Are You Stuck In A 'Languishing Loop'? Here's 3 Ways To Break Free

If you need to reignite your passion for life, these three techniques are sure to boost your zeal.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | March 29, 2024

"Languishing," a term coined by psychologist Corey Keyes in the early 2000s, refers to a state of emptiness, apathy and stagnation—a feeling of merely existing devoid of active engagement and purposeful living. Essentially, it signifies a lack of motivation and enjoyment in activities that once brought fulfillment and pleasure. It's akin to feeling trapped in a state of limbo, where each day melds into the next without any clear purpose or direction.

Unlike clinical depression or acute anxiety, which are more readily recognized, languishing occupies a distinct space—a liminal zone between flourishing and despair. While not as incapacitating as depression, languishing erodes our sense of well-being and diminishes our resilience to life's challenges. Often overlooked or dismissed as a normal aspect of life's ups and downs, it can subtly affect our mental, emotional and physical health. A study published in The American Journal of Public Health consistently found that languishing predicted the likelihood of subsequent mental illness.

What Causes Languishing?

Languishing rarely arises from a single cause. Instead, it typically results from a combination of factors. Some potential contributors may include:

  • Neglect of fundamental needs. When basic necessities such as food, shelter and safety are consistently unmet, it can lead to languishing. Research involving over 9,500 participants during the Covid-19 pandemic revealed that around 10 percent of people experienced languishing, coinciding with a prolonged period of unfulfilled fundamental needs.
  • Overwhelm and burnout. The relentless demands of modern life, coupled with the pressure to excel in various domains can leave individuals feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. Chronic stress and exhaustion can erode one's sense of vitality and enthusiasm, leading to a state of languishing.
  • Lack of meaningful connections. Human beings are inherently social creatures, wired for connection and belonging. However, in an age of digital communication and superficial interactions, genuine connections can often feel scarce. A lack of meaningful relationships or a sense of community can exacerbate feelings of isolation and detachment, contributing to languishing.

Here are three proactive strategies to combat languishing and reignite the spark of life.

1. Craft Your Personal Manifesto

A personal manifesto serves as a guiding light—illuminating your values, aspirations and priorities in life. Take some time to reflect on what truly matters to you and articulate your beliefs and principles. Your manifesto can be a powerful tool for grounding yourself amidst the chaos of everyday life, providing clarity and direction when you feel adrift. Start by asking yourself probing questions such as:

  • What are my core values and beliefs?
  • What brings me joy and fulfillment?
  • What legacy do I want to leave behind?
  • What are my non-negotiable boundaries and priorities?

Once you've gained insights into your innermost desires and convictions, distill them into a succinct and compelling manifesto. This can take the form of a written statement, a visual collage or even a series of affirmations that you revisit daily. Aligning your actions with your values and aspirations can infuse your life with purpose, mitigating the effects of languishing.

2. Identity Shifting Exercises

A study published in Social Science and Medicine highlights evolving perspectives on identity, recognizing its dynamic and fluid nature. Our identity is not static but rather adaptable, molded by experiences, beliefs, relationships and interactions. Engaging in identity shifting exercises can disrupt patterns of languishing by fostering agency and self-discovery. Experimenting with various roles, hobbies or personas that resonate with neglected aspects of your authentic self can be beneficial. Here are practical steps to facilitate this process:

  • Role reversal. Step into the shoes of someone you admire or aspire to be, whether it's a fictional character, a historical figure or a mentor. Adopt their mindset, behaviors and mannerisms, and observe how it influences your thoughts and actions.
  • Exploratory activities. Experiment with new experiences and ventures that challenge your preconceived notions and expand your horizons. Whether it's learning a new skill, traveling to unfamiliar destinations or engaging in creative pursuits, embrace the opportunity for growth and self-discovery.
  • Reflective practices. Set aside time for introspection and self-reflection to gain insight into your evolving sense of identity. Journaling, meditation or therapy can provide valuable insights into your thoughts, emotions and beliefs, facilitating a deeper understanding of yourself.

3. Shadow Work Integration

Shadow work, a concept derived from Jungian psychology, involves confronting and integrating the suppressed or disowned aspects of our psyche. These shadow elements, often rooted in unresolved traumas, fears and insecurities, can exert a powerful influence on our thoughts, behaviors and relationships. By shining a light on these hidden aspects of ourselves, we can reclaim our wholeness and authenticity, transcending the grip of languishing. Here's how to incorporate shadow work into your healing journey:

  • Self-compassion and acceptance. Before engaging in shadow work, cultivate an inner atmosphere characterized by acceptance, self-compassion and an open mind. Mindfulness serves as the foundation of self-awareness, a crucial prerequisite for shadow work. While exploring your shadow, adopt a compassionate and non-judgmental stance towards your shadow self, acknowledging these suppressed aspects as natural components of your humanity yearning for recognition and integration. Embrace self-acceptance and forgiveness as you navigate the murky depths of your unconscious mind.
  • Journaling and reflection. Engage in journaling exercises to explore the themes and patterns that emerge from your shadow work. Reflect on past experiences, recurring dreams and emotional triggers to gain insights into the underlying wounds and unmet needs driving your behavior. Research also suggests that creative writing, encompassing various genres and particularly short fiction, provides a distinctive avenue for exploring and addressing traumatic experiences.

Languishing moments spur growth, pushing us to uncover hidden treasures within ourselves. Sit with the understanding that setbacks are opportunities for transformation. Embrace the journey, trust in your resilience and know that within the void lies potential for profound growth.

Dwelling on your past mistakes can exacerbate languishing. Take the Mistake Rumination Scale to know if there's an issue.

A similar version of this article can also be found on, here.

© Psychology Solutions 2024. All Rights Reserved.