As part of my continuing series focussing on the identified emotions of Positive Psychology, I am looking at hope in this post. Hope is not just a wish or dream for something to happen, but also the deep belief that it can. It might be a specific hope for something, or a general desire for things to be better.
It has been a very difficult time lately. The bombings and attacks both here and overseas can make it very difficult to hold onto and sustain hope. When we see these images and experience terrifying events, it is hard to maintain belief that things will be okay.
One of my favourite quotations is from Fred Rogers, a popular American television host. He said, “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in time of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realising that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” I think that is very true – and while news reports tend to focus on perpetrators of such horrors, social media has given us an opportunity to share stories about the helpers. The people who gave of themselves, even their lives, simply because they believed that was the right thing to do.
However, even watching these images for the helpers might not be enough if you are struggling. Especially when we are already hurting, we can end up seeking out images and videos which we know will upset us but we feel a compulsion to do it anyway. Then we end up feeling angry with ourselves for doing it, and spiral downwards. Please be assured, this is quite common – but rarely talked about!
If you do feel an urge to look at news stories even though they are upsetting, remember to treat yourself with compassion. Bullying yourself can make things worse. Rather than telling yourself off, practise acceptance. Gauge your internal reactions and check to see how you are tolerating your feelings. Back off from things that cause you distress in a calm and gentle way. Choose your own limits – say, three stories or 8 minutes. Stick to your chosen limits, but be kind to yourself if you slip. If you need to exit a conversation, or unfollow certain things on social media for a while, that’s fine too. This is all part of self care.
Holding your own boundaries against the horror can give room for hope to grow. Allow space in your mind for the possibility of change and improvement, and seek out stories where that has happened too. Fantasise about how you would like your life and the world we live in to be, and compare that with where you are now. What changes would have to happen? How realistic are they? What is possible for you to do to move from one state to the other? What can you not control, and must learn to let go of? You might like to use the Circles of Influence and Concern exercise to help you.