Addressing hopelessness and fear of the future

Trauma experts state that recalling and articulating a traumatic episode is a vital aspect of recovery, by virtue of integrating the experience into the individual’s life experience. Judith Lewis Herman, in her book, Trauma and Recovery, quotes Freud: “His illness must no longer seem to him contemptible, but must become an enemy worthy of his mettle, a piece of his personality, which has solid ground for its existence, and out of which things of value for his future life have to be derived. The way is thus paved… for a reconciliation with the repressed material which is coming to expression in his symptoms while at the same time place is found for certain tolerance for the state of being ill.”

At some stage, trauma sufferers also need to make the future part of their existence too. Herman writes of a stage of recovery from trauma: “She has mourned the old self that the trauma destroyed; now she must develop a new self. Her relationships have been tested and forever changed by the trauma; now she must develop new relationships.”

Loss of any sense of having a future can be a symptom of depression, as The Amethyst Lamb writes in a recent blog post, referencing the book Time Warped: Unlocking the Secrets of Time Perception by Claudia Hammond. The Amethyst Lamb writes “…depression also effects one’s ability to imagine the future. So not only do they feel like every moment is taking longer than it objectively is, they also cannot visualize a future for themselves. Granted, being depressed, they may only imagine an awful, bleak future if they can imagine one, but they are incapable of imagining things getting better. They can’t imagine things ever changing in general.”

The Amethyst Lamb goes on to suggest that inability to imagine a future for oneself may be used as a diagnostic indicator of depression and the increased likelihood of experiencing suicidal ideation.

The importance of addressing the present/future was presented in a study of major depression disorder sufferers from 2011. The study found that patients responded more favourably to what was called Future-Directed Therapy (FDT) rather than cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that focussed on changing negative thoughts about past events.

The patients treated with Future-Directed Therapy (FDT), conducted in a group environment, received support in skills for positive thinking about the future and in taking action to change their circumstances, for example, through goal setting. Whilst the sample in the study was small, the outcomes for those who received FDT was considerably higher for depression, anxiety and well-being scores.

Brain activity can vary from task focused modes, when the prefrontal “executive” network, which governs planning and impulse control, amongst other things, dominates brain activity to periods of anxious rumination, when the “salience” network, which processes emotions, takes charge, overriding other networks. Treatment for depression and anxiety which strengthens task focussed prefrontal network activity, may assist in an individual’s capacity to manage decisions and experiences.

In a recent blog post, The Meaning of Your Life, AP2 writes of hopelessness: “They stop believing that there is any point to life. They start believing that their suffering is in vain. So they choose to live their lives in pursuit of immediate gratification. Nihilism consumes and they choose pleasure over purpose.”

He writes, addressing his newborn son: “The truth is our lives hold as much meaning as we give them. Which is why you must give yours as much meaning as you possibly can. In your relationships. Your work. Your family. You must fill every corner of your precious existence with it.”

Hope and optimism is said to arise when, according to FDT, one feels the capacity to achieve a desired future state and reach what one wants. Obstruction to achieving or imagining a future desired state causes distress. One of FDT’s principles is that: “Preparing for the future is essential to thriving and much of human functioning has evolved for the purpose of creating the future.”

Judith Lewis Herman, in Trauma & Recovery, suggests that reconnection with oneself, others and a community, are necessarily aspects of recovery. Imagining a future for oneself, for anxiety and depression sufferers, will also likely involve these connections in safe environments – as well as connection with painful memories. In the meantime, meaning in one’s life may, as AP2 suggests, be found in its meaninglessness and the opportunity this offers us.

Mental Health & Time Perception by The Amethyst Lamb – 14/01/21

The Meaning of Your Life by AP2 – 06/01/21

Author: Workers' Archive

Covering sensitivity at work and beyond on my website:

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