Learning to Hope

Thursday I went to see my therapist. I knew he wanted to talk about the nightmare that had caused me so many issues over the beginning of the week – I think he also wanted to see if I had reason to believe I was in any real danger from my husband.

Any time people ask about that – if he might be a threat to my physical safety – I can only express my uncertainty. I don’t want to think he’d be capable of that, but I also no longer feel I know what he’s capable of.

I already knew that the most likely explanation for the nightmare was simply the fact that I’d refused to face the fear of sexual violence from my husband. I’d stuffed it aside and hadn’t even discussed it with my closest friends. I had certainly not wanted to walk myself through worst case scenarios involving sexual violence. The fears we haven’t faced and conquered or at least come to terms with tend to show up in our dreams.

One running theory is that dreams are training us to handle emotionally volatile situations before we face them in real life. Having experienced them in a dream, where we’re safe from everything but emotional scarring, we’ll find it easier to handle being confronted by those fears while waking.

We spent a little over half the session going over the nightmare and subsequent mental health episodes, and then I made sure to switch to asking him about my idea for revealing my feelings to H. He also seemed pretty instantly supportive of the idea. One of the first things he said was that he didn’t think, from the way I’d described H, that he’d go screaming into the night just because I said I had feelings.

Where my therapist’s take on the situation differed from that of my friends’ was that he actually checked me when I talked about the probability of rejection. He wasn’t saying to discount it as a possibility, but he thought I needed to reframe it in my mind. I was giving H an opportunity. On top of that, what did I want? He believed it was not only okay to think about what I wanted but to visualize the outcome I wanted. Basically, he was telling me that even with rejection as a possibility – it was okay to let myself hope for the outcome I wanted.

That feels so incredibly foreign to me. Over the years, I taught myself to stop hoping. Stop expecting good things. Stop looking forward to something. Stop feeling excited about things that hadn’t happened yet. I expected bad things and disappointment and it felt like I could avoid being crushed by disappointment if I simply never had expectations.

From what I know, now, though, this is a very unhealthy method of coping. Any time you numb the capacity to feel one of your emotions, it can be damaging to all of your emotions. You can become numb all over. Even when something good happens, you may be too numb to enjoy it the way you would have when it arrives. You can still be hurt, disappointed and sad about a negative outcome, without even having the grace of a previous positive emotional state. You set yourself up for everything being numb or negative.

I’d read about how people that have been dealing with a lot of negative emotional states and circumstances can find pleasure uncomfortable. It’s unfamiliar. It’s unsettling. They’ll start worrying and retreating into familiar negative states in order to avoid the discomfort of the unknown. People that have reached this state have to train themselves to become comfortable and at ease with pleasure.

I decided my therapist’s advice was something I actually needed to take under consideration – perhaps I could use this opportunity to start retraining my brain to feel hope – to feel excitement, to look forward to something. I’d tested my method of expecting and hoping for nothing and I couldn’t say I enjoyed the results. The lows of life are largely unavoidable, even after numbing myself as much as possible. If pain is sometimes inevitable, why not at least balance it out with some joy, happiness, positive expectations and – hope.

So instead of listening to love songs that are sad or wistful or focused on loss and doubt, I’ve started queuing songs that are hopeful and positive and celebratory. Instead of visualizing scenarios that end in rejection and trying to make myself strong to withstand it, I’ve started to think about how I’d feel if H responds favorably.

Because really, if I don’t allow myself to hope and just feel miserable, sad and anxious and then a bad thing happens, how is that better than allowing myself to hope, feel positive, less sad and anxious, and then a bad thing happens? At least in the latter scenario, I’ve had less emotional trauma over the same length of time.

Perhaps I’ve been looking at it all wrong, and hope is actually what cushions our brains from the worst effects of disappointment and preserves us from becoming emotionally depleted – perhaps hope is what allows us to bounce back instead of slowly sinking lower and lower with each disappointment or loss.

So I’m taking a tentative step towards allowing hope to regain a place in my life and my psyche. Teaching myself it’s okay to hope for what I want and think of it as actually being possible. Maybe I will gain a new and better kind of resilience in the process.

2 thoughts on “Learning to Hope

  1. Sorry to hear about your nightmare. That sounds terrible. You’re probably right about hope. I tend to be a hopeful person. I feel that this is probably why I have lived so long despite having ongoing trauma in my life for 50 years. I think it’s awfully brave of you to tell someone else how you feel about them. I have been trying to do so more this year. It feels weird to me, since telling my ex and my family anything nice I was feeling was always met with abuse. But it’s probably healthier, like you said, to try to rebuild that feeling. Good luck with the conversation. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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