Edward D. Andrews
Maybe your life up to this point has been a feeling of despair, a sense of hopelessness, believing that there is no way out, with no expectation that anything will ever change. One thing social media and 24-hour news have done is help us to appreciate that everyone is touched by a tragedy of one sort or another eventually. Maybe you see nothing in life that gives you hope as if you could see the light at the end of this tragic tunnel.
Have your circumstances alienated you from others? This can result in isolated thinking making you believe that your situation is different from others. You begin to feel as though you are a castaway; no one loves or cares about you. This feeling only moves you to move further away from human companionship. The word “forsaken” means that you feel completely abandoned, alone in all that you do. You are now withdrawing from all companionship, protection, or support from family, friend, peers, or teachers.
This alienation has left you feeling powerless over your life. Why work toward any goal when life will just move the goal post or take it away. The sense you are feeling is a crushing weight that is on you and you are unable to lift it off. You feel deficient, lacking in the right stuff to make it in the world. Those who are poor or handicapped feel this way most often. However, it can come upon even those who are well of financially and healthy.
You being weighed down with such despair, you begin to assume your life is over, why even go on trying, death seems like the only option. You feel doomed, trapped in a fog of irreversible circumstances. You have arrived at the point where you can no longer live in this world. You literally believe that you are completely helpless to affect any kind of change.
“I used to have a friend and being around her made me feel so second-rate. She seemed as though she could do anything. It was so easy for her. I often wondered what was wrong with me, as everything I attempted failed. I am totally my own worst enemy. I feel completely devastated when I am around her.”―Addison
Can you see the irrational thinking that Addison was telling herself? It is a bit of All-or-nothing thinking and absolute thinking. All-or-nothing thinking refers to thinking in extremes. “Everything I attempt fails.” “She could do anything.” Absolute thinking is the tendency to think in concrete, black and white terms. “I am totally my own worst enemy.” “I feel completely devastated when I am around her.”
When we think in black and white or extreme ways, it can make us feel inadequate to almost anyone. It can prevent us from having goals, trying to face new challenges in life, and having a purpose. When we have irrational or bent thinking, it can take the well-intentioned comments of those that we love and respect out of context, blowing them out of proportion. Then, we are our own self-fulfilling prophet because we believe we are a failure; therefore, we begin to fail at almost everything we try. These failures are because we never really tried. “I am in a slow learner’s class, so why even try.” “I suck at sports, so why even try.” This outlook simply breeds more failures, which reinforces your belief, “everything I attempt fails.” So, how can you set aside past failures that were based on not even trying, as well as your perceived failure status as a person?
Finding the answer to that question will move your life into the successful column. If you do not truly try, you cannot succeed. If you are not lovable, you cannot be loved. Do you see the pattern? Everyone fails from time-to-time, it is part of life. Even the best NBA player that ever lived, Michael Jordan, had failing moments, or even worse failing streaks, where he had a series of failures in succession. However, if your perception or outlook is fine-tuned as to how you view failures, deal with failures; you can become resilient, able to recover quickly from setbacks. This means that you can see failures as setbacks, not an end all be all failure. This means that you can put your setbacks into perspective, get up, and prepare yourself and your mind even better, to try again and again if necessary. With this mindset (way of thinking), you are very likely to succeed. Now, let’s put this to the test.
Potential Failure: This is a possibility or likelihood of failing, so you hold back from even trying because what are the odds of succeeding anyway, right?
- Signing up for an extracurricular class that you like
- Applying for a job
- Trying out for a sport
- Signing up for choir
- Playing a musical instrument
- Defending your beliefs publicly
What would you like to be able to do?
What is my greatest fear that might happen?
Defend why you should truly try.
Make a list of times when you tried something and actually did better than you had expected.
What does that tell you?
How do those moments of over achieving help you on future considerations at attempting something?
Perceived Failure: This is seeing something in a particular way. Those with irrational thinking would see things in a distorted way. You see others succeed and assume you are a failure by comparison.
Whom have you wrongly compared yourself to and how did their success make you feel?
Give a school example where a friend or someone you at least knew did well on something (A+), such as a test, and you did acceptable (B-). Does this mean that you were a failure? Does this mean you should have never even tried? Might your grade have been a bit higher if your perception of the outcome had been better?
Why is it worth the effort to have the correct perception and truly try things?
List your own unique abilities and express how they can be improved upon by viewing them differently.
Actual Failure: This is real and existing failures.
What is the one failure in life that hit you hardest? Why was it so discouraging?
Why does the above failure not truly define who you are? Suppose it was that, you gave into some weakness that you were trying to overcome, would that mean you were hopeless. On the other hand, was it simply a minor setback? Does it not indicate that you simply might need a little more assistance? If you stumble in the backfield as a running back, would you take a handup to get back to the next play, or walk off the field because you are a complete failure? What do you need to do after both major and minor setbacks?
How would things change as to your outlook if you focused on the good parts of a temporary setback?
List one person that you know personally or from the media that is perfect and has never had a setback.
