The Hope Box

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Hope box

Suicidal thoughts and hope exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, and one withers in the face of the other. A good means for challenging suicidal thoughts, then, is to cultivate hope. That is the aim of the “hope box.”

The premise is simple: Get a box (or a bag, or a large envelope, or anything else that can hold objects) and fill it with reminders of the things that give you hope, or that have given you hope in the past. You may even want to decorate your hope box creatively. Some people decorate a shoe box and make a fun project of it.

Items in a hope box may include:

  • Letters or printed emails that mean a lot to you
  • Photos of special times you have had – or of special times you hope to have, such as photos of a vacation spot or an activity you enjoy doing
  • Photos of loved ones
  • Inspirational quotes
  • Bible verses, if you are religious
  • Articles or columns that you find meaningful
  • Jokes that make you laugh
  • Anything else that reminds you of reasons to stay alive

The hope box is a technique used in cognitive behavioral therapy, as this article explains. The idea is to arm yourself to fight the tunnel vision and distorted thinking that can occur with suicidal thoughts – to give yourself reminders of hope even when when you feel none.

I also recommend, if you have the strength and hope already to do this, writing a letter to yourself for when you feel acutely suicidal. This letter could “talk” to your future self and remind yourself of reasons for living, as well as ways you have coped with difficult times in the past.

You might also want to put a copy of your safety plan in the hope box; the safety plan lists things you can do personally to help yourself feel better when you think of suicide, people you can call to talk to (with phone numbers), and places you can go for help.

It is also recommended that you put things in the hope box that can serve as a distraction to suicidal thoughts. For example, if you enjoy sudoku or crossword puzzles, that could be something to put in your hope box. In this regard, the hope box can  also be thought of as an emotional first aid kit.

You can also create a hope box of sorts with apps for the iPhone (and presumably for Android phones as well). These apps are free. One is called Virtual Hope Box, with tools for coping, relaxation, distraction, and positive thinking. Another is called, simply enough, Hope Box.

What helps awaken hope in you? What are the physical reminders of those experiences that you can put in your hope box? 

 

UPDATED May 2014: I added current information about the iPhone apps, as well as information about the cognitive-behavioral theory underlying the hope box.

© 2013 Stacey Freedenthal. All Rights Reserved. Written for Speaking of Suicide.

Photos purchased from Fotolia.com

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  1. Anonymous says:

    This is great! I love it! Thank you!

  2. F says:

    This is a beautiful idea. I’m worried that I would twist around anything I write and use it to play into the suicidal thoughts in a bad time. I’m just coming out of a devastating suicidal period and hope is a massive part of it, but I can see now that the irrationality of my thoughts would have taunted me with the kind of things I would want to put in there now. I still feel like my kids would be 100% better off without me even though I love them to bits. I’m scared for the future, that I’m not strong enough to keep going & can’t fight it all over again. I love this idea though.., wish I could bottle up just a fragment of true hope to keep safe xxx

    • Anonymous says:

      Your babies will NEVER be better off without YOU! NEVER say that! Mine is the only reason I am still breathing. Everyday sucks when you want to eat a bullet, I know but your babies need you.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “Anonymous,” this is the trick of suicide and whatever drives it (depression, etc.): it makes people believe things that they would not otherwise believe if they were able to take a broader perspective. So, as I describe in my post The People You Would Leave Behind, suicidal people often believe that they are a burden to others and that others would be better off without them, when people who look objectively at the situation can see that is so far from the truth that it hurts. It is what the mind does. It is not fair to the person or to those who love him or her, and it is a big reason why I am so passionate about suicide prevention – the fact that, the vast majority of the time, people who seriously consider suicide simply are not thinking rationally, as evidenced by the fact that 90% of people who attempt suicide do not go on to die by suicide.

      I am glad your children remain a reason for living for you. May it always be so! And if you were to start thinking otherwise, I hope you will recognize that as a symptom that you need to make a change, whether that change is to start therapy, change medications, ask for help, or whatever else might apply to you and your life.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      “F,” it sounds from your comment that you recognize that your suicidal thoughts are not rational. If I read your comment correctly, you also know it is irrational to think that your “kids would be 100% better off” without you. At least, I hope you know it is irrational! I understand that many mothers and fathers die by suicide even though they love their children. Their minds trick them into thinking that the children would be better off, that they will get over it, that they will move on to new relationships, etc. This really is a trick of the mind. Suicide lies. It distorts memories, thoughts, and beliefs. Please don’t believe it!

      I hope you will also recognize that suicide is tricking you into feeling no hope. It doesn’t mean that hope will never come again, only that you cannot access it now.

      Have you checked out the post Talking Back to Suicidal Thoughts? It might be helpful to you. Same with the posts Letter from a Therapist to a Suicidal Person, Coping Statements for Suicidal Thoughts, and others in the section of this website for people who think about suicide.

      Also, given what you’ve said about your thoughts, I recommend the book How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person’s Guide to Suicide Prevention. It contains excellent tools for getting through the hopeless times and not believing suicide.

      Thanks for sharing, and remember to go day by day, even hour by hour, minute by minute! Whatever works.

    • TE Roche says:

      My son thought the same about us being better off without him, and he was wrong, as you are wrong. You are beautifully imperfect and your children love you. Please stay for them. I miss my son every second of every day, and so would your children miss you. Sending virtual hugs and good vibes your way.

  3. nikky44 says:

    I started my “hope box last week in therapy. Today I finished decorating it. Next week I am supposed to start filling it with hope, although for now, I still can’t see any.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hi nikky44, I sure hope you can find some hope. Do any of the ideas in this post give you some places to start? I wrote the post a year ago and I see that I left off some important possibilities, like lyrics to meaningful songs, and pictures of pets. If you come up with some other ideas, I hope you’ll share.

      Once I heard someone say that if you have trouble thinking of things to feel grateful or hopeful about, imagine that overnight you lost everything you own, everyone you loved, and everything good about yourself, such as health and intelligence. Then ask yourself, what would you miss? This can help people to recognize what they take for granted, and what they really cherish even if they don’t always know it.

      Good luck!

    • nikky44 says:

      Thank you very much for your reply. I love the thoughts of the lyrics. I decorated my box with stickers of cats because my cat makes me smile. I have a folder in my email inbox where I kept the messages I received from my favorite friend, the one who saved my life, but lately reading those emails break my heart even more.
      It might seem weird to say that, but I am so grateful for anything and everything. I am grateful for the best moments I had but also for the worst. Gratitude is my life or else I wouldn’t be here, but for me it’s so different from hope. I don’t even know if I need hope. I think I don’t. It’s not what I need because hope is for the future, what I need is now, something for the moment I live and the coming ones. The only thing that help me survive the present is love.
      I did lose everything. I lost my 2 jobs, my family, my home, my country, the house I worked for 17 years before I could have.

    • Stacey Freedenthal, PhD, LCSW says:

      Hi nikky44, the power of your gratitude is intense. How amazing that with all you’ve lost – and that is quite a list – you are still able to tap into gratitude not only for the best moments, but also for the worst. I agree with you that gratitude is different from hope. Both are so valuable.

      I hope you will hang in there and see what else life will give you to be grateful for. Your gratitude, and your ability to maintain it, can be a beacon for others.

      Thanks for writing!

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