Publication Details

Miller, C., Townsend, M., Day, N. & Grenyer, B. (2020). Measuring the shadows: A systematic review of chronic emptiness in borderline personality disorder. PloS one, 15 (7), e0233970.


BACKGROUND: Chronic feelings of emptiness is an under-researched symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD), despite indications it may be central to the conceptualisation, course, and outcome of BPD treatment. This systematic review aimed to provide a comprehensive overview of chronic feelings of emptiness in BPD, identify key findings, and clarify differences between chronic feelings of emptiness and related constructs like depression, hopelessness, and loneliness. METHOD: A PRISMA guided systematic search of the literature identified empirical studies with a focus on BPD or BPD symptoms that discussed chronic feelings of emptiness or a related construct. RESULTS: Ninety-nine studies met criteria for inclusion in the review. Key findings identified there were significant difficulties in defining and measuring chronic emptiness. However, based on the studies reviewed, chronic emptiness is a sense of disconnection from both self and others. When experienced at frequent and severe levels, it is associated with low remission for people with BPD. Emptiness as a construct can be separated from hopelessness, loneliness and intolerance of aloneness, however more research is needed to explicitly investigate these experiences. Chronic emptiness may be related to depressive experiences unique to people with BPD, and was associated with self-harm, suicidality, and lower social and vocational function. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: We conclude that understanding chronic feelings of emptiness is central to the experience of people with BPD and treatment focusing on connecting with self and others may help alleviate a sense of emptiness. Further research is required to provide a better understanding of the nature of chronic emptiness in BPD in order to develop ways to quantify the experience and target treatment. Systematic review registration number: CRD42018075602.



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