To the starving man, God is bread. ~Gandhi
Have you ever been truly desperate?
We all have had times in our lives when we’re desperate—feeling a longing so strong, it seems we will die if we don’t get what we want.
But desperation can come in many forms and for many reasons.
Someone who is about to die of dehydration is desperate for water. This kind of desperation is black and white. There’s no middle ground. There’s no way of interpreting the desire in any other way. It is desperation in its purest form.
Then there is the other extreme—those who feel they are desperate for material possessions or the latest technology. Although this may feel like desperation (and our brains can actually turn it into desperation), with a little perspective and soul searching, we can discover the true nature of these feelings.
A compulsion can also present itself as desperation. An alcoholic can feel desperate for another drink. A smoker can be desperate to get away and have a cigarette.
A sense of extreme urgency can feel like desperation, and it can create a sense of intense importance in our minds.
So what’s the difference between desperation and other forms of intense desire?
Desperation is associated with the risk of failure. If we are desperate, some part of us believes that the situation is hopeless—that we’ve already failed.
When we are desperate, we’ve lost any sense of control. We may feel hopeless, angry, or frustrated. Any combination of these feelings is quite unpleasant.
As with any negative feeling, it can help to have some perspective.
In music and film, desperation related to love is a popular theme. We can relate to the desperate feeling of wanting someone with every fiber of our being—when it feels like we will die if we fail. I would never belittle those feelings—I’ve been there myself more than once—but the fact remains that we won’t die if we don’t win another person’s heart. We will move on, and we will get over it.
There are other examples of this kind of desperation: a desperate desire for a particular job or career, for a certain lifestyle, or for a talent or ability. We feel that if we don’t get these things, our lives will lose their meaning or be worthless.
All this being said, a feeling of desperation can also drive us to a level of effort that we would otherwise not be able to achieve. A do-or-die feeling can push us past our limits and fuel that final push that can make the difference between failure and success. A bit of desperation is not always a bad thing, and, although it seems counterintuitive, if we can harness those emotions, we can bring them to bear without allowing them to damage our psyche. We can let those feelings out for a run in the park, while still keeping them on a long leash.
It’s never pleasant to feel desperate, and I’m not recommending it as a course of action, but the intensity that comes with desperation is part of the human condition—part of who we are. We shouldn’t deny those feelings.
It can also be interesting for us to think about what we have been desperate for in our lives. What elements of our lives have caused emotions so strong as to make us feel desperate? Think back through your life and try to identify those times when you felt desperate. What triggered those feelings? What actions did you take as a result of those feelings? Were those feelings and actions rational and/or helpful? Were you successful?
This kind of assessment of the more extreme side of our emotions can tell us a lot about who we are. It can provide insights into ourselves that we might not otherwise have. It can reveal parts of ourselves that we keep hidden—from ourselves and others.
Desperation is never pleasant, but most of us have to face it at some point or another. The trick is to recognize it for what it is, not to let it harm us, and to use it in a positive way.