Why Do You Feel Empty When You Lose Someone?

Losing someone that we love is one of the hardest things that a person can experience. Loss is a hard emotion to understand. People throughout history have tried to descript this strange sensation that produces feelings of nostalgia, regret, and longing. 

The ability that we have as humans to feel emotions strongly is one of the most unique characteristics of our species. This gift that allows artists to create and connects millions of people worldwide is truly amazing, but it can at times be overwhelming, confusing, and isolating. 

As poignant and noticeable as joy or happiness, grief and loss are very recognizable parts of the human experience. From the time that we are old enough to comprehend the concepts of death and dying to the day we face our own personal journey with death, feeling loss and experiencing grief is a part of life. 

For better or worse, our emotions are ephemeral. Happiness, contentment, peace, and joy arrive as fleeting gifts. By that same token, grief, regret, loss, and pain may also come and go as they please, often without warning. 

Still, the absence of emotion can be even more unsettling than the sudden and overwhelming presence of strong emotions. In the weeks and months following a heartbreaking event such as the loss of a loved one, our emptiness may be the most difficult emotion to contend with of them all.

Wired To Feel

As a species, we are biologically designed to feel. Science still struggles to fully explain the presence of our emotions.

Where do emotions come from? Are they the result of our brains trying to interpret the world around us? Do they only originate from external stimuli? Why do we sometimes feel very strongly, and other times feel nothing at all? 

People have been studying the phenomena of human emotion as long as humans have been self-aware. When we experience a season in our lives where we can’t make sense of our emotional states or feel as if it’s out of our control, we aren’t alone. In fact, this emptiness is as common of an emotion as grief itself. 

The journey to self-discovery is a long and complicated one. It doesn’t have a set road map and varies from person to person. Not only that, but it is naturally not an easy one. We never know when we’ll enter unknown personal territory with new emotional journeys to travel. 

The Journey of Grief  

Our experiences help us grow. While some of these experiences can seem easier than others, like falling in love or learning an exciting new skill like baking, others can be difficult to understand. 

Challenging experiences like the loss of a remarkable friend or family member can inspire a gambit of emotions. Grief itself is how we as humans deal with loss because when we lose something that was important to us, we have to recognize that is gone. 

If we don’t take the difficult journey of coping with this loss, we aren’t able to heal or grow from the experience. Beyond that, we may get stuck in the negative emotions surrounding loss, unable to celebrate the incredible gifts we carry with us from our loved ones who have passed. 

No two people will experience grief in the exact same way, and what seems to help or hinder healing will also vary from person to person. This journey that we embark on as a result of losing someone is varied, complex, and unique for every single person who experiences it. 

There are a variety of emotions that people do experience when they go through grief, including the feeling of emptiness.

The Immeasurable Feeling of Feeling Nothing

While each person’s grief journey is unique, there’s a sense of camaraderie in knowing that there’s a community of people in this world that has experienced these same emotions. When we feel emptiness or nothingness following a heartbreaking event, that void is called anhedonia.

Anhedonia is a common symptom of mental health conditions like anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. It can also arise in the weeks following a loved one’s passing. 

Anhedonia can present itself as a loss of interest in spending time with others, working, or even eating. This feeling of emptiness or emotional numbness can also look like a lack of purpose, a lack of sleep, too much sleep, or other depressive symptoms.

This lack of feeling in response to extreme pain can be disorienting, especially when well-meaning friends and family members try to show their support through words of comfort. Some of us will even try to resume feeling anything at all by picking fights, engaging in reckless behavior or addictions, feeding our ego, or antagonizing the people we love. 

How Can We Cope With Anhedonia?

For many of us, feelings will return with time. In fact, we might be taken aback by the intensity of our negative feelings once we’re ready to accept them. Anger, abandonment, shame, rejection, and even joy can become overwhelming after a period of emptiness. This is all a natural part of grief, and just like our periods of anhedonia, these emotions will pass. 

For loved ones looking to support someone experiencing emptiness, simple tasks like facilitating basic self-care such as eating, getting enough sleep, and making a list of activities they may enjoy once their energy levels rise can go a long way. The physical factors of grief like exhaustion can make it difficult for the resilience of the human spirit to shine through.

Anhedonia is also not restricted to mental health problems and bereavement. These feelings of emptiness can arise after a relationship ends, in the midst of a demanding job, unresolved issues from childhood, or other difficult life circumstances. 

If you’ve experienced anhedonia for many weeks or months, a licensed counselor, therapist, online therapy platform, or qualified mental health professional may be able to provide support, professional advice, or medication if needed. 

Why Do I Feel This Emptiness?

Answering the question of ‘why do I feel empty?’ when someone we loved passes away is not an easy feat to accomplish. Some may turn to science, others to spirituality. Ultimately, the answers can only be found within ourselves.

There are so many reasons why this feeling of emptiness occurs. If you are missing someone you loved who helped to shape your life, learning how to live without their physical presence can be disorienting. 

Such a huge part of life is shaped by the people around us. When they pass on, it can make life seem more mysterious but lonelier. One of the best answers to why we feel emptiness when someone we love passes away is to look at the different pieces of the emotional journey of losing someone. 

From anhedonia to intense emotions to acceptance, each aspect of the grieving process is a testament to the depth of our relationship with our loved ones who have passed.

While this process may not lead us to closure, it can help us come to a place in which we’re ready to speak about the remarkable loved ones we have lost and celebrate their incredible lives.

Keep Their Memory Close

Once we work through the grief process, one step that must be taken is deciding how to honor our loved ones who have passed away. Over time, we will be able to remember our loved ones not with a sense of sorrow, but with gratitude and celebration for their impact and legacy.

Finding ways to honor their remarkable lives can help us move through our healing journies while providing opportunities to share their story with others. 

Whether that’s visiting their graveside, writing letters, or even creating a diamond from the carbon in their cremated ashes, find a memorial that reflects their essence and their handprint on your heart. Keeping their memory close in a way that speaks to their personality and your unique relationship is a powerful tool for helping us overcome the emptiness that we feel when the people we love pass away.

Sources: 

Coping With Grief: 7 Things to Remember When Dealing with Loss | Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center 

Healthy grieving | University of Washington Counseling Center 

The mystery of emotions | APA

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