A word about hopelessness...
I keep a journal. Not just relating to my experiences with clients, but of my own thoughts and feelings also. These entries may be sporadic, or sometimes verge on compulsive, but are all a release – a way to put form to feelings, sensations, hopes, dreams: to articulate and order my reality. When I decided to write a post on hopelessness, I went back to my journal to find a quote: how did I experience hopelessness? What was its quality for me? I thought if I could put my finger on what hopelessness felt like for me, I might be able to translate it for others.
I found something intriguing: in all the writing I have chronicled over the years, I had never written about hopelessness. At least not my own. Instead, I had written countless times railing against hopelessness – others’ hopelessness. I had written scathing accounts of frustration, of incredulity, of a disbelief in another’s seeming inability to change their circumstance. To dream. To believe that life could be different. To accept support from those they love and take the steps toward a life they wanted.
I realized that I had been operating within a pretty significant blind-spot. Before I tried to explore hopelessness in others, I needed to examine my relationship with it.
I became familiar with hopelessness – up close and personal – from a pretty early age. Two parents – for their disparate reasons – stuck in a troubled relationship. Both unhappy - one in denial; one vocally so. My relationship with my mother was much stronger, and so hers was the particular brand of hopelessness I learned. If only the situation was different; it would be different when [X] happened; it was [NAME]’s fault – if not for [him/her], things would be different/better/happy. This relationship to hopelessness culminated for me when I was in my 20s, and after another, cyclical, desperately frustrating conversation, my mother finally told me that: yes, she was unhappy. Yes, she saw ways to change her life. But, no, she was not willing to make those changes. Period. This was her life; it was something happening to her that she had simply to endure...
So, I learned about hopelessness. And I rejected hopelessness. Rejected it with every fibre of my being and spent most of my childhood trying to get her ‘to see’. I thought if I tried harder, worked better, achieved more, I could prove to her that things were not hopeless. That with creativity and effort, there would be another way. That if I loved her enough, there would always be another way. And there was for me; but not for her.
This intolerance of hopelessness in others has continually invited the hopeless into my life. Friendships, romantic partners, colleagues. And I have spent many years trying to get them to see. To bring them into the light. It’s a heavy burden, but it’s one that I have picked up gladly – in most cases they have not asked me to. And it’s time to put that burden down. But how?
I think the way I can do that is to acknowledge. To accept others’ choices. To accept and honour that what feels to me like a prison of their making, is - for them - reality. To allow – in many cases – for them to go along their chosen path. To wish them well and perhaps walk beside them, but stop trying to lead them in a new direction. To acknowledge and accept that their path may not be mine; nor may the one I envision for them, theirs.
So, I return to hopelessness and whatever that might be for you. May we all find ways to live the life we choose – and honour whatever that may be.
If you are interested in more reading about hopelessness, check out Psych Central’s article on the 9 Kinds of Hopelessness and How to Overcome Them. And please consider sharing your experiences below.