By Joyce Alexander, RNP (retired)
What is hope? The word “hope” means a kind of “expectation of obtainment” and an emotional state of optimism, a trusting that what we want is going to come true. Here is how Wikipedia defines hope:
Hope is the emotional state, the opposite of which is despair, which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. It is the “feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best” or the act of “look[ing] forward to with desire and reasonable confidence” or “feel[ing] that something desired may happen”. Other definitions are “to cherish a desire with anticipation”; “to desire with expectation of obtainment”; or “to expect with confidence”. In the English language the word can be used as either a noun or a verb, although hope as a concept has a similar meaning in either use.
And here is how Webster’s dictionary defines hope:
1: to cherish a desire with anticipation <hopes for a promotion>
2 archaic : trust
1: to desire with expectation of obtainment
2: to expect with confidence : trust
So we work because we hope and trust that we will get paid on Friday. We work hard in school to get good grades because we hope our work will pay off with a degree that we trust will allow us to get a better job and make more money. We are nice to others and we hope they will be nice back to us. We teach our children honesty and kindness because we hope they will grow up to be happy successful adults. We do lots of things because we hope and trust that those actions will result in good results.
However, there are times we hope and trust and work hard, but those good results do not materialize. Sometimes no matter what we do, or how much we hope, there is no possibility that what we want to happen is actually going to happen. It is at that point that we must accept the reality that our hopes are in vain. The doctor gives you or a loved one a diagnosis that there a limited time to live. What are the choices? To accept the diagnosis and get affairs in order, or do like Steve McQueen did and look all over the world for some quack who promises a “cure” to your terminal disease.
Webster defines another, less hopeful aspect of “hope” as:
— hope against hope
: to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment
Many times it seems that in our relationships with psychopaths we seem to hold on to that “hope against hope” that the relationship will improve. We try first one thing and then another and the relationship does not improve, but we hold on tenaciously to that “hope against hope,” which I call “malignant hope.”
Why “malignant hope”? Well, being a former medical professional, I like those 50 cent words that medicine uses, but this particular 50 cent word is pretty well understood by the general public. “Malignant” means “toxic” or “cancerous,” and that is exactly what “hope against hope” is—it is malignant like a cancer, and it metastasizes to every part of the body and soul. It spreads like a cancer and it destroys like a cancer because it forever keeps our expectations from being met, yet we “keep on trying” because of that malignant hope.
Each time we “hope for” something and it fails to materialize we are disappointed in proportion to how much “hope” we had, and how important the result is.
When I buy a lotto ticket I know the odds are above 13 million to one that I will win. Of course I “hope” to win, but I don’t really “expect” to win … so I don’t base my payment of next month’s rent on me winning. If I don’t win, I am not devastated. I really didn’t have MUCH hope that I would win.
However, let’s take a ridiculous example, and say I bought a lotto and had a great deal of false hope, malignant hope, that I would win, even with the odds being against me. I just KNEW FOR SURE that my hope against hope was going to come true. I knew I would have enough money to buy a house, a new car, a boat, and to live the life I wanted to live. I had never won before, but I knew I would win this time because I wanted it so badly. I needed it. When I watched the lotto drawing I just knew I would win. What happens when I fail to win? My hopes and my dreams are shattered, my entire life shatters before me, because I based everything I wanted on something that had little if any chance of happening. My hope of winning the lotto had become a malignant hope.
Psychopaths and malignant hope
Unfortunately, there are times when our hopes do become malignant hopes. When we hope against hope that a psychopath will change, will stop lying to us, stop cheating on us, bring their paycheck home. It never happens, yet we keep hoping it will.
People said to me concerning my son, Patrick, “he’s your son, you can’t give up hope,” or “where there is life, there is hope.” Those people were well meaning I am sure, but what they were telling me to do was to hold on to that malignant hope. I held on to it long enough, I saw over and over that he was not going to change, yet I kept hoping that he would. I saw proof that he had not changed over and over. Yet I continued to hope. Each time I was shown evidence that he had not changed in how he behaved, I was wounded again.
Someone gave me a sign once and I hung it on my wall, little realizing just how prophetic it would become. The sign said, “I feel so much better since I gave up hope.”
Actually I DO feel better since I gave up the malignant hope that my son would repent of his crimes, that he would change his attitude of entitlement.
It was only when I gave up that malignant hope that I ceased to be wounded and re-wounded by my son and the other people I had hoped would reciprocate my love and caring for them. I quit hoping they would change. It didn’t happen. It isn’t going to happen. I no longer hope or anticipate it will happen. I gave up the malignant hopes that I would win the “psychopathic lotto,” and the 13 million to one odds are not likely to be overcome just because I hope so much that they would be. People buy tickets and say, “Well, someone has to win, it could be me.” Well, I am no longer wasting my money or my hope on either the state lotto or the psychopathic lotto of malignant hope.