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Living without passion, positive expectations, or enthusiasm can become painful. But feeling hopeless doesn’t have to be permanent.
We all have our own definitions of hope and hopelessness, but the emotions we experience are real and valid.
Feeling hopeless may be a natural, universal response to personal and world events that impact our lives. It can also be a symptom of depression, adjustment disorders, and other mental health conditions.
Some experts propose there’s more than one form of hopelessness, though. And learning which type you’re living with may help you face the challenge and overcome those feelings.
Psychology professors Anthony Scioli and Henry B. Biller published “Hope in the Age of Anxiety” in 2009. The self-help book develops around the theoretical concept of hope as a virtue, and how it may help you cope with common life roadblocks, including depression.
According to the authors, human hope is linked to these vital needs:
- Attachment: a hope for physical proximity, intimacy and emotional bonding, and spiritual unity
- Mastery: a hope for productivity and accomplishments
- Survival: a hope for overcoming physical challenges, anxiety, loss, and fear, and building resiliency
If these needs are fulfilled, we tell ourselves everything’s well in those areas and we act from those assumptions.
- Attachment: “The Universe is kind and open; I’m connected.”
- Mastery: “Help is available; I’m empowered; I can rely on collaboration.”
- Survival: “Protection is obtainable; I’m safe and I can rely on myself.”
When these needs are compromised during our development, though, we may start feeling hopeless.
Hopelessness feels different for everyone, but Scioli and Biller suggest there are nine pure forms of the emotion.
These nine types of hopelessness can be grouped into three categories:
- alienation, forsakenness, and lack of inspiration
- doom, helplessness, and captivity
- powerlessness, oppression, and limitedness
These categories are based on the types of cognitive distortions that typically drive each form of hopelessness.
The key to overcoming these types of hopelessness is to reframe or reevaluate those cognitive distortions.
In other words, to regain hope we must try to think about our thoughts and how we can change them to see things differently.
Here are the nine forms of hopelessness proposed by Scioli and Biller:
1. Alienation (attachment hopes)
This type of hopelessness comes from feeling others have forgotten about you or don’t include you as a peer. You feel different in some way, and bonding with others is a challenge because of these differences.
Because you feel hopeless about bonding with others, you may persistently reject and avoid them first.
2. Forsakenness (attachment and survival hopes)
Hopelessness in this case comes from feeling others have abandoned you when you needed them the most. You may feel rejected or stigmatized as well, and this leads you to distrust others and your surroundings.
3. Lack of inspiration (attachment and mastery hopes)
When you don’t feel mentally stimulated or creative, you may develop this type of hopelessness. You may feel blocked or unable to be creative in some or all aspects of your life.
4. Powerlessness (mastery hopes)
Feeling you and your actions have no influence or impact on others or the world may lead you to feel hopeless. You may feel you’re devoid of strength or authority to make decisions or to effect change, and depend on what others decide or do.
5. Oppression (attachment and mastery hopes)
This type of hopelessness is associated with a feeling of not being treated fairly or equally, particularly at a macro level. Systemic and persistent racism or sexism, for example, could lead to oppression hopelessness.
6. Limitedness (mastery and survival hopes)
You may feel as though you don’t have enough resources or skills to achieve your goals, or you’re facing physical or financial restraints to do so.
7. Doom (survival hopes)
This form of hopelessness has to do with feeling condemned to a certain negative outcome in life. This despair may come from early events in your life or from facing chronic or terminal illnesses.
8. Captivity (survival and attachment hopes)
You may face this type of hopelessness if you’ve been a physical prisoner at some point in your life or if you’ve been in an abusive relationship that made you feel you weren’t free to act or do as you wish.
It’s also possible to develop this emotion if you feel you stayed in harm’s way or allowed others to mistreat you because you felt that you deserved it.
9. Helplessness (survival and mastery hopes)
Feeling you’re unable to stand up for yourself or act without someone’s help may result in this form of hopelessness.
Perhaps you’ve recognized yourself in one or more forms of hopelessness. So, now what?
