I’ve been thinking all week about why some people emerge from a horrendous childhood with hope intact. Given the serial abandonment and sexual abuse, it’s astonishing that Adrienne has any hope whatsoever that someone might care about her.

Why do some people have the ability to recognize goodness when they see it, to cleave unto it for dear life? Why do others never seek help, or when they find it, so easily let go? From my experience, it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the degree of illness. Some of the most troubled clients I’ve worked with over the years have been the most able to value the work and stick to it, despite the hostile and destructive feelings they brought to session.

Years after we’d begun working together, Janice told me about her experience of meeting me. She’d tried working with other therapists but hadn’t felt that any of them could help her. During our first session, she thought to herself, “Are you kidding? I really get to work with this guy? How’d I get so lucky?”

Some of this must have been idealization — after all, we’d only just met — but why did she idealize me and not the other therapists? She and I have always had a strong connection, it’s true; as disturbed as she was, I somehow felt I “got” her from the beginning. How did she understand that and stay with me for so long, through all that chaos and financial difficulty? Why did she have so much hope that our work together would help her?

On the other hand, why didn’t Carol hold on tighter? Yes, she had major issues with neediness and dependency — in fact, she hated her own needs — but no more so than Adrienne. I felt that I understood Carol, that I “got” her. Why have other clients given up so easily, at the first sign of intense pain?

It might simply be that I did a better job with some clients than with others — that is, it has to do with my limitations or a bad fit between me and my clients. I don’t believe it’s only that. I can’t explain why, but from my experience, some people just feel seem to have more faith that goodness exists. As awful as their lives may have been, some people continue to believe that something better is always possible. Some people seem to have more hope than others.

With Adrienne, the challenge now seems to be how to keep that hope alive. It sometimes seems as if she has projected all her hope onto me and then tries to defeat it there inside of me, to prove there are no grounds for hope.

The battle is actually inside of her, of course: the “dark” Janice who puts her faith in the power of destruction and views hope as contemptibly weak vs. the Janice who believes in goodness. She continues reaching out to me in crisis, despising herself for doing so, but still she holds onto hope.

As awful as Carol’s childhood had been, Adrienne’s was even worse. Why did Adrienne hold on when Carol let go, reverting to the old standby, her one true friend, the eating disorder?

Plant emerging through asphalt photo available from Shutterstock.