Self Improvement — 26 May 2009
How to use hope to your advantage in relationship and life

During economic, personal or relationship difficulties, it is easy for observers to recommend that the discouraged individual stay hopeful and positive. Some label this person as innately negative or a depressed party in need of treatment.

It is true that optimism is partially an innate trait. However, it is also a modifiable emotional perspective as well.

There is a difference between being hopeless and depressed. Hopelessness is a common feature in depression, but lack of hopefulness is not necessarily a sign of depression.

Though being hopeful is considered a positive attitude, there are suggestions in the literature that hope may have negative effects. The level of hope is found to be a determinant in whether or not it is advantageous. K. Menninger states in “The academic lecture: Hope.” that while a “deficiency of hope is despair and leads to decay,” an “excess of hope is presumption and leads to disaster”.

Morton A. Lieberman and Sheldon S. Tobin in “The Experience of Old Age: Stress, Coping and Survival” point out that several researchers find that excessive hope can reach a pathological form termed “illusory”, “magical” or “foolish”. These unrealistic forms of hope can have punitive effects in their self-destructive consequences.

Obviously, realistic hope that is backed by reason and modulated expectations, can be very helpful for stabilizing the individual during stressful times and providing sufficient energy for action and behavior changes to facilitate one’s situation.

Being appropriately hopeful is a great asset in situations when one has no control to impact change such as during an economic turndown, employment layoffs, or a unilateral decision by a mate to leave the relationship. The hopeful (not resigned) outlook can brace the individual as he/she undertakes doable steps to regain some measure of control. For example, make financial assessments and cutbacks, begin early job search, or realign one’s vision of self-sufficiency as a single person.

Sarah Burgard of the University of Michigan separated 3000 employed people to those who worried about losing their jobs and those who did not have this fear. She found that the fearful employees reported depression and experienced worse health than not only the non-worried peers but also those who actually lost their jobs.

In less grave situations, realistic hope is extremely valuable. In unhappy relationships optimistic mates visualize and trust that changes are possible and ready themselves to undertake the work involved in restoring their love. Optimists are often more confident and have a higher sense of self-esteem helpful in affecting needed changes in their lives. Those who are quick to despair fail themselves by giving up too soon and forgoing the chance of repairing their love connection.

Almost all relationship difficulties can be ameliorated if both parties are willing to work toward improvement and trust that changes are possible.

About issues out of your control:

• Accept that being realistically optimistic is healthy and conducive to your well-being.
• Become optimistic even if it is not innate for you. When worried, will yourself to think of a positive outcome and visualize it.
• Share with others your realistically optimistic vision and justify its likelihood.
• Listen to those who predict a brighter future and educate yourself about their line of thinking.
• Use any positive indicator as a cause for further optimism.

About relationship unhappiness:

• Accept that relationships are fluid and go through good and rough stages.
• Visualize the relationship state you desire and do your part to facilitate it.
• Understand that a state of resignation, hopelessness and futility will only worsen your health and connection.
• A hopeful partner appears to be a more loving, committed and dedicated mate and better able to facilitate change.
• Once you restore your relationship, with or without professional help, you modeled contagious optimism that can benefit both of you for life.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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