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The Extraordinary Power of Despair

Despair gives courage to a coward—Thomas Fuller

Similarly, a therapist once said to me, “Misery is a great motivator.”

And JK Rowling said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Yep. There’s little more effective for lifting you out of misery than misery itself.

When things are so friggin’ awful that you can’t imagine them getting any more awful, doing things that were unimaginable suddenly seem imaginable.

Change is so difficult, you gotta really, really, really want it. Or have it forced on you. And when life sucks so bad that getting out of bed requires monumental effort, change is being forced on you. That kind of despair is powerful stuff—powerful enough to make you drag yourself up and stumble forward.*

Besides, sometimes thinking about things staying the same is scarier than thinking about them changing.

We have made a virtue of the stiff upper lip, of making do, of getting by. And we often fight mightily against our own unhappiness. We might know something isn’t working, that we want change. But we fight this unhappiness as hard as we can, try to convince ourselves it’s not real.

But what would happen if we simply gave up that fight and let go, let ourselves plummet into despair? What if we give ourselves permission to hit bottom?

Fuller says that we would then find courage to change. My therapist believed we would be motivated to move forward. And JK Rowling thinks rock bottom provides a solid foundation to rebuild.

Like I said, powerful stuff.

* I’m not talking about clinical depression. That’s a whole other beast, which saps motivation. That’s when you need to enlist the help of professionals.

“Despair III” by Gabor Peterdi/Yale University Art Gallery

The Extraordinary Power of Despair

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APA Reference
Dembling, S. (2012). The Extraordinary Power of Despair. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 19, 2019, from


Last updated: 30 Aug 2012
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