The state of hopelessness is the feeling state that follows the thought that you are trapped in an intolerable situation and powerless to do something about it… permanently. It is total despair.
So what should we do about it if hopelessness arises?
Hopelessness is one of the lowest vibrational frequencies on what I like to call the Emotional Scale - AND the one that causes people to commit suicide. The body feels very dark and heavy when we are in that space of hopelessness. Which is crazy because it actually does feel like you are trapped in the heavy and lifeless body!
I remember hitting the most painful point of hopelessness when I believed that there was absolutely no way out of the situation I was in and my kids would be better off living with my sister. Yeah. Hopeless. Lying on my couch with no one home and having gotten so low that I really could hardly move. And when you can't even move your body or make a phone call, it's pretty easy to believe that it's hopeless to get out of that space.
If you have experienced trauma in childhood, especially abuse of any kind, this feeling of hopelessness is most likely deeply ingrained and continues to reappear in your life. And who blames you? You did experience a situation where you were trapped and powerless to do something about it. Anyone would struggle with hopelessness if they found themselves in that situation. And if you currently feel hopelessness, it is important to know that nothing has gone wrong if you feel that way. The way you feel is an accurate reflection of the thoughts you are thinking about whatever conditions you find yourself in. Anyone who experienced those conditions and thought those thoughts as a result of it would feel the exact same way. I sure did.
As I started to see that hopelessness was one of those states that really trapped me and took me to some depressing places in my mind, when I wasn't in that feeling, I began to look for things that would help me shift that. Even though at that time hopeless was a pretty easy feeling state to go to because of my life situation. The actual reality of it was pretty bleak since my body was having trouble functioning when my adrenal glands acted up. However, it really didn't matter what was going on, the state of hopeless was way more important that the physical problem I was having with my body and brain.
So if you are in a state of hopelessness, here is some things that I started to make a list and have on hand to go to...
- Whatever you do, do not try to focus positively and DO NOT try to think happy thoughts. Don’t you dare write a single affirmation or even look at one. Weird advice from a life coach, right? But think about it this way....those unbelievable thoughts in the moment will only serve to make matters worse and make you feel more hopeless. I promise. It's a trap. Hopelessness functions like a spider’s web. The more desperate you feel to try hard with effort to get out of it, the more ensnared you become. When you are feeling hopeless, you’ve already entered into anything you do with an attitude of “it’s not going to work”.
So if you don't think positive, happy thoughts, what do you do??
- Well you have two options: The first option, which is a more short-term solution, is to completely distract yourself. This means get your attention off of the thoughts you are thinking and the conditions you are in and place your focus on anything that feels better because it captures your full attention. For example, you could read a book, watch a stand up comic, play a video game, play a sport or something else and when you feel your emotional state improve, and then you can begin to deliberately focus positively or do some other activity that is specifically designed to improve your mood. The one thing you want to watch for with this distraction "tool" as is it can be tempting to use distraction as a permanent state of escapism from life itself. You can sit and watch all the re-runs of the Big Bang Theory you want and it will only help for the short term.
- That brings us to the second option, which is in fact my favorite because it is a much more long-term solution, is to stop trying to do anything else and instead, be completely present with the experience of hopelessness within your body.
What?? Yes, bring awareness and presence to the hopelessness!
Instead of resisting it, invite it to consume you and flow through you. Give it your undivided and unconditional presence and attention. Sit with it with total attention and feel the feeling of hopeless in your body. The feeling of being hopeless and trapped is a reflection of childhood experiences of helplessness.
Dis-identify with your thoughts. To do this, you step into an observational state of being. This is what I like to call "Being the Scientist of your Mind". If you are the observer of your thoughts and feelings, there must be an aspect of your consciousness that is beyond them. In other words, you must not simply be your thoughts and emotions. This awareness allows us to disconnect with that aspect of our experience. The best way to think of it is to imagine yourself as a Scientist. You are neutral and just super curious of what is going on around you. Your thoughts and emotions are like the movie tape that is running through your mind. You can experience the movie without judgment (or popcorn!) about whether they are right or wrong or about what they mean. This dis-identification is an amazing way to stop the momentum of thought which is a CRITICAL PRACTICE when it comes to downward negative spirals (which is why I wrote another post on Being the Watcher. Check it out so you can practice it!)
- Once the doom has dissipated a bit after doing these things, like there is actually a commercial break to the movie in your mind, start a list to hang somewhere in your room in plain sight of things to look forward to. These could be little things and big things. If you don’t have anything to look forward to, start putting things in your schedule to look forward to, things that will make it feel like you actually have a tomorrow to live into. Hopelessness is the opposite vibration of things to look forward to, so this exercise will improve the way you feel. Just remember, if you’re trapped in hopelessness still, trying to do this step or the next step I’m about to give you is a bad idea that will only make you feel worse.
- Every day that you are not in that hopeless state, do a scavenger hunt (either on paper or in your head) of things you appreciate about your current life. Things that are positive and are going right. It is not possible to think a thought of appreciation or gratitude and think a thought that vibrates at hopelessness at the same time. It is like an antidote to thoughts that try to convince you that life has gone badly and is going badly and will go badly for you .
- Face the issue by directly addressing the situation, which is really at hand. This situation at hand is that you feel trapped. How do you feel trapped? What do you feel trapped between or by? Keep in mind that it might be negative thoughts that you feel out of control of and trapped by. What situation feels intolerable? How am I holding myself back or holding myself prisoner right now? If there are any changes you can make to this intolerable situation, make them. Involve other people, including professionals to see the options that you most likely do not see in this seemingly futile situation. Even if we cannot control any aspect of our external circumstance that we find ourselves in, we still have control over what we are focused upon. We are interpreting circumstances and events in our lives through the lens of meaning that we are helplessly trapped. We need to be willing to ask ourselves… is it 100% true that we are trapped? All too often we are endlessly focusing on the things we can’t change about a situation instead of on the things we can. That being said, the more futile the situation seems, the more important it is to embracing uncertainty.
- Do activities you enjoy or used to enjoy. When we feel hopeless, ironically we give up on doing the things that cause is to feel better. So force yourself to get out and do something that you know you enjoy currently or that you used to enjoy once upon a time.
- Hopelessness is in fact indicative of a need that we feel powerless to meet or to have met. And all too often, we are not even consciously aware of what the need is. The circumstance that we are experiencing is causing us to experience a deprivation for that need. So, once you discover what that need is, brainstorm other ways to get that need met. Ask directly for what you need from others as well.
- Here is another strange but effective too: Consider that if life is hopeless, then you can give up. Embrace hopelessness. This may sound counterproductive, but hopelessness functions like a spider’s web. The more you try to resist it, the more stuck in it you become. Sometimes, we have to release all resistance by just giving up in the situation we are so desperate to get out of or fix or change. This is the practice of surrender. Then we are left with the question… if it really is hopeless and there’s nothing to do but to give up on this, what can I do instead to feel just a little bit better?
- Let yourself cry, even try to induce crying! Crying is a huge release. As it applies to hopelessness, crying is magic. It is an internal release of resistance. It may be just what we need to clear the fog of helplessness from our minds and thus allow clarity to return.
If you are feeling hopeless, it is tempting to think that you have given up and surrendered, but the truth is that if you feel hopeless, you have not given up; you are instead banging your head against a wall. You are in a state of resistance and you are stuck in a kind of futile desperation to change what you want to change. We have been told for all our life that the strong never surrender. But I am proposing the opposite. I am proposing that it takes even more strength to willingly surrender and to let go of what cannot be changed so that the universe may open doors to what can be. Perhaps it is when we surrender the fight that the jail bars will swing open.