PTSD & Narcissism ~ and that feeling of Emptiness

I experienced emptiness during my childhood as a daughter of a narcissistic mother who either ignored me most days or spewed vicious words of criticism and anger.  Which was worse, being ignored or the vicious words ~ either way I felt empty.

My previous postings on Validation & Childhood Emotional Neglect include examples of emptiness.

 The article below is from an article on

Emptiness. It’s not a disorder in and of itself, like anxiety or depression. Nor is it experienced by most people as a symptom that interferes with their lives. It’s more a generic feeling of discomfort, a lack of being filled up that may come and go. Some people feel it physically, as an ache or an empty space in their belly or chest. Others experience it more as an emotional numbness. You may have a general sense that you’re missing something that everybody else has, or that you’re on the outside looking in. Something just isn’t right, but it’s hard to name. It makes you feel somehow set apart, disconnected, as if you’re not enjoying life as you should.

People who don’t have it don’t understand. But people who feel it know:

In many ways, emptiness or numbness is worse than pain. Many people have told me that they would far prefer to feel anything to nothing. It’s very hard to acknowledge, make sense of, or put words to something that is absent. Emptiness seems like nothing to most people. And nothing is nothing, neither bad nor good, right?

But in the case of a human being’s internal experience, nothing is definitely something. “Empty” is actually a feeling in and of itself. And I have discovered that it is a feeling that can be very intense and powerful. In fact, it has the power to drive people to do extreme things to escape it.

Empty is the “unfeeling” feeling. It’s the painful sense that some vital ingredient is missing from inside. I often have talked about the root cause of empty feelings: Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). But the type and depth of emptiness you feel is determined by the type and depth of CEN that you grew up with, plus some other parenting factors.


Three Major Causes of Emptiness:

Type 1: Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) This type of emptiness is caused by growing up in a household that is blind to emotion. Children who grow up this way sense that their emotions are invisible and irrelevant. They push their feelings down, so as not to burden themselves or their parents. These children grow into adults who are out of touch with their own feelings. The emptiness that results is literally a deep sense that something is missing inside; some essential ingredient that is a deeply personal and vital part of who you are. That essential ingredient is your feelings.

Type 2: Active Invalidation in Childhood This is a more extreme version of the CEN described above. It happens when your parents are not just blind to your emotions; they actively reject your emotions. Examples are negative consequences (ex: “Go to your room”) or punishment for simply being sad, angry, or hurt. If you grow up this way, you learn not just to push your emotions away, but to actively reject and punish yourself for having feelings. In adulthood, your empty space will be filled with self-directed anger and self-blame. On top of feeling empty, you may feel uncomfortable in your own skin, and you may not like yourself very much overall. You may be more vulnerable to depression.

Type 3: Shallow, Harsh, Unpredictable Parenting   This is the type of childhood experience that causes significant disruption in the child’s personality. It can lead to the development of a personality disorder such as Narcissistic or Borderline Personality.  These parents respond to their children on the surface, while selectively, unpredictably rejecting and punishing their kids’ emotional responses. In addition, the parents may reward their children for being how they want them to be, and harshly reject or punish them for simply being, or feeling, themselves.

When you grow up this way, since you are not permitted to “be” who you are, you develop a fragmented version of who you should be.  You reject parts of yourself that your parents find unacceptable (including your feelings), and may experience yourself as perfect one day (when you’ve pleased your parents), and horrible or worthless the next (when you have not). The missing piece for this child, once grown up, is more than emotion; it’s also a cohesive sense of self. This is the deepest, most painful form of Empty. This is the emptiness that is felt by many people who are struggling with personality disorders.

So if you have Empty Type 1 or 2, you have a cohesive sense of self, but you lack access to your emotions.

With Type 3, you have a fragmented sense of self, and little access to your emotions. But the anger and pain caused by the unpredictable, shallow and harsh treatment throughout childhood runs deep.

For those who grew up with Type 3, your emotions may erupt unpredictably and intensely, and feel outside of your control. You feel empty because you sense, deep down, that your true “self” is fragmented or missing. Sadly, you were not able to develop it while you were growing up.

