When is it Toxic to Hold Out Hope for Change?

All across our country, families, partners, sons and daughters and friends are heartbroken. People who use substances or alcohol at times can be distant, self-destructive and may create chaos that can be nearly impossible to resist. At times the substance use can fuel destructive conflict and even violence.

Empowering hope accepts our genuine effort and knows that sometimes enough is really enough.

We hold out hope… hope of change. Hope that things can be different even when there are few, if any, signs that the other person is aware of what they are doing or how they are impacting those they care about.

I am not a fan of “Tough Love” and thankfully the research shows that it is as destructive as the addiction itself. If you want to read more about tough love, see this reprinted article “Tough Love Doesn’t Work: A New Approach to Helping Addicts” by High on Recovery’s guest contributor Claire Gillespie. You can also see my article, 8 Ways to Unlearn Addiction and Build the Life that You Want.

It is important to recognize that where a person’s behavior is reckless, destructive and violent, personal safety takes precedent over the relationship. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to remove ourselves or distance ourselves. Healing may be possible through establishing healthy boundaries, honest communication and professional help. For some relationships, unfortunately, change is not possible.

Having hope can empower you, but there are times when hope can be toxic. In most situations, you do not have to end your relationship. One of the most important shifts can be in the source of your hope.

9 Ways that empowering hope is different than toxic hope

1.Toxic hope – is better than no hope at all. Empowering hope – makes you better because it is built on self-respect.

2.Toxic hope makes deals and can only continue if it agrees not to see what is really going on. Empowering hope is honest and continues because while life is hard, it is sometimes shitty, it is worth improving on.

3.Toxic hope tries to change the other person or believes that we can change them if we just do more, forgive more, overlook the disrespect and the crossing of more and more boundaries.

Empowering hope recognizes what you can do and accepts what you cannot do. You can only change yourself and you can speak clearly and assertively about what you would like the other person to do. You can also choose to remain in a relationship, to make plans or to leave. 

4.Toxic hope tries not to make mistakes or upset the other person because if we do better, then the other person might also do better. Empowering hope accepts our genuine effort and knows that sometimes enough is really enough. 

5.Toxic hope is “good at being good.” Empowering hope is not good nor bad, it is how we live through what feels like the mud and guts of our reality. 

6.Toxic hope cares for the other person but has little energy or time left to take care of ourselves. Empowering hope makes space for self compassion, even when we invest much of our time in for the welfare of others. It does not sacrifice who we are for another person. 

7.Toxic hope attempts to make us more acceptable to other people in how we appear, our behavior, trying not to seem too smart or too strong or too needy.

Empowering hope makes room for self discovery and for our own identity alongside the identity and needs of others. Even when who we are, what we believe or what we do is different or even upsetting to those we care about.

8.Toxic hope invests time in positive thinking, seeing the better side and overlooking. Empowering hope is aware and not blinded by positive thinking or denial. Empowering hope pays attention but also can find a way to not become fixated by what we see.

If I could describe empowering hope in one or two words, I would say that it is life-giving. Hope that empowers is alive and takes time to do what makes us feel more alive.

9.Toxic hope values work, being efficient and doing what is goodEmpowering hope sometimes wastes time, it can be lazy and allows time for boredom. It balances being open to our present along with investing in our potential.

• • •

If I could describe empowering hope in one or two words, I would say that it is life-giving. Hope that empowers is alive and takes time to do what makes us feel more alive. It invests some of our precious time and attention in things that renew our energy and values who we are: exercise, hobbies, reading, baking, listening to music, being with our pets, laughter, being outside, appreciating.

Even when, no… especially when things are very difficult, empowering hope finds a way for a few moments spent in the things that make us feel a little more present and alive.

• • •

I invite you to read some of my other work on addiction and recovery:

What if Addiction is Not a Disease and Your Brain is Not Broken?

You can sign up for my blog by clicking “Follow Getting High on Recovery.” It won’t cost you anything except a few seconds and in return, I promise I won’t spam you. Also, please vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photos by Gnusam and torbakhopper


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