By Kim Giles and Lisa Stirland
I honestly feel my difficult situation is hopeless and it is ripping me apart. I would love some advice on how to cope when you feel all is lost because right now I am just miserable. I’m not suicidal or anything though, just really discouraged by my lot in life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. What advice do you have for helping me pull myself up in spite of a hopeless situation?
I appreciate you mentioning that you aren’t suicidal, but if your dark, hopeless feelings don’t go away with an attitude shift, you may still want to visit with a mental health professional to make sure depression is not a factor.
Hopelessness is defined as believing your situation is beyond any optimism, impossible or incapable of solution or improvement. It is not a state of depression, but a discouragement in that your just situation can’t be changed. Hopelessness is often a self-fulfilling prophecy too, because when you believe your situation is hopeless, you usually don't try too hard to change it. Then, when you do nothing to change your situation, and nothing changes, you think you were right.
Aaron T. Beck, the father of Cognitive Therapy and creator of the Beck Hopelessness Scale, found that everyone has negative, hopeless thoughts that pop up spontaneously at times. The problem is that if you spend too much time in these hopeless thoughts, you can start to believe them. Beck helps people identify their hopeless thoughts, evaluate them for accuracy and change them. This simple, but not easy, process almost always leads to greater happiness and more solutions.
The only way to escape the hopelessness cycle is to question your belief about the situation being hopeless. If you can change the belief, you will then put more effort into changing things. However, this can be very hard to do if you've been dealing with your situation for a long time. Just start by choosing to stay open to miraculous possibilities and change your mindset about why this situation is showing up in your life.
I love this line from "Impossible," the inspiring song from Rogers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella:" “The world is full of zanys and fools/who don’t believe in sensible rules/and because these daft and dewy eyed dopes, keep building up impossible hopes/impossible things are happening every day.”
You know it’s true, miracles happen.
I see them all the time. People who thought they couldn’t change who do, and marriages everyone thought were doomed turn around and start to thrive. So don’t throw in the towel too quickly on anything, unless your gut says your perfect journey is to move on. Your inner truth always knows what’s right for you.
If your gut says to keep fighting though, don't give up. Start by telling yourself it is possible to change this situation. Even if the situation won’t change, you can always change, or you can change the way you are experiencing the situation and that could change everything.
There are many factors that lead to hopelessness. Here are five of those factors and some possible solutions:
1. Not finding an easy answer. The reality is that most problems don't have an easy answer, but they do have an answer and you are meant to find it eventually. If you can’t see the solution or a way to change your attitude about your situation, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It just means you still have something to learn from the situation the way it is. When the lesson is over, you will find the solution and things will get better. Just don’t give up until then. I've seen couples struggle with their marriages for 20 years and then finally change it. It wasn't easy, but they kept trying until their efforts paid off.
2. Feeling powerless. You could be in a situation where you feel like you have no power to change anything. In these situations remember you can always change the way you are experiencing the situation. Viktor Frankl, who suffered through the concentration camps during WWII, was powerless to get out. He did, however, discover that he still had power over one thing: to chose his attitude. He chose to find positive things to focus on and to see meaning and purpose in his suffering. You have the power to choose your mindset about your situation too and this will make a difference. You can choose to see life as a classroom and the main purpose of life is to teach you things and help you grow. This means every experience is here to serve that purpose. You can step back from any negative situation — even a hopeless one — and ask “I wonder how this situation is going to help me become a better person?” The answer will put you one step closer to getting the lesson, seeing the situation accurately and getting out. You should never feel powerless because you always have this power.
3. You think you've tried everything. How many times have you said "I've tried everything!" Realistically, you haven't tried everything because that would be impossible. There is a great worksheet on my website resources page that takes you through a brainstorming process to find solutions. The worksheet won’t let you stop until you think of 50 possible solutions. I promise you there are things you haven’t tried, people you could go to for help and resources you haven’t tapped into. Remember this is a lesson and you are going to get something positive from it, and it is most likely meant to be solved.
4. You're focusing on what you can't change instead of what you can change. There are some things you simply cannot change. Don't get caught up focusing on those things. One of my clients told me that her father was diagnosed with a terminal illness and she watched him experience all the stages of grief, including denial, as he came to terms with dying. Finally, he chose to focus on changing how he viewed the situation — the only thing he could change. He decided to look for some good his dying could create. He told his children, "Your mother has always lived under the shadow of supporting me...you just watch and see how she will grow now." He chose to see a benefit in a very difficult trial. Again, even if you can’t change anything else, changing your attitude can make a huge difference.
5. You believe that what you can't change is essential. We don't get upset about unimportant things, we get upset about things we believe are essential. So you have to decide if what you're feeling hopeless about is really essential? You might have a relationship that is ending and feel like you can't live without it. But you lived without it before you were in the relationship, so chances are, you will be able to live after it. A client once said, “I can never be happy unless my wife changes.” I don't believe that is true. You can place those kinds of conditions on your happiness if you want to, but you could also choose to be happy now if you wanted to. Also, remember that you don’t have to carry years of suffering with this difficult situation today. You only have to get through this hour, or this minute choosing to be happy with things as they are. You only have control over how you feel right now. Don’t worry about how you will feel days, months or years from now. Focus on today and choosing happiness in spite of what’s missing. Also, don’t place conditions on happiness.
Take it one hour at a time and you can do this!