“We must learn to live with finite disappointment, but we must never lose our infinite hope.”– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Hope is about potential, possibilities, aspirations. It represents promise and a chance of success and thus it keeps us going in dark times.
It can give us strength where there is danger or when there is a risk of things going wrong.
Without hope, we may feel utterly depressed, desperate, perhaps suicidal.
Hope is often the antidote to despair.
Hope in a prison of despair. Evelyn de Morgan. Wikimedia Commons.
“Oft hope is born when all is forlorn“. Tolkien
The Promise of New Life.
When green shoots appear and new growth is about to burst forth, we associate this with the hope of increased creativity and renewal.
“A new baby is like the beginning of all things – wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities. ” – Eda J. Leshan
With each human conception, with each newborn, there is hope. Despite the potential dangers along the way, hope most often carries us through.
Gustav Klimt Hope I Wikimedia Commons.
Gustav Klimt Hope II Wikimedia Commons.
Klimt: “His bold portrayal of pregnancy contravened standards of propriety in turn-of-the-century Vienna, forcing the withdrawal of the painting from his first Secession retrospective. In this richly symbolic painting, Klimt juxtaposes the promise of new life with the destructive forces of death. Despite the monstrosities around her, the pregnant woman remains calm and unperturbed, confident of the renewal within her faith hope and charity.”
Hope in Psychotherapy.
“The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts.” Alain de Botton.
Hope plays a very important part in psychotherapy. The experience, training, quiet confidence and professionalism of the therapist can inspire in patients a hope of being helped towards healing.
Such a sense of hope motivates the psychotherapy patient to carry on, hopefully, with what is a difficult journey into the self.
A patient may find that they lack hope in a way that might not reflect the reality of their current situation. Perhaps it might actually originate in past experiences of being let down, of loss, of helplessness and isolation.
If the someone seems stuck in this pattern of hopelessness, when appropriate, the therapist might ‘lend the patient their ego.’ In this way the patient can ‘borrow’ hope from the therapist, until the therapy process enables a less pessimistic outlook.
I think that this is a kind of containment, a gentle protection, with the therapy becoming a kind of ‘safe house’ of hopefulness.
The meaning of the word hope in this context has nothing to do with empty reassurance or false promises. This is not about overly positive thinking or manufactured optimism. It does not involve the fictitiously comforting illusion that ‘everything will be all right’; it would be unethical for a psychotherapist to propound such ideas.
It is about helping the patient to explore what their sense of hopelessness might be about and, perhaps, to see things differently, to reframe issues that have felt stuck and unchangeable. It is about empowering the patient to think in a way that does not always expect a miserable outcome.
Paradoxically, sometimes therapy might help a patient ‘lose’ hope.
What does this mean?
Sometimes, people cling onto impossible hopes, dreams and beliefs as a way of coping with experiences of mistreatment or abuse. However, such hopes may be unrealistic and maintaining them can be detrimental to health and wellbeing.
For example, when a patient I was seeing, whom I shall call Jo, was able to let go of the desperate hope that her ageing and rather authoritarian father would one day soften and be able to listen to her views, she became freer and less burdened by hopeless wishes.
Previously she had idealistic notions of the possibility of a fairytale outcome, perhaps a confession or deathbed admission (there was none…he died in her last months of therapy.) Her idealism had developed as a psychological defence because what she had experienced had been so painful.
“… sooner or later she had to give up the hope for a better past.”
Somehow she could let go of an aspect of herself that had been clinging to the unattainable, and not just in relation to her father. An awareness of this led to a greater feeling of self-confidence, in that she could now differentiate between unreal and real hopes and expectations.
“Confidence is the present tense of hope. ” Søren Kierkegaard
Jo had been generalising from the relationship with her father, resulting in unrealistic expectations all round. This made her relationships problematic.
Psychotherapy helped her to identify what was possible and viable and to adjust her approach. She developed a more reasonable, less idealistic sense of hope.
I end this post with a telling- and important- quote, which underlines the fact that hope needs to be realistic:
“Hope is a passion for the possible.” Søren Kierkegaard
Part 2 of this post will be published in January 2020.
Next week’s post is about the concept of Giving.
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