wished for all this, when it was the light in my dark teenage life, I promised to never, ever be ungrateful.

But that ache, that gnawing feeling inside … it never quite went away.

The disappointment I never saw coming

What did I expect?

I guess I expected that a dream life come true would feel … dreamy.

I thought my constant worries about whether or not people liked me would disappear. I imagined I wouldn’t be stressed, impatient, or irrationally angry when someone cut me off in traffic.

The changes in my relationships and career had a huge impact, of course. My crippling fears became less frequent. I learned to recognize the negative emotions that stemmed from being merely tired.  I started utilizing my friends and family to talk things over instead of keeping everything inside, which not only helped me see I wasn’t alone, but also forced me to see situations more realistically.

I was better, but I wasn’t cured.

And that lack of a cure, that inability to embody the idyllic life I’d imagined, turned out to be a bigger problem than I thought.

The biggest mistake of lost souls

A reader recently asked me if meditation would steal his soul.

Of course I’m paraphrasing. He said he wanted more inner peace and release from pain, but he didn’t want to lose his snarky sense of humor. He equated peace with non-reactive and numb.

It’s an interesting question, because think of all the activities we engage in to eliminate our pain that are far more likely to steal your soul. The cult of materialism, the mitigation of stress through overeating or alcohol, the attention given to online friends at the expense of those who see us as we really are.

The problem isn’t that we feel pain, it’s that we don’t know how to deal with it.The emptiness comes when we throw every “cure” we’ve got at our pain, and it doesn’t go away.

Overachievers are legendary for this kind of behavior.  They work harder to achieve more, thinking the next accomplishment will be the final nail in the coffin of their insecurity.

But it isn’t.

The big house won’t make up for your childhood. Your best-seller status won’t make you feel truly loved.

Humans, much like donuts, are made with a hole. You can do things to change the size of the hole or how you feel about the hole, but you can’t make it go away.

As Alain de Botton says in his book Status Anxiety:

Our “ego” or self-conception could be pictured as a leaking balloon, forever requiring the helium of external love to remain inflated, and ever vulnerable to the smallest pinpricks of neglect.

But it’s also not your fault for thinking those things would make you feel better, more complete. Big business gets bigger by manipulating your response to pain, by convincing you that you need to do something to stop it, to insulate yourself.

Society teaches us that if we don’t feel okay, we’re not okay. We’ve learned to always answer the question, “How are you?” by saying “Okay!” or “Great!” even when nothing could be further from the truth.

Meditation won’t steal your soul, but denying your real emotions just might.

The challenge is to experience the normal pain and disappointments of life, to feel them acutely, but not to let it control your thinking. We have this idea that a good life insulates us from that, but it can’t.

Joy and pain, elation and disappointment, optimism and pessimism–they all have their seasons. Invite them in, then let them go when they’re ready.

Self-confidence then isn’t about acts of bravery or believing everything you do will work. Self-confidence is the ability to experience the full range of emotions and know you can handle it.

As Robert Frost said, “The only way out is through.”

A Brighter Future: How to Make the Emptiness Go Away

I know it can seem hopeless: No matter what you do, the gnawing emptiness just doesn’t go away. I felt exactly like that, too.

But now the emptiness is gone.

Looking back, 4 surprisingly simple things saved me from myself.

Oddly enough, these weren’t sea-changes that required me to overhaul my entire life, abandon my accomplishments and move to Tibet.

Rather, they were counterintuitive mental shifts and tiny adjustments to everyday life.

When I saw how simple these changes were, I kicked myself for not discovering them sooner. But that’s the thing with insight: It’s always blindingly-obvious after you “get” it.

I didn’t have to give up success or exile myself to a “simple life.” Far from it. In fact, now I not only accomplish more, but – for first time – feel like a success on the inside, too.

Where there used to be a void, there is now contentment and meaning.

And the best part?

No soul-stealing, cross-legged acrobatics needed!

The mission of this blog is to help you find meaningful success.

So I want to share my four discoveries with you. Just download them below, for free. They’re my gift to you.

Life doesn’t have to be empty and dark.

Dare to shine.

4 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Make the Emptiness Go Away, Right Now

Where shall I send them?