Lately it feels like every time we turn on the news we are faced with world events that are terrible but out of our control. How can we solve the Brexit situation? How do we stop gunmen killing children in schools in America? How do we end suffering in Syria? We feel we cannot ignore the chaos and hurt of the world, and yet it hurts us to witness it every day. Without considerable resources, we often feel powerless and frustrated to improve the world, and that can be incredibly stressful.
Despair is a common experience we all share. We feel it during difficult times in our lives. We sometimes despair about our work, our relationships, our financial situation, our love life (or lack of it), and of course we despair over world events each time we tune into the media. Typically, this feeling dissipates and quietens down until the next time, but sometimes it actually gets deeper, takes control of us, and forms a clinical condition where we constantly feel hopeless, pessimistic and powerless. Ultimately, we feel out of control.
We cannot control the government, the weather, other people’s opinions, our spouse, but we can take small steps so these feelings of despair don’t overwhelm us. This is generally true in counselling, where my clients are not always able to change the circumstances of their lives, but when they realise they can change the way they feel and think, it is significantly more empowering than continuing to think that if they could just control circumstances they’d feel better. We can’t un-do the past, but we can control how we deal with it in the now; we can’t control how others behave, but we can control how we react.
So how do we begin to take control when we feel despair at the world?
Ultimately, we need to find ways to feel more in control and hopeful about the world, and our small place in it. A sentence that sticks in my mind from something I once read is that “people can live weeks without food, days without water, minutes without oxygen, but not a moment without hope”. And if you sometimes think the world is going crazy, you might be reassured to know that according to cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, the human race is now healthier, more prosperous, and safer than ever before. The problem, he argues, is not the state of the world, it is our bias towards a negative representation of it. So, take heart, and take control of your thoughts, and the world will seem like a better place where courage and compassion can triumph over despair.
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counselling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you.