This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
“Are some people just more optimistic than others?”
Regardless of who we are, we all know deep emotional pain. That heart-rending pain that feels like your guts are being ripped out. Heartbreak, rejection, bereft, alone.
Losing love, the pain of being abused or left by others stays with us. But for most of us it is hopefully a very occasional experience.
You might have only felt it once or twice before, enough to know what heartbreak feels like, infrequently enough to consider your future to likely be free of such pain and loss.
For some though, sadly, this is more than an occasional experience.
Love isn’t a Hallmark card, or a Hugh Grant movie. Love is what we know it to be, from our own experiences. And it is mostly strongly shaped by our early encounters.
Apparently, the best predictor of a young girl’s educational achievement is the educational level her mother achieved. That makes sense, but this is as much about hope as it is education: What do we believe is possible for ourselves?
We all have a “memory” of our future, a view of the possibilities, a sense of what our life will look like, a story that plays out in our mind. Will we succeed, or fail? Will we be abandoned? Will we have what we want?
Will we be happy?
The pursuit of happiness is a modern phenomenon, and one that is destined to fail because happiness is always fleeting. Like any feeling, it comes and goes.
What truly creates long-term security and contentment though, is connection: feeling loved and being able to love. Feeling like we are taking this crazy trip called life with others who are on the same page, and who care about us.
This allows us to feel that, despite what can seem like all the evidence to the contrary, we are a worthwhile person.
Early disruptions to love and attachment, and later profound disruptions to love in the form of trauma and abuse, undermine and, for some, destroy this inherent sense of faith in ourselves.
If others can’t love us, cherish us, hold us up as special and lovable, then we don’t learn to do that for ourselves.
We come to see the future as bereft of hope, as hopeless and pain filled as the past, because in our mind the story of our past experiences map out our future. Optimism then grows from love, pessimism and cynicism grows in hopes dashed, it festers in the absence of love.
And even though it’s painful for some, whilst we draw breath, we can always return to love. A secure, loving relationship free of abuse and abounding in love and respect is deeply curative.
Because hope does not spring eternal. It springs from the experience of loving and being loved.
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