You’ve lost someone and now you’re feeling hopeless about the future and finding love again. Is that part of what it means to go through the process of grief? No. Not necessarily at all. If you find yourself with feelings of hopelessness that go on and on, that’s most likely a result of old feelings about not being lovable and the belief that love is not secure.
So, what to do when you feel hopeless? First, there are some important things to know.
What Is Grieving?
Grief comes in waves. Just when you think you’re getting to the other side, it hits you again. That’s normal. Maybe you lost a long-time love or partner to death. Or perhaps a parent, sibling, or close friend has recently died.
Maybe you recently divorced. Or you 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 awhile.
What to do when you’re feeling hopeless? Read on. Hopelessness is a complicated thing.
When you’re mourning the loss of someone you loved, grief is a process. Sometimes it feels too long. Sometimes you might feel numb. There’s no “right way” to grieve. You will find your own. The sudden absence of a loved one is shocking, unsettling, life-changing, and hard to face. Your world is altered beyond recognition, even if you’ve had time to prepare.
You might feel lost in space, alone in the world, without any idea of how to go on. You’re struggling. That’s understandable. But if you’re stuck in a rut of feeling hopelessly negative about life, believing you’ll never feel happy again, that your chances at love are over, that is not a part of normal grieving.
Grief Versus Hopelessness
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.
What to do if your feelings of hopelessness won’t let go of you? You might try psychotherapy. If you get the help you need to work out old feelings that are getting in the way of grieving your recent loss, you can re-enter life again. This can actually help you grow.
Yet, how do you tell if you need therapy? What’s the difference between a normal process of grief or feeling (too much) hopelessness?
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?
The Whys Of Feeling Hopeless
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.
Mourning Versus 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. What is behind these self-reproaches?
They occur in any situation of grieving when you feel you could have been a better wife, husband, sister, brother, friend, or lover. Yet, the ways you internally rebuke yourself are no doubt overblown.
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. And this recent loss seems like 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 a sense of being humiliated, 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 resolve and hope to create a different future.
How To Move Into Your Future
Go through your memories one by one, piece by piece, as they emerge. Look over old albums. Talk to loved ones and friends. Write in a journal. Record your dreams. Remember the dreams that did come true.
Going through your memories, holding on to what you had, and keeping it inside, is one of the most important ways to get to the other side of your grief. You have your memories forever. Of course, this doesn’t replace the person you lost. It will take some time to get there. But, over time, you can.
Yet, what to do when you feel hopeless and it doesn’t end?
What To Do When You Feel Hopeless
First, a word of warning about what not to do, especially for those of you who’ve had a bad break-up or divorce. Don’t get yourself too busy or so angry that you move on, too fast, away from your sadness. This might be tempting.
But, it’s important to feel the loss, let yourself cry, and learn what you can about yourself. This will give you the resolve to find love again – one that really works.
And, here’s what to do:
If you continue to be stuck in feelings of hopelessness: psychotherapy is a good (even the best) option. Therapy can help you get through the old traumas in love; including your regrets, and self-reproaches.
You’ll learn to hold on to what is good in yourself. You’ll strengthen your self-worth. And, you will feel better in time. It’s not impossible to re-light your hope in life and in love.