Updated: Jul 18, 2021
The German word "Weltschmerz" describes an emotional pain concerning the world's problems and suffering. It is translated into "world" and "pain" and shows the classical German neologism, creating a new word by just adding two words and making one.
Written by Pauline and healingsouls
Everything weighs so much more if you realize how many countless people are suffering. People are starving because of hunger, war and social indifference. Nature and animals are treated unfair by us humans. Capitalism is driving working conditions and environmental standards so low, just to get the cheapest price. Partly we can’t even change those, because they are all just part of the system. This feeling of helplessness is just crushing. When I first realized the consequences others faced, because of my behavior I felt a sharp pain running through my whole body. (For example: buying a pair of pants and causing/ contributing to India’s polluted rivers, slave like working conditions and child labor). Suddenly I wasn’t only aware of the pain and unjust that were partly my fault, I realized that I was powerless when facing these two opponents.
I felt so little, so weak and overwhelmed. I am just a human being, imperfect as everyone. I am unable to help them one bit and all I can do is pity them.
Is my guilty conscious going to release them from their pain? Probably not. That is why it is so important to control your own feelings. Otherwise you will only fall into a black hole. You will start to neglect yourself and the privileged life you were born into. But, this lethargy isn’t going to help anyone- especially not you. You might even be able to help. I know how small and unimportant one can feel, but that is only partly true. No matter how small, you still have a community around you. Every person you talk to has ten other people they can talk to. You can slowly change your surroundings. You are impactful in your own way.
You can’t change the world but you can always change yourself.
The connections between human’s, animal’s and nature's suffering are so complicated, that a lot of people in this world can’t even recognize them. Or worse, they don't feel any empathy.
Feeling empathy, though, should not be a bad feature of a human being. But- Why does it hurt so much? Wy does it lead (in some cases) into helplessness? And how are we able to change that and use our empathy for the world as a useful or positive skill?
If you are stuck in your Weltschmerz, this could help:
First, what do you feel? Helplessness, sadness, anger? It’s your ability to feel with others, a strong sense of empathy.
Is it maybe related to your own perception and interpretation? Perception and interpretation are caused and influenced by your emotions. Your suffering comes from your emotions, not from actual worldwide problems.
At this point two people in you are contradicting. Your inner child, which is led by early childhood experiences and your rational adult which formed your current world view.
Your inner child sees the injustice and feels deeply hurt in its values. A child acts and thinks mainly with feelings. That is what is happening with you. Your feelings are so strong that they overwhelm you and you lose control.
What is needed is the rational adult in you. It must tell your inner child:
These feelings are strong, and it is right of you to feel this. But the times where you were dependent by unfair decisions and where you hadn’t any control, are over.
As a child you were dependent on your parents and other adults. Sometimes they would be unfair with you and showed unjust behavior, but you couldn’t do anything about it. You could just watch and suffer and maybe develop a strategy how to deal with these things. You didn’t make these experiences because your parents or others wanted to hurt you, or because you are not precious enough. You are precious and loveable.
The same thing is happening with the world. It can just watch and suffer; it is dependent on the actions that humans make. This doesn’t mean that evil and bad are driving the world into suffering. Everyone tries to act with their best intentions. So, there is no need for anger against something or someone.
Now you are grown up and you developed your own values. When these are hurt you can remind yourself: everyone has a general good intention, and nobody is evil or bad.
Make yourself clear: we all want to be loved and want to love.
Only when you find yourself in a clear and calm mind, recognizing your feelings but also understanding the causer (other side of the suffer), you are capable of doing or changing something regarding the world’s suffering.
I don’t think it is helpful to work with your feelings, with the intention to get something useful or “productive*” out of it. Only with a clear and reflected mind, which can feel empathy for the ones who suffer and the ones who cause this suffering, you can think about further steps.
*Productivity is a term used in economics and should not describe a persons value and capability to be successful in life or in contributing in a social manner.