Life can feel like a roller coaster and leave us feeling powerless. Learn to recognize what is in your control and find a way to reclaim a sense of balance.
Where is hope when life starts to resemble chaos and strong feelings of powerlessness have emerged? Sometimes change and that hope can feel futile. In a battle of depression and anxiety, it's easy to grapple with thoughts of hopelessness. Is there a way out of this feeling? We need to dig deep to find that pathway.
The solution is not clear cut, nor is it a quick fix. We may be at a point of desperation to change so, with most things in life, time and patience is needed to move along a journey to find hope. Otherwise, it's easy to slip back into a cycle of hopelessness and helplessness. Self-awareness, understanding behaviors, and acknowledging what is in your control can be a helpful start. How do we get there?
Self-Awareness is just as it sounds- the introspective part of self where you observe your actions, reactions, feelings, etc. objectively. Why is self-awareness so important? It offers us the ability to reduce the impact of those reactions and feelings or at least manage them better to minimize negative thinking such as personalization and judgment. Increasing self-awareness, may open up ability to recognize things in your control and provide an avenue to feeling more hopeful.
If it’s difficult to see things through self-awareness on your own, think of how a trusted friend might help you see things objectively. Putting yourself in another’s shoes through empathy and sympathy may also be helpful, especially if the struggle is in your relationships with others.
Know Yourself and Your Behaviors
Some see the word “behavior” as a reference to children and how they act- then judge it as either good or bad. Behavior does not always need to be categorized as “good” or “bad.” In general, it's the way we act in response to a situation or stimulus. (From a psychology perspective, it tends to refer to how we are toward others.) For the purpose of what we are looking at here- we specifically want to identify our reactions. In other words, the way we react.
Examples of reaction responses may be: avoidance, anger, cynicism, sadness, withdrawal, anxiety, worry, indifference, ambivalence, happiness, contentedness, motivated, etc.
When met with a feeling of hopelessness- how do you tend to react? How do you respond to that feeling? Do you automatically believe there is nothing in your power for things to be better? Or do you feel the urge to right the wrong? Does it spiral into a belief that “everything” is hopeless? Are there any patterns to how you behave/react? If you see a pattern emerge, this may be an area to examine a little more closely in an effort to understand how well (or not so well) it serves you and your mental health.
Observe Your Past
With the help of a trained professional, gently observe your past. The past may hold answers to current reactions and feelings. It’s possible there is a holding pattern of behaviors, that developed for a variety of reasons, which still carries into today. Family dynamics- interactions with family members and roles each played- can tend to contribute how we are in the world. A toxic family member, absence of family, and a lack of emotional support – may all contribute to how we feel about ourselves and how to manage hopelessness and helplessness. (If you have experienced trauma or traumatic experiences in the past, it is important that you work with a professional who has specific trauma training so you can process this in a safe, supportive, and effective environment.)
Identify What Is In Your Control
Looking at the larger injustices in life can trigger responses of helplessness and powerlessness. Sometimes this may overpower our day to day living. By remaining in that cycle, it dismisses and overlooks that which is actually in our control. This also can sometimes be dictated by our expectations. If a meal you ordered at a restaurant does not meet your expectations, how do you respond? Do you assume you have no control and accept the problem? Do you flag down the server or waiter and alert them of the problem? Or do you get up and leave to search for another restaurant?
No matter how you handle it, you have options within your control. You may have not had any control in the initial outcome of your meal (and yes, it feels an inconvenience) but the way you respond and how you feel is still within your control.
Even after the experience, you still have control. You can decide whether or not to recommend the restaurant. You can decide to return to the restaurant and give the benefit of the doubt- maybe it was a bad day or they were short-staffed. You also have the option to decide how angry or upset you may become and how long that will last. If you struggle with how intense or how long you might be upset, it can take time to recognize what is within your control.
Take time to review smaller things in your control, such as saying “yes” or “no” when someone asks for your help. Saying “no” may be uncomfortable but it is within your control. If you believe you can’t say “no” you may need to look at behavioral patterns that may point to things like a need for acceptance, avoiding disappointment, or people-pleasing. The awareness can take time- try to be patient with yourself.
Hold Yourself Accountable and Responsible
Sometimes hopelessness can develop when it’s anticipated or when denying personal responsibility. The anticipation- believing what to expect before anything happens- can be a result of behavioral patterns we develop. Someone consistently told “no” may learn to accept there is nothing in their power to change that and subsequently hold the belief they will always be told “no.” Over time it may feel pointless to contribute, participate, or speak up- with long-term effects of depressive symptoms and increased anxiety. If you resonate with this, it may be time to seek a trained professional to help find ways to work on self-esteem, confidence, and strategies to empower yourself.
Personal responsibility may not always come easy. Fine tuning self-awareness can enhance personal responsibility. Instead of shifting blame to others, it allows us to sit within ourselves and problem-solve alternative solutions- putting the control back in our hands. One way to work on this is to be more honest with yourself. How often do you hold yourself accountable in situations? When running late it’s easy to say “traffic was bad” when you actually overslept. Accountability means saying “I mismanaged my time today and I’m working on that.”
If you are trapped in a cycle of feeling victim/victimized it’s possible the dynamic or theme of being traumatized is playing out in different areas of your life. Traumatization may be a result of direct trauma (physical, sexual abuse, traumatic brain injury), hidden trauma- emotional and psychological abuse, or even being raised by an anxious caregiver. Experiences of prejudice and discrimination can also have a significant impact.
Nurturance and Acceptance
As you work to find what is in your control, remember to nurture yourself. Lower expectations. The idea is not to eliminate feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness- it is about opening doors for hope and recognizing what is in our control.
Developing acceptance of an outcome may also prove to beneficial. Acceptance is not saying something is okay or right. It is not excusing behavior nor is it about forgiveness. It is that small area of thoughts where objective thinking sits- free from judgment. It is saying, “this happened” and detached from thoughts of change or protest. Acceptance can serve as a pause button that may reduce the intensity of feelings and behaviors.
Consider using some of these approaches to see if it can help you recognize areas you have control while trying to navigate more complicated issues. Start with recognizing small things like the ability to laugh or have compassion for others. Celebrate your abilities like dancing, singing, and even just thinking. You can also empower yourself by joining with like-minded people trying to make a difference. Being part of a community can help combat feeling isolated.
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, harming yourself, or harming others- seek immediate help now. Start by calling the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
The above information is not intended to take the place of professional help. If you are need of dedicated support, you are encouraged to contact a local mental health therapist or doctor for support and resources.
Rochester Art Therapy is dedicated to working with individuals seeking support in an outpatient setting. If you are in the state of NY and interested in becoming a client, please review commonly asked questions on this website and reach us using the contact form.
Photo by Ismael Sanchez from Pexels
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Sheilagh is an Artist and Art Therapist who believes in healing with art and creativity.