Understanding the typical presentation of emptiness: a study of lived-experience

Shona Joyce Herron (Lead / Corresponding author), Fabio Sani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
300 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Persistent feelings of emptiness, while poorly understood, characterise a range of mental health difficulties.

Aims: To investigate the meaning of emptiness from the perspective of those with lived experience.

Method: 240 participants detailed their experiences of emptiness in a survey. Inductive thematic analysis was performed to produce a detailed description of emptiness and a definition of its typical manifestation. In a follow up survey, 178 individuals with lived experience of emptiness rated the accuracy of this definition.

Results: Nine components of emptiness were identified. These were used to produce a definition of the typical manifestation of emptiness, which highlighted a sense of going through life mechanically, purposelessly and numbly, with a psychological and bodily felt inner void, together with a sense of disconnectedness from others, and of not contributing to an unchanged but distant and remote world. Participants in the second survey judged this definition as highly accurate.

Conclusions: First person accounts of emptiness point to an integrated experience concerning the relationship between the self, others, and the external world more generally. Therefore, emptiness can be conceptualised as an existential feeling; a background orientation structuring the way in which the self relates to the interpersonal and impersonal world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-195
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Mental Health
Issue number2
Early online date19 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2022


  • Emptiness
  • empty
  • phenomenology
  • lived experience
  • personality disorder
  • thematic analysis
  • Emptiness; empty, phenomenology; lived experience; personality disorder, thematic analysis
  • General Medicine
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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