Finding Hope After a Trauma

When all hope is lost in trauma: The importance of regaining 'Mature Hope' in traumatic healing.

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We all experience an event personally. We create our own meaning and our own response to an experience, based on how we generally engage in the world and in our lives. For example, some people use more avoidance coping strategies in life, such as distracting oneself, or purposely not thinking about things, while others are emotion focused, and talk about their feelings.

In trauma, people will likely draw upon their main style of managing their lives. So, some will distract themselves from what has happened, while others will seek out empathic people who will allow them to talk about what happened, and how they felt. Research is showing that those who are more emotion focused are more likely to report longer term personal growth from a traumatic event.

But trauma always involves loss; loss of a person, loss of feelings, loss of identity, loss of physical or mental capacity, to name but a few. It is therefore, in the awareness and acknowledgement of just what has been lost that healing and equilibrium can be achieved.

However, there is one further loss that can bring someone to their knees, and leave them struggling to know how to go on, and at times if they can go on. It’s not that someone wants to necessarily bring an end to their life, but more so that they don’t know how to go on living, feeling like they do.

Here I am talking about the loss of a certain type of hope, which is known as ‘mature hope’.

What is Mature Hope?

This kind of hope is not based on a particular outcome, or on a belief that everything will turn out in the way that you want it to. ‘Chosen Hope’ is where you want an outcome and you choose to believe that it will happen, like hoping a medical treatment will work, or hoping that your son or daughter will get a good job.

Mature hope is different. It is not based on achieving a particular outcome. Instead, it is based on meaning. In other words, things are worthwhile regardless of how they turn out. A person with this kind of hope can wait. Mature hope is 'the state of mind of expectant possibility.'

In the Aftermath of Trauma

In the aftermath of trauma, mature hope can be frozen. In a trauma, you have learned that things went catastrophically bad, and your suffering was incomprehensible. The thought that someone or something did this, or didn’t stop it from happening, is profound.

It is only in the process of healing from trauma - where you work through your feelings of hurt, anger, hate, and loss, with the ferocity you never knew, and didn’t want to know you had - that mature hope can return. It can only be mobilised once you are able to face up to your own inner reality.

In Therapy

During the process of therapy, the therapist ‘holds’ mature hope for the traumatised person. They become an object of hope, while you explore all that has happened and look to make some meaning of it.

Here it is possible to slowly re-enter into a non-traumatised world. Your therapist helps you find the words, shares the pain of not being able to be rescued, or the pain of not being able to prevent this from happening, and the pain of all that is lost.

And through this process, mature hope can be re-discovered.

To find out more about how you can start on the journey of discovering a hope you can depend on, get in touch. If you would like to understand more about trauma and how to work with it, then take a look at the Treating Trauma Workshop.

"Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future."
- Robert H. Schuller.


Dr Sandra Westland

Sandra is a UKCP registered Existential Psychotherapist and Counsellor. She has nearing 20 years of experience as a therapist helping people through various difficulties. Her research interests include weight issues, body image, eating disorders and trauma. As an advanced practitioner of Inner Child Therapy, she works with trauma of various kinds experienced from childhood. Sandra teaches, lectures and runs workshops across Europe.