How To Get Through Grief When You're Feeling Hopeless After Losing Someone You Loved

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depressed woman looking out the window

If you've lost someone and you're now feeling hopeless about the future or finding love again, is that all part and parcel of what it means to go through the process of grief and bereavement?

No. Not necessarily at all.

Prolonged hopelessness is different than grief and is, likely, a result of old feelings about yourself and the security of love.

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There's a difference between feeling hopeless and feeling grief.

Grief comes in waves. You think you’re getting to the other side and it hits you again.

Grief (or bereavement) is sometimes a long process that you must go through to mourn the loss of someone you loved.

Maybe you lost a long-time love and partner to death. Or a parent, sibling, or close friend recently died.

Maybe you divorced or broke up with someone you deeply loved and you feel grief about a relationship that didn’t work.

That can make you feel hopeless for a while.

The sudden absence of a loved one is shocking, unsettling, life-changing, and hard to face.

Your world is altered beyond recognition, even if you’ve had time to prepare. You feel lost in space, alone in the world, and you may not have any idea how to go on. You’re struggling. That's understandable.

But, if you're stuck in a rut of feeling hopelessly negative about life, believe you'll never feel happy again, that your chances at love are over, that's not a part of normal grieving.

Most losses bring up previous losses, hurts, and regrets. Sometimes, this isn’t conscious. When old feelings come into play with a new loss, it complicates your current grief.

But, feeling hopeless doesn't have to go on and on. In fact, it shouldn't.

If you get the help you need to work out old feelings that are getting in the way of grieving your recent loss, you can re-enter life again. This can actually help you grow.

Yet, first, you have to grieve. You have to allow yourself all the sadness you feel and cry. That's different than feeling hopeless.

The "Why's" of feeling hopeless

You can’t prepare for the emptiness a loss brings. Now, there is what seems like an insurmountable chasm where that person used to be.

And, since you can’t get that loved one back, it will never be filled in just the way it used to be. It's hard to feel hope.

Hopelessness is an empty space that doesn’t seem to have any meaning without the one you loved and lost. That's where you live right now. You can’t imagine ever feeling hope again.

Hopelessness is often a part of grieving, but it is also part of clinical depression. In fact, it’s one major symptom. And, yes, depression and even hopelessness are part of the grieving process.

But, if you’re stuck in hopelessness and can't get out, that’s a different story.

This happens when you feel hopeless because of regrets, self-reproaches, from wishing you’d done things differently when you’re loved one was alive.

Or when you blame yourself for "mistakes" that might have prevented a very sad breakup. And, especially when you just can't let up on yourself.

Living with these kinds of self-criticisms eating away at you makes it hard to get through your hopelessness.

Freud had a lot to say about the difference between mourning and melancholia in his 1917 paper — and it makes sense 104 years later.

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Mourning Vs. Melancholia

Mourning is important in any loss. Self-criticism isn’t.

Here’s what Freud said:

"The disturbance of self-regard is absent in mourning, but otherwise the features are the same … loss of interest in the outside world … loss of capacity to adopt any new object of love … turning away from any activity that is not connected with thoughts of [the one you love]."

The way melancholia (or hopelessness) shakes up your self-esteem does not have to be a part of grief. And, in fact, loss of self-esteem (even self-hate) makes mourning harder.

Freud clarifies, "In mourning, it is the world which has become poor and empty; in melancholia, it is the ego itself … [that feels] worthless, incapable of any achievement" and full of self-reproach.

What is behind these self-reproaches? They occur in any situation of grief when you feel you could have been a better wife, husband, sister, brother, friend, or lover.

The ways you internally rebuke yourself are no doubt overblown. Your loss has probably stirred up very early disappointments in love.

Maybe you've always distrusted love's security due to childhood trauma, neglect, or abandonment. And this recent loss seems like the "proof" that you'll always be left, no matter what you do.

This loss of self-respect can occur to an even larger degree in situations where you’ve been jilted or experienced unrequited love. It’s easy to fall into a sense of humiliation, believing there is something wrong with you.

And that's the reason you weren’t loved. You might even tell yourself, you’re just unlovable.

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Feeling unlovable is often a reflection of early trauma that left you with doubts about your worth.

Often, too, the anger you feel towards yourself, is actually anger at the person that left you or hurt you long ago. But, you can’t let yourself feel it, and you've turned it towards yourself.

That's part of depression, too.

The Way To Get Through Grief

Remembering is a way out of hopelessness. Going through the good memories of what you had and lost helps you know they now live inside you.

In grief, you’ll remember who the two of you were. You can bring back the memories not only of who you were then but of who you are. In those memories, you’ll find yourself again.

If your grief is for a love that hurt you, that very act of remembering can bring you back to your goodness once again. It will also help you know what you don’t want to repeat. And to commit yourself to finding what you need.

As you allow yourself your tears and missing those moments you remember, they’ll give you the fuel you need to take them into your future.

There is a future. When you hold your memories of love inside you, of your capacity to love and be lovable, you’ll have the hope and resources to move on.

If you’ve been disappointed in love, remembering what is good in you, and what you want, can give you resolve and hope to create a different future.

Moving Into Your Future

Go through your memories one by one, piece by piece as they emerge. Look over old albums. Talk to loved ones and friends. Write in a journal. Record your dreams.

Remember the dreams that did come true. Hold on to what you had, keep it inside. Cry as much as you need to. It takes some time to get to the other side of grief. 

But, if you continue to be stuck in hopelessness, psychotherapy is the best option.

Therapy can help you get through the old traumas in love, your regrets, and self-reproaches. You'll learn to hold on to what was good and strengthen your self-worth.

You'll feel better in time. It's not impossible to re-light your hope in life and in love. 

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst. She specializes in treating childhood trauma, persistent depressive states, and all types of anxiety. For more information, visit her website.

This article was originally published at Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D's Moving Forward Blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.