You’ve lost someone and now you’re struggling with feelings of hopelessness about the future and finding love again. And, on top of that, it’s been a really, really hard few years. The pandemic, its isolation, and all of the changes in the world itself have heaped even more grief and sadness on top of losing the one you love. What do you do when you feel hopeless? And, anyway, is hopelessness an inescapable part of grief? No, it’s not.
Temporary hopelessness is one thing. But if you find yourself with feelings of hopelessness that go on and on, it’s likely a result of old feelings about not being lovable or that love is never secure. So, let’s talk about grief and, then, about what to do when you feel hopeless.
Grief is a deep sadness and it comes in waves. Just when you think you’re getting to the other side, the sadness hits you again and pulls you under. That’s normal. Maybe you lost a long-time love to death. Or did a parent, sibling, or close friend recently die?
Maybe you divorced not long ago. Or just broke up with someone you deeply loved and feel terrible about a relationship that didn’t work. That can leave you with feelings of hopelessness. For a while.
So what do you do you’re feeling hopeless? Read on. Hopelessness is a complicated thing.
Here are some important things to know.
What Is Grieving?
When you’re mourning the loss of someone you loved, grief is a process. Sometimes it feels too long. Sometimes you feel numb. There’s no “right way” to grieve. You will find your own. Don’t let anyone push you or tell you differently. The sudden absence of a loved one is unsettling, shocking, and hard to face. Your world has changed, in unrecognizable ways.
You might feel lost in space, alone in the world, without any idea of how to go on. But if you’re stuck in a rut of feeling hopelessly negative, believing you’ll never feel happy again, and that your chances at love are over; that’s not a part of normal grieving.
Most losses bring up previous losses, hurts, and regrets. Sometimes this isn’t conscious. And, when old feelings come into play with a new loss, it complicates your current grief. But feelings of hopelessness don’t have to go on and on. In fact, they shouldn’t.
First, give yourself a chance to grieve. Feel what you feel. Even anger. Allow yourself your sadness. Cry as many tears as you need to cry. Nurture yourself. Turn to friends.
Time does often heal.
But if you get stuck in a negative thought pattern of spiraling hopeless feelings, that’s different than a normal process of grief. That might be major clinical depression. So, why feelings of hopelessness?
Why Do You Have Feelings of Hopelessness?
You can’t prepare for the emptiness a loss brings. Now there might seem like an insurmountable chasm where that person you loved used to be. And, since you can’t get your loved one back, it will never be filled in just the way it used to be. It’s hard to feel hope.
“In an age of hope men looked up at the night sky and saw “the heavens.” In an age of hopelessness, they call it simply “space.” ― Peter Kreeft.
Hopelessness is an empty space that doesn’t seem to have any meaning without the one you lost. That’s where you live right now. Maybe you can’t imagine ever feeling hope again.
Feelings of hopelessness that aren’t prolonged can be a part of normal grieving. Hopelessness is also part of clinical depression. In fact, it’s one major symptom. And, yes, depression and even feelings of hopelessness are part of the grieving process.
But, if you’re stuck in hopelessness and can’t get out, that’s a very different story.
This happens when your feelings of hopelessness focus on regrets, self-reproaches, and wishing you’d done things differently when you’re loved one was alive. Or when you blame yourself for “mistakes” that might have prevented a very sad breakup.
And, especially when you just can’t let up on yourself.
Living with these kinds of self-criticisms eating away at you makes it hard to get through your hopelessness. In fact, it makes it worse. Freud had a lot to say about the difference between mourning and melancholia in his 1917 paper – and it makes sense 105 years later.
Poor Self-Esteem & Feelings of Hopelessness
Mourning is important in any loss. Self-criticism isn’t. Here’s what Freud said:
“The disturbance of self-regard is absent in mourning, but otherwise the features are the same … loss of interest in the outside world … loss of capacity to adopt any new object of love … turning away from any activity that is not connected with thoughts of [the one you love].” (p. 244)
The way melancholia (or feelings of hopelessness) shakes up your self-esteem doesn’t have to be a part of grief. In fact, loss of self-esteem (even self-hate) makes mourning harder.
Freud clarifies: “In mourning, it is the world which has become poor and empty; in melancholia, it is the ego itself … [that feels] worthless, incapable of any achievement” (page 246), and full of self-reproach. Why? Your loss has stirred up very early disappointments in love. Maybe you’ve always distrusted love’s security due to childhood trauma, neglect, verbal abuse, or abandonment. This recent loss seems the “proof” that you’ll always be left, or that there is something wrong with you. No matter what you do.
