A google search on the web for “despair” brings up the definition of “the complete loss or absence of hope” (Definition of despair). Another source on the internet (The freedictionary definition of despair) further defines “depair” as “To be overcome by a sense of futility and defeat.
Most people go through periods of despair at various points in their lives. The period and intensity varies with each person.
Many situations cause despair. James Park, and existential philosopher and author, states that despair can occur whenever our hopes, plans and dreams do not come to fruition (Existential Despair: Floating Down the River of Despair). Sometimes despair is inevitable. We all spend our lives striving for things, many of which do not happen for one reason or another. That leads to despair. Whenever we dare to extend ourselves, we leave ourselves open for despair.
On the other hand, there’s Thomas Edison, who is credited with developing the incandescent light bulb. He never despaired from a failure, he just figured that he found one more way it wouldn’t work (Thomas Edison quotes). He felt that “Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do in the first place doesn't mean it's useless....”.
Most people don’t possess that level of optimism. Things get us down. Since no one’s life is perfect and none of us are perfect, we are bound to fail at times. The failures are based on how high we strive, how much innate talent we have, how much effort we exert, and outside factors.
We can control much of the first three factors. If we are realistic and in touch with who we are, then we know our capacity. We know how suited we are to the task at hand. We know how much effort we will need. Very often, we will be able to figure out what skills we need to develop in order to succeed.
It seems very logical. In fact, looking at a situation, one would even question how any emotions intrude. If one wants to become a major league baseball player, one merely has to play the game and get a coach to help over the rough spots. One’s level of physical prowess will determine how much effort is needed.
If one is not very athletically gifted, one can still reach the goal. It will just take a lot more time and effort than someone who is naturally blessed. As long as one is realistic in estimating the time and effort, one can reach the goal.
Consider that emotional issues develop when the outside factors predominate. In this example, one may not have the time or resources to become a major league baseball player. One may not have access to playing the sport because of where they live and thus can’t practice or find a good coach will to spend time with them.
This would lead to frustration at not being able to at least attempt to live the dream and that causes despair. No hope of becoming a baseball player.
In this case, we have situational despair. A person had a dream or goal, and it didn’t happen. Many people strive for many different goals throughout their lives. Some are successful, some are not. Yet life goes on. People experience despair, then set different goals, learning from their failures (as did Thomas Edison), and using that experience to have a better chance of success in the next venture.
Issues arise when people keep experiencing despair and it wears down their self-esteem. It may also wear down their self-esteem further because lack of self-esteem prevents them from exerting the necessary amount of effort in the first place. They have set themselves up for failure.
This is part of the despair that comes from outside sources that someone can’t control. Or thinks they can’t. They may have the necessary talents and ability to succeed, but because they have been demeaned a large part of their lives, they don’t really believe that they will.
They may have gone through a large part of their lives taking steps to achieve different goals, but either didn’t have enough of an emotional support system in place or had people in their lives who degraded them enough so as to interfere with their ability and desire to see the task through to completion.
In this case, these people believe so fiercely that they, themselves, are failures and will not succeed, that either they don’t try, or assume they will fail. This leads to general sense of despair.
The antidote here is to reverse the process. It is to look very logically at who they are and what they can do. They need to physically and/or emotionally remove themselves from the negative influences and work slowly and methodically. In a sense, they divorce themselves from any emotional component of the task and challenge, and just go through the steps almost automatically.
As they take on more and more challenges in this way, they will have successes. As such, it will become more and more apparent that there are some things in which they can succeed.
True, there will be those times when things won’t; this is part of humanity. We are not perfect beings and not everything will tend to work out. However, we can control how we deal with these disappointments and become masters of our own destiny. We can take a very objective view—we can consult either people we know and trust or references—that will give us objective feedback.
This is how we deal with despair. In many cases, we just have to put ourselves on automatic and look at things with logic while we become our own best friends and give ourselves unconditional love.