What is Creative Hopelessness?


– Carolyn Moriarty, LCPC


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on mindfulness, acceptance of thoughts and feelings, and commitment to actions aligned with one’s values. The concept is to let go of unrealistic expectations and accept the present moment without judgment, which allows us to see things clearly and make positive changes in our behavior.

“Creative hopelessness”, a concept used in ACT, takes this a step further. Despite its negative connotation, ACT suggests that hopelessness can be a positive and even necessary step in taking committed action to pursue values.


In short, creative hopelessness:

  • refers to a stage where individuals recognize that their past attempts to control or eliminate distressing thoughts and emotions were ineffective (a.k.a. embracing hopelessness)
  • encourages a shift in focus from trying to change or control inner experiences to developing greater psychological flexibility.
  • involves accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment and identifying personal values even in the presence of discomfort.


Imagine it this way. Creative hopelessness addresses that usual excuse we all make: “I’ll start pursuing my goals once my current problems are solved.” If you’ve ever had that thought, you know avoiding certain things can make suffering worse over time. For example, avoiding meaningful activities can worsen feelings of depression and anxiety, creating a cycle of distress that takes you further away from your goals.

Creative hopelessness encourages us to accept our struggles and consider what we would do if those struggles never went away. It prompts us to find ways to pursue happiness and meaning, even if we have to deal with some negative emotions along the way.


“When individuals realize that their efforts to avoid or suppress difficult experiences only lead to further suffering, they may become more willing to explore alternative strategies for coping.”


How does it work?


Let’s look further into some of the tenants of creative hopelessness listed above:

Acceptance: Promotes embracing internal experiences like thoughts, emotions, and sensations without attempting to change or evade them.


  • Acknowledge the circumstance from a neutral point of view
  • Acknowledge your feelings and that these feelings are an inherent part of life
  • Think of difficulties as challenges or opportunities instead of threats.


Psychological Flexibility: Encourages openness to different approaches in dealing with challenging situations. Inspires individuals to explore new behaviors and coping methods.


  • Ask yourself “how long have I been doing this action/behavior? How has it been working out for me?
  • Try to identify one step you can take in the moment to improve your situation.
  • Or, ask yourself the question: “what can I do right now to not make things worse for myself?”



Values Clarification: Encourages contemplation of and what holds true significance. Prompts individuals to take actions in alignment with these personal values, leading to a more purposeful existence.


  • Reflect on personal values to see where current strategies may conflict.
  • Use guided exercises or worksheets to identify and prioritize values.
  • Create a list of action-steps that align with your values, even if they cause discomfort.


Reducing Avoidance and Control: Lessens dependence on avoidance and control tactics, which may worsen distress over time. Shifts focus from controlling the uncontrollable to problem-solving within one’s control.


  • Vividly imagine facing feared scenarios while practicing acceptance
  • Practice making choices aligned with your values, even if it causes discomfort.
  • Confront issues directly to reduce their power.


Building Self-Compassion: Nurtures self-compassion by recognizing the commonality of human suffering and imperfection. Encourages self-kindness and understanding during challenging times.


  • Reflect on the shared human experience of suffering.
  • Recognize that you are not alone in your struggles and offer yourself the same compassion you would offer to a friend in similar circumstances.


Embracing the concept of creative hopelessness can be a powerful step towards personal growth and fulfillment. Instead of struggling against our inner experiences, we can choose to accept them with compassion and curiosity. Letting go of this need to control or eliminate discomfort allows us to open ourselves up to new opportunities for living in alignment with our values. The next time you find yourself struggling,  embrace creative hopelessness as a path to a meaningful fulfilling life. By doing so, every moment, whether joyful or difficult, becomes an opportunity for growth and transformation.



Seeking Mental Health Support

Feeling stuck and unable to make meaningful progress in life? It could be time to consider seeking support from a therapist. When you find yourself continuously engaging in unproductive actions, it’s a sign that something deeper may be at play. Consider scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling CenterOur therapists can provide the guidance and tools needed to break free from the cycle of stagnation. Meet our team to learn more!



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