Helping people find hope

As a follow-on from the previous post (holding on to hope), here are a few thoughts and wonderings about helping others to find hope.

I’m writing this mainly for myself (as it’s something I’m still learning) but also for the people I’ve spoken with recently who’ve said ‘But what can I do?’ or ‘I feel so helpless‘, either to me, or about me, or in the face of countless other situations where hope seems lost or just a bit thin on the ground.

The ideas here are a mish-mash of psychology and my own thoughts and experiences – feel free to ignore, to expand and/or to create your own!

Helping others find hope

I’ve noticed that however much we might want to, and however hard we might try, we can’t give someone hope.

They have to find it for themselves.

So how can we help other people find hope?

There’s a strap line that’s in my head pretty much constantly at work.

It’s one of the principles of the solution focused approach to consultation and therapy (BRIEF) and it goes something like this:

“Keep one foot in pain and the other in possibility”

It’s a fine line to tread.

When we’re listening to someone who’s going through a difficult time, it’s easy to get trapped in the pain and the awfulness of the situation.

The pain has zapped all hope and bled us dry.

They feel helpless and hopeless, and now so do we.

So we often over-compensate.

We gloss over the pain, we tell them it won’t last forever, things will get better, it’s going to be ok.

But these are empty promises, because actually we have no idea.

Neither giving false promises, nor getting bogged down in pain, are particularly helpful. Both can lead to frustrations and feelings of helplessness and inadequacy and neither is very effective at bringing hope.

But if we can somehow find the balance between pain and possibility, hope can start to creep in…

I’ve noticed in my work that people aren’t ready to think about possibilities until they feel that their pain has been understood.

Too often we rush to the possibilities, the solutions, the fixes, before we’ve heard the pain. And so, however brilliant our contribution might be, it falls on deaf ears.

But something powerful happens when we fully hear someone’s pain.

When our pain is heard and understood, it unlocks something in us.

It loosens ‘blockages’, it frees up the bits of our brains that are involved in problem-solving and creative thinking and social interaction to do the things they were designed to do instead of getting bogged down in pain and despair, which can cut off all those things.

Hearing the pain might need to be done several times, in several different ways. Sadly there are no quick fixes. People aren’t slot machines, they are wonderfully complex beings. Yes, it can be frustrating, but it also means they have countless resources to draw upon and endless possibilities for growth and change.

We can’t make promises about people’s future, but we can help people to remember their own strengths and resources, and times in the past when they’ve overcome difficulties.

Keep one foot in pain and one foot in possibility.

If we put both feet in the pain and ignore the possibilities, hope is easily lost.

If we put both feet in possibilities and solutions, we’re ignoring the pain and the person will probably feel invalidated as a result.

However much we and/or they might want it, they’re not ready to move on to hope.

But if we can find a way to keep one foot in pain and one foot in possibility, perhaps that’s when hope can be found.

For me, the turning points have been when people have sat with me in my pain, when they’ve listened, heard, tried to understand and shown me I’m not alone.

Glimpses of hope have then started to shine through as the possibilities start to flow naturally from the place of feeling heard and understood.

That’s when we can start to talk about solutions and options and creative possibilities and choices and to see the future in a much more hopeful light.

It may not be linear (we can’t forget the foot in the pain) and of course every person and every situation is different – there’s no one-size-fits-all. But perhaps we can be one step further on our way to a future of possibilities and hope.

So how can we help people find hope?

– Listen and hear their pain, seek to understand what they’re going through, sit with them through it, even though it might feel uncomfortable.

– Help them remember the strengths and resources they’ve used in previous situations, and the strengths and resources they’re developing through this current situation.

– Hold hope for them – let them know that although they might have lost sight of hope, we have not, and we will hold on to hope on their behalf.

– Think of them, and tell them we’re thinking of them often. Being ‘held in mind’ is a very powerful thing, whether we’re tiny children or highly competent adults. Also, receiving random texts, emails or cards can make a massive difference – they might only say “hi” or “thinking of you” or “sending hugs” but they let me know that somebody has been thinking of me, and that’s invaluable. It gives me hope that I’m not forgotten, even though it sometimes feels like life has written me off, and it reminds me of the people in my life who mean so much to me.

So here are just a few ideas for helping people hold on to hope. I’ll keep trying to put them in to practice. I’m not writing this to get something back, I’m writing it in the hope that I will get better at helping others find hope. And if something’s resonated with you, perhaps you might like to pay it forward…


Keep one foot in pain and one foot in possibility.


About migrainefreeme

I'm a practitioner psychologist. I'm on a journey of faith and grace. I have complex, severe and continuous migraine. I blog about holding on to hope through life's ups and downs.
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