How to Overcome Hopelessness



Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.

— Fyodor Dostoevsky

What Hopelessness feels like:

Hopelessness feels like whatever is happening in your life that is negative, whatever unfortunate circumstances you’ve suffered or are suffering, will never end. Hopelessness feels like a ‘bad trip’ on drugs–time seems to stand still, this moment feels like forever, and you’re unable to see any light, of hope, in the darkness. It feels like defeat; like you are in a game that you can never win and are predestined to lose. It can feel like a curse or a fate.

Hopelessness can feel like being trapped in a situation that is unchangeable, in a body or mind that is unchangeable or entrapped by negative people that you cannot escape from. 

Essentially, it feels like there is no happiness, it has disappeared, along with any meaning or purpose. Life is grey, meaningless, empty. And you are convinced this is the absolute truth for you.

What Hopelessness looks like:

Slumped shoulders, downcast eyes, sluggish movements, poor sleep, interrupted sleep, no sleep, or excessive sleep.

Overeating or undereating,


Lack of concern for body health or hygiene.

Lack of concern over tasks to be completed, work to be done.

Lack of effort to change your mind, your surroundings or those around you.

The causes of Hopelessness:

Circumstances, People, Places, and Things do not cause hopelessness. Hopelessness is a mental construct. Certainly we can predict that certain phenomena have a more likely tendency to take place BEFORE someone becomes hopeless, but this doesn’t necessarily indicate that the phenomena are the CAUSE. Only that they took place before the individual became hopeless.

In general, there are 3 Causes of hopelessness–

1. The belief that I must change something about myself–mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, occupationally, socially, etc and that without that change, I am void of value.

This is a belief that my human value changes with my action or inaction

2. The Belief that I need OTHERS to change something about their behavior, and that without those required changes, I cannot possibly find happiness or meaning in my life.

This is a belief that others should never act poorly, selfishly, meanly, unkind.

3. The belief that LIFE ITSELF is meaningless, useless unless it makes it easy, without obstacles, for me to succeed (socially, occupationally, romantically, financially etc).

This is a belief that bad things should not happen to good people. 

Different Types of Hopelessness?

1. Past Failure=Present & Future Failure–because I have failed or lost in the past, my life will continue in this failure/loss pattern for the rest of my life.

2. Self Rating–I hate myself and rate myself poorly. I dont deserve anything of value because I have no value

3. Life Rating–Life is of no value because it is creating far too much difficulty

4. False perception of permanence–these hopeless thoughts and feelings will never, ever end.

What should someone do if they feel hopeless?  

Remember, there are 3 Ways to handle most problems.

1. Run Away

2. Change the Circumstances

3. Change yourself.

1. Run Away:  While it’s not generally recommended to run away from your problems, at times, it’s the appropriate solution.

If the hopelessness feeling comes from being trapped in a circumstance that is truly abusive, torturous, unfair and unremitting–and you can in fact remove yourself– then the best course of action is to remove yourself.

An alcoholic spouse beating you? Get away from them.

A family that is unrelenting in berating, insulting, demeaning behavior–it may be best to separate from them while you consider your next move.

2. Change the Circumstances: When others are mistreating you or the social, financial, occupational, familial, romantic or other circumstances are not ideal, you can try to influence them for change. You can try to convince others to behave better or try to change a systemic social problem through action.

3. Change Yourself:  Even when choosing the first and/or second option, you still may need to work on Changing Yourself- in other words, changing your emotional, mental and behavioral reactions. What follows are those methods:

First, if you are so hopeless that you are ready to do something foolish like attempting suicide, you should be contacting friends, loved ones or your nearest emergency room to get outside help. 

If you are not suicidal, you can take a more measured approach.

Pursuing the help of a qualified mental health professional–(a therapist with either LPC, LMFT, LCSW, PsyD,  or a Ph.D. license)and discuss your feelings of hopelessness. 

In the meantime—

Let’s start by doing some crucial internal work.

1. Identify when you WERENT feeling hopeless. 

When were you feeling less hopeless than you are right now? Think back…when were you ‘just ok’ for a little while?

If the answer is ‘hopeless all my life’ then let’s just ask, ‘when did it recently become worse?’

Once you’ve identified when it became ‘acute’ we can usually spot the trigger.

The trigger, also known as an “Activating Event” could have been the behavior of another person, it could have been a life event or it could even be something you thought or did.


We now know you’ve been feeling hopeless and we now know the thought, word, deed or event that seemingly started or increased those overwhelming feelings. Now its time to figure out the ‘story’ or ‘theory’ or thoughts you were having after that event that triggered your feelings of hopelessness.