Here’s the good news. All three forms of emptiness, once understood and acknowledged, can be healed. In fact, it’s even possible to recover from Types 1 and 2  on your own, if you have the right structure and enough motivation. Type 3 emptiness can be healed with persistence and high-quality therapy.

To learn more about emptiness and how to heal from it, watch the first of my free, New 3-Part Video Series, Why You are Running on Empty.

Also, watch for my next post, The Three Faces of Emptiness: Four Steps to Heal, which will be about the paths to recovery when you have Emptiness Type 1, 2 or 3.



14 thoughts on “PTSD & Narcissism ~ and that feeling of Emptiness

  1. emergingfromthedarknight says:

    Thank you SO MUCH. This explains how I feel to a t both type 1 and especially 2. Was often sent to my room which is one of the worst things to do to a child, leaving them with painful feelings they need help to understand and express. I sent myself to my room after my marriage ended one year in complete isolation at a coast house with ongoing panic attacks, complex PTSD and insomnia. Thank God for therapy. Emotional neglect leaves invisible scars, for so long I did not know what was wrong with me. I feel so blessed to have found your blog.


    • cherished79 says:

      Thank you for sharing and so happy we’ve connected. I remember when I was a child, my mother would say “go to your room and think about what you’ve just said to me”. I tell you, I didn’t even know what I said, but I was thrilled that I could escape to my room! Peace at last, then she would call me after an hour, saying, “did you think about it?”, my reply, “I’m sorry mom, I didn’t mean it” and hug her with hate in my veins. I’m clueless to this day why these “send you to your room” rituals repeatedly took place ~ seemed to please her? No wonder I was empty.

      It’s no wonder you were empty also. Tough life for us and a life-long healing process, but we’re strong and we’ll get through it. Deb.

      Liked by 1 person

      • emergingfromthedarknight says:

        That’s interesting. I have just started reading Pete Walker’s excellent book on C-PTSD and he speaks of the 4F’s response to trauma/abuse. The Fear, Flight, Fight and Fawn. I had never heard of Fawn before but its when you collapse back in order to win the love you know you will lose if you try to continue to hold your truth with the damaged parent. What a HUGE amount of rage we must have to bury with this one. Which I know once we can feel, we can be freer from (at least we are no longer unconscious).
        I think why it took place was she could not handle your true feelings as she had no clue, saw them as a threat so had to make you wrong, couldn’t bear your need or whatever.
        Going through this leaves us empty because we can only experience a sense of deep fullness when we are related to in a way which allows us access to our true emotions.
        Takes years to get this awareness though and So Much Pain, but you are so right we will make it. Deborah

        Liked by 1 person

        • cherished79 says:

          Thanks for another book I can read about CPTSD (always looking for new reads), a really good book that started me off on this narcissism journey was a book called “The Loveless Family” by Jon Bloch. He went through his own living within a “loveless family” and it describes how our personalities and thoughts/emotions are processed due to the impact of abuse from childhood. It answered many questions for me, may be of interest to you also. My mother just shouldn’t have been a parent, that is the straight and narrow of it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • emergingfromthedarknight says:

            I’d be really interested to read that book. I do feel my family had some love in it. But the didn’t know how to self nurture due to their own backgrounds and trauma and there was too much emphasis on achieving in a masculine way rather than on being in touch with feelings and the deep feminine. I feel really sad for my family in this, I have watched both sister’s struggle. Both my parents came out of the depression which explains a lot. It was a fight for survival. I think the idea of “Running on Empty” as in that book title which I haven’t read but saw on your site and on Amazon would have a lot to say to me.
            Pete Walker’s book is a high recommendation, Deb. I’ve been in recovery for over 20 years and I’ve read a heap of books but in that book he pulls together so much stuff from other sources and he included his own personal journey so its not at all academic all that is in there comes out of his own pain and struggle and healing. I wish I had found this book years ago.

            Liked by 1 person

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