Feeling hopeless is human. It is a very dark and destructive place to be. How can you turn feeling hopeless into hope?
If you read this you might hope to find some hope. And if you have not yet felt hopeless, then chances are you will in the future.
Much is written and taught about hope and hopelessness. I believe that anything said or written with conviction and from the heart will reflect the writer’s own experience of hopelessness. What I am going to share here with you is grown out of my own journey through hope-lessness.
1. Why feeling hopeless matters
Often we talk about why we need to keep hope. While we all will agree with the importance of this need, that in itself is often not enough to turn hopelessness into hope. Why?
Hopelessness can be deep, compelling, seductive and powerful.
Hope is a key motivation in our lives. Finding hope, holding on to it, losing it, getting it back and strengthening it – that is the subtitle of our lives. Hope keeps us going.
Feeling hopeless, on the other hand, can stop us in our tracks. It can block energy, growth, happiness and love. Hopelessness at its worst can be deeply destructive – to our potential, health and ultimately our life.
2. Some key points about hopelessness
You can feel hopeless without knowing it.
Hopelessness tends to feel “heavy”, while hope feels “light”.
If you are stuck in depression, anxiety, indifference, anger, sadness and such, and cannot shift it, then check in with yourself. Could these be symptoms of feeling hopeless? If you are in therapy for any of the above, then I suggest explore your relationship with hope.
At the core of feeling hopeless is the belief, that improvement, a solution or healing – you name it, are not possible. We are all capable of holding this belief for short or longer periods in our lives. It all depends on what has or is happening.
Equally, hopelessness can be more or less intense: a momentary and short-lived frustration and pause before we commence doing what we need to do. Or the belief of hopelessness festers into a conviction, which is re-inforced by a growing resistance to try or do anything different.
Hopelessness can be permanent or it comes and goes.
Hopelessness is not always noticeable. You might think you know someone well, yet you have no clue of what is really happening deep inside.
3. Reasons for feeling hopeless
They can be as varied as you and I:
We might have tried and so far seemingly failed to improve areas in our lives like love, relationships, income, health, wellbeing, work and more.
We are tired and disheartened of trying again and again. Disappointments, regrets and set-backs zap our energies, motivation and hope.
When we have a heavy burden to carry all on our own, that can be extra hard.
We may be lonely, grieving or lost what used to give us a purpose and our identity – a person, a job, an income, our home, our youth, our looks, our health, our beliefs.
We might generally be more prone to negative thinking and cynicism, the glass half empty approach to life.
If we are in a crisis and the clock is ticking, sometimes something snaps, and we give up.
We may be ill, with little hope of improvement.
We may be dying.
4. Feeling hopeless and feeling suicidal
We cannot talk about hopelessness without talking about feeling suicidal. While there may be many reasons for wanting to end one’s life, feeling hopeless will figure somewhere.
Severe hopelessness can lead to feeling hopeless about life. Then death and dying can look like an acceptable option. Feeling suicidal because of hopelessness, does not necessarily make people upset. It can be a quietly lingering idea. A silent conviction people may not even act on, but may be more likely to act on in moments of despair or moments that hold more evidence that life and their predicament is hopeless.
If that is you, then I put it to you, that talking about it with someone independent, who is not involved in your life, may help: a therapist, a medical practitioner, a priest, depending on where you live free and confidential telephone support services may be available.
5. How not to get stuck in feeling hopeless
As much as feeling hopeless is understandable and human, there is a lot we do, that keeps us trapped in this darkest of feelings. And when that happens hope-less-ness can become the signature tune of our life. If you play it again and again you will make it more powerful.
Here are some suggestions that can help you:
→ Don’t let your hopelessness disempower you
Often we feel hopeless because we feel disempowered by others, life, ill health, fate, destiny and such. Yet feeling hopeless is also a very powerful emotion in itself. Whenever I feel hopeless I also feel reluctant and resistant to try anything to get myself out of this place. Odd, isn’t it? Why? It might be different for you, but for me, I think it is temporary tiredness and anger about the situation.
→ Stop digging the hole
If I kept telling you in words, acts and in the way I carry myself, that I feel hopeless, then sooner or later you will regard me as a hopeless person and a hopeless case. You will withdraw from me, because of the hopeless energy I send out. That will make me feel abandoned and disappointed. It will justify and reinforce my hopelessness.
The same applies to negative self talk. If you keep telling your self again and again, that it’s hopeless, then you are less and less likely to keep trying. You leak positive energy and will.
Observe your language and change it. Period. Move on (even with a heavy heart).
→ Draw a line and stick to it
Yes, some things and situations in life may be hopeless. You may never get what you want and deserve. You may need to change directions. That does not mean giving in or giving up. It means doing the smart thing.
There are some jobs I’d like to do. But I also know for a fact, that I have no hope in hell of getting them. Why? Because I don’t fit (for a number of reasons). Why should I keep pushing? Why should I put myself through the disappointments? I tell myself, if I don’t fit, then that job set-up does not fit in with me.
Stop banging against the door that will never open.
→ Don’t suck it in
If you are being disappointed and feel a sense of hopelessness coming over you, let it pass you by. Shut all the doors and windows, and let that toxic cloud pass you by, without breathing it in.
