Hope is cognitive and/or emotional engagement with a good outcome. It’s a mixture of the cognitive and the emotional. We can be completely emotionally drained, and yet realise intellectually that there is still a possibility of a good outcome. This would be cognitive hope. Or we can be completely unable to conceive of a good outcome, but nevertheless we are able to feel positive. This would be emotional hope.
SEEKING THE ‘GOOD’
We can’t really have hope without a conception of what would be good, since hope is a wish for good. Unfortunately, if we suffer from depression, we can become unable to engage with the good or positive. We stop caring about anything. We may retain a notional sense of values, but we are clinging on to it without being able to feel it as a force in our minds.
In my years working with psychotherapeutic clients, I have noticed a huge variety of views as to what is considered ‘good’ in a person’s life.
SECURITY VERSUS ADVENTURE
For some people, a ‘good’ day is merely one in which they don’t experience psychological pain. These are the ‘security’ people. For others, a ‘good’ day has interest and excitement. These are the ‘adventure’ people. Most of us wish for a mixture of adventure and security, depending on the mood and the day.
SELF-CONCERN VERSUS COMPASSION
For some people, a good day is one in which they themselves receive good fortune, resources, and care from others. These are the ‘me’ people. For other people, a good day is one where they witness others receiving good fortune and assistance. These are the ‘compassion’ people. Again, most of us have wishes which are a mixture of self-concern on the one hand, and compassion on the other.
Merging the two dimensions of security-adventure and self-other, this brings us four types of potential hope:
- ‘Me security’ – we hope that we can remain safe in the future
- ‘Me adventure’ – we hope to find interest and excitement in the future
- ‘Compassionate security’ – we hope for a safe, peaceful world
- ‘Compassionate adventure’ – we hope for a stimulating, interesting world for all
In depression, we can lose contact with all four hopes, and become isolated in a world that is neither safe nor unsafe, neither boring nor interesting, just flat. We can’t see a way through, and when we wake up in the morning, we don’t even feel like getting up.
Although we can’t see it at the time, the real battleground of depression is the first two types of hope, the territory of ‘me’. In childhood, we may have been blocked or frustrated by an overbearing or manipulative parent, until our own wishes had nowhere to go. We were made to feel unsafe, and deprived of things we found interesting. We grew up emotionally stunted, hesitant and neglectful about our own security and interests.
As depressed grown-ups, this childhood blocking turns into a long-standing adult habit of hopelessness. We play a part in the world, but it doesn’t feel very sincere. We think: if only others knew how little we even want to be here. Sometimes there is a suicide attempt, and there is family politics to deal with. Even if we recover, there is still, often, a sense of hopelessness.
How do we find a way out of this habitual negativity? Our minds may have attached themselves to nihilistic philosophies, and our bodies may have lost their ability to generate hope chemically. This makes it particularly difficult to turn depression around.
To tell the truth, some people never do find a way forward. Their lives are a constant battle. Ironically, sometimes, there is brief relief towards death, because life becomes a known quantity, somehow more bearable for being limited. As Jean-Paul Sartre said, ‘Life begins on the other side of despair’.
But here are a few ideas from my work with clients, snippets of how I have seen others bravely snatch hope out of the jaws of pointlessness.
Firstly, there is the sudden act of connecting. I have seen partners separate, and all is lost. Then, out of the blue, one partner reaches out to the other, against the odds, with the hand of friendship. The other, against the odds, takes it. The sense of risk is huge. It is as though they are reaching for each other from either side of a great ravine. This is when we give a gift to our enemy. This is when we offer help to someone we have bullied, or who has bullied us. This is when we forget difference and reach out a hand anyway.
Secondly, there is the sudden act of rescuing. This could be a new, helpless baby. Or a refugee. Or an animal. But the emergency, and the response, can somehow kick a despairing person into the hope of a good outcome. Perhaps, failing to find pleasure in self, a person can still find fulfilment in another’s safety and security.
Thirdly, there is the sudden act of adventure. This could be a holiday opportunity, or a course, or even an eviction. Out of nowhere, there is a project that creates both chaos and order at the same time. The mind stops eating itself because it has things to do, a journey to complete, a situation to negotiate.
Just for today, we can consider doing three things:
- RECONNECTING – Reaching out and reconnecting with someone who might be least expecting it. We can, from our side, love as though the barriers weren’t there.
- RESCUING – Looking out for someone who needs help – it could be a person, or an animal, or even an object needing renovation. We can see what we can do, however little.
- FINDING ADVENTURE – Finding a small adventure. It could be a trip to the shops, seeing a film, or a visit to a new place. We can seek and accept a challenge, however small.
I have seen all of these simple acts bring new hope into a life, generating compassionate connection or interest.
Hope is the intellectual or emotional understanding that a good outcome is possible. Depression often involves a failure of hope.
Hope involves a wish for the ‘good’. We can wish good for self or others, and that wish can be for security or adventure. In particular, we can enrich our hope by connecting with and helping others, or seeking a new adventure, however small.