Transcending hopelessness

In my workshops, I often utilize an exercise called, “What do you want? What do you really, truly want?” The idea of the exercise is to open participants up to expressing on paper and verbally their greatest desires. It can take tremendous courage to express openly what we truly want, especially when what we want may seem unattainable, or we may feel undeserving.

“When the world says, ‘Give up,’ hope whispers, ‘Try it just one more time.’”— Author unknown

“This is probably going to shock you,” he said, “but here’s what I really, truly want.”

In my workshops, I often utilize an exercise called, “What do you want? What do you really, truly want?” The idea of the exercise is to open participants up to expressing on paper and verbally their greatest desires. It can take tremendous courage to express openly what we truly want, especially when what we want may seem unattainable, or we may feel undeserving.

In this particular workshop, one of the participants (we’ll call him Joe) shocked us all with his open and honest admission. Knowing a little of Joe’s history, I viewed him as a strong and resourceful man who had weathered more than his fair share of storms — an honest, forthright, got-your-back sort of fellow whom people could look up to for sound advice and moral support.

“What I really, truly want is to go to bed tonight and not wake up in the morning.”

After a chorus of gasps and shocked exclamations, Joe continued.

“I’m just tired,” he said, looking around the room. “So very tired.”

Joe’s “want” concerned me. It seemed like a declaration of hopelessness. I knew Joe before the workshop so chose to speak with him at the end of the session. He wasn’t suicidal, just burdened and weary. He appreciated my concern and felt better having someone to acknowledge his issues. It took me back to a time when I felt the same way. Tired of people who didn’t do what they said they would, of expectations that would never be realized, of all those things in life that wore and ground me down and the lies that led me to believe in a hopeful and positive outcome when none was possible. Tired of the endless struggle to find meaning.

Fortunately, those times have been few and far between and, since embarking on my journey of building self-esteem and personal empowerment, neither as devastating nor protracted.

I can’t speak for Joe but, for me, my dark state-of-mind was the result of hopelessness. Many years ago, following a series of setbacks and losses, I began to lose hope for a better tomorrow. I started thinking, “It’s all just a waste of time.” And it seemed to me — at the time — that the proof of my defeat was everywhere. My hopelessness had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I know from experience, one of the toughest items to retrieve once lost is hope, but there are ways to regain your footing and strategies to shift a dark and hopeless perspective.

Step out of resistance. Sometimes we get stuck focusing on what we can’t change rather than what lies within our control. Let’s say you’ve lost your job and there’s no going back, or your relationship has ended and there’s no repairing the partnership. It’s natural to mourn the loss of what was, but staying stuck will only dig you a deeper hole. What can you change? What can you influence? It comes down to acknowledging the reality of the current situation and letting go of a need for that situation to be anything other than what it is. You can invest a tremendous amount of time and energy wishing for a different reality, but that accomplishes nothing. Accept it. Step out of resistance. Regroup. Rearrange and strike off in a new direction.

Examine the evidence. When we’re feeling hopeless, it’s easy to make assumptions or jump to conclusions. It’s especially easy to focus on worst-case scenarios. The psychological term for this negative mental process is catastrophizing — believing something is far worse than it might be in reality. Catastrophizing can take two forms: expecting the worst or projecting the worst possible outcome into the future and then unintentionally creating it The first step when dealing with catastrophizing is to recognize that you’re doing it. For me, I started carrying a small notepad and began writing down the outcome I anticipated and the one I actually experienced. For example, if I was paged to the boss’s office, I might assume I was about to be severely reprimanded when in reality, he only wanted to talk to me about an upcoming project.

Express yourself. Look for a healthy way to express your feelings. I recommend keeping a journal. It’s the perfect way to express your thoughts in a safe and private manner. I’ve kept a journal for years. It’s a way to take a snapshot of my thoughts and emotions. Paging through old journals, it becomes easy to see the negative thought patterns that trapped me in the past and to acknowledge how I moved through them. Remember, when you’re journalling, the words are written only for you, so you don’t need to stress about crafting perfect prose.

Seek guidance. If you’re feeling hopeless, it can be tremendously beneficial to sit down with a close friend and share your thoughts and feelings. I recommended a friend who is a good listener and focused on your best interests. I have friends who will listen intently and provide sound, well-considered advice. I have other friends who will listen and provide me with the “swift kick” I need to get back on track. I think we all know, intuitively, whom best to select. And should you need it, there are many coaches, counsellors and therapists out there.

When feeling without hope, I have often leaned on this little piece of advice from American abolitionist and author, Harriet Beecher Stowe: “When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

What do you really, truly want? If you’re convinced that life is truly hopeless, then you won’t do much to help yourself. But in my experience, no matter how impossible it seems, there are always things you can do – right here and right now – that will help you find a way out.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.

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