Overcome with work and emotion | Daily Express Online

ONEof the four essential themes on loneliness is a state of being overwhelmed with work and emotion. This essential theme of a state of being overwhelmed with work and emotion is fully explained through a feeling of overwhelmed, a feeling of being helpless, and a feeling of being incapable. As Sonia describes “I feel overwhelmed and realize my limits when doing something which I am incapable of doing.”

A feeling of being overwhelmed. Feeling overwhelmed encompasses many emotions including the typical feelings of despair and anxiety. These participants described being physically overwhelmed (with work) while at the same time, their minds were filled to capacity with a feeling of having nowhere to turn. Anger and resentment set in quickly when overwhelmed feelings came to the forefront. All in all, persons feeling overwhelmed claim to feel that there is nowhere to turn; nowhere to achieve a productive or rewarding sense of self-worth.

 The word “overwhelmed” came into play quite frequently during these interviews. Some of the participants in this study stressed their feelings of being overwhelmed and at the same time reported feeling anger and sadness along with being overwhelmed. Being overwhelmed was always reported as being associated with other types of pain, as well. No research in the literature about being overwhelmed was found. The situation of being overwhelmed is much too broad of a topic to reference. The situation does not stand alone, especially as evidenced in these participants’ interviews.

Summing up, being overwhelmed encompasses two basic situations: Overwhelmed with responsibility and overwhelmed with emotion. Not all participants who felt overwhelmed were overwhelmed with responsibility. They were all however, overwhelmed with emotion in their own way. Above all, becoming overwhelmed along with being lonely made coping even more difficult.  Andrew describes, the feeling of helplessness occurs because of the inability to handle the emotion of living alone.


A feeling of being helpless. My anecdotal experience in clinical settings suggests that the transition to helplessness from feeling overwhelmed involves retreat when the psyche can no longer contain anxiety or fear anymore. Rubenstein & Shaver (1982) have put being helpless as one factor of feeling lonely that involves desperation. The word “helplessness” was used by study participants in a manner reminiscent of Von Witzleben (1958) who distinguished between two types of loneliness, one accompanied by loss of an object in the real world, and the other the “loneliness of one’s self,” (the feeling of being alone and helpless in this world). This latter type of loneliness, which is commonly experienced, is what he terms primary loneliness. For him, it was independent of the loss of an object. Loneliness can include an experience of anxiety, which is vague and pervasive, in which one feels panicked and helpless. One does not know how to cope with it and fears that it may overwhelm one (Gaev, 1976).

Taking this concept to the next step, the overwhelmed participants were all grounded in one commonality of emotion. They all tended to agree that loneliness set in only after their own filled psyches resisted any more responsibilities. But, the situation that changed them from overwhelmed to helpless was only felt because, during attempts, they could not devise a plan to rectify their overwhelming feelings. Therefore, “no plan” then led to the feeling of helplessness because they finally realized that not only could they not achieve success in their endeavors, but that only solution was to seek the help of others, enabling the frustration, the guilt, and the fear to become the main characteristics of helplessness.  As Josephine shares, “my slowness and incapability to perform my work is a kind of loneliness.”

A feeling of being incapable. The last incidental theme that will be presented is the feeling of being incapable. It is not to be confused with helplessness because, in fact, incapable people are not helpless people, just people with limits. The word, incapability, is not found or mentioned in any literature. But in this present study, the usage of the word incapable was widely used by six out of eight participants. Nonetheless, the non-existence of the word in literature means it is an open opportunity to further explore this description used commonly by the participants. The concept of incapability was identified by the participants in the physical side or lived body perspective of capability and only one person mentioned it from a different perspective. This participant refers to it as not being able to think clearly.    


Being helpless, in essence, can be a decision or a planned response when motivation is low. Being incapable however is more of a graphic display when faced with a situation. Sometimes, (as it was so often reported) helplessness can and does alienate those people who serve as emotional and physical life lines for the participants. But, there is most often a motivation on the care-givers part to help a person who has shown some effort in staying positive and caring for himself/herself.

Rubenstein and Shaver (1974), who talk of a loneliness continuum and who mention words such as impatience, boredom, and uneasiness (that pertain to helplessness) and an inability to concentrate (which pertains to incapability), support the finding that when people feel emotionally vulnerable, helplessness sets in and when people feel physically vulnerable, incapability occurs. They elaborate further by connecting words such as desperation, panic, abandonment, hopelessness, and fear with clearly present emotions.

The participants in the Rubenstein et al. study (1974) had perceptions of the causes of their loneliness. These participants addressed either the “in me” or “in the situation” circumstances and described them as either permanent or temporary. These participants’ perceptions also governed how easy it would be to change the feelings of loneliness within their particular situations. Pothoff (1976) provides support for the importance of this distinction in his understanding of the differences between the types of loneliness as determined by either an external condition or factors that are inside ourselves or both.  It would seem possible to deal with the kind of loneliness brought on by a temporary condition rather that brought on by personal difficulties, by reaching out to others helplessly, for example. (Next week, I will continue to delve into essential themes of how they are supported by the incidental themes in the light of pertinent literature, it should be noted that names used in the article are pseudonyms)


– Rev. Dr. Peter Abas is a mental health counsellor and psychologist, founder of Home of Hope: Counselling and Professional Development Centre, a non-profit organisation. He works with parents of children who have been sexually assaulted.

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