Women in Transition: The Power of Hope

In my therapy practice I work with women who are undergoing major transitions in their lives. One client is facing a divorce that she neither wanted nor asked for and she is doing this with three young children. She is now facing life as a single mother, a role she never pictured for herself.  This change means she will have to reenter the workforce, another significant and unanticipated change.  This woman teeters back and forth between intense grief and feeling abandoned and also trying to see that life is not over for her and that the future could hold good things.

Another client is facing the change of becoming a mother. She is 12 weeks pregnant and has come to therapy because her last two pregnancies ended in miscarriage and she is afraid that this baby too, might have the same fate.  Does she dare hope for a healthy baby or will that hope just end up hurting her more if this pregnancy ends abruptly?

And still another client is a professor at a prestigious university. She is in the process of applying for a position as an academic dean, a position that comes with a secure salary and public exposure.  Although she is successful in her career, there are lingering doubts about getting this position. Does she dare dream that she could get this position that up until this point in her university’s history has only been filled by men? Does she go into the interview believing she won’t get the position to save herself from hurt and disappointment. How important is it for her to hope?

What is hope? How important is hope for women who are facing life-changing events? Research on optimism and hope suggests that hopeful people set more goals for themselves. They are also more optimistic about the future. They see that things will and can turn out for them. This in turn gives them a better feeling about life. In fact, optimists seem to have better physical health and fewer illnesses than pessimists.

And when things don’t turn out, hopeful people more easily encourage themselves with self-soothing words like, “I won’t give up.”  They see that there are various paths in life that can bring fulfillment and form and shape their goals to work toward one of these paths.

“I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist,” stated one of my clients. “That’s just the way I’m made, I can’t change it” stated another. Actually, hope is something that can be fostered. The following are ways in which people can grow in hope.

1)     Identify the major areas of life: career, family, friends, health and within each area list one or two goals or hopes. I routinely do this exercise in late December just before the New Year. They aren’t really resolutions but more stated goals or hopes for the New Year to pave my way.  I look at them periodically through the year and then at the end of the year to see where I’ve come.

2)     Focus on the places you succeed on these goals and not where you have failed. Truly, it is much easier to build on strength than on weakness.

3)     In difficult times, recall previous successes. When in life did you accomplish a goal you were proud of? This could be as small as a parenting strategy put into place that was effective or as big as a degree or promotion.

In bleak times, hope can serve as an antidote and motivator to move forward and to help in the belief that good things are ahead.

Author: Lavonne Zwart Schaafsma, PsyD