Important note: We are talking today about real despair, which can be so intense as to leave one feeling so defeated and unworthy, self-harm or suicide can seem like a desirable option. If this is where you find yourself as you read, PLEASE click this link and call the number on it immediately. This is no light matter. God cares, and so do other people who are there to help you…
Now for the other side of yesterday’s coin:
Believe it or not, the other side of despair can be good, very good. But it’s got to be genuine, total specific despair. I’ll let Shannon Thomas explain….
Shannon counsels victims of psychological abuse and helps them heal. In her excellent Healing from Hidden Abuse, I found wisdom about despair that seemed hard to accept—until I “got it;” then I recognized how vitally important such “despair” can be to our emotional, physical, even spiritual well-being.
After explaining “The Basics of Psychological Abuse,” she presents the six stages through which she’s seen victims gain healing.
And the first, which she calls critically pre-requisite to all the steps to follow, is… “Despair”!
Here’s how it works:
(She says), “A week does not go by that I don’t hear at least one person say during a counseling session, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I think these words are powerful. They [signal] that change in some form is probably on the horizon or at least it should be. An overload on emotional capacity is the reason people get to the point where they feel they cannot continue to stay in a relationship, …place of employment, …one-sided friendship, … the pressures created by a harmful spouse [or] unrealistic toxic family obligations, or whatever might be at the core of an ‘I can’t do this anymore’ statement.”
Then she says something shocking about those of us who feel so proud or grateful about our “resiliancy” and high emotional capacity to keep “bouncing back” from a toxic situation:
“If we have a high level of emotional capacity, it predisposes us to stay in abusive relationships longer. This is not a great thing. [However], a high level of emotional capacity helps survivors heal and truly recover. Our own strengths can be a double-edged sword…
“Getting to the point of feeling like we can’t continue doing something is not a bad thing. I have repeatedly watched amazingly strong men and women make… significant… needed life changes after they were able to get to [this] point… A deep sorrow is often how Stage One is described. A soul sorrow. A level of exhaustion… at times hard to explain…
“The challenge to Stage One is knowing whether we have arrived at a point of true despair and change will come, or if it’s just a temporary low point. Will we be heading back for more rounds of the same abuse? Just because we may be capable of forcing ourselves to continue down a certain path does not mean our nervous systems or physical health will be okay with that decision. I strongly believe in the mind-body connection, and if we continue doing what is harmful to us, our well-being will suffer… It is inevitable. I have witnessed the full spectrum of client emotional and physical breakdowns due to psychological abuse. I can share with you that once the body starts to shut down, a survivor must decide for who and what they are living.” [underlining mine]
These words of hers meshed “coincidentally” with a newsletter I recently read from another counselor of psychological abuse survivors. She shared the testimony of one woman who said she’d thought she was doing well and that she took good care of her health. A routine medical checkup shocked her when the doctor told her part of her body systems had already started to shut down, and if she didn’t change her life immediately, she would die.
Something else made this information about the necessity of “despair” ring true:
My Al Anon memories. Al Anon calls it “hitting bottom,” just like the alcoholic needs to do in order to start recovery. Step One in their 12-step program is “We admitted we were helpless over… [alcohol, or ________ (whatever)], that our lives had become unmanageable,” and until you’ve reached this point, you haven’t even begun!
Even the Apostle Paul had to learn this despair over a “thorn” in his life: “The Lord… said to me, ‘…My strength is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore… I will… boast… in infirmities… For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10). We need the “despair” stage to quit playing superheroine and truly put ourselves in God’s care and guidance.
So, is despair a crime? Only if we ignore it as the signal it is and thereby keep wallowing in it or ignoring it, and thereby harm ourselves with it!