If you’ve lost someone and you’re now feeling hopeless about the future or finding love again – is that all part and parcel of what it means to go through the process of grief and bereavement? No. Not necessarily at all. Prolonged hopelessness is different than grief and is, likely, a result of old feelings about yourself and the security of love.
The Difference Between Feeling Hopeless & Grief
Grief comes in waves. You think you’re getting to the other side, and it hits you again. Grief (or bereavement) is a sometimes long process that you must go through to mourn the loss of someone you loved. Maybe you lost a long-time love and partner to death. Or a parent, sibling, or close friend recently died. Maybe you divorced or broke up with someone you deeply loved and you feel grief about a relationship that didn’t work.
That can make you feel hopeless. For awhile. 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 feel lost in space, alone in the world, and you may not have any idea how to go on. You’re struggling. That’s understandable.
But if you’re stuck in a rut of feeling hopelessly negative about life, believe you’ll never feel happy again, that your chances at love are over, that is not a part of normal grieving. Most losses bring up previous losses, hurts, and regrets. Sometimes this isn’t conscious. When old feelings come into play with a new loss, it complicates your current grief.
But, feeling hopeless doesn’t have to go on and on. In fact, it shouldn’t. 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, first, you have to grieve. Allow yourself all the sadness you feel. Cry. That’s different than feeling hopeless.
The Whys Of Feeling Hopeless
You can’t prepare for the emptiness a loss brings. Now, there is what seems like an insurmountable chasm where that person used to be. And, since you can’t get that 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 loved and lost. That’s where you live right now. You can’t imagine ever feeling hope again.
Hopelessness is often a part of grieving, but it is also part of clinical depression. In fact, it’s one major symptom. And, yes, depression and even hopelessness are part of the grieving process. But, if you’re stuck in hopelessness and can’t get out, that’s a different story.
This happens when you feel hopeless because of regrets, self-reproaches, from 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. Freud had a lot to say about the difference between mourning and melancholia in his 1917 paper – and it makes sense 104 years later.
Mourning Versus Melancholia
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 hopelessness) shakes up your self-esteem does not have to be a part of grief. And, 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 grief when you feel you could have been a better wife, husband, sister, brother, friend, or lover. The ways you internally rebuke yourself are no doubt overblown. Your loss has probably stirred up very early disappointments in love. Maybe you’ve always distrusted love’s security due to childhood trauma, neglect, or abandonment. And this recent loss seems like the “proof” that you’ll always be left, no matter what you do.
This loss of self-respect can occur to an even larger degree in situations where you’ve been jilted or experienced unrequited love. It’s easy to fall into a sense of humiliation, believing there is something wrong with you. And that that is the reason you weren’t loved. You might even tell yourself, 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. But, you can’t let yourself feel it, and you’ve turned it towards yourself. That is part of depression too.
Anger is one stage in grief that needs to be faced and worked out. 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 and are 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 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: find the tumor sooner, stop the accident from happening, do something else that might have kept your love. 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 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. It feels like the depression won’t end.
But, if hopelessness settles in or you can’t get free of self-accusations, it’s time to get help.
You’ll never like this new reality, but eventually, you accept it. Now, you enter into life again. 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
Remembering is a way out of hopelessness. Going through the good memories of what you had and lost helps you know they now live 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. You can bring back the memories not only of who you were then but of who you are. In those memories, you’ll find yourself again.
If your grief is for a love that hurt you, that very act of remembering – can bring you back to your goodness once again. It will also help you know what you don’t want to repeat. And to commit yourself to finding what you need.
As you allow yourself your tears and missing those moments you remember, they’ll give you the fuel you need to take them 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, of your capacity to love and be lovable, you’ll have the hope and resources to move on.
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.
Moving 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, 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, it doesn’t replace the person you lost. It takes some time to get there. But, over time, you can.
A word of warning, especially to 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 and what didn’t work. This will give you the resolve to find love again.
But if you continue to be stuck in hopelessness, psychotherapy is a good (the best) option. Therapy can help you get through the old traumas in love, your regrets, and self-reproaches. You’ll learn to hold on to what was good and strengthen your self-worth. You’ll feel better in time. It’s not impossible to re-light your hope in life and in love.