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J Pers Disord. 2008 Aug;22(4):418-26. doi: 10.1521/pedi.2008.22.4.418.

What is emptiness? Clarifying the 7th criterion for borderline personality disorder.

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Department of Psychology, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794, USA.


The present study aims to clarify the 7th DSM-IV criterion for Borderline Personality Disorder: "chronic feelings of emptiness." Emptiness has been the subject of little empirical investigation. The relationship of emptiness to boredom and other affect-states is uncertain, and patients and clinicians can find it difficult to generate verbal descriptions of emptiness. In the present study, two sets of analyses address the meaning and clinical implications of feeling empty. First, affect-states that co-occur with emptiness are identified in 45 young adults who exhibit a prominent feature of Borderline Personality Disorder (i.e., self-injury). Second, the relationship of chronic emptiness to key psychiatric variables is examined in a large nonclinical sample (n = 274). Results indicate that emptiness is negligibly related to boredom, is closely related to feeling hopeless, lonely, and isolated, and is a robust predictor of depression and suicidal ideation (but not anxiety or suicide attempts). Findings are consistent with DSM-IV revisions regarding the 7th criterion for Borderline Personality Disorder. In addition, findings suggest that emptiness reflects pathologically low positive affect and significant psychiatric distress.

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