Understanding chronic feelings of emptiness in borderline personality disorder: a qualitative study

Publication Name

Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation


Background: Chronic feelings of emptiness are significant in the lives of people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Feelings of emptiness have been linked to impulsivity, self-harm, suicidal behaviour and impaired psychosocial function. This study aimed to understand the experience of chronic emptiness, the cognitions, emotions and behaviours linked to emptiness, and clarify the differences between chronic emptiness and hopelessness, loneliness and depression. Methods: This study interviewed people (n = 15) with BPD and used a template analysis qualitative approach to understand their experiences of chronic feelings of emptiness. Results: Chronic feelings of emptiness were experienced as a feeling of disconnection from both self and others, and a sense of numbness and nothingness which was frequent and reduced functional capacity. Feelings of purposelessness and unfulfillment were closely associated with emptiness, and most participants experienced emptiness as distressing. Responses to feelings of emptiness varied, with participants largely engaging in either impulsive strategies to tolerate feelings of emptiness or distracting by using adaptive behaviours. Most participants distinguished chronic feelings of emptiness from loneliness, hopelessness, dissociation, and depression. Conclusions: Feelings of chronic emptiness are an important and challenging symptom of BPD which require clinical intervention. Strengthening identity, sense of purpose and vocational and relationship functioning may reduce the intensity of emptiness.

Open Access Status

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Article Number


Funding Sponsor

NSW Ministry of Health



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