It’s important to curb our desperation, because in desperation, we tend to settle. In desperation, we’re at high risk to make highly compromised, impulsive decisions. Whether desperate for love, companionship, to cling to someone (or something) not so good for us; whether desperate for affirmation, validation, or escape from our emptiness; whether desperate for relief from whatever’s causing us suffering, pain, anguish, uncertainty and insecurity, we’ll want to step back and ask ourselves: Am I acting, or about to act, from desperation?
If the answer is yes, or maybe, that’s okay. In fact, it’s excellent—having the capacity to identify this. Then, we can tell ourselves, “Hold on. Slow down. It’s okay to feel desperate. Yes, it feels bad. I feel desperate, after all. But it’s not good for me to ‘act’ in desperation. That’s something I want to practice, take pride, in curbing. It’s hard, but with practice, I can get good at it.”
Once we recognize a feeling of desperation, we can consider it with curiosity. We can start the practice of reflecting on our desperation, versus automatically “acting” to escape it. A paradox arises—the more we can reflect on our desperation, the less it clutches us in its iron grip. It seems the very act of examining our desperation paradoxically lessens its overwhelming impact. This is because calm self-reflection proves something of an antidote to states of desperation. Desperation, it seems, just doesn’t flourish, thrive, in the face of our calm consideration of it.
From our calm consideration of our desperation, we open ourselves to discovering our problem-solving capacities. Our self-reflection gives us the time, space and thoughtfulness to discover that we aren’t as helpless as our experience of desperation leaves us feeling. We may still feel deep, almost irresistible urges to succumb to our experience of desperation, but we can increasingly challenge ourselves not to—challenge ourselves to desist. We can increasingly remind ourselves, “Just because I feel desperate, doesn’t make me desperate. I’m going to work with this feeling.”
Working with the “feeling” of desperation starts, as I’ve suggested, with first recognizing and validating it. Then it means taking a deep breath, literally and figuratively, and undertaking a very big challenge: Do nothing impulsive with the feeling.
In a sense, the very act of resisting the urge, resisting the compulsion to act impulsively demonstrates that our desperation is just a “state of mind” with which we can creatively work. Often, when feeling in the grip of desperation, we might think along lines of paralysis, like, “I don’t know what to do! Oh my God!” Or, we might think along lines of impulse, like, “I must do this! Now! I can’t help myself! Maybe I shouldn’t, but I must!”
In the first case, it’s okay to feel that panic, that paralysis. As we’ve discussed, we can embrace the experience, give ourselves time to examine our feelings and allow our response-options to emerge slowly and patiently, as they will, from the smoke and fog of our desperation. In the latter case, we must remind ourselves clearly and repeatedly that we are telling ourselves something false—in fact, there is nothing that we “must” do immediately. In fact, we can help ourselves—by admitting that the urge, the compulsion, to do what seems impossible to resist is, in fact, “resistible” if we make the commitment to reject impulsive action.
Desperation has a way of temporarily blinding us, like the headlights of a truck suddenly trained on our faces in sheer darkness. Our sense of orientation and direction feel suddenly disabled, engendering feelings of powerlessness, helplessness and panic. Much like panic, desperation can flood us in dizzying waves. But if we can ride-out those waves, coach ourselves through them, we can re-ground ourselves and discover reserves of composure that allow us to thoughtfully troubleshoot the most distressing scenarios.
In short, desperation is a state of mind, a feeling. It is not you, or us. Like all states of mind and feelings, desperation is transitory. But it’s the type of feeling we so badly want to eliminate that, when in its throes, we tend to flail and act wildly, impulsively, recklessly to shed it, much like when a wasp alighting on your face causes you to react not with calm deliberation but panicked, thrashing action.
Going forward, rethink your response to experiences of desperation, considering some of my feedback. Let’s discuss it, if you like?