December 4, 2023 Dec 04, 2023 9 min read
Hopelessness is a feeling of despair and a sense that nothing can change and that you don’t have the power to make changes. It is characterized by deep sadness, depression, and a loss of energy. When you are feeling hopeless, you’ve lost touch with reality and all the potential you have. You are trapped in a negative, exaggerated, and distorted view that colors how you see everything. Your view gets very narrow and rigid. Expecting the worst, jumping to conclusions, and making assumptions are some of the ways you are blocking your path to hope.
Hopelessness is a habit and a mindset that is learnt. The good news is you can unlearn it. There is a route back to hope and taking action to change your life. There are steps to take that can help you rediscover your inner power to create the life you want.
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Hopelessness can stem from numerous sources:
Death and unresolved grief
Divorce and the end of relationships
Financial and job difficulties
Health crises or chronic health problems
Isolation and loneliness
Too much time on social media comparing yourself to others
Feeling trapped and stuck in an unhappy situation
If you’ve experienced a major traumatic event or chronic trauma, you may have lost or never had a belief in yourself and your ability to make plans and take action to fulfill them.
You may be in a frozen state in response to trauma and feel like giving up. Trauma makes you expect catastrophes, have overly negative assumptions about the future, and mistrust even good things that happen to you. Hopelessness can become a habit that doesn’t help you in any way. Maybe you don’t want to get your hopes up for fear you will be disappointed again,
Without support and acknowledgement of your worth, it can be very hard to have confidence and to bounce back from the failures and disappointments that happen at times to everyone. If you have been neglected or abused, you may feel lost because you didn’t have the chance to discover what you love to do, and what makes you feel satisfied and hopeful about life. You didn’t feel seen or appreciated. When you haven’t had some years to explore and experiment with parents or caretakers who support and celebrate you, you haven’t had a chance to develop your talents, or you don’t believe in them.
You hear yourself thinking I can’t, rather than taking on challenges, making mistakes, picking yourself up, trying again, or searching for something else that might suit you better. Being critical of yourself is holding you back. You may not want to relive the pain of no one being happy for you or being envious of you if you do have success. It can be hard to take risks, enjoy yourself, and hold on to the successes you do have – in work, play, relationships, and every aspect of life. But if you do, you’ll move from a feeling of emptiness to having more motivation and hope. Success builds on itself, if you let it, and hope grows as you see you do have the power to make good things happen. You can overcome obstacles and keep moving forward.
Hopelessness can cause and intensify depression and anxiety. It can make you give up on relationships and activities you enjoy. It can increase your anxiety and let you stop taking care of yourself physically and emotionally. Losing contact with people, not eating well, losing sleep, and feeling sad all the time are the results of having no hope. Feeling hopeless keeps you stuck and unable or unwilling to take chances, to make new plans, and to try to create a life you want.
Sometimes we need to mourn and accept losses and disappointments. But after a period of time, we need to try to take the lessons and good memories and move on to create something new in our lives.
Just as you have triggers that make you feel hopeless and trigger traumatic memories, there are also positive triggers that make you feel good and hopeful.
Trauma cuts you off from your imagination. You may have been discouraged to dream about your future or even ridiculed for having ideas and ambitions. Allow yourself to dream and visualize in detail what you might like to see happen in your life. Let yourself feel what that might be like.
In recent years, scientists have studied what helps people develop more hope. There are three main steps:
Setting goals: goals that you want to reach, not something you feel you should do, but something you want to do so you will have the motivation to take action.
Pathways: finding out what you need to do to reach your goals. Be flexible and ready to overcome obstacles and seek advice and help.
Agency or willpower: you may have to start with small steps but find the inner strength to take action and build from there. Small accomplishments can silence that feeling that you can’t do things.
Psychologists have discovered that cultivating curiosity is a powerful way to reawaken hope. Learning something new can wake you up to new possibilities. You might discover an entirely new interest or ability that may surprise you and lead to a fresh start. Face and overcome the natural fear and anxiety about beginning something new that you may feel intensely as someone who’s been traumatized. Curiosity can take you past the old stories that have made you feel hopeless and show you there are always new things to learn, new people to meet, and new experiences to have.
Another way to feel hopeful is to do things that remind you of your value and the impact you can have on the world. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, everyone can be great because everyone can serve. Taking action to help others provides a sense of purpose. When you help create improvements in the lives of others, you can’t deny that life can change for the better and that you have the power to transform things. As you help others grow and awaken their hope for a better future, you do the same for yourself.
Hopelessness is a state of giving up and believing nothing will ever change. When we feel hopeless, we have lost contact with our power to change things and create our future. Everyone can feel hopeless after very difficult times, losses, and disappointments. Trauma can keep us stuck and unable to believe we will ever feel different. But we can all take steps to get out of this state of mind and to reawaken hope. We can all take steps to feel joy again, no matter our circumstances. Connecting with others, setting some small goals, retraining your mind to stop thinking negative thoughts, taking good care of yourself and more can gradually bring hope back into your life.
Susan Ellis studied psychology and anthropology at Barnard College and the University of Chicago. She has worked in many aspects of publishing, including editing and marketing scholarly journals, mainstream magazines, and books on psychology and psychoanalysis.
The Restoring Hope Journal is a purposeful guide designed to empower you to nurture a positive outlook on the future. This journal serves as a daily companion, prompting you to reflect on your emotions, identify triggers, and develop actionable steps towards restoring hope. Record your thoughts and engage in self-analysis to create a structured pathway to emotional well-being. The journal encourages honesty, self-compassion, and the cultivation of gratitude. Use it consistently to foster a transformative impact on your journey toward renewed hope and resilience.
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