This kind of self-attack happens to an even larger degree in situations where you’ve been jilted or have experienced unrequited love. It’s easy to fall into believing there is something wrong with you. And, that that is the reason you “weren’t loved.” You might even tell yourself that you’re just unlovable.
Feeling unlovable is often a reflection of early trauma that left you with doubts about your worth. Often, too, the anger you feel towards yourself, is actually anger at the person that left you or hurt you long ago and, even now.
But, you can’t let yourself feel it, and you’ve turned it towards yourself. That is part of depression too. And, anger is one stage in grief that needs to be faced and worked out.
But there are more.
Stages Of Grief
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief have been around since 1969. Yet, they aren’t really “stages” at all. They’re feelings. And, they don’t come in any particular order. You might feel all of them at one point or another. You might feel some; or none. You’ll grieve in your own way. Everyone’s grief is different.
Yet, you might identify with some of these emotional experiences, having to live in the absence of the person you love. These feelings are common. They’re also part of a major breakup with someone important to you, or in unrequited love.
Until you’ve worked out your grief, these feelings come back again and again.
You feel numb. Don’t know how or why to go on. You’re walking through a dream. Nothing seems real and you don’t want it to be. The reality is too much to bear. Denial and numbness help you deal with grief at the pace that you can.
You feel abandoned. Angry at the person who’s gone. “Why did you leave me,” goes over and over in your head. You hate the whole world and the life you are now forced to live. This is when you may begin to reproach yourself. But self-reproach is your anger turned against you. Anger is necessary to heal. Allow yourself to feel your anger.
This is the “if only…” or “what if…” stage. You want life to go back to what it was. Back in time: if only they’d found the tumor sooner; you could’ve stopped the accident from happening, or done something else that might have kept your love alive or with you.
This is another way you might find fault with yourself, And, if you do, it’s harder to get over your regrets. And, this feeds feelings of hopelessness.
Reality hits. You’re alone. You feel empty and wonder what’s the point in going on? How can you ever get through this? Live your life alone? Depression after a loss is normal. What happened is very sad. Sometimes it feels like the depression won’t end.
But, if feelings of hopelessness settle in or you can’t get free of self-accusations, it’s time to get yourself some professional help.
You’ll never like this new reality, but eventually, you accept it. Now, you’re ready to enter life again. You start being with friends. Come out of your isolation. Try to live in a world where your loved one is missing. You begin to feel alive again.
The Way To Get Through Grief
Remember. Remembering is a way out of hopelessness. Going through the good memories of what you had and lost helps you know that your loved one now lives inside you.
“Love demands everything, they say, but my love demands only this: that no matter what happens or how long it takes, you`ll keep faith in me, you`ll remember who we are, and you’ll never feel despair.” ― Ann Brashares, My Name Is Memory
“You’ll remember who we are.” In grief, you’ll remember who the two of you were. But, maybe, more importantly, you will also bring back the memories of who you are. In that remembering, you can find yourself again.
If your grief is for a love that hurt you, the very act of remembering – can bring you back to your goodness once again. It can also help you know what you don’t want to repeat. And, you can commit yourself to finding what you need.
As you allow yourself your tears and missing those moments you remember, they’ll give you important emotional fuel to take yourself into your future.
“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.” ― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
There is a future. When you hold your memories of love inside you, especially your capacity to love and be lovable, you will have the hope and the resources to move on.
Think of this:
If you’ve been disappointed in love, remembering what is good in you, and what you want, can give you the resolve and the hope to create a different future.
Yet, what to do when you feel hopeless and it doesn’t end?
What To Do If You Feel Hopeless?
The best thing to do is to get some help. Having someone professional who is experienced in the world of loss and heartache offers you a guide out of hopelessness and a companion in your grief. That’s important when you don’t know what to do when you feel hopeless.
Yet, here’s a word of warning about what not to do: Try not to get yourself so busy or so angry that you move on, too fast, away from your sadness. This, of course, is tempting. It’s hard to be sad and alone, all by yourself. Sadness is an important part of healing.
It’s important to feel your loss. Let yourself cry. Learn what you can about yourself. This will give you the resolve to find love again – one that really works.
And, you don’t have to do this alone. So, here’s what to do:
If you continue to be stuck in feelings of hopelessness: psychotherapy is your best option. Therapy will help you get through your old traumas in love; including your self-reproaches.
You’ll learn to hold on to what is good in yourself. You’ll strengthen your self-worth. You will feel better in time. It’s not impossible to re-ignite your hope in life and in love.