Hope vs. Wishful Thinking

When you’re in the midst of your healing process and opening up to the reality of your difficult childhood experiences, it can be hard to hope that things will get better, that healing is possible, and to know what it even means to hope.

When some people talk of hope, they’re really talking about wishful thinking. These are not the same. Wishful thinking is based on fantasy and involves very little, if any, effort or commitment. Hope is different. Hope is grounded in something that’s real, in the possibility that whatever is hoped for can actually could actually happen. It’s grounded in the reality that, one day at a time, our lives can change.

Wishful thinking is attached to a particular outcome. Hope is an acceptance that the outcome might not be exactly what you pictured, and that that’s okay. In the case of your healing journey, there is the hope that all of your work in recovery is going to lead to a sense of wellbeing, even if you don’t know exactly what that will look like.

Here’s an example of how wishful thinking and hope play out differently:

Wishful thinking regarding your family of origin might look like: I’m going to do this recovery thing, my parents and I are going to be really close, and everything is going to be good between us. But if your parents haven’t done their healing work, this may be wishful thinking.

Hope might look like: I’m going to do my healing work, process my family-of-origin trauma, and learn to relate to my parents as a healthy, functional adult, however that may look.

These are very different approaches. One is more probable than the other. Even still, holding hope can be difficult. It feels hard to invest in hope on days when you just cannot imagine things being different, or on days when the pain is really bad, or when your anger is raging, or when you feel confused and lost. Those are the days you must borrow hope.

When clients tell me it’s hard to hope, I tell them to borrow mine. I hold hope on their behalf. Think about someone in your life whose hope you can borrow, someone who holds a vision for healing in your life that you aren’t able to see.

The hope that I’m talking about isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It might not always feel good. At times will feel freaking hard. But it is possible to feel awful and still trust and hope that it won’t always be that way. It is possible to hold onto hope, even when it doesn’t feel true. It involves a choice on our part. Choosing hope is trusting that healing is possible.

The tiniest amount of hope is plenty. Maybe there’s just a pin prick of hope that you can hold on to—that is enough. It will grow. And as it grows it’ll wax and wane. There are times when you’ll feel full of hope that this path of recovery is right. And that change is possible. Other days you won’t feel it as much. And that’s okay.

But if you need to borrow hope, you can borrow mine. I don’t know the specifics of your story, but when I offer you my hope, what I mean is that you can borrow my hope that life can be different. That’s not wishful thinking. It’s based in reality. I’ve seen it in my own life and the lives of the people that I work with.

Hope is an active endeavor that we choose one day at a time. One day at a time, trust that healing is possible. One day at a time, trust that life can be different for you. And until you find yours, borrow mine.