PTSD and Narcissism ~ and that feeling of Emptiness

This article is wonderful explaining the huge impact emotional abuse and narcissism has on a child growing into adulthood.  It’s a bit longer than most of my postings yet well worth the read.

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. I spent many hours in my bedroom reading, a huge relief from my mother outside my door.  Which was worse, being ignored or the vicious words?  Either way, I felt empty. 

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 are 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 run 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.  **Looks as though I’m an emotional mess, fitting into Type 1, 2 & 3.  Therapy has been the way to heal most of my pain, yet at times the emptiness and memories remain. 

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.

**Article Source: blogs article written by Jonice Webb Ph.D.  To learn more about emptiness and how to heal from it, watch the first of Dr. Webb’s free, New 3-Part Video Series, Why You are Running on Empty.

Also, watch for her 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″.

8 thoughts on “PTSD and Narcissism ~ and that feeling of Emptiness

  1. xxlonelywolfxx says:

    Ever since I was a kid I would often feel a sense of emptiness at random times, I compared to a black hole and I felt like something was “missing” but I couldn’t quite figure out what It was. I asked other people if they ever felt this but they didn’t understand what I was talking about so I dropped the subject. Only recently have I actually learned this is a thing. Thanks for the article!


    • cherished79 says:

      It makes you feel isolated, and that’s the way people who were abused as children felt. If a narcissistic parent ignored the child, how would that feel? It’s the worst feeling in the world when you’re a child and looking for love, care, some kind of empathy and validation. Thanks for commenting. 🙂 I still feel isolated and empty as an adult due to the emotional abuse plus the chronic pain from migraines.

      Liked by 1 person

      • xxlonelywolfxx says:

        Yeah 😦
        I think there should be a law against such people having kids.
        That being said, I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for some people, because while my caretakers may be (I feel really bad for saying this but) arses sometimes, I don’t think they’re narcissists. Definitely get the isolation part. And feeling like you have no one to confide in when you need it because you have 0% trust in the people that are supposed to care for you the most. And if you cry you’re just a baby and need to grow up. Ok, at this point I’m just venting my problems to a random person on the internet, sorry….

        Anyway, sending love!


        Liked by 1 person

  2. TheFeatheredSleep says:

    A while back you wrote something about how people who think they are empaths can be actually narcissists and I have thought a lot about that. I agree. I think the very notion of believing yourself to be an empath takes a degree (not always but often) of narcissism. Not everyone but often. So if that is the case, then some of those so-called empaths are narcissists in disguise. I had never considered this before. Thank you Deb because you always remind me or teach me things I need to know. You are a great force like that and I support your work so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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