Don't they all involve not having the power to do things? I guess being hopeless is a little different, in that it does involve not having power but that it's permanent. Like hopeless that depression lifts or employment improves or weather gets better. You couldn't be hopeless if you did have the power to change it.

But "helpless" and "powerless" are more difficult for me to distinguish. When people are depressed, they can experience helplessness but for some reason psychologists don't use the word "powerless." But aren't they the same? So like if somebody was abused, you say you were feeling so "helpless" in that situation but I can imagine you could as easily say you were powerless.

Please help me tell them apart. Thanks!

3 Answers 3


Powerless, helpless, and hopeless are three distinct conditions.

powerless implies that a person does indeed have power over outcomes, but in a particular circumstance, has lost that power.

Berlusconi Says He’s Powerless to Topple Letta After Party Split
Accused Walmart Groper Tells Cops He Was Powerless Against An Enticing "Booty"

helpless implies having no ability to influence one's circumstances

lying ill and helpless; without a compass, he was helplessly lost; "as helpless as a baby"

It is neutral; there is no judgement of the baby who has no power, the lost hiker, or the infirm. A synonym might be hapless: unlucky, luckless, unfortunate

hopeless implies an almost voluntary letting go of the ability to affect one's circumstances, and is viewed as somewhat negative. At best, it means no hope of change, but at worst, it connotes a personal failure.

hopeless in his grief; hopeless at math; a hopeless romantic

and, unfortunately.

hopeless in his depression

a synonym of hopeless is forlorn

pitiable in circumstances; marked by or showing hopelessness


Helpless implies a person is weak or fragile where as powerless implies the person a person in his/her current situation cannot do anything within his/her power. They are synonyms though and I guess its the context in which they are used. For example a CEO of a company in a tough situation can be described as powerless but a child can be described as helpless.


For me, one can be powerless but they can still hope that the future will be better. One can feel hopeless but if there is a suggestion they will take it and try again. But when one feel helpless, they have tried many times and fail that much times. They will accept that nothing will change, even when the suggestion for solution is in front of their eyes.



When you were standing in the wake of devastation
When you were waiting on the edge of the unknown
And with the cataclysm raining down, insides crying save me now
You were there impossibly alone

Do you feel cold and lost in desperation
You build up hope but failure's all you've known
Remember all the sadness and frustration
And let it go, let it go

  • I'd love to hear why this answer is wrong
    – Ooker
    Mar 30, 2018 at 4:46

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