Hope, No Hope, and False Hope
Glenn B. Gelman, Psy.D.
A core component of resilience – and one of the most essential contributions that we can inspire as helpers - is hope. In my experience, hope is often the one gift we can offer our clients when all else seems lost.
But hope is only hope if it is real.
For some of our adult clients, one of the hardest psychological tasks of life is to give up their lingering ‘child’s hope;’ that is, if they can only figure out how to fix things, mend their wounded mother and/or their broken father, repair their dysfunctional families or even themselves, that they will finally get what they needed - as children.
I have seen this futile-but-understandable regressive dynamic all too often among clients, some well into their 80’s, who survived difficult, sometimes horrible childhoods, holding on desperately to a pained myth - magical thinking–like – clinging to the primitive Sisyphean remains of a heartbreaking, hopeless hope. A false hope.
The only hope worse than no hope is false hope.
Many years ago, one of my patients cried, “Why should I give up the child’s hope? The only alternative is despair.” If ‘despair’ is the only alternative, my patient’s assertion seemed right. Who would relinquish a child’s hope – any hope – if the only alternative is despair?
Clutching onto this illusory child’s hope can fuel depression, anxiety, and other diagnoses-ostensible disorders that are, at the core, related to failed and fractured early attachments, but it is something to hold onto. But sometimes a fiction can seem as a better something than nothing.
Hopefully, an alternative to the sad loss of letting go of the child’s hope is to create adult hope; a more sobered hope, to be sure, but a real-hope, a here-and-now mature adaptation that makes authentic healing possible… today.
Aspiring toward an adult hope means reconciling oneself to the finality that what was needed in childhood was not provided, and, that it will never be provided.
Then, one may choose to go forward, assume self-responsibility, constructing a loved, loving, lived life - in the present.
For many, this path begins as a tragic psychological Rubicon, an irrevocable, no-turning-back bridge to cross – a reluctant hero’s journey.
And then, once traveled, adult hope can be liberating.
Author Note: Dr. Glenn B. Gelman is a Clinical Psychologist and a Personal Mentor
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