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More Hope More Calm Get on Better
ABN 80 483 081 209
To Hope vs Despair
“Hope is a positive imagination.” Andrew Wommack
Hope is about our view of the future.
The kind of thoughts I indulge about the future will have an important impact on whether I feel hopeful, positive, light or creative about the future.
Despair seems to sneak up automatically and unexpectedly, and sometimes is comes suddenly but it is not always out of our control. Sometimes depression is affected by a brain-chemical issue, sometimes an inflammation/health issue. But there are ways we can play a part in engineering a bleaker view of the future than is not hopeful.
Firstly, if I entertain thoughts about the future that include words like ‘never’ or ‘always’ those thoughts will usually have quite a powerful effect: e.g. “S/he will NEVER change;” “I’m ALWAYS going to be stuck in this mess.” Extreme words like ‘never’ (not-ever) and ‘always’ (meaning every time without a single exception) leave little or no room for things like:
a) a new option turning up;
b) creativity emerging to invent a new solution;
c) new insight about something that has been in my or the other person’s ‘blind spot’ (what we didn't know we didn't know);
d) new information to emerge that was not available before;
e) help from an old friend; or help from a new one I have not met;
f) coming across a helpful counsellor or mentor;
g) spiritual help or inspiration;
h) unexpected break-through;
i) a new burst of energy and motivation when I get more healthy;
j) revelation from a great seminar/course I might attend or a good book or web site I might find etc.
The better I get at spotting danger-words-that-can-damage-hope in my thoughts the better I'm equipped to capture them and stop heading where they are taking me: if I can name them it's easier to tame them. They include prediction words like:
‘every‘ (e.g. “This is going to happen every time!”);
‘only‘ and ‘ever’ (e.g. “S/he will be the only person that will ever make me happy”);
‘all’ (e.g. “All women/men are the same and they are all going to do the same thing to me over and over again!”);
‘none‘ and ‘no’ (e.g. “None of them will ever help me so there is no way this is going to improve”).
Thoughts and statements that use descriptive words like ‘totally dishonest’, ‘utter despair’ or ‘fully incapable’ create an extreme position about the future of a person, a relationship or a situation as well.
Words that are far more accurate and do not have the same power to trap us in hopelessness are words like, ‘often,’ or ‘a lot of the time;’ ‘rarely,’ ‘only sometimes:’ e.g Instead of ‘S/he always does that’ we might think or say ‘S/he often does that ...’ to soften our thinking and the harm it does to hope; instead of thinking or saying ‘S/he will never do anything about it’ an alternative is ‘S/he has rarely acted on this problem, so far.’ It leaves the door open to the ‘possible.’ Think about it; would you want anyone to write you off as “impossible?” That’s what hopelessness thinking does: it writes off people, writes off relationships and limits possibilities.
You're Gonna Be Ok (Lyric Video) // After All These Years // Brian and Jenn Johnson
Hey, the good news is I can change my mind about what I think. After all, thoughts are only thoughts. I don’t have to hold onto every thought or believe every idea that pops into my head. After all isn’t it possible to imagine/think the sky is green with purple polka-dots or that the roof just caved in? They're just thoughts, thougths that are not useful and don't describe reality. I can let go of, and replace any thoughts that are not helpful including hopelessness-thoughts.
Here is one really big danger: exaggeration thoughts about the future are often used to justify really big decisions that people mostly regret: regretted either by the person making the decision, or other people affected by it. Think about it. To justify treating someone badly or to justify writing off a relationship I have to indulge in exaggeated thinking about that person first. So, this writer encourages you to judge and predict very carefully! The future is at stake. People who write of their marriages usually run this thinking to justify their approaching decision.
A second thing that can really harm hope is if I choose to defer hope until I get, or see what I want from others, until a change takes place that I think needs to happen. A proverb states “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” (Prov 13:12 NIV) This writer used to think hopeless-heart-sick-feelings just come from having to wait too long for something important to change. Then it hit me during a morning meditation the day of my brother’s funeral service, that my choice to put off hope until I see proof of change is what I contribute to my own heart-sick feelings. My brother had lived a hermit life, was often socially inappropriate and could come out with some crazy stuff (he was diagnosed with a serious and enduring mental illness and then developed progressive dementia in his 50s.) In my experience the decision to defer hope until he got better contributed to some poor decisions on my part about my relationship with my brother. It appears I used deferring hope to generate a pall of hopelessness about the future of my connection with him. I discovered the hard way that hopeless thinking has to be indulged in order to write off people, relationships and even whole people groups. Once I realise that, I get new options. Do you do that? And if so, please ask yourself 'Do I want to keep doing that?'
If you are not sure one way to test whether you use hopelessness about a person is whether you call them names, either in your head or out loud. If so you may have written them off in some way or even entirely. Once we indulge in name calling we blacken everything there is to know about that person and write off most or all of the good things about that person. Again, remember hopelessness can be a ploy I use to justify writing off a person, a situation or a relationship. And it makes my thinking rigid, inflexible.
A third thing that can really weigh down hope for the future is when I simply begin to give up. That might be more likely if I agree with ideas like these:
‘What’s done is done’;
‘It’s too big, too hard’;
'It's been going on too long ike this;'
‘Nothing can be done about it’;
‘My chance has gone;’
‘I’m totally stuck with what happened now;’
‘Too much water has gone under the bridge’;
‘This is plain too painful, way too bad to come back from!’;
‘Things won’t get better;’
‘It’s too tough for me to handle’;
‘It’s just too frightening’;
‘It’s just one massive fail!’
