False Hope of Self Change

In hurting, addicted, or broken people, a most common lie is this, "I can figure this out by my self. I can recover alone." I know, this may sound discouraging for those of us who determine to stop some harmful or life-damaging habit. But it's reality of our human condition. Self-change is hard, and powerlessness or relapse is so common among us.

In an effort to understand why self-change often fails, two Canadian psychologists (Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman) did a long term research on it. Their research was published in the American Psychologist September 2002 issue, where they proposed what they termed the "False-Hope Syndrome" (FHS) of self-change.

According to this research-based theory, a factor why self-change often fails is because of "unrealistic expectations." Suppose a long-time alcoholic, drug addict, or serial adulterer promises to stop his or her habit in one month all by himself. Polivy and Herman will most likely qualify this as "false-hope syndrome" because the hopes or expectations are too ambitious and unrealistic. Initial efforts may lead to success. But very soon, however, the change stops. At this point, it's so common to find excuses or reasons why the effort fails.

We all live in a culture that does more harm than good when it tells us, "All the answers to your problems are inside you." It's spoken out of context, misapplied, and giving false hope that compounds failure in people's lives. The fact is, we rarely know how to solve our problems. In the midst of our false hope and confident talk, the glaring reality is we are all somewhat damaged and our minds are "sick" to some degree.

As a result, if we choose to "figure out by my self" with our disabled minds to get us well, we are headed for trouble. Our imperfect, damaged mind on its own does not have the capacity to lead us to truth, wisdom, or the healing we need. How can you expect a problemed mind solve its own problem? We need to choose to connect to others and seek appropriate help. This can bring us to the beginnings of true hope for self-change.