Feeling desperate? That may be a good thing.

Feeling Desperate_(1)You feel hopeless, frantic, doomed.  You feel like you’re on the brink of failure, of giving up hope.  Your situation seems impossible.  Anyone who has ever experienced desperation knows that it feels horrible.  I wouldn’t wish it on anyone…and yet.  I do.

Actually, I don’t want you to feel desperate when you’re not.  But if you’re feeling desperate, I want you to feel it.  Feel the desperation that you’re trying desperately to ignore.  Feeling your desperation is far better than ignoring it.

We only get desperate about things that really matter to us.  So if we turn down the volume on our desperation we may forget what’s important in our lives.

Consider the common fable of the boiling frog.  As the saying goes, if you put a frog in boiling water it will immediately jump out.  But if you gradually heat up the water, the frog won’t notice and will boil to death.

If you’re aware of an increasing feeling of desperation then you may be able to take some action.  Take a leap.  But if you ignore your feelings it could disastrous.  You could stay put, never trying to get out of the hot water.


The fear of leaping

It seems like we get into desperate situations because the choices that we have to make to get out of them seem equally scary or unpleasant.  I’m desperate to get a better job but the thought of working harder, facing interviews, or going back to school seems just as bad.  I’m desperate to be in a relationship but the thought of asking someone out, being vulnerable, or possibly facing rejection seems worse.

The fear of the unknown begins to outweigh the pain of the known.  My situation is lousy but, hey, maybe it’s better than the unknown alternative.  I hate my job, but if I leave it, maybe my next job will be worse.

It may be that the fear of the unknown or the uncomfortable actions that you’re trying to avoid are causing you to ignore your desperation.  If your desperation doesn’t exist, then you don’t have to do any of those unpleasant things.  You tell yourself that it doesn’t really bother you that your spouse treats you badly, so that you don’t have to face leaving or working on it.  You fool yourself into thinking that you’re happy to be watching t.v. every night so that you don’t have to learn to be more social.

Unfortunately, denial only works for so long and then you’re faced with the problem and the feeling of desperation again.


When leaping is better than boiling

If you allow yourself to really feel your desperation about something, it’s painful, but it can make the alternatives seem much less terrible.

When I weighed career failure against uncomfortable business calls, those calls became much easier.  Still uncomfortable.  But important enough to get me through it.

When I weighed being alone for the rest of my life against the anxiety of dating, I pushed myself to step out of my comfort zone and flirt.

This is the thinking that helps people overcome addiction.  It isn’t until a person truly faces their despair, acknowledges the wreckage that the addiction is causing in their life, that they really have the power to face what they have to do and get the help they need.


Never Stop Leaping

There’s no guarantee that the next thing you jump to isn’t going to be worse than your current situation, but going unconscious to your current situation, ignoring your desperation, is not the answer.  If your next situation is worse, then you can always leap again.  Yes, it would be lovely to have the guarantee that every choice you make would bring immediate positive results.  But sometimes you have to make a series of choices to get to where you want to go.  You have to leap from rock to rock to get to the other side of the river.

Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  Well, I’m suggesting that you shouldn’t be so quiet about it.  Turn up the volume so that you hear clearly what it is that’s important to you.  There’s no reason to despair.  Where there is life there is hope.


If you’re interested in learning how psychotherapy can help you, contact Rena Pollak, LMFT for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I have a private practice in Encino and Calabasas.


Get my blogs delivered directly to your inbox by subscribing to my mailing list.

Join my mailing list



Share this:

11 thoughts on “Feeling desperate? That may be a good thing.

  1. Omar

    What if desperation is so deep and strong like glue and don’t want to recharge or think of any mean that would recharge my battery! It is so bad. It is so difficult!

    1. RenaPollak Post author

      Those strong feelings can’t be ignored and it sounds like they can’t be pushed through either. Sometimes you have to take a break and sort it out. You may have become too attached to something that you can’t have and you need to find a way to let go. If you are so deeply stuck that you’ve lost the motivation to get unstuck, you may need to bring someone else in to help you get back to taking care of yourself. Talk to a trusted friend, a spiritual counselor or a therapist. Another person can help you broaden your perspective on your situation. I wish you well.


    I found this piece just when I needed it.. “Yes, it would be lovely to have the guarantee that every choice you make would bring immediate positive results. But sometimes you have to make a series of choices to get to where you want to go. You have to leap from rock to rock to get to the other side of the river.” made so much sense after reading this.. But this ” Where there is life there is hope.” lifted my soul.

  3. Trapped

    What if you’re desperate because you feel trapped? Trapped between caregiving for 3 generations (my kids, whose mother abandoned them, two toxic, mentally ill siblings, one who is psychotic, my mother, who has Alzheimers, but is still nice), or working and taking care of myself? At the same time, I’m managing my father’s estate, which he left in absolute chaos, and I wound up going through 50 years of records that I took home in garbage bags.

    I’m burned out, sick of it all, and see no solution.

    1. RenaPollak Post author

      That does sound like a heavy load that you’re carrying. I can understand why you might feel burned out. And when a person is so over-loaded with responsibility it can be difficult to slow down and think about ways to lighten the load. In your case, desperation may force you to get some more help. That help might be additional childcare, someone to give you a break from caring for your mother, resources for your siblings or maybe just a support group for you to vent what you’re going through and possibly offer some advice. I know that there are Alzheimer caregiver support groups in most cities. There are also a lot of resources on the website for support with mental illness. Your wellbeing is important. Additionally, taking care of yourself will make it easier for you to take care of others.

  4. Freja

    It’s actually kind of comforting. Now I’m thinking the small happy moments are just leaping moments (instead of boiling). It actually sounds far more accessible then trying to be perfect all the time. I don’t know if I make sens, but thank you for the article, it was really interesting to read.

  5. Aasif

    Awesome article. I am in a current situation where I have turned down a job because it’s not paying market related salary. My wife works but will only cover enough to pay the bills eat. So not sure if I made the right choice to remain unemployed until I find something better or settle for that job I was offered?

    1. RenaPollak Post author

      I can certainly empathize with the uncertainty about whether to settle or pursue what you really want. It can feel really risky. But it can have tremendous payoff. The trick is taking care of yourself so that you can continue to pursue what you want. I wish you the best of luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *