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Not Sad Not Hurt Not Angry: Empty

5448337288_626fb64142_oIt’s like I have no emotions. I’m numb a lot of the time.

Something is missing in me.

I have no idea how I feel about anything.

Sometimes my chest feels hollow.

I feel empty inside.

What might seem like five unrelated statements is actually five different people describing the same feeling. Everyone says it differently because there is no standard word for it. But for these five people, and thousands more, it is the same feeling, caused by the same problem.

The one word that sums it up best:


Of all the different emotions that a person can have, Empty is one of the most uncomfortable. To feel Empty is to feel incomplete. It’s a feeling of something absent or missing inside of you, of being different, set apart, alone, lacking, numb.

This is a feeling that can drive people to do a myriad of unhealthy things, like overeat, overdrink, over-shop, or even use drugs. This is a feeling which gradually, quietly erodes a person’s joy, energy and confidence. It flies under the radar, and carries with it a tremendous power to degrade your quality of life.

Just as every feeling we have tells us something about ourselves, so also does empty. It tells us that we are missing something vital in ourselves. Something that is required for happiness and fulfillment. Is it something different for every person? I don’t think so. What’s missing is the same for all who feel empty.  What’s missing is:


From talking with scores of people who have this feeling of emptiness, I have been able to identify what I believe is its cause. It’s a childhood experience which each has lived, but few are able to remember. It’s Childhood Emotional Neglect. Each of these people grew up in a home in which his emotions were not accepted, responded to or validated enough.

Our emotions are hard-wired into us. They are the most deeply personal, biological part of who we are.  When you are raised by parents who ignore, invalidate or fail to respond to your emotions, you learn quickly to do that for yourself. It is not a child’s conscious choice. It is an invisible message with invisible power. The adaptive child automatically adapts. He ignores, invalidates, and fails to respond to his own feelings.

So as an adult, when you feel empty, what is missing in you is the same ingredient that was missing in your childhood: acceptance, responsiveness, and validation of your emotions. But now, in adulthood, it is not from your parents that you need this acceptance. It is from yourself.

“But I do have emotions,” you may be saying to me right now. “So why do I still feel empty?”

Picture a wall inside yourself. On one side of that wall is your feelings, and on the other side is you. Your feelings exist, and they are real. Sometimes one breaks through the wall and you feel it. But the wall is still there.

Signs That You Have Emptiness

  • At times you feel physically empty inside
  • You are deeply uncomfortable with feeling, or appearing, needy
  • Sometimes you feel numb
  • You question the meaning and purpose of your life
  • For no obvious reason you sometimes wonder whether you want to live
  • You feel mystifyingly different from other people
  • Some important ingredient is missing from your life
  • Deep down you feel you are alone

If you feel that this article applies to you, please know this: Yes, something is missing. Yes, it is vital. You are not needy, and you are not numb. You are not different, and you are not alone. Everything that you need to fill yourself is already there inside of you. Waiting for you to open your eyes, break down the wall, and see.

The fuel of life is feeling. If we are not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. Otherwise we will find ourselves running on empty.

Childhood Emotional Neglect can be subtle and invisible, so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out if grew up with CEN, visit and Take The CEN Test. It’s free.

Not Sad Not Hurt Not Angry: Empty

Jonice Webb PhD

Jonice Webb, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who is recognized worldwide for her groundbreaking work in defining, describing, and calling attention to Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She writes, speaks, and trains therapists on the topic, and is the bestselling author of two books, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect and Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships. She also created and runs the Fuel Up For Life Online CEN Recovery Program. Since CEN can be difficult to see and remember, Dr. Webb created the CEN Questionnaire and other free resources to help you figure out if you have it. Take the CEN Questionnaire and learn much more about CEN, how it happens, and how to heal it at her website

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APA Reference
Webb PhD, J. (2017). Not Sad Not Hurt Not Angry: Empty. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Sep 2017
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