Hope Helps Dreams Take Flight

 

Jane A. Simington, PHD., March, 2014

hopeAs we grow and develop, our life becomes structured around our ability to trust. We normally rely on trust during the course of any day. We trust that we are safe in our homes, that the health care system will meet our needs; that the person will stop at the red light; that our children will come home safely from school each day. But what happens to us and our sense of trust when our lived experience does not match what we have always taken for granted? No longer able to trust the universal order we feel a lack of control, continually threatened, anxious and fearful that other misfortunes might befall us. Our fears can impair our movement forward for we feel powerless to control our future. Feelings of powerlessness can lead to feelings of hopelessness, despair and even helplessness.   

Since hope is a critical dimension of spirituality, eliminating feelings of hopelessness and despair, requires the reestablishment of trust and hope in a Divine Force, in one self and in others.  And since hopefulness is associated with spiritual wellbeing, hope-fostering activities can include religious beliefs and activities but extend to broader conceptualizations of spirituality that encompass finding new meaning and purpose in life by redefining our self and our relationships. For me, and for many I have helped beyond their despair, redefining the self and relationships with others and with God required breaking the idols of youth.

While the challenge to break those idols forces many into a spiritual crisis, it can also be an opportunity for tremendous spiritual growth, for during those times we shut out the views of the world. This time of sorting though the beliefs and ideas given to us by others, allows for a discarding of what had been burned away by the fires of our own experiences. When we are finally able to view the sunrise on those first mornings after our souls’ dark nights, we know we are armed with a deeper truth, a deeper trust, and a sense of hope that despite all we have endured, life is good and filled with promise and opportunity.   

Hope is also a mental state characterized by a desire to accomplish, but with some expectation that the desired goal is attainable. Hope is therefore a sense of the possible. Even though risking after a challenging life event can take great courage, a hopeful person wants a change and is willing to risk to make that happen. During a time when I felt powerless to control my future, I learned the value of risk- taking behaviors. I recognized that taking one risk each day, and moving from the goal that was easy to achieve and be successful at, to the more difficult yet rewarding when achieved goal, seemed to automatically help me reestablish trust in my own abilities, regain a sense of personal power and mastery over my reality, and began, even without my conscious awareness, to sprout feelings of a new found purpose in life. This in turn provided me with a sense that I could again contribute something of value to the world and thereby help others find hope after their tragic life events.

The relationships between risk-taking behaviors and hope were recognized by the ancient Greeks and described in the myth of Zeus and Prometheus. Prometheus angered Zeus who retaliated by offering her a box that contained evil in all its forms. Even though warned not to, Prometheus, risking more anger and disapproval, opened the box. Upon doing so, Pandora released all the evils. Only hope, lying on the bottom, remained. This myth is a great reminder that hope can reside at the base of all that we view as wrong in the world and in our lives.

Mythology and folklore for other cultures have also been used for centuries as models for life. As a therapeutic helper I often ask people what folklore or fairy tale hero is most like them. Together we explore the theme of that folk story. Then I ask the person to ponder, “How does that story end?” This question and their reflections on the parallel of the hero’s journey to their own life, can offer a glimpse of how they too can respond similarly.

While hope is an essential factor for well-being, many experience times when life seems to hold little promise. During such times, since hope is intangible, I often find it valuable to encourage strategies that make hope more tangible, even visible and touchable. One of my first opportunities to do so was when I worked with a community group, offering mental health services to depressed older persons. After assessing the relationship between their depression and feelings of hopeless, I handed each a disposable camera and asked them to go out into their homes and community and take a photo of anything that looked hopeful. Their developed pictures then became the focus of our group discussions and of my one-to-one sessions with each of them. The theme of those sessions was based on the notion that if they could see those hopeful things outside themselves, what did that reflect from within?

Therapeutic art activities also prove effective in helping both the old and young resonate with aspects of hope. In the very beginning when depression looms large, it can be hard to draw hope, so I invite the individual to pick a colored marker as a response to my question “If you could imagine hope what color would it be?” Then I encourage the person to draw hope, following my question “If you could imagine what hope looked like what shape would it be?” After any color or amount of color is placed on the paper, I encourage the expansion of the expression with the invitation “If hope were to grow, how big could it get, and what other colors would it need?”

