Helplessness and Hopelessness
Helplessness is not hopelessness. But the two are connected. And one can certainly lead to the other.
Many folks in relationships with character disturbed people feel helpless. Helpless to change things. Helpless to get their partner to understand. They try all sorts of things to make things better. But nothing seems to work. So they end up feeling helpless. And feeling helpless for a long time can certainly invite you to feel hopeless. But feeling helpless shouldn’t in itself tempt you to abandon hope.
Helplessness, Hopelessness, and Depression
Feelings of helplessness are a big factor in many depressions. In fact, as I first described in In Sheep’s Clothing, there’s a behavioral formula for depression. Whenever you invest your energy and attention in things you have no power over, you’re on your way to becoming depressed. First, you feel angry and frustrated. And you might initially direct that anger and frustration outward. But eventually your own powerlessness becomes the real enemy. And that’s when you’re likely to turn your anger inward and become depressed.
Lessons to Be Learned
Feelings of helplessness are meant to teach us something important. There are simply some things in life we haven’t the power to control. We can’t control other’s feelings, attitudes, or behavior. That’s completely up to them. Try as we may, no one comes to see things a different way because or our exhortations. We have to reckon with and accept that. Moreover, to really become empowered and recover joy in living we first have to stop trying. We can’t teach the disturbed characters the lessons they are slow to learn. Life has to do that. But we can learn a valuable lesson ourselves by giving up. And we can stay out of the way and not enable their dysfunction.
Throwing in the towel when it comes to the fruitless is the beginning of empowerment. Seems odd that winning actually begins with giving up. But finally directing your energy and attention where you really do have power solidifies a sense of personal efficacy. Taking action – loving action – on your own behalf – that’s the secret!. And it’s not just the secret to personal empowerment. It’s also the behavioral formula for joy. This is perhaps the most valuable lesson a person who’s ever been in a one-down position can learn. Staying in a one-down position always requires your assent. When you stop assenting, and stop trying to change what you can’t possibly change, things start getting a whole lot better.
Helping Yourself to Hope
Taking action and experiencing the results brings hope. That’s why helplessness need not be cause for hopelessness. Knowing why you feel helpless, and redirecting your attention and energy where you truly have power changes the whole game. (See also: Moving on after an Abusive Relationship.)
I’ll have much more to say on overcoming the path to increased hope and joy in the coming weeks.