So it’s been a week of love – a #LoveWeek, if you will. And I hate to be a Debbie Downer on the last day, but I need to acknowledge the elephant which may or not be residing in the room.
To wit: love isn’t for everyone.
Now don’t get me wrong, it clearly is. Come on. Love makes the world go round.
(OK, at the moment it’s money, which probably explains the shit creek we’re in.)
But when I say love isn’t for everyone, I mean: some of us have given up on love. We’ve lost hope.
Now, that could be the familial kind; I know of several estranged parents, children and siblings. Christ, my own extended family is rife with them.
Others may have given up on the kind of love found through friendship; cast adrift in a sea of people who are only ‘after what they can get’. God, wouldn’t that be a depressing place to be?
But really, you know what I’m talking about; romantic love. The kind that comes with hearts and flowers (and emptying the bins without being asked, which is pretty high on my all-time list of How To Show Me You Love Me).
Because the heart can grow weary when love doesn’t feel so much like a collaborative work of art as a solitary lie-down in a rubbish dump.
Losing hope can happen after the same experience has occurred time and again; not meeting anyone or consistently meeting the wrong people, not finding deep emotional connection, or situations which keep turning out in depressingly familiar ways.
And losing hope isn’t just for the single; there’s nothing lonelier than losing hope whilst you’re with someone. Perhaps it’s even harder to shake; the longer we stay in a relationship, the harder it becomes to break away. We think about how much time we’ve spent together and don’t want to waste that ‘investment’ (something called the sunk cost fallacy).
For many of us, we can only endure something painful for a certain length of time if there’s no visible or palpable end or resolution in sight. Losing hope, then, becomes logical, understandable; a way of protecting ourselves from further hurt, further impacts.
To come out of a period without hope often involves going through it; a route made infinitely easier with the three keys of self-compassion: common humanity, mindfulness and self-kindness.
1. You’re not alone
It’s incredibly human and normal to feel defeated sometimes, to give up and lose hope. It’s a natural protective response. I know because I have a confession; I’ve lost hope, too. On repeated occasions. The most recent came at the end of last year, after I’d spent the second half distracted by an unhelpful situation.
It’s not just you. Okay? And I’m pretty sure it’s not just me who’s been down here, either.
You’re not alone, literally as well as metaphorically. Reach out to friends, those who already love you. If that feels impossible, reach out to a caring professional; the charity Mind offers up to 10 sessions of counselling, with the cost on a sliding scale according to your income.
2. Take notice
By the time December came around, I found myself in the foothills of depression. That’s what losing hope feels like, for me; a low-level hum of grief, of sadness. I also noticed my thinking became more fixed, as the belief that things won’t change is a key part of losing hope.
Being able to sit with difficult emotions is bloody difficult, which is why I practise mindfulness meditation when I can. And the hardest times to practise are those when I need it the most.
But the ability to simply BE with painful emotions really comes into play when they swell up out of nowhere. For example, I can find myself doing the washing up or driving my car and WHOOSH, a wave of emotion washes over me.
Rather than push it away I’ll say out loud to myself, “Wow, I’m really feeling so much loneliness/grief/sadness/emotion right now. And that’s OK”. I listen to myself, figuratively and literally.
If I have a hand free, I’ll put one on my heart so I feel physically as well as verbally acknowledged and comforted. Or I’ll do some EFT, which is so good for gently dissipating painful feelings with its inherently self-compassionate set-up phrase, “Even though I’m [feeling so full of grief and loss right now, etc], I soothe and comfort myself”.
3. Be kind to yourself
This is especially important if you’ve experienced a series of disappointments or rejections as “most of us are wired to want the person we can’t really have .. [Unfortunately] people who devalue us make us want to convince them that they’re wrong.”
These rejections and disappointments can be real or perceived; what matters most is that I’ve noticed that I’m hurting, and I’m responding to my own hurt with love and care.
I love Kristen Neff’s self-compassion mantra in her book Self Compassion: This is a moment of suffering; suffering is part of life; may I be kind to myself in this moment; may I give myself the compassion I need.
I’ve tweaked my version to be a little less formal, a little more forthright;
“I’m suffering right now. Wow, that sucks.
Suffering’s part of being human. It’s OK.
I’m going to be kind to myself right now.
I’m giving myself the love and care I need.”
By nurturing myself through self-compassion, first and foremost, I can regain the resources I need to manage later.
Intentionally bringing design thinking – by which I mean curiosity, bias to action, reframing, awareness and radical collaboration – into our lives is a powerful thing, but particularly when it comes to building resilience.
Finally, I want to tell you: if you’ve lost hope, I know it’s tough. I know it hurts, and you’re also trying to numb or ignore the hurt. I know you’ve been through stuff. I know you miss having hope, and fear things won’t change.
What you’re feeling is normal and understandable. Right now, please focus on looking after yourself. When “everything feels awful and I’m not OK”, prioritise fundamental self-care with this amazing downloadable PDF which originated on tumblr (thank you, Eponis Sinope).
As the Chinese proverb has it, this too will pass. And remember:
Have patience. Be gentle. Until the right collaborator comes along, know that you’re worthy of love and belonging and, when you’re ready again, you’ll keep painting your own amazing canvas.
Because the world needs the art only your heart can create.