I was having a conversation with my ill husband yesterday about all the challenges in our life and feeling defeated. For the first time in my life ... I feel utterly defeated. How would you address this kind of despair with a non-religious person?
I am so sorry that you have been dealt such a tough hand. I do have some advice and I know it can help, but is it going to require you to stretch a bit.
The one thing you absolutely must know is that “despair is optional” even when things are really bad. You have the power to change how you feel about this situation. If you choose to claim that power. You don’t have to experience this situation in a negative, defeated and painful way — even though it seems logical and justified to do so.
Despair, defeat and discouragement are choices and there are other options.
(A lot of people are resistant to this idea, though. Every time I talk about this principle, someone leaves a comment saying Coach Kim obviously doesn’t “get it” because it’s not that easy.)
I agree that it’s not necessarily easy, but it is possible. I could also tell you some of the difficult experiences I’ve been through to prove to you that I do “get it” but you may still not believe me. So, take it from Viktor Frankl who survived being a prisoner in concentration camps during World War II. He knows about suffering better than any of us, and he agrees with me.
Frankl believed you could choose a positive mindset and find meaning in a situation, and that in choosing this you might literally suffer less. In his book, "A Man’s Search for Meaning," Frankl said to find this meaning you must figure out what your unique life challenges are asking of you. What are they here to teach you? How could they serve you, other people or the world?
He said, “I can see beyond the misery of the situation to the potential for discovering a meaning behind it, and thus to turn an apparently meaningless suffering, into a genuine human achievement.” He continued, “There are no tragic, negative aspects which could not be, by the stand one takes to them, transmuted into positive accomplishments.”
He believed that every challenge or trial could be turned into an accomplishment, by simply choosing a positive perspective around it. Let me give you an example. An old man was suffering with great depression because his wife had passed away leaving him alone.
Dr. Frankl asked him what would have happened if he had been the one to die first, and his wife had been here alone.
He replied that she would have suffered greatly. She would have been even more miserable than he was.
Dr. Frankl then asked this man to imagine that he had volunteered to stay here on Earth alone, to spare his wife that suffering. Would that idea change how he felt about his situation?
It did, because now there was purpose and meaning to his suffering.
When it means something, it is easier to bear.
I battle chronic pain on a daily basis. I choose to believe this pain is serving me, because it gives me empathy and helps me connect with other people. It makes me a better coach.
You can choose to see your situation in a positive way, too. You can decide to let it shape your character and give you compassion. You can use it to make you stronger, wiser and more loving. You can use it to teach those around you how to be positive in spite of difficulties.
Or you can choose depression and defeat. It is totally up to you.
Please understand that making this choice is not about positive thinking or mind over matter — it’s about logic and common sense. If you get to choose your mindset and one option will make you more miserable, and the other less miserable, isn’t it just common sense to choose less misery?
Whenever I find myself feeling defeated, I take a minute and let myself experience the feeling. Then I decide between two choices. I can continue to think “I can’t help feeling this way,” or I can replace it with, “I don’t have to feel this way.”
Which mindset serves you more?
Get out some paper and write down your mindset options. You could choose to be angry, defeated, bitter, jealous, depressed or hopeless. You could also choose to trust there is a reason this experience showed up in your life. You could choose to be determined, optimistic, loving, wise and resolute. Then, write down the results each mindset would create in your life.
Then, decide who you want to be.
Frankl would often ask his patients to imagine themselves at the end of their life looking back at this moment. “How do you want this next chapter to play out?”
The answer is usually behavior you could be proud of.
I know telling you to dig deeper inside yourself, choose a positive mindset and turn your struggles into a human achievement may not be what you wanted to hear, but you can do it.
If it feels impossible, you may want to work with a counselor or coach to help you overcome the subconscious fears that are pulling you back into despair on a daily basis. The library is also full of books that teach you how to turn suffering into a positive, and the more positive material you expose yourself to, the easier it will become.
You ought to read "Man’s Search for Meaning" if you haven’t read it.
Hope this helps.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of ldslifecoaching.com and claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.