This type of thinking is really toxic to hope. It usually creates a bleak view of the future based on past hurt or tough circumstances. It can immobilize us and leave us choosing to remain passive, with little or no desire to participate or contribute to improve things for ourselves or to hold things together, let alone to live an active courageous life of vision in spite of the past. Some thoughts are definitely worth a re-think. Please, DON’T give up! Fight back. Knock those thoughts out of the park with a sturdy ‘repel-decision.‘ “I can choose to repel that thought right now!”
Here’s something else that is important to consider. Something that might leave hope wrapped up so we can’t even see it’s missing is a lived back-story of emotional (and/or physical) neglect. Neglect involves significant experiences of learning to not trust those responsible for my care as a child to provide:
a) consistent, dependable and safe care,
b) routine affection,
d) timely medical intervention,
e) joyful celebration about me as a person,
f) interest in my thoughts, values, opinions and feelings.
If I do not get these things consistently as a child it affects my view of what is ‘normal‘. I have no idea what it is like for things to be any different. Fear of not having needs met is automatically what I expect and I won’t even know that’s not ok (since that’s what I know from my history to be 'normal'). I may not have words to define what made this happen. I might have little or no idea that I distrust most people that are close to me, their intentions, their love or affection. But I might still set up mental tests to see if I can trust them (so I can ‘get more evidence for my long-held beliefs about people and how they will treat me’). The emotional result of neglect is usually a sense of emotional starvation or ‘want.’ Want is a seemingly insatiable hunger for what was not on offer or was not in dependable routine supply as a child:
f) validation of things that matter to me;
g) being heard;
h) being noticed;
i) being significant to someone;
j) having a regular safe food supply;
k) ability to spend money myself;
l) physical safety;
m) freedom from fear;
n) protection from sexual exploitation etc.
Children can do their best to adapt to each unmet need but they might become rejection-sensitive, sensitive about their value as a person, or sensitive about safety. Their sensitivity may emerge as rather driven behaviour at times as an adult e.g.:
a) not-being-heard can lead to lots of talking (leaving others feeling unheard);
b) irregular food supply as a child can lead to a pattern of food obsession/hoarding while growing up or later on in life too;
c) lack of means may led to property hoarding as an adult;
d) lack of response from others during childhood can lead to putting subtle or direct pressure on a sexual partner to ‘respond’.
People experiencing these behaviours as adults may benefit from treatment to discover their emotional triggers and rediscover hope that they can better master their sensitivities.
A seemingly bizarre way to handle lost hope when there is an unsatisfied hunger for something we dream of is ‘surrender’: letting go of the desire for the thing that we so desperately want; even though without it we feel doomed to despair in life; without it we think or feel like we have failed in a relationship; without it we expect to have little enjoyment or fun. That just seems like nonsense right? Well let’s consider this for a moment. What if I surrendered the desire for pity; my desire to get even; my desire for comforting myself with the usual things I use to avoid painful feelings; my desire for a particular type of affection I badly want that my partner does not like ... (yes, you are welcome to a silent pause for agonising here) ... Surrender sounds crazy right? That agonising might be especially strong if someone in your life is treating your need as though it does not matter. So what if we surrendered our sense of entitlement to the thing we inwardly or out-loud- demand from that person? What if we let go of the belief that we deserve this thing? (ouch, right?) My experience is that in the absence of change in the other person (so far), the higher road that honours and preserves connection above creating distance in a relationship might just involve surrender of a desire or a perceived need for something rather than writing off the other person or a relationship with them. Then if the person changes their mind down the track it could become a thing to celebrate, be glad about, and a thing of pure delight, unharmed by months or years of festering anger, bitterness, resentment and unhealed hurt. It might take a whole bunch of help to get to that point and that is where counselling can be helpful.
Perceived hopelessness in a situation or relationship will often lead to passive inaction. But it could be more complex that that. Inaction can be complicated because we can be so stressed and overwhelmed we temporarily become mentally ‘frozen,’ stuck for words, thought-blocked, re-living panic sensations from a time where we had no escape and when our only option seemed to be to mentally and physically ‘freeze’ and disconnect or numb down. This is a different kind of ‘passive’ sensation that we can relive again and again. Just because a person who went through trauma looks calm does not mean they are: they may be in a state of mental overwhelm on the inside - a ‘freeze’ moment. It is usually associated with a trauma-related ‘trigger,’ by something happening now that seems familiar (from a past bad experience.) It might be linked to multiple trauma events (this is called complex trauma). Trauma-informed counselling might help you uncover and get understanding of those triggers, and give you tools to better handle those re-lived panic sensations. Then you may begin to gradually feel like you are more in charge of your feelings and your future again. Hope can re-emerge as you get back in charge of the overwhelm that erodes your hope for the future.
As someone once said, “If you’re tired of starting over, stop giving up.”
If any of these kinds of thoughts, life patterns and experiences above seem familiar to you is it time to consider whether you are ready to talk to someone about it?
If you are intersted in some spiritual thoughts about hope try viewing this clip below:
If you are not sure yet some online self-scoring tests that assess how strong symptoms have become can be found here. If you decide to make an appointment please print the results and bring them to your appointment to see a GP or when you see the counsellor.
Appointment details are on this page (top right).