Here’s some hints–these are 3 of the most prevalent thoughts that might lead someone to feel hopeless:

I didn’t do something/can’t achieve something the way I should and because of that, I am not a good or valuable or deserving person.

Other people are treating me badly and I cannot take it, I cannot live with this unfairness.

The circumstances of my life are far too difficult for me. It’s horrible that these things are happening to me and they will always continue to happen to me.  This will never get better. 

If you are thinking these thoughts, telling yourself these stories, you will naturally feel overwhelmed and hopeless. 

3. Play Scientist with your thoughts.

Ask yourself: ‘Where is the evidence?’

Wheres the evidence that people will always treat me poorly? 

Or that my value as a human depends on my actions or inactions?

Or that my life should be easier than it has been so far?

Or that you cannot change your circumstances ever, ever, ever?

Yes, your life would be better if you always behaved in the manner you aspire to, and if everyone treated you fairly, kindly, nicely. And certainly your life would be happier if it had very few obstacles, trials or tribulations.


The mere act of insisting, unconsciously, demanding that life, other people and your self must conform to your desires, your wishes and wants–that is the very cause of the hopelessness you are experiencing.

You see, when you prefer, desire, wish, want life to go a certain way, yourself to be a certain way, others to act a certain way–you’re likely to pursue those desires–and to accept when you don’t achieve all that you wish for.

When, on the other hand, you insist, demand, command that you, others and life itself conform to your demands–and invariably you, other people and life DONT conform–your brain conjures up terrible Doomsday scenarios.


Instead, ask yourself where is the evidence for my demand that I always act well, that others do the same and that life be easier than the troubled road I’ve been on?

Also ask is there COUNTER-evidence for these thoughts of hopelessness? Are there times when I behaved in a manner that was effective, nice, kind?

Do I have evidence that other people sometimes behave well?

Or evidence that with all of life’s hard knocks there are many things to be grateful for in this world?

Make a FORCEFUL argument that is EVIDENCE based.

See if this helps you to reduce the hopelessness down to frustration and disappointment only. To sum up:

1. . Identify the events or thoughts that trigger hopelessness.

2. Dispute-the BS (Belief Systems) -How does going broke make me a loser?

3. Create Rational Coping Self-Statements: e.g. Being broke doesn’t change my value as a human being. Just because I’m losing right now doesn’t make me a loser.
I can choose Unconditional Self Acceptance (USA)

4. Positive Visualization–see yourself in anxiety or hopelessness producing situation behaving and feeling calm. Rehearse the visualization.

5. Modeling–talk with or study people who were able to successfully thrive and overcome challenging lives without hopelessness–read biographies and autobiographies as well.

6. Relaxation techniques–Yoga, Meditation, Exercise, Relaxation Response, Progressive Relaxation–all teach you how to focus on something other than your anxious, obsessive thoughts.

7. Distraction Techniques–Watching sports, television, listening to music or any involving activity will temporarily distract you from your feelings of hopelessness. They won’t eliminate it but will give you a brief reprieve.

8. Use Problem Solving Method: Analyze situation–write down multiple possible solutions or actions you can take to change the situation. Start testing out various solutions. Assume that one solution will work. Continue to seek other solutions. Set realistic, manageable goals to solve the problem. 

9. Unconditional Self Acceptance: USA. Choose it. Choose to be defined by it.

 10. Unconditional Other Acceptance UOA

11. Unconditional Condition Acceptance UCA

12. Changing Emotional Imagery–Imagine you are in the most hopelessness producing situation–the situation you are afraid of and it is going terribly. See yourself being highly hopeless. Then slowly move yourself emotionally to a calmer, more rational, more accepting state of mind and emotion. 

13. Fixed Role Play–Imagine that you are the opposite of a Hopeless Person. Write down a full description of how you would walk, talk, act, think in your current life situation. Rehearse this in your mind and imagine you are that person for the next 30 days. Reread your self-description daily. 

  How do you know if/when your feelings are a symptom of something more, like
depression or another mental health condition?  

It’s often very hard to self-diagnose so the first recommendation is to talk to your physician or make an appointment to see a psychotherapist.

However, Depression might include sleep disturbances, energy disturbance–going non-stop and/or feeling sluggish and fatigued, loss or significant reduction of sexual desire, inability to focus.

If however, you utilize many of the cognitive behavioral techniques described here and find significant relief there’s a good chance this is simply a situational reaction as well as a cognitive reaction which need to be altered.

copyright 2019 Ross Grossman, MA, LMFT
Affinity Therapy Services

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