9 Forms of Hopelessness and Antidotes to Overcome

How can you overcome hopelessness?

We are surrounded by news of disaster, violence and disease on a daily basis.  The book, Hope in the age of Anxiety, explores the power of personal hope in today’s unpredictable world.  The authors argue there are 9 forms of hopelessness and offer remedies for finding hope once again.


  • Specializes in Clinical Leadership, Staff Development, Education. Has 30 years experience.
How can you overcome hopelessness?

Our lives are filled with unrest. Unless you live on a secluded island, you are exposed daily to news of economic strife, poverty, disease, natural disasters, violence and the list goes on. It’s enough to cause anyone to lose hope, and nurses are not immune. However, nurses are in a unique position to support hope in those experiencing fear, grief, loss, illness and death.

In the book, Hope in the Age of Anxiety, authors Scioli and Miller bring light to the nature of hope. Arguing there are 9 forms of hopelessness, the authors suggest a person can be empowered when knowing the specific form they are facing. Through understanding, hope can be restored and used to face life’s challenges.

1. Alienation

Individuals who are “alienated” believe they are somehow “different” from everyone else. As a result, they feel unworthy of love or of supportive relationships. Already feeling forgotten by others, an alienated person may further distance themselves as protection from further pain or rejection.

2. Forsakenness

This form of hopelessness is similar to alienation and occurs when a person feels completely abandoned during a time their greatest time of need.

3. Uninspired

Hopelessness may be grounded in a lack of inspiration in a job or creative process, such as writer’s block. Underprivileged minorities may have greater difficulties with inspiration if opportunities for growth are limited and valued role models are lacking.

4. Powerlessness

Powerlessness occurs when a person perceives that their own actions will not significantly impact a current situation. The sense of powerlessness may be related to a lifelong pattern of helplessness, lack of personal resources and inability to use other resources.

5. Oppression

Oppression occurs when a person feels they will never be able to overcome life’s obstacles and challenges. A person may feel “kept down” or “down-trodden” by race, social status, a relationship or any other factor preventing them from having opportunities or freedom.

6. Limitedness

This form of hopelessness occurs when someone feels as if their own skills are lacking and they don’t have what it takes to succeed. It may be the person is financially disadvantaged or have a severe disability contributing to the sense of limitedness.

7. Doom

People who are diagnosed with serious, life-threatening illness or those worn out from frailty and chronic illness are most vulnerable to this form of hopelessness. The person is weighted with despair that their life is over or death is imminent.

8. Captivity

Captivity can lead to two types of hopelessness. The first is when a person is physically or emotionally held captive by an individual or group. Prisoners often fall into this category, as well as victims of a controlling and abusive relationship. The second subtle form is “self-imprisonment”. This form occurs when someone is unable to leave an unhealthy relationship because their sense of self-worth will not allow it.

9. Helplessness

This form occurs when someone feels exposed, vulnerable and unable to live safely in the world. Individuals who have experienced trauma or repeated exposures to uncontrolled stressors may have an internally established belief of helplessness.

How Can You Overcome?

Overcoming Alienation, Forsakenness and Lack of Inspiration

Three common cognitive distortions drive alienation, mind reading, over-generalization and all or none thinking. The remedy for alienation is examining emotional evidence by surveying how others experience you. It may help a person feeling forsaken to not overgeneralize to a small sample of experiences, but rather, focus on a more extensive sample. By looking at the bigger picture, it is likely that hope will emerge. For all or none thinking, the antidote is thinking in shades of grey and opening up to the possibilities in one’s life.

Overcoming Doom, Helplessness and Captivity

Scioli and Biller suggest a strategy of “examining the evidence” when doom is a result of “jumping to conclusions” especially with a medical or psychiatric diagnosis. Examine the facts by researching the diagnosis or situation to avoid drawing conclusions based on fallacy.

Overcoming Powerlessness, Oppression and Limitedness

Three cognitive distortions are at the root of powerlessness, discounting the positive, personalization and labeling. All three cognitive distortions discount personal accomplishments and successes. Examining the evidence is a good strategy to cope with discounting the positive. The authors suggest making a list making a list of personal, occupational or social successes, especially in the area being discounted.

What do you think? Do the author’s 9 forms of hopelessness give you a better understanding of your client’s distress?


Hope in the Age of Anxiety: A Guide to Understanding and Strengthening Our Most Important Virtue by Anthony Scioli and Henry B. Biller (Oxford University Press).© 2009 by Oxford University Press. Content from Chapter 13- Overcoming Hopelessness: Escape from the Darkness

Cognitive Distortions

J. Adderton MSN has over 20 years experience in clinical leadership, staff development, project management and nursing education.  As project manager, she developed and implemented a nurse clinical mentor program for home health, as well as, leadership training boot camps and content development for on-line nursing education. Her years of experience provide the expertise needed to write on a variety of topics, however, promoting student success is a favorite topic. 

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