Whenever I pitch an article or idea to a newspaper or magazine I no longer get my hopes up. One place in particular, where I used to contribute regularly, has changed their guidelines. Now my submissions get declined on a regular basis, with little or no explanation or dialogue. It hurts and I had to learn to switch off my feelings about it. I must not suck in disappointment and hopelessness. It stifles my creativity. I know my worth. And I have to keep looking elsewhere, or refine what I am doing. And each time I do that, I learn something new. And I am grateful for that.
Feel proud when you let the toxicity pass.
→ Acknowledge the good moments
When you are stuck in hopelessness, very little may excite you. Because it’s a lonely, dull, dark and numb place. Therefore, make sure you acknowledge the good or reasonable moments in life. Say it out loud “This has been good. I enjoyed that. I did well.” That way you will build a buffer, bonus points. When hopelessness hits, it might not hit you as hard or for as long.
Remembering better times helps keeping hopelessness in perspective.
6. An example of turning feeling hopeless into hope
Allow me to use a personal example of how I turned feeling hopeless into feeling more hopeful. It is not a blue print. But it may give you some useful clues.
The last time I felt deep hopelessness, it crept up silently and knocked me for six, almost all in a blink of an eye. Looking back, there were tell-tale signs. And even when it happened, it took me a while to realise that hopelessness was at the bottom of it.
What had been going on?
I had been busy with self care – a complex programme of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual cleansing and strengthening while waiting for a cancer operation.
At the same time life does not stand still. Money worries, family worries, an ill dog, repairs for my home, a heat wave, craving for comfort food I must not have, noise I am getting increasingly sensitive to, trying to keep on top of my writing, reassuring others all will be well, missing my work, sadness about the cancer having come back, wondering whether I am doing the right thing, not many people understanding what I am doing and why, grieving for my myself, fear of cancer treatment side effects and fear of dying.
These are just some, but you get the picture. I soldiered on. I say “soldiered”, because what I was doing did not come easily. I had to dig deep.
And then – snap. No more.
I lost the connection to my programme, the reasoning behind it and the belief in it.
I no longer felt my mind free and empowered. Instead my mind started switching between past sorrows and misgivings and fear of the future.
Was I tired? Had it become too much? Was it the heat, the worries, the cancer, the time pressure, the not knowing … the possibilities are endless.
The well-intended recommendations I received from concerned friends seemed equally endless.
No, No, No and no again.
Nothing was shifting it. I was digging in my heals and resisting it all. I became stubborn and despairing at the same time. I did not want to feel this way, but there was seemingly nothing that could unlock me, or motivate me to unlock myself from this dire predicament.
At the same time I started feeling physically weak and uncomfortable: shallow breathing, bent posture, fatigue, feeling lifeless and stressed. Feeling hopeless can also manifest itself physically. It is a state of distress, which the body picks up on. And when you are not well, that’s the last thing you need.
I could feel the heavy cloud coming down on me, and worryingly I started feeling indifferent and increasingly angry and with that increasingly frightened.
But I still had a tiny bit of hope, that I might get to the bottom of it all. Because I knew from experience that sooner or later I would work it out, and turn things around.
And so it happened on an early morning walk with Lilly, my dog. The reason why I felt disconnected and stuck was that I had lost hope. I had started feeling hopeless regards the cancer, my life and what I had been doing about it all.
Turning it around
While I had found an answer that made sense, I also felt an emotional release.
Sadness, anger and fear started pouring out of me.
When it happens to you, you might cry, sob, get still. Follow these steps:
Whatever you do, let it come out. Do not, under any circumstances block the out-pouring.
In that moment, don’t talk much about it to others. That will weaken the release. Stay on your own if you can.
Stay really tuned into you. Don’t be frightened. What’s happening is healthy.
Then comes a really important moment. Don’t stress about it. You will feel it. It might not last long. Like when the tide turns, if you have ever seen that. Water comes rushing in with lots of power, then it stands still, then the tide turns and slowly starts running out the way it had come. That’s your cue for turning and catching the hope boat back the other way. In that moment do what you need to do to feel good and at peace: walk, run, sit, close your eyes or not, listen to music, have a cup of tea (something calming, nothing stimulating), chant, pray, chill – whatever works for you. More often than not you will get a glimpse of courage.
Do not dismiss that glimpse of courage or hope. Watch your mind. Because hopelessness knows the gig and is waiting to come back in. Stay strong.
What did I do?
I sent a tweet “This has been a reasonable day.” I needed to reinforce my feeling and make it real by tweeting it to the world. Might sound a bit pathetic, hey… (That’s why I also created my hashtag #TrustHopeLove)
Then I started writing this article. I am not yet back to my routine, but I am back to thinking about hope and why I must not allow what may lie ahead, destroy what I have now.
And I am ready for the next visit from hopelessness. It is part of who I am.
We are a lot more than my moments of hopelessness.
This article was first published on KarinSieger.com
Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer specialising in personal transitions, endings, making peace and the emotional impact of cancer, for which Karin has been treated herself. She does her writing on her orange houseboat in London. Karin posts regularly on her website KarinSieger.com. You can sign up for her Newsletter, follow her on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook or connect via LinkedIn.
Image courtesy of Garrett Anderson.