A further therapeutic art activity I have found to help despairing persons recognize elements of hope in their lives, is the creation of a collage. For this activity I invite them to create a collage that would show all the things a hopeful person might want to have. This creation allows them to externalize in a depersonalized and therefore safe way, ideas and feelings they are not yet consciously aware of. The collage can then become a mirror reflecting a pathway to hope. As we process together their completed collage I often find symbols of hope. These include the anchor; the dove, the swallow. In Aesop fables, the swallow symbolizes hope, because it is among the first birds to appear at the end of winter. Other symbols of hope include a rainbow, a sunrise and other images of morning. There are often moments of awe and increased feelings of empowerment when people recognize that these symbols have appeared on their work. This gives me a great opportunity to remind them, that creativity is the voice of the soul.

Since trust and hope are hand-holding sisters, when there is a sense of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness, there is also a need to heal the circumstances that fractured trust. After years of searching for ways to reestablish trust and to help another reestablish trust, I have discovered that it can be valuable to work somewhat backwards. I have recognized that when we take calculated risks and have successes, we begin to trust that things can get better and we begin to lay hopeful plans for the future. I have seen this backward approach work so effectively and so often that I now place efforts to reestablish hope at the base of my pyramid of healing and work upward from there. I find great value in helping people rekindle hope for hope helps dreams take flight.



PTSD and Suicide Prevention Week

September 9-15, 2012 is designated as suicide prevention week. Many are asking how we can prevent the horrific statistics, such as those recently reported about the thirty-eight American soldiers who killed themselves in July, the worst month for suicides since the Army began releasing figures in 2009. Statistics about escalating suicide rates, for all age groups in the general population, are also alarming.

Since focusing on the causes, should always be the first step in any discussion about prevention, the relationship between suicide and trauma must be recognized. In light of this relationship, prevention strategies for suicide must be aimed at preventing traumas (such as is caused by childhood abuse and domestic violence), and when trauma does happen, the focus of suicide prevention must be on healing the effects of trauma on the body, mind, emotions and soul.

While many traumatized people experience most or all of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there is more to PTSD than is usually discussed. I have worked as a trauma specialists since 1999 and now recognize that trauma can wound the soul. Many of the more than 4000 people I have helped heal from the effects of trauma have described how excruciating their soul pain and spiritual disconnection is. Most indicate that the soul pain is the most acute aspect of their suffering.

Many who have experienced trauma intuitively know that the traumatic event had created an inner disconnection causing a deep longing to again feel whole. Indigenous cultures believe that when trauma happens, a part of the soul can remained trapped in the place where the trauma occurred and remain there frozen in time. Those who feel they have left a part of themselves at the trauma scene often voice that their lives feel incomplete and empty and that they are plagued by dreams of searching and longing. For these reasons I believe that Post Traumatic Soul Disorder is the more accurate term to describe the symptoms of unhealed and difficult to resolve trauma.

The accumulation of symptoms, including the feelings of inner emptiness, can cause relationships to fail and make the life of someone who has experienced trauma seem unbearable and not worth living. Many turn to alcohol and drugs in an effort to numb this intense suffering. Others slash themselves knowing that the instant release of endorphins will momentarily ease their suffering. When these attempts no longer work suicide can seem like the only way out of their constant misery.

Some ways to prevent suicide include:

1)    Assess how much unhealed and cumulative trauma the person is experiencing (pay special attention to the history of repetitive childhood trauma and trauma involving sexual abuse).

2)    Assess for soul pain and spiritual disconnection as well as for emotional and mental concerns.

3)    Offer interventions that are more holistic in nature as versus only cognitive based therapies and pharmaceuticals.

4)     Guide and teach grounding and other safety techniques.

5)    Teach strategies for the removal of flashbacks and how to stop night terrors.

6)    Use deep imagery with a spiritual focus to help the person heal and reclaim their power.

7)     Use therapeutic art to help the person heal and to believe in them self again.

8)    Assist the person to reintegrate all aspects of their soul/self.

9)    Teach therapeutic energy work and have the person obtain energy- transfer treatments such as Reiki and therapeutic touch as a way to cleanse their energy filed and release stored cellular memories.

10) Help the person work with the dream messages being received.

11)   Assist the person in rebuilding relationships

In conclusion, I believe in the need to heal the soul pain of the person who has experienced trauma. When I do so, I see the light return to the windows of their soul, and I see the person’s excitement about being able to once again walk among the living.