Overcoming this emotion is possible. There are different ways to manage your hopelessness.
You can start here
If you’re living with a mental health condition such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, you may experience hopelessness as part of the symptoms.
It’s still possible to manage this emotion, but it’s also highly advisable that you seek the support of a mental health professional to address all your symptoms, particularly unresolved trauma.
Scioli and Biller also suggest you work to reassess your irrational thoughts or cognitive distortions.
These are false assumptions you operate upon that can lead you to feel hopeless about different circumstances of your life.
The first step to overcome any form of hopelessness is to identify which distorted thoughts you use the most.
Then, you work on reframing them in your mind by evaluating what other possibilities the situation can offer.
A therapist can also help you to do this, particularly if they’re an expert in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
In the meantime, here are a few tips that may help you take the first step toward feeling more hopeful.
Alienation, forsakenness, and lack of inspiration
These forms of hopelessness may be linked to cognitive distortions such as:
- Mind reading: being convinced you know what others are thinking without much evidence for it
- All-or-nothing: assessing all situations from a black or white perspective, with no consideration for the gray areas
- Overgeneralization: taking one isolated incident and turning it into a general rule that applies to everything else
For example, you may constantly believe that absolutely no one loves you, everyone rejects you, and you always deliver subpar academic work.
Working on changing these particular cognitive distortions can help you feel more hopeful. You can search for evidence to the contrary every time you feel unsupported or creatively unproductive.
If you live with any of these three types of hopelessness, Scioli and Biller also suggest you actively seek out supportive relationships, despite your fears or hesitations. This refers to trying to form connections with people in your life, even if you feel hesitant or scared to.
For example, you could find a support group with other participants who share your values, experiences, and concerns. You could also join volunteer causes, vocational classes, or spiritual organizations.
Doom, helplessness, and captivity
Possible cognitive distortions folks going through these types of hopelessness use include:
- Jumping to conclusions: arriving at any conclusion based on limited or no evidence
- Catastrophizing: magnifying the relevance of an event or believing in the worst possible outcome of a given situation
- Control fallacies: believing you either have no control or all control over what happens to you and others
For example, you may assume every new person you meet is eventually going to hurt you, you’ll always fail at everything despite your efforts, or there’s no point in trying because something bad will happen.
Focusing on the present situation instead of future outcomes may help you feel more hopeful about the current circumstances and what’s possible right now.
If you feel hopeless because of a medical diagnosis, it may help to learn more about the condition and all the possible outcomes.
Joining support groups with other people going through the same challenges may also help you learn about different experiences.
If you feel you may be dealing with unresolved trauma, it may also be a good idea to reach out to a mental health professional who specializes in trauma-informed practices.
Trying somatic experiencing may also help you process the physical effects of trauma.
Powerlessness, oppression, and limitedness
Often, when you feel hopeless because of these reasons, you may be using these distorted thoughts:
- Disqualifying the positive: disregarding the positives in any situation and dwelling on the perceived negatives
- Personalization: taking everything personally or assuming you’re responsible for how others feel
- Labeling: assigning labels to yourself and others and judging every action based on them
For example, you may focus on one negative comment your boss made despite a list of compliments they gave you before, blame yourself for hurtful events in your life, or believe you’re a “loser” so you won’t ever achieve anything.
If these are some of the thoughts you often rely on to assess situations in your life, it may help to combat them with a list of opposites. You may think of all the ways you or others don’t fit the labels you’ve assigned.
Reattribution may also work. This is testing your thoughts by identifying all other possible factors that have been involved in the events. So, instead of blaming yourself, you’d think of factors that you don’t control that played an important part in the situation.
Feeling hopeless is a natural response to many life events. It’s also a result of some thoughts we rely on based on past experiences.
According to authors Scioli and Biller, there are nine types of hopelessness, and they stem from not having some vital needs fulfilled at some point in life.
But feeling hopeful is possible. A mental health professional can help by treating underlying mental health conditions or helping you reevaluate distorted thoughts.
Even if it doesn’t feel possible at the moment, you can combat hopelessness and regain enthusiasm and optimism.