When you need hope

This is a story about a young woman who, in a way, came back from death, and about a very special white cat, and about how hope can make sense for you.

Think about the last time you were in the deepest pit of despair. Convinced that hope made no sense whatsoever. Convinced that in some way or other you were doomed. I think we can all find that memory pretty quickly. And I’m guessing you’re not in that place now. See! You got out of it!!


Now to be clear: I am not a fan of random ejaculations of positive thinking. “You can do it!!!” I’ll hear and I’ll think, “Right. Maybe...” Not everybody can do everything. “Things will turn out great!!” But no, not everything turns out the way we’d hope.

And yet!!! I do believe that the three truest words you can say about people are

People are resilient.

In fact, this is not only the truest but the most important thing you can say about people. We climb out of the ashes of destruction all the time. Out of the ashes of our own self-destruction.

But it’s one thing to believe this; it’s another to see this in action. And now you will.

A young woman I’ll call Nora came to see me because a professor in her Master’s program gave her a poor evaluation. “That doesn’t sound like such a big deal!” you’re saying. Yeah, you’re right. But stay tuned.

It turns out that Nora grew into adulthood with two huge strikes against her.

First of all, when she entered the first grade she was diagnosed as being someone unable to learn in school. So from the first through the sixth grades, she spent all day every day in a special room doing nothing but coloring and playing with blocks. The more years went by, the stupider she seemed.

Then one day when she was eleven some school official realized, “Oops! We’ve made a mistake on that initial test! Nora’s normal. Above average, actually. Our bad.” She just missed out on the first six years of schooling, that’s all. And her self-confidence was in the toilet as well, having to learn, like, everything, starting in the seventh grade.

Second, Nora had an illness which made her permanently disfigured. Young women freak out about getting a pimple. Nora was miles beyond that. Something else for her to deal with.


So maybe now you can see why getting a poor evaluation from a professor could be a huge triggering deal for Nora.

As one more piece of background, she had a boyfriend. A good guy, whom I just happened to know. So at least there was that.


Anyway, it soon became clear that Nora had no floor under her sense of self. For most of us, when we get the props knocked out from under us, there’s a limit to how far we can fall. We have a sense of ability and worth that stops us from falling all the way to the bottom of the elevator shaft.

Nora didn’t have that.

So I reckoned I’d have to give it to her.


Thank God for hypnotherapy. It enables a therapist to install missing parts, if you do it well.


I placed Nora in a trance and asked her to imagine an extremely wise, kind, and loving being. It could take any form she wanted.


She said, “I see a white cat.” Her whole family were cat lovers.


I said, “Great. Now this white cat will always be inside you. And it will be able to talk to you. And whenever you feel the need, you can call ‘White cat!’ and he’ll come. And you can ask him for wisdom and support and advice and help and encouragement. Anything you need, as if he were the wisest, kindest, most helpful, most loving being in the world.”


She got it.


I suggested she ask the white cat for help right now. She told him about the professor’s poor evaluation. And the white cat spoke!


To be honest, what the white cat said wasn’t all that remarkable. Everything it had to say came from Nora, after all! But that made it better. It may not have been special wisdom, but it was just what Nora needed to hear.


Before she left that day, I gave Nora the homework of consulting the white cat at least once a day till we met next.

The white cat was a huge hit. He became an invaluable resource for Nora. Always there. Always helpful.


But then the bad day came.


Nora walked in looking shell shocked. Her boyfriend had dumped her. Now lots of young women have been dumped and feel they’ll never find a boyfriend again. It’s just a feeling. But for Nora, given her disfiguring condition, it was a realistic possibility. Maybe she never would find anyone else again...


I felt shocked too. All I could think of was, let’s go to the white cat.


I got Nora into a trance and asked her where the white cat was. “He’s at my feet,” she said. (Note that people in a trance tend to respond very literally to questions.)


“Tell him what’s happened and ask for his help.” Very long pause. “What does he say?”


“Nothing.”


“Why not?”


“Because his head’s been torn off,” Nora said.


I was in total shock. I thought I’d just witnessed Nora’s psychic death. She’d just announced it!

But thank God I remembered a couple of fundamentals. 1) Don’t panic. That’s always helpful. And 2) suggestibility. People in general, especially in a trance, are very suggestible.

So I said, as calmly as I could, “Okay, Nora, so what I’d like you do is pick up the white cat, put his head back on him, just the way you’d put a head back on a Barbie doll, and you’ll find he comes back to life and tells you some things you really need to hear right now. Let me know when he’s said these things...”

And I waited. And waited and waited and waited. Remember: for Nora time had stopped. My heart was in my mouth.


Finally, unable to stand the suspense anymore, I said, “So, Nora, tell me what’s happened.”


And cool as a cucumber, Nora said, “I picked up the white cat, put his head back on and he came to life, and he told me there are many many people in my life who love me and there will be many many more.”

I’m crying as I write these words, and I was crying then.

The white cat knew the perfect thing to say to Nora because the white cat was that part of her who knew what she needed most.


The head-being-torn-off part? Maybe we all get into states like that. Maybe we, in our resilience, don’t need to take our doom feelings so seriously. Maybe there’s a kind of white cat or brown dog or blue bird or golden angel inside all of us who will tell us—if only we can trust them to—the very thing we need to hear. I think there is. It’s exactly how resilient people find their resilience, and we’re all resilient.


Since Why Couples Fight is our most recent book, let me say how it fits into this discussion. Suppose I need to fix my sink. And to do that I need two things. A wrench. And the belief that I can do it. Without the belief that I can do it, I’ll just sit there for weeks with the wrench in the drawer and a broken sink. But if I believe I can do it and I don’t have a wrench, I’m just as stuck.

Most couple are in worse shape than Nora was! They don’t have the tools and they’ve lost hope. The only tool so many couples have—their power struggles—just makes things worse! Why Couples Fight gives you both the tools you need AND the reason to hope. It’s kind of a book full of white cats.

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