Hopeless romantics are frequently daydreamers, idealists, and poets—distinguished for their spirited passion and steady optimism. But another kind of hopeless romantic is stalled in lonely wretchedness.
Painful hopelessness stalks many people who, feeling unlucky in love, are convinced they’ll never find a loving partner for a committed relationship. These people have now activated a Catch-22: the more hopeless they feel, the more likely the psychosomatic side-effects of that negative emotion will make them less attractive to healthy people.
Often prowling in the psyche of such individuals is the sense that they don’t have much to give or to offer another person. Who they are deep down, it feels, is simply not enough to capture the love and devotion of others. “Sometimes I feel so broken,” one woman said, “that I’m sure the universe doesn’t care whether I ever find love.”
Hopelessness in whatever context it arises is a painful symptom of inner conflict. According to depth psychology, a person often fails to establish an intimate relationship because he or she is using the playing field of relationships as a way to replay and recycle that conflict.
What does this mean, exactly? A person’s difficulty in establishing a loving relationship can frequently be understood as the acting out of a deeper issue. That deeper issue often involves a person’s tendency to gravitate to feeling defective and unworthy. These negative emotions constitute deep painful identifications. The person feels (sometimes only semi-consciously) that these negative emotions represent some ultimate truth about him or her. These emotions have become unconscious identifications. They become the weak links in a person’s emotional life, so that even an attractive, smart person can be defeated by them.
People frequently experience inner conflict (and, hence, negative emotions) most intensely in the area where a great deal is at stake with respect to one’s dreams, aspirations, and hopes. So it’s not surprising when the weak link shows up in one’s struggle to establish a loving relationship.
Here’s what’s happening: The person feeling hopeless about finding love is sometimes unconsciously willing or determined not to establish a loving relationship. This means the person is likely to sabotage the prospect of love because, at a deeper level, love feels alien. This person is prepared to cling to (and indulge in) an old painful identity (sense of self) that’s rooted in feeling flawed, unworthy, and unloved. This person is likely plagued by self-doubt, self-rejection, and, in some cases, self-hatred. He or she is incapable of establishing a truly loving relationship until more inner harmony and self-respect are established.
Here’s the basic conflict: The individual does indeed want to find love and establish an intimate, enduring relationship; at an unconscious level, though, this person is inclined or even determined to continue to experience what is unresolved within, namely a sense of lacking intrinsic value and deserving of being rejected and scorned. This conflict needs to be brought out into the open and made fully conscious.
This person, while acutely conscious of wanting to find love, is not likely to be conscious of the extent of his or her emotional resonance with the negative emotions of being unwanted and unloved. This is the key understanding that leads to resolution. You have to become aware of the part of you that’s prepared to continue to feel weak, unworthy, rejected, and unloved. The more you “own” that part, the sooner you can escape its influence.
Hopelessness can, in itself, become a psychological defense. The unconscious defense is saying: ”I don’t want to cling to my painful old sense of being unworthy and unloved. Look at how much I suffer in failing to find a loving partner. That proves I do indeed want to feel loved. My hopeless feelings are proof of how important love is to me.” However, this “proof” is intended only to cover up the individual’s resonance with feeling unwanted and loved. In this way, hopelessness becomes an allegiance to one’s old painful sense of self.
That old sense of self goes back into childhood when so many of us experienced—even when we had decent parents—deep impressions of being unloved and lacking in value.
For the purposes of self-deception, a psychological defense often succeeds in covering up the hidden attachment to feeling unworthy and unloved. However, a great price must be paid for this cover-up. To make the defense work, the individual is required to feel, to an acutely painful degree, the hopelessness of ever finding love. This hopelessness and the accompanying guilt and shame, as well as the self-sabotage involved when it comes to actually finding love, are big prices to pay for this self-deception.
These painful feelings have become emotional attachments. What does that mean? As long as the inner conflict remains, we are strongly compelled to continue to experience (emotionally attached to) what is unresolved, even though experiencing such negative emotions is often quite painful and self-defeating. The good news is that we can let go of these attachments once we make them conscious.
The person feeling intensely hopeless about finding love can become cognizant, deep in the psyche, of a bittersweet attraction to feeling unloved. This knowledge registers at some level, though the person is prone to deny it. Attractions to what are unresolved and negative inside us constitute “secret” attachments. These attachments are one of the largely unrecognized quirks (or, perhaps to be more precise, perversities) of human nature. Humankind refuses to recognize this dark side because acknowledging it is felt to be so offensive to the conscious ego and our idealized sense of self.
Our unconscious mind gets away with playing wicked tricks on us when we’re psychologically naïve.
Here are some common thoughts or feelings associated with such hopelessness: “There’s no use in trying; I’m too old (ugly, poor, boring, etc.); Why bother? Nothing will work out; No available good women (men) are left; I’ll never be able to get what I want.” All of these thoughts or feelings are rationalizations (or defenses) that a person produces in order to continue to live through the emotional attachments to feeling unloved, rejected, and unworthy.
Another aspect of this inner conundrum involves inner passivity. The person who is feeling hopeless of ever finding love can also be attached emotionally to feelings of helplessness. The sense is that one is not only hopeless of finding love but also utterly helpless to do anything about the situation.
People experiencing hopeless often become desperate for love. They feel they’ll do anything for it, including being overly compliant or promiscuous. Such desperation also serves as a defense. Now, instead of just wanting love as a defense (as in the example above), the person is desperate for love: “I don’t want to feel unloved and unworthy. Look at how desperate I am to find someone who will love me.” Using desperation as a defense is paying an especially big price because this negative feeling is acutely painful. People often are required by unconscious accounting to raise the stakes in this manner in order to effectively maintain the cover-up of their collusion in negative emotions.
They also frequently become envious of couples who appear to be happy with one another. One again, the negative symptom—in this case, envy—serves as a defense: “I don’t want to feel unloved and unworthy. Look at how envious I am of those people who are in love with each other.” Using envy as a defense is also costly because envy is obviously no fun either.
People who are hopeless about finding love sometimes become manic with excitement when a romantic prospect appears on the scene. They need to be on guard because the other side of mania is a crash into depression or despair. The manic excitement is also a defense. It goes like this: “See how happy and thrilled I am about the prospect of finding love with this person. That proves I want to be loved.” Again, this proof is spurious.
Hopelessness can be experienced in other areas of life, such as ever finding a good job, achieving happiness, or becoming prosperous. The same psychological knowledge can resolve these situations. Whenever hopelessness arises, we want to identify the emotional weak link and go there to strengthen it, even as we’re rather startled to see how attached we are to that weakness and how much we identify with ourselves through it.