Finding the Hope in Hope-less: How to Offer Support

“Oh Amy, you don’t understand how bad my life really is. If you did you wouldn’t believe in change; you wouldn’t have hope for me.” I hear some version of this sentiment at least once a week. When I started as a counselor I would try to ‘prove’ to clients that they’re lives wasn’t so difficult and, in fact, I’d seen worse. Have you tried that in your own life? We all have friends or family members that tend to focus on the negative. It doesn’t work very well, does it, to try and convince them that their life really isn’t that bad. The underlying belief seems to be: “If you really understood me and my life, you’d feel hopeless too.”

Living life without hope can be challenging because it often brings with it an inability to take action. And, as you may have noticed, it’s an emotion that is more common this time of year in our community–colder weather (usually!), limited sunlight, and the holiday season.

So how can you help someone feeling hopeless?

1) Listen. Give them the time and space to really share what’s going on in their lives.

2) Ask them what they’ve already tried. You might be surprised how many options they’ve explored.

3) Offer your help. Sometimes people are just waiting for you to ask.
Suggest activities the two of you can do together, keeping “baby steps” in mind. Climbing a mountain or even cleaning the entire house might be a little excessive.

4) Notice if you see clues of more dangerous behavior. Excessive substance use, driving under the influence or talking about hurting themselves are times to call in professional support. Clear Creek, Gilpin, Jefferson County Crisis Hotline (303-425-0300) and Boulder County Crisis Hotline (303-447-1665) are 24/7 phone numbers in our counties to offer advice and support and, thankfully, our 911 operators are always available to help.

You can make a difference in someone’s life. As Emily Dickinson famously wrote, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers—That perches in the soul—And sings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all—”.