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Why hope is important

I visited Saltburn at the weekend, a small coastal town in the North-East of England. We had had snow for the few days previously and, with a break in the weather, it felt right to go closer to the coast in the hope of some warmer wind and sea views. Regrettably, the warmer wind did not appear, but there was something quite nice about feeling the crisp, biting breeze on top of the cliff tops, wrapped up in a winter coat and hat, and watching the waves roll gently onto the shore. In this instance, my hoped for respite from the cold weather did not happen (perhaps a little over optimistic!) but getting out for a walk along the shoreline certainly improved my mood enormously. There is something about being out in nature that is both soothing and awe-inspiring in equal measure. For me, hope had provided motivation to do something different with the day, and achieved the aim of the activity even if the outcome was a little different to that imagined at the time.


Whilst I was in Saltburn, I noticed a post-box. Yes, I know that is not generally something that causes conversation, but it had a very unusual post-box ‘topper’.


Picture of knitted seasonal characters on top of a post-box.
Seasonal creative post-box in Saltburn!

I noticed many people stopped to photograph it. It really was a detailed and impressive piece of work. I began to wonder about the creative process. I was struck by the sense that in constructing this piece of artwork, there might have been some hope for the effect of the knitted scene on passers-by. They might have hoped that people appreciated their efforts, or that it simply made people smile, which helped to keep them going. I wonder if they considered how many people would photograph a post-box as a reminder of their day in Saltburn?

 

The thing about hope is that it can motivate us to keep going when things seem tougher than usual. It can help us to feel positive about things we are doing and to make progress. It can also help us to make change if we see the possibility of a better future. Unfortunately, hope can also keep us in difficult situations far longer than we would normally choose to be. For example, being in a job with a new and difficult boss who only criticises and finds fault may have a profound impact on our mental health. Rather than look for another position, we convince ourselves that we could do the job before and we can do it again, we just have to find the right way to manage the boss, perhaps clarify their needs, or agree clear and achievable objectives. We hope that we can find a way to unlock the negativity and criticism into appreciation for we can do. Why do we stay? Partly because we believe we can ‘fix this’, partly because we are hugely invested in the job with colleagues that we know and like, partly perhaps a feeling of commitment to the company/organisation, and partly perhaps also a sense that if we cannot make this work, we will somehow have failed: if that is the case, how do we find another job? In this situation, hope saves us from feeling hopeless. As human beings, hopelessness can feel like a very dark tunnel, with little to light the way through to the future, not something that we would choose to run towards. And yet, it is only in giving up the hope of changing something in the present that we have no control over, that allows us the freedom to look towards a different and more hopeful future, one which also ignites hope in ourselves again.

 

This is also the case when someone is living with an abusive partner. People living with domestic abuse have the same type of hopes about somehow finding a way to fix things with their relationship, whilst also recognising what has already been sacrificed for the relationship (friends, family, sometimes work or education), and feeling a sense of failure that they cannot meet the increasing needs of their partner. Often it is the realisation that the relationship cannot be fixed, bringing feelings of hopelessness as their longed-for future disappears, which prompts them to seek counselling. Some people may consider hope to have played a large and unhelpful part in keeping the person in the relationship, yet that can be an unhelpful view for the individual to hear.

 

Whilst the person concerned may also feel that they stayed too long, it is important to recognise that we can only make judgements based on the information that we have available to us. Many people do not recognise domestic abuse in others and are even slower to recognise it in their own relationship (even for those working within domestic abuse). Once we are aware of it in the context of our own lives and personality, we can see it very clearly. We can then learn how to deal with abusive behaviours, so that we can feel more confident to start future relationships (which many people do). Now the creativity and persistence that the individual has exerted to try to change their relationship can be seen as a useful resource for the future. The hope for a future relationship that is, for example, loving, kind and supportive, can provide a positive vision for the future. Just as my visit to Saltburn was not quite as I hoped, so future relationships may not be the longed for ‘ideal’ but may work very well in a different form to that imagined.

 

As the holiday season approaches, many people in difficult relationships may move into hopelessness as they realise just how difficult their lives have become. Remember that there are helplines available during the holiday period. Specialist counselling organisations, like Dactari, will be available before and after the holiday period to support individuals in taking their next steps forward.

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