Humanity Is Hardwired For Hope, But It Requires Hard Work
Recently, I was listening to a podcast by New York Times best-selling author, Rob Bell, where he talked about how we are all “hardwired for hope.” Hearing this, my brain initially pushed back against this claim. It seemed bold. And, not entirely true when I first thought of my own journey and reflected on many of my clients’ stories.
However, the more I thought about his words, my initial reaction of disagreement and excuses faded as I realized that my own journey and my clients' stories did point to that truth.
When I look at why many of my clients come to therapy, a driving factor is often that hope is missing in their life. There are many reasons, but a search for hope is always present. In that sense, I see how we are hardwired for hope and need it to survive.
In the case of one of my clients, she was trying to describe how she was feeling. She was struggling to find the word for her emotion. As our visit continued and we talked more, I must have said the word “hope” because she stopped me mid-sentence and said, “That’s what it is! It’s hope that I’ve been feeling! I think this is the first time I’ve ever felt hope like this. There have been small spurts throughout my life where I felt hopeful, but it’s never been the baseline for how I feel.”
She went on to talk about how she had begun living with the belief that the future will bring good things, and she had never embraced that perspective before. She also said that she didn’t feel lonely on her birthday for the first time ever.
This kind of ability to see the world in a new light, to wake up and look at life through a fresh lens, requires hope. In a scientific sense, in order to have hope, you must be regulated. When we are in a regulated state, we are able to handle emotions that are within our window of tolerance. We are able to think clearly and see ourselves as capable, positive, and hopeful.
However, when we are dysregulated, our brain is sensing a threat (whether one actually exists or not) and begins to collapse the nuanced categories and finer shades of gray in life. In order to protect us, our minds begin to see everything as black and white.
“You’re either for me or against me!”
“I’m not feeling good in life. I must be completely unable to do things well.”
“I had a bad day today, the rest of my week is going to be horrible.”
Dysregulation occurs when we are pushed outside of our window of tolerance. When we are pushed above our window of tolerance, symptoms include panic, anger, and restlessness. When we are pushed below, we often freeze, and feelings of depression, addiction, and suicide become present. In these scenarios, I have watched clients complete incredible mental gymnastics to destroy positive affirmations or encouragements. It’s as if the trauma and experiences in our life have placed damaging magnets in our systems that can cause anything good or hopeful to be rerouted toward negative and hopeless thoughts.
I believe we were all created in the image of God. We were built for greatness, and connection, and love, but these magnets and these negative and hopeless thoughts that are part of our human nature (though important and meant to keep us alive and safe) can sometimes cause us harm and prevent us from being who we were meant to be. These magnets try to distract us from being hardwired for hope. This is why I believe that while we may be hardwired for hope, hope still takes hard work. Part of my role as a therapist is to help my clients find out what their magnets are, how they influence their thoughts, and give them tools to turn those magnets off. Then, they can live with that hope they were hardwired for to begin with.
If you are looking for hope, please feel free to get in touch. I would be honored to accompany you on your journey to hope and healing.