Lesson objective:

In this lesson, we discuss the meaning of despair, its occurrence, and the feelings associated with it. In addition, we learn about the effect of chronic stress on the feeling of despair and how to best overcome it.

The world can be a cruel place. Injustice, pain, and suffering abound nearly everywhere we look. It would be much easier to talk about recovery from stress and trauma if they were short-lived and infrequent. But unfortunately, for so many people, stress and trauma rage nearly constantly. More than 70 million people around the world live forcibly displaced from home. Millions of people live under threat from a changing climate. Minority groups around the world live in constant fear of persecution. 

Injustice is everywhere, and in many cases, stress and trauma just keep on coming, unfettered, unceasing. And it is these contexts when trauma recovery faces a difficult obstacle–an obstacle called despair. 

While an uncomfortable subject, it is important to talk about despair or hopelessness, and unfortunately, it is common for people to feel hopeless during and after traumatic events, especially when the sources of stress and trauma do not go away, when uncertainty reigns over all plans. 

Hopelessness is one of the most difficult and draining of human experiences. 

While we know so much about the human brain and body, we know surprisingly little about the emotion state we call hopelessness or despair. 

We know it is painful.

We know it causes people to do tragic things, and we also know that humans can overcome hopelessness, even in the face of great pain. 

When you find yourself in a situation that you feel is never going to change, hope may begin to fade. 

In such cases, the feeling of despair may take over. It may feel like it is pulling at your sense of self with a combination of losing hope for the future and the overwhelming feeling that you no longer have control over any aspect of your life. 

No one chooses to suffer, and accumulated suffering can feel meaningless, if not intentional.

In this context, despair represents a critical point for many people whose brains and bodies have been affected by stress for so long. 

In moments when we see loss in its totality, when the weight of these multiple losses become impossible to bear, the enormity of the mass destruction bears down, stealing hope and replacing it with despair. 

While feeling hopeless is incredibly painful, it is important to explore exactly what happens in despair, and how we can cope with its effects, or at least face them in as healthy a way as possible. Let’s have a look.