If you’ve experienced chronic sexual betrayal or you’re feeling disoriented, as if there is no firm foundation underneath you, it is all too easy to fall into despair.
Despair is defined as:
The complete loss or absence of hope.
Despair can also be thought of as an intense form of pain or sadness. Being in a state of despair may cause you to doubt everything you believed about yourself, about other people, or your relationships. You may feel as though you have been forgotten or abandoned by your Higher Power or God.
So what can you do when you feel as though you’re in a dark pit with no escape? Here are 6 suggestions for navigating despair:
Acknowledge that you are in despair and name it for what it is.
Nothing slows down healing and navigating through an emotion more than resisting what is real and true. Simply saying, “I am in despair now” is all that is needed.
Remember, everything is impermanent.
Despair will not last forever. There is an enduring resilience in the human soul that tenaciously drives us toward healing and wholeness. And like so many experiences in life, despair comes for a season and then leaves. It may return from time to time, but never permanently if we persist.
Be gentle with yourself.
When you’re in a state of despair, you may have little or no energy for activities you were once passionate about. Ask yourself what is absolutely necessary to do and what can I let go? You don’t need to explain yourself. You can simply say that you’re not available for now, or that you need to focus on your self-care at this particular time.
Reduce the demands on yourself and only commit to the bare minimum. It’s just temporary.
Review your past seasons of despair.
Was there a time in the past when you felt despair about something else? Reflect on the fact that you cycled through that period and came out on the other side. Take note of what you did to endure and survive. How did you nurture yourself?
People often find when they’re in despair they actually slow down enough to notice and bring more beauty or wisdom into their life. Being in nature, going to a museum, doing some “soulful shopping,” listening to inspirational messages or music are all ways to focus on what is beautiful and uplifting, and thereby soothing despair and inviting hope.
Find a symbol or transitional object to support and ground you.
When you’re in a state of despair and feel as though there is no firm ground beneath you, you may be drawn to a symbol that represents solidity or grounding, or a transitional object that serves the same purpose.
Transitional objects are typically thought of as the means by which a child transitions from the parent-child relationship to the ability to make other important connections and relationships. However, as Colleen Goddard points out in her article, More Than Just Teddy Bears:
According to Mark Brenner, transitional objects continue through the course of our lives, as “sacred keepsakes” which pull us back to “a place and time of great solace and memory.” It is the dependence, identification and attachment to objects outside of the self — photographs, wedding bands, mementos, music, art and culture — which define both nostalgic memorials, but more importantly, and astutely, define a state of connection and presence in the world.
Important symbols or transitional objects can provide a much-needed sense of focus, comfort, and reliability in times of uncertainty, upheaval, and despair.
And finally, ask yourself, “What might this despair be teaching me? Is there a lesson for me in it? What am I being called to learn, even if it is just endurance?”
If you want to inquire even more deeply into your despair, it can be helpful to ask yourself whether there may be lessons for you to learn through the experience. For example, some betrayed partners realize that the despair and hopelessness they feel about their relationship is magnified and perpetuated by over-focusing on their unfaithful spouse’s ability—or lack thereof—to change and grow.
When you begin to identify what is in your power to change, rather than having your emotional state and your future dependent on what another person does or doesn’t do, your despair lifts as you begin to take action around what you have power over.
Because I remember, I despair.
Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2018)