• Gray Butler

Capacity For Hope


I have a visceral memory of sitting in a workshop with my therapist, I had just shown her a passage in my diary  where I expressed how hopeless I felt. How much I anxiety I had about things not getting better, about my mother never coming to terms with the ways in which she continued to perpetuate harmful ways of interacting with me, my hopelessness at my family never healing, of feeling caught in this never ending cycle that was so much bigger than me, not to mention the seeming enormity of the world seeming to implode. Being subjected to an endless media cycle of seeing bodies like mine brutalized and murdered, being constantly reminded how little my white peers on campus and in other places in my life seemed to be willing to put action in their words support, how much their silence and complacency hurt (and continue to hurt), taking in the responsibilities and notions that I owe it to other marginalized people to build coalitions with them, but feeling powerless to do so in my own energy limitations, all contributed to this immense feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness. And in this moment my therapist brought my attention to the fact that my disappointment the fact that I continued to expect more, and even to some degree my cynicism was an indication of my capacity to still have hope.

I have seen these notions since then re-iterated not just in my life but also in the very foundational works that has inspired these worksheet sections. In Simone Jacobs and Chandra Davis’ research and review of their workshops for Black Women survivors of childhood trauma they outline one of the two recurring trends in their workshops with black women survivors of childhood trauma is the challenges of holding onto hope. In their work they explain how survivors of childhood abuse and neglect often times must bury hope in order to survive, especially when the trauma is ongoing (such as childhood abuse and systematic racism). Often times in households where childhood abuse is perpetuated survivors hopes are often met with disappointment (Jacobs et. al, 2017) In their workshops, they emphasized the notions that in many survivors that hope is strong because, while not always prevalent, still exists and can be sensed by the sheer sense of disparity, however it is a fragile hope because it has been disappointed. (Jacobs et. al 2017)

Notions of hope also registered with me in The Courage to Heal, which has a section on putting hope aside. In this section, Laura Davis, expands on the notions that in order to survive abuse, many of us as survivors have learned to put hope aside, to ignore it, describing hope as seeming like a “cruel sham”.(Davis, 1990) However in recognizing that as a coping mechanism hope at times must be set aside, there is potential to uncover it once again. The following questions are pulled both from Simone Jacobs and Chandra Davis’s workshops as well as Laura Davis’ Courage to Heal Workbook

Capacity for Hope

Taken from Jacobs and Davis:

  • When did you start to recognize that you had hope

  • What effect has it had in your life?

  • Are there people who have taught you about hope, or from whom have you borrowed some hope?

  • What would it be like if you invited hope to become your constant traveling companion

My Hopes Today: Taken and modified  from The Courage to Heal Workbook

Even though you may have set aside hope when you were young, consider feeling hopeful today. You are an adult now. Things are not exactly the same as they were when you were growing up. What would happen if you allowed yourself to hope again? What’s the best thing that could happen? What’s the worst? How might hope be different today?

  • When I think about hope I feel:

  • If I had hope, the worst thing that could happen would be:

  • If I had hope the best thing that could happen would be

  • If you were allow yourself to hope what would you hope for? Make a list.

  • Look over your list of hopes, circle items on your list that you feel are realistic. Cross out those you feel are based in fantasy. (Examine why you feel this way for some)

  • How did it feel to commit my hopes to paper:

  • Were most of my hopes realistic or unrealistic:

  • What does that tell me:

  • If I could hope for one thing that I knew would come true, what would it be:

  • What small thing can I hope for right now

Reflections: Taken from The Courage to Heal Workbook

  • What feelings did I have as I worked through these questions

  • What am I feeling right now? What sensations am I experiencing in my body?

  • How old did I feel as I worked through these questions? How old do I feel right now?

  • What was hard for me with these questions? What was confusing? What didn’t I understand?

  • What did I learn? What commitments have I made? What steps have I taken?

  • What did I do that I’m proud of?

  • What’s still unsettled for me? What, if anything do I want to come back to or follow up on?

  • What do I need to do to take care of myself right now?

Works Cited:

Davis, Laura. The Courage to Heal Workbook: for Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Harper & Row, 1991

Jacobs, Simone, and Chandra Davis. “Challenging the Myths of Black Women—A Short-Term, Structured, Art Experience Group: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Gender, and Intergenerational Trauma.” Smith College Studies in Social Work, vol. 87, no. 2-3, Feb. 2017, pp. 200–219., doi:10.1080/00377317.2017.1324091.

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