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False Hope is Still Hope (sadly)

Road Sign with Hope and Sky

A recurring theme in mental life (and so in psychotherapy) is the wish for something that is missing, unavailable, or out of reach. Often it takes the form, “If only ______, then ______.” As in, if only I [had enough money/was loved/was better], then [everything would be OK/I would be happy/I would be vindicated/I would be at peace /. . . .”  Sometimes it boils down to wishful meaninglessness: “If only I were loved, then I would feel loved.”

When we are looking forward, hope is a motivator, even a lifesaver.  As Margaret Atwood said recently, “What hope means today […], is what it’s always meant: Where there is hope, there’s more hope. And, in view of the dire predictions we face, hope is the very least we need to keep going.”

Yet, when we are focused on the past instead of the present, hope can be a seductive dead-end. “If only something in the past had not happened/or had happened differently, then my life now would be so much better.” If only the past were not the past.

The seduction is in the approach: “If only” is a statement of hope. It feels hopeful and positive. If only [name any good thing] were true, then bliss/absolution/whatever. But the past has, of course, already happened. False hope always starts out feeling right, but crashes as it must on the rocky shore of reality. If we just believed hard enough in magic, then maybe the incantation of the if/then spell could finally work. We keep returning to hopeless hope, at least for the promise and the feeling of feeling hopeful.

But as they say in AA, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. The cost of moving forward is this: we have to give up all hope of having a different past. Give up all hope of being luckier, of having a partner who didn’t cheat, of having a parent who was emotionally supportive . . . . We have to forgive all that, mourn the loss, and start over. Start over without that fantasy. Star over with nothing. Give up the shoes that don’t fit for no shoes. The prospect seems, well, hopeless.

“Hope is the very least we need to keep going.” But let’s be hopeful about what comes next. Hoping for a different past is still hope, but if it changes nothing going forward, it’s just an old shoe, a drug of choice, a lie.

Forgiveness faces forward.


Another Pop-psych Myth Bites the Dust (statistically speaking)

Men and Women May Not Be So Different After All

According to a new article at PsychCentral —

“Despite considerable popular literature suggesting a vast psychological difference between men and women, a new study suggests that gender differences are relatively insignificant.

“Researchers studied a comprehensive list of characteristics ranging from empathy and sexuality to science inclination and extroversion. Overall, they performed a statistical analysis of 122 different traits involving 13,301 individuals.

“Their findings rebuke prior studies that suggested character traits often vary by gender.

“In the new study, the scientists were able to show that statistically, men and women do not fall into different groups. In other words, no matter how strange and mysterious your partner may seem, their gender is probably only a small part of the problem.”

See the full article . . . (really, you should).

and, here’s the original feed from the University of Rochester.


Op.Ed.: Old Wine in New Bottles Dept.

Hey, Dr. Mars, maybe that game of yours on how to manipulate each other was
actually written 48 years ago, and we we are all just Earthlings out for a spin. Shocking.

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