Creativity in hopelessness

When you feel have tried everything, and yet still cannot solve your problem, that is the moment when you can get creative and find solutions where you thought there were none.

Hopelessness in this case doesn’t mean despair; it is creative hopelessness because it allows for new things to emerge.

photo credit: CJS*64 via photopin cc

‘This one thing I have done well, this I like, this I must praise, that there is now an end to that hatred against myself, to that foolish and dreary life! I praise you, Siddhartha, after so many years of foolishness, you have once again had an idea, have done something, have heard the bird in your chest singing and have followed it!

‘Thus he praised himself, found joy in himself, listened curiously to his stomach, which was rumbling with hunger. He had now, so he felt, in these recent times and days, completely tasted and spit out, devoured up to the point of desperation and death, a piece of suffering, a piece of misery. Like this, it was good. For much longer, he could have stayed with Kamaswami, made money, wasted money, filled his stomach, and let his soul die of thirst; for much longer he could have lived in this soft, well upholstered hell, if this had not happened: the moment of complete hopelessness and despair, that most extreme moment, when he hang over the rushing waters and was ready to destroy himself. That he had felt this despair, this deep disgust, and that he had not succumbed to it, that the bird, the joyful source and voice in him was still alive after all, this was why he felt joy, this was why he laughed, this was why his face was smiling brightly under his hair which had turned gray.’

Herman Hesse. Siddharta.

In common, everyday language, hopelessness is not an acceptable state of mind. Therapists often work hard to counter feelings of hopelessness and to instill optimism about the future. However, seeing a hopeless situation as hopeless is not a bad thing. If the client can give up on what hasn’t been working, maybe there is something else to do. Thus, in this phase of ACT, the therapist tries to help the client face hopelessness, but as a kind of creative act. The goal is not to elicit a feeling of hopelessness or a belief in hopelessness; instead, the objective is to engender a posture of giving up strategies when giving up is called for in the service of larger goals, even if what comes next is not known. When a client is caught in a self-defeating struggle, it is important to acknowledge it. Hopelessness in this case doesn’t mean despair; it is creative hopelessness because it allows for new things to emerge.

Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl and Kelly G. Wilson. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change.

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