Feeling Dead Inside

Feeling dead inside results from a period of change or emotional mismanagement, although it can also hide a psychological disorder.
Feeling Dead Inside
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 04 June, 2023

When someone says they’re feeling dead inside, they’re actually asking for help. In fact, they’re trying to convey that they’ve lost motivation, enthusiasm, and the ability to experience pleasure or interest on a daily basis.

For these individuals, life becomes a routine succession of moments with no apparent purpose. The spark of wanting to improve that used to motivate them has gone out. What’s happened? Moreover, how can the situation be improved?

It wouldn’t be correct to immediately assume that they’re suffering from some psychological disorder, as there are several variables to consider. For instance, it’s important to understand that moods fluctuate and it’s not natural to always be happy. However, experiencing apathy for a long time could be a sign of an underlying disorder. In this case, it’s advisable to seek support.

The signs of  feeling dead inside

This experience of inner emptiness can be different for each person. Some experience it in a way that’s similar to deep sadness, while others experience emotions similar to anguish. There are also those who complain of feeling nothing.

If you suspect you might be feeling this way, here are some signs to help you identify the state of feeling dead inside:

  • You feel like you have no purpose or goal. You feel stuck.
  • Life seems empty and meaningless to you. Moreover, you often wonder why you’re even here and can find no convincing answer.
  • You seem to be separate from yourself. You start to realize that you don’t know or understand yourself. You don’t know what you want or need.
  • You’ve lost motivation and the ability to experience pleasure. Nothing generates interest in you, not even the activities that you used to like or enjoy.
  • You feel deeply alone and disconnected from others. Even though you might be surrounded by people, you’re unable to establish any deep and meaningful bonds. In short, you don’t feel understood or supported in your relationships. Nor can you connect with the emotions and experiences of others.
  • You can’t experience your emotions or connect with them. You feel numb on the emotional level and this prevents you from feeling joy, sadness, anger, or jubilation at anything that happens in your life. For the same reason, it’s difficult for you to express your emotions, verbalize, and share them.

The reasons for feeling dead inside

There are many situations (some pathological) that might lead to you feeling dead inside for a more or less prolonged period of time. The most common are detailed below.

Man in front of a window thinking I feel dead inside
Deep sadness and anguish are associated with the feeling of being dead inside.

You’ve suffered a severe emotional blow

After going through a painful and shocking experience, your feelings often seem to freeze. Therefore, if you’re grieving, it’s highly likely that you’re feeling dead inside. Remember that mourning doesn’t only come from the loss of a loved one. It can also occur due to a job dismissal, the end of a friendship, or a life change, for example.

These feelings of emptiness and dullness are also common when delayed grief occurs. This is the kind in which you don’t react immediately to the event, repress your emotions, and ‘freeze’ your suffering for later.

You don’t know how to manage your emotions

Your feeling of emotional disconnection could be a mechanism you’re using unconsciously to avoid pain. In fact, it’s one of the main coping strategies. It means you focus on suppressing, denying, or avoiding the painful and uncomfortable emotion you don’t know how to deal with.

According to a study published in Revista de Psicoterapia, the above represents a risk factor for experiencing complicated grief.

You lack social support

Social isolation isn’t only a consequence of apathy, it can also be the cause. Bear in mind that we’re social beings and we need others to share our experiences, receive support, and create a sense of belonging.

According to a study published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, lacking significant ties and the loneliness that this entails is one of the main components of the feeling of emptiness.

You’re facing an existential crisis.

An existential crisis is a period of internal questioning about the meaning of life. When you’re faced with so many unanswered questions, feelings of passivity, neglect, and hopelessness can establish themselves in you. These crises are more common at certain stages of life (such as adolescence) and come to generate a negative perspective of ourselves, others, and the future.

You’re experiencing dissociation

Dissociation implies a disconnection between your mind and your present reality. This may make you feel strange and detached from the world around you.

An article published in the journal, Clínica y Salud claims that this feeling of detachment can be transitory and daily (triggered by a stressful event). Alternatively, it can become chronic and transform into a rigid and persistent response pattern, leading to a disorder.

You suffer emotional blunting

If you’re feeling dead inside, you could be experiencing a phenomenon known as blunted affect or emotional blunting. This consists of indifference or a lack of reaction to events that should trigger an emotional response. It may arise as an isolated symptom or as part of a more complex condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In fact, an article published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology states that feeling dead inside is one of the experiences most commonly reported by sufferers of PTSD.

You’re suffering from a psychological disorder

As well as trauma-related disorders, deep feelings of emptiness are also associated with other conditions. According to the aforementioned article in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, they can appear in the context of depression or other affective disorders, such as schizophrenia or narcissistic personality disorder.

Likewise, chronic feelings of emptiness are one of the most common and characteristic experiences of borderline personality disorder. They’re even included as one of the diagnostic criteria mentioned by the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) for this condition.

Woman in psychological therapy for frequently feeling that she is dead inside
When feelings of emptiness are long-lasting and affect daily life, it’s advisable to seek help.

How to deal with feeling dead inside

Overcoming this state largely depends on its causes. Here are some general guidelines for dealing with it:

  • Reflect on your most relevant life experiences. In them, you’ll find the root of your feelings of emptiness and disconnection. Employ a tool like the Lifeline.
  • Try to reconnect with your emotions. This may be uncomfortable for you, but connecting with your feelings is the only way to release this contained emotional charge. Methods such as therapeutic writing might help.
  • Give yourself time. When you’re grieving, recovering from a difficult event, or going through a major change, you need time to readjust. Allow yourself to feel and don’t force yourself to try and be happy.
  • Analyze your coping strategies. These are the resources and ways you face difficult or stressful situations. If you tend to repress or suppress pain, consider trying other techniques.
  • Create support networks. When you’re trapped by demotivation, it’s difficult to approach others, but sharing your time and experiences with them will give you the encouragement and reinforcement you release yourself.
  • Practice behavioral activation. This is a technique widely used in the treatment of depression. It consists of engaging in activities that provide pleasure or reinforcement. You’ll need to make an extra effort to program and comply with these dynamics (which at the moment won’t appear attractive) until you start to activate yourself.

You might be interested to read Existential Crisis:Beyond Suffering

If you’re feeling dead inside, seek help

If your inner feelings of apathy, disconnection, or hopelessness are intense or long-lasting, or if they’re interfering with your daily life, it’s important to seek professional support. As we mentioned earlier, you could be suffering from an underlying psychological disorder that requires appropriate intervention and could worsen if it’s not addressed.

Also, a difficult time can be difficult to overcome on your own. A psychologist or therapist will help you understand what’s happening and can provide you with the guidelines and tools to move forward.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.