Creative Hopelessness: The Light We Must See Beyond Our Discomfort

· September 15, 2018

Creative hopelessness reminds us that we have to face our circumstances sooner or later. Far beyond feeding that repertoire of avoidance behaviors, this technique invites us to accept our reality. We need to accept hopelessness and then create a new roadmap. We need to create a new, brighter purpose where there is hope.

Creative hopelessness is part of acceptance and commitment therapy. For those readers who haven’t heard of this therapy before, it’s part of the third wave therapies.

“Carve a tunnel of hope through a dark mountain of disappointment.”

-Martin Luther King-


It tends to create positive and transformative changes in people thanks to two very important components. First of all, it fights automatic thoughts. These thoughts just make us suffer. Second of all, acceptance and commitment therapy is characterized by direct, human, and enveloping interaction with the patient. Through a fluid and comfortable judgment-free dialogue, the patient changes and adopts more adaptive behaviors.

When it comes to promoting said changes, it’s common to use what’s known as creative hopelessness. This tool can bring the patient closer to discovering their own value. It helps the patient achieve peace of mind and harmony where new opportunities and a suitable state for achieving them can be generated.

Woman experiencing creative hopelessness.

What does creative hopelessness consist of?

In order to understand creative hopelessness, we’ll start with a small story. This is the tale of a farmer. Someone offers him a strange task which will grant him great benefits. The job consists of working in a field only with a donkey and a shovel. But there’s a small catch: he must cover his eyes.

The good man begins and follows the instructions. However, what he doesn’t know is that the whole field has holes. As is to be expected, the farmer falls into one of them. Without knowing what to do or how to get out, the farmer takes the blindfold off and uses the only thing he has – his shovel. During almost an entire day, he digs and opens tunnels. He finally realizes that the only thing he’s going to do is dig himself much deeper into the hole.

Once he realizes this, he decides to assess his situation and opt for another strategy. He decides he should use the shovel in another way. This small example shows us the essence of creative hopelessness. Our own avoidance behaviors drag us down to greater desperation and complicate our problems even more.

Woman experiencing creative hopelessness in the grass.

The objectives of creative hopelessness

When a person goes to see a psychologist, they bring distorted thoughts, defensive barriers, limiting attitudes, incorrect thinking, baggage, a wasted present, and anxiety toward life itself with them. This is obvious almost from the start.

To get that patient to leave the session feeling “a little better” isn’t easy, nor is it the principal purpose. A roadmap must be made to give that person hope. But how can we achieve this? How can we get the patient to feel more enthusiasm when there’s so much darkness in their mind? As strange as it may seem, creative hopelessness is a good start. It’s a tool that can be powerful sometimes. Let’s see why.

The reasons why creative hopelessness is powerful

  • The first goal is to have the patient accept the negative experiences they can’t control inside of them. They shouldn’t fight them, try to escape them, or get obsessed with them. Instead, they should embrace hopelessness and understand that their old path is senseless. “I accept it in order to let it go.”
  • After accepting those painful or worrisome realities, the psychologist should redirect the patient. They should do this through dialogue that encourages other options or ways out, along with positive reinforcement, a purpose, and real hope.
  • Through empathy, the psychologist can make the person see the things that are now in the past. They can make them see the things that hurt them and are no longer necessary. Nevertheless, that hopelessness can be a trigger. It can be a means to finding new ways out. It’s like the person who takes two steps backward to jump even higher.
A butterfly signifying the end of creative hopelessness.

The light at the end of the tunnel

We should apply creative hopelessness in other areas as well. All of us, in some way, have tried to escape from something. Without knowing how, we end up worsening that discomfort. It’s like a person who visits a new city and soon ends up driving in circles.

To escape that circular path and see the light beyond your own discomfort, you first have to understand that it’s useless to keep using the same old strategies. Those give you the same results. You have to break the cycle, stop trying to escape, and accept that you’re lost and going nowhere. You can then look beyond this. After that, you’ll be able to lift your head high and escape your own trap to discover other healthier paths that lead to freedom.