Julia* is a 35-year-old woman lives with her long-term partner James. She has a busy job, she takes regular exercise, has great friends and regular holidays abroad. Julia often feels anxious and feels that although her life seems perfect on paper, but internally she feels like there is an internal void and confusion. She feels that she doesn’t quite know who she is and it is difficult for her to open to her friends about her feelings. James is very supportive of Julia, but she feels also that is it difficult for her to trust that he is there for her in the long run although they have been together for a few years and have future plans together. When Julia feelings overwhelmed with anxiety, she has panic attacks (see for symptoms here). After a stressful day, Julia often relaxes by having a glass or even a bottle of wine at home or shopping to the point when she is worried about her debts mounting up.
Does Julia’s experience resonate with you in any way? Does it feel like there is an internal void and you have been looking for ways to fill it for years? Many people who have experienced emotional neglect or childhood trauma describe feeling like there is something hollow inside which they cannot fill regardless of what they try.
This post looks at this sense of internal void, how you may experience it and how you can take steps towards finding wholeness and contentment in your life.
What is “an internal void”?
An internal void is like feeling empty inside as if there was a hollow place in your heart and you are looking for something or someone to fill it. You may also experience it as loneliness and disconnection that you feel even if you are amongst a group of people. You may hide your true feelings for fear of being judged. Perhaps you are eternally searching for something and moving locations frequently or otherwise keep yourself constantly busy without being able to relax and just with your thoughts. Some of the ways in which you may have tried to fill the void, for example, by excessive drinking, (binge) eating, excessive shopping or engaging in relationships that you wished would give you happiness and contentment.
We learn to understand our internal world, thoughts, feelings, and needs, in interaction with our parents or other parental figures. When adults offer mirroring and consistent tuning into our emotional needs, a child learns that his/her emotions are important and forms a clear sense of self.
On the other hand, if we fail to receive adequate parenting and our emotional needs are neglected, it is difficult for us to understand how we feel, what we need and express them, we feel a sense of disconnection from others and a sense of confusion.
Taking steps towards wholeness:
1.Recognise your feelings
When you encounter an anxiety provoking situation and you usually perhaps gloss over your feelings and seek comfort from your choice of comfort discussed earlier, stop and make a note of the underlying feeling (e.g. fear, sadness, shame). Perhaps even write down these feelings. Ask yourself what is it that your inner child needs from you to feel comforted. Give yourself what your parental figures were not able to provide you with. Give yourself a permission to have needs. Perhaps your inner child needs a hug and acknowledgment of how difficult it feels to be in the present situation. Remember: you deserve that love and care even if you have not received it in the past; as an adult you can give yourself what you need.
2.Be present in the moment
Do you spend a lot of time being busy? Doing this, doing that…. What would happen if you were to stop and slow down? Does it feel uncomfortable? Perhaps you have been filling your internal void by being busy. It is likely to make you exhausted if you are not having enough downtime.
Perhaps you have heard of Mindfulness. These types of exercises can help you to s-l-o-w down and be present in the moment when life feels overwhelming. There are various apps for helping you to get started or you could try this:
Connect with yourself. Find a quiet place where you are not disturbed and find a comfortable position. Start by taking a few deep breaths (in through your nose counting to 3, holding for 3 and exhaling through your mouth whilst counting to 3). Ensure that you are breathing all the way to your diaphragm. Repeat for a few times. You may notice thoughts popping into your mind. Just let them be: notice them without judging and let them go again. Don’t try to control them. This may take practice and it may feel difficult to do it at first, but with perseverance, it will get easier. Do this exercise three times a day. Initially, you can start by only spending two minutes at a time and then over time you can extend it.
Do you often say “yes” when you deep down want to say “no”? Perhaps it feels you have to please others. You may feel like other people are taking an advantage of you and this makes you feel angry or perhaps depressed.
Listen to your feelings. Take time out to reflect on how you truly feel about a request. If you need some time, before saying yes or no, take time out. You have the right to say no without explaining yourself. Perhaps even the thought is saying “no” to a friend or family member makes you anxious. Start with practicing with small things, you soon you’ll become more confident. Respect your inner feelings, as they guide you to make decisions that benefit your well-being.
Don’t be surprised if your environment reacts once you start changing. They will adjust as time goes by. Over time setting boundaries and listening to your feelings can help to make you feel more confident and less resentful towards other people.
4.Let people know you
Perhaps you have been hiding from being seen for most of your life. Do you struggle to let people close to you for fear of rejection? Read about how fear of rejection can destroy your relationship here.
Not letting people in for fear of being rejected can leave you feeling very alone in your life. Being vulnerable and showing up with those who are supportive of you can help you to feel more connected with your environment. It may seem very difficult at first. Choose a person who you trust the most and allow them to know you and be of support to you. By allowing another person to see your vulnerability can help you to feel more connected and less alone.
Perhaps your fear of rejection is related to early experiences of abandonment, psychological therapy can help you to address internal wounds that may be stopping you from connecting on an emotional level with yourself and those around you.
Are you a person who always prioritises other people; Are you the organiser of your friendship group or the centre of your family? Perhaps you often end up neglecting yourself when there is so much to do. It is likely that over time it starts to weigh you down.
Self-care is essential for your sense of wholeness and well-being. Perhaps it feels self-indulgent. I recently saw this quote “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. To be able to look after others, you need to have your own resources full first.
Think about small things you can do on a daily basis to look after yourself. Here are some examples:
- Do a quick meditation or practice deep breathing (listen to progressive muscular relaxation exercise audio here)
- Stretch / exercise (yoga, pilates, a mindful walk outside)
- Eat nutritious foods that make you feel good (carry healthy snacks with you, so you don’t end up starving and with low energy levels)
- Use relaxing aromatherapy scents in your house (candles, burners, room spray)
- Listen to relaxing music
- Take a shower/bath using your favourite shower gel
I hope that these ideas for increasing the sense of wholeness have got you thinking about how you can help yourself to feel more connected both with your internal and external world. It may feel difficult to start with, but allow yourself to take small steps towards increasing your sense of wholeness and improving your well-being. The more you engage in reducing the internal void, the less you feel that you need to fill it by external matters.
If you would like to know how therapy could help you to increase your sense of wholeness, heal internal wounds and support you in living the life you wish to have, please get in touch.
*The names in the post do not refer to any particular current or previous clients, they are a collection of experiences reported by many people who I have met over the years.