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BPD: Emptiness and the Inability to Feel Emotions

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April 3, 2015
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Boston Evening Therapy Content
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Credit: Richard Croft

People with sense of self issues are often unable to feel emotions. They may lack clarity about what “emotions” or “feelings” are and where in the body they are experienced. That vagueness about feelings may be more common than many people realize.

“In our culture we tend to use ‘feeling’ for all sorts of experiences,” said therapist Gary A. Taylor of Belmont, Mass., based on his 40 years of experience and documented in his article about the “inner emptiness” felt by patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and other psychological disorders.

A range of supposed feelings might mistakenly include “I feel confused” or “I feel achy,” while an actual emotion would be “I feel sad.”

“I think human emotion is far from understood in its complexity and it is arrogant of us to disdain the magic of the heart,” said Taylor. Attempting a definition, however, can be helpful.

A feeling is an internal sensation, located within the trunk of the body, as if one were a large container within which such sensations move about, said Taylor, who uses the terms “feelings” and “emotions” interchangeably. A feeling is a “nervous impulse” and “an expression of one’s heart at a moment in time,” he said.

The basic emotions or feelings are happiness, sadness, fear, anger, love, jealousy, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, guilt and some variations on those, such as terror, hatred and grief, Taylor said.

Non-emotions such as being “confused, frustrated or over-whelmed,” are often incorrectly referred to as feelings.

A feeling cannot be wrong, even if a person would rather not have that feeling, and a person cannot change a feeling at any given moment, Taylor said. When a feeling is expressed, that can be a behavior, such as yelling or punching arising from the emotion of anger.

Taylor published his findings on his website, which he describes as “designed for the express purpose of your being able to access information about issues of emptiness, numbness, and emotional and behavioral dyscontrol, including self-harm and suicidality.  Information will be provided about one view of how such painful experiences arise and what you can do about them.” A starting point can be clarifying what a feeling or emotion is and where it is felt in the body.


Taylor, Gary A., “Under Siege on the Edge of the Big Empty: The Phenomenology of Severe Mental Illness

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