Shift The Focus Of Your Hope For Change. Here’s Why.

By Dr. Rhoberta Shaler.

Do you find yourself constantly clinging to the hope that a Hijackal—my term for someone difficult, unreasonable, potentially with narcissistic tendencies—will miraculously become a healthy, interested, empathetic, equal partner? If you catch yourself thinking that is possible, it’s crucial to explore how you fell into it and what it might mean for your future.

I use the phrase “hooked on hope” often, as it quickly describes what happens when you’re in relationship with a Hijackal. It happens organically, but not in a healthy way. But how do you get hooked? 

It typically begins with being “love-bombed.” It feels so good in the moment—having someone really listen intently to what would make you happy; what your fears, concerns, passions and dreams are. You know, in that “falling in love” kind of stage. In these moments, deep, meaningful conversations about past relationships and childhood experiences can make you feel you’re growing closer to the other person. Even believing you’ve found your soulmate!

Disguised as mutual understanding and deepening affection, initially, everything seems perfect. This person seems interested, attentive, and kind. They remember little details about you, treat you well, and make you feel valued.

However, once the relationship seems secure, things shift. The love-bombing ceases, sometimes abruptly. Many clients have shared with me that the transformation occurred right after the wedding. Whether quickly or gradually, the affectionate and attentive partner becomes indifferent, intolerant, and even demeaning.

Here, hope transforms into a longing for that missing love, and the belief that, if the Hijackal could just see the depth of your love and your commitment, they might feel secure and return to being the caring, engaged partner they once seemed to be. Unfortunately, the inherent nature of a Hijackal doesn’t allow them to embrace equality in a relationship: it’s simply not in their programming. Therefore, they go on to destroy it.

Being “hooked on hope” is a struggle to let go of the illusion that the love-bombing was the real deal. It could be fueled by an addiction to love, a longing for it, or even a subconscious attraction to drama. Maybe there’s a part of you that likes the story you can tell about it, but maybe it’s far, far different than that. Maybe you don’t realise you’re being emotionally abused. Maybe you don’t realise that this is unhealthy. Or maybe you can’t quite put your finger on what’s wrong, so you hope nothing is wrong. There are many reasons—many good reasons—why you might get hooked on hope and stay there far too long.

Recognizing the difference between a healthy relationship and one that’s emotionally abusive or dismissive can be challenging, especially if such patterns seem familiar; perhaps mirrored from a Hijackal parent. You might find yourself trapped, wishing for a change that, sadly, is unlikely to come. Hijackals lack the wiring, the bandwidth, the interest, or the willingness to change.

In your pursuit of equality, reciprocity, and mutuality (my Three Must-Haves of a Healthy Adult Relationship), you might overlook one truth: Hijackals lack the capability for mutual growth and genuine cooperative connection. Your excessive patience in waiting for these things often stems from a deep desire for approval and validation from others, particularly from a parent or that special someone.  It’s critical to understand that Hijackals operate differently, often withholding love and validation to exert control.

A Hijackal’s intermittent displays of affection, especially when you’re emotionally depleted or downright exhausted, lead you to compromise your needs and desires in favor of meeting theirs. That’s a clear sign of codependency. They offer a tiny crumb, a moment of love-bombing that looks like hope fulfilled, and you’re right back at their feet. It’s critical to realize that the love and change you yearn for isn’t just unmet; it’s fundamentally absent in the Hijackal dynamic.

How do you fix it, though? 

This is where a switch of focus comes in. Instead of being hooked on hope that the Hijackal will change, it’s vital to hope and believe in your ability to change, to realize you deserve a healthy, respectful relationship. Aspire to rejuvenate your probably emotionally-drained self and declare the status quo unacceptable, not just for yourself but for your children. It requires courage, strength, insight, and the realization that being in an addictive cycle of hope is unhealthy.

Transition your hope from a futile wish that the Hijackal will change to a focused determination to evolve, learn, strengthen self-esteem, self-concept, and self-confidence. Strive to establish equality, reciprocity, and mutuality—those pillars of a healthy adult relationship. 

Many, including myself, who have had Hijackal parents, lack early models of healthy love, making it easy to fall into relationships with other Hijackals. However, recognizing this pattern allows us to say ‘no’ to such behaviors and protect our emotional well-being.

Love and trust are gifts Hijackals don’t possess, hence can’t give. This lack is fundamental; you might long for it, but it is unattainable. No amount of giving or compassion can change the Hijackal’s basic premise—to get as much as possible by giving as little. It’s a sobering realization, marking the