‘Hope springs eternal’
‘Where there’s life, there’s hope.’
‘Hold On Pain Ends’
I don’t know about you, but I have been on the receiving end of these platitudes, and fake ‘positive psychology’ messages more times than I can count.
I have a complicated relationship with hope. For many years, I sat in the quagmire of hopelessness, and I know how the acidic flood of it corrodes the soul. I know how hard it is to find hope when – realistically – there is none. I know how difficult it is to convince yourself that things will get better when there is no empirical evidence that that is so. As a rational being, I need evidence; I need to know that the thing I am being asked to believe, exists. I need confirmation that if I keep going, I will arrive at my desired destination – even if I am taking the long way around.
What Is Hope?
‘Hope’ means confidence in the future. How can someone have confidence in a future that they have no reason to believe will manifest? That conflicts, I think, with the idea that you can’t change your circumstances if you have nothing to hope for: That you can’t be effective in your strides towards change, unless that ambition is fueled by the belief that it can happen. Belief, and blind faith, are two different things, however. Belief needs to be grounded in some kind of evidence. Blind faith is unquestioning – and anyone with critical thinking skills can’t indulge in blind faith for very long. Unfortunately.
Hope that remains ethereal, and unrealised is energy draining, and energy diminishing. It also feels – to me, at least – like a confidence trick. I remember coming up with the analogy – about fifteen years ago – that expressed my relationship to hope. Or, rather, my reaction to people who kept telling me that I ‘just needed to have hope’.
‘Expecting someone to live on hope is the same as expecting a starving person to live on the smell of bread, rather than actually handing them a loaf.’
How do we provide hope to the hopeless?
Bearing witness to someone else’s pain can be distressing. There is often a feeling that we need to swoop in with answers, or solutions, or remedies, or words of comfort and encouragement. Sitting with someone who is despairing can be particularly difficult.
The turmoil of hopelessness is a particular type of anguish. In some ways – unlike other senses of loss (like grief, for example) – it can feel like failure. Sometimes, we need to blow out the flame and let hope die, because I think it is worse to have hope that can never be realised. It’s like trying to catch smoke in a sieve. Sometimes, it is more realistic to release the sense of expectation that things will change, and acknowledge that hope is, sometimes, unrealistic.
In these situations, releasing hope is the kindest approach you can take. That doesn’t mean giving up hope entirely, and forever, though. What I’m suggesting is that the hope for a particular outcome is surrendered, and that the loss of that particular hope is grieved. Hope can be modified, though. As the hope for one thing disappears, or is unhitched from us, it may be possible to transform it into a hope for something else. We may lose hope for a specific thing, but that hope can be replaced by hope for another specific thing.
To be less nebulous about it, after years of infertility and hoping to get pregnant, and having every treatment you can afford (and more you can’t), releasing the hope can be liberating. That particular hope – the hope of getting, and staying pregnant for a minimum of thirty-seven weeks – may die, but the hope of having a family need not.
Hope can be tricky because it is considered a strength, and almost a virtue; so any talk of losing hope is viewed as a weakness and a lack of character. I would encourage you to examine the hopes you are holding, and release – perhaps replace – the hopes that are thieving more energy than they are providing.