You need to understand that you are, in fact, the author of your life story. Our next chapter will touch on these thoughts in more detail. What I am about to tell you will again be a shock to you. Nothing happening to you or said to you, and no event or no circumstance is causing your sense of hopelessness. You are the author of your hopelessness. You see, it is your perception of your events or circumstances that contribute to your hopeless feelings. It is what mental health professionals call cognitive distortions but we will call it irrational or bent thinking. Every bad feeling that you have is a direct result of our bent thinking. It is called mind reading (thinking that you know what another is thinking), all-or-nothing thinking (thinking in extremes), or overgeneralization (draw too general a conclusion about something). Those who live in isolation tend to assume that no one will ever be there for them that it is they alone against the world. To undo such irrational thinking, one just has to examine the evidence. Therefore, to suggest that not one single person in your entire life has ever been in your corner to support you, is highly unlikely and bent thinking.
Those living in oppressive type environments tend to be quick to blame themselves. There is irrational thinking that is tied to your sense of powerlessness as well. For example, discounting the positive (you discount the positive about an event and see only the negative aspects), personalization (take things personally, blaming yourself for what others do and say), and labeling (you label someone based on one experience or event instead of believing that he or she made a mistake).
Supposed helplessness combined with hopelessness leads to depression. Very few of us are truly absolutely helpless in life. There are people paralyzed from the shoulders down, who end up painting masterpieces by holding the paintbrush in their mouth. Talk about never giving up. Moreover, we also state the not one of us needs to be hopeless. If we have hope, we can endure whatever level of helplessness that we may have. Otherwise, we would just be moving through the storms of life in abject misery. Therefore, hope is paramount to happiness.
Let us return to our football analogy from above: the running back that stumbled in the backfield, who took a hand up from as teammate to get back to the next play. Think of the football helmet that he wears. This helmet protects his head from one blow after another. No football player would ever dare play without his helmet. Nevertheless, the helmet does not mean that he will never incur a head injury. The helmet does not make him invincible, nor does it mean he feels nothing when being slammed to the turf by a defensive player. What that helmet means is that most of the blows to the head would not do fatal damage.
In the same way that the helmet protects the head, so too, hope protects your mind. Hope does not allow us not to be affected by any crisis, difficult times, setbacks or failures in life as if it were nothing. However, hope can cushion the blows that we receive from this wicked world. Hope ensures us that we will not receive a fatal blow to our mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
Hope is not based on wishful thinking but is grounded in fact, reality, and the truth. Some cynics will tell you that hope is a dreamer’s way of rejecting the truth. However, genuine hope is not simply something pleasant to ponder, while very unlikely to be realized. Hope also is not the absolute belief that everything will work out all of the time either. The imperfection of man and the evilness within this world will throw water on pie-in-the-sky optimism. However, the daily news of bad things around the world will not quench your practical and balanced view of life.
The hope of a better life now and a happy future comes from knowledge, the correct mindset (way of thinking), not from wishing it so. Hope promises that if you can change your worldview, the way you see things, there will soon be evidence of successes one after the other, to fuel even more hope. This gives you the reliability of your hopes being satisfied.
Additionally, you should make certain that your hope for the future is not just an ambiguous thought. You need to make it real in your mind. Do you hope to finish high school or go on and get a college degree? Do you hope to land a job or have your own business, doing something that you love? Do you hope to find your one true love? If so, do you see yourself in that graduation gown, can you hear the voices of your friends as they throw their caps into the air. Can you close your eyes and see yourself working as a prosecutor in a criminal trial after law school? Can you smell the courtroom, feel the law books, see the judge that is presiding over the case, and hear the chains of the convict being brought into the courtroom.
Visualizing these moments is not daydreaming. Rather, it is seeing with your mind’s eye, contemplating your future reality. You need to grow your talent for mental imagery. Some people have a much higher capacity to form a mental image. The more you grow this image of you in your future, the more real it will become and your hope will be greatly strengthened that you will be a part of it, resulting in your working hard toward your future reality. Such a firm, intense, deep and profound hope will protect you from staying down when you stumble or refusing to go on when there are setbacks, as there always is. In fact, it will become so real you; you will find yourself sharing your hope with others as though it has already happened.
Let us return to our football helmet analogy. If the football player left the helmet out in the weather so that the elements affected it, causing the fiberglass to get porous, so it would crack during a game, and he would be severely injured. Negative thinking is like the helmet of hope. It has become porous, and eventually, the helmet of hope would be useless. You need to use your journaling to identify your negative thing and replace it with rational thinking. Do not let others fool you into believing that a cynical, critical, pessimistic attitude is the same as intelligence. Truly, negative thinking demands little of the intellect.
Because humans tend to lean naturally toward wrong thinking, it can come quite naturally to a young and inexperienced mind, to have a hopeless attitude about others. Maybe it is because of a painful experience in your past. Therefore, out of despair, you reject the idea of ever accepting help from others again. Maybe you even refuse to go to qualified adults to assist you with the problem, like a teacher, your school counselor, or a coach.
You need to have a proper view of other people. True, not every adult can end our troubles. However, there are many people, who give their lives, so as to help others: such as police officers, firefighters, emergency services, counselors, teachers, and parents. Many of these are careful, thorough, meticulous, trustworthy, and reliable. They can be like a hiding place from a bad storm.
Never allow yourself to give into hopelessness just because the world that surrounds you is very treacherous and difficult to maneuver through. Hope is there at your fingertips; you just need to reach out for it, both for the present and your future. It will get you through many difficult times and help you to endure immediate problems. Remember this when your emotions toss you around like a boat at sea, it is your perception of any event that moves your emotions in any direction. A correct outlook can be like an anchor that keeps you stabilized. What you can do today is, pledge to invest in a better understanding of cognitive distortion, irrational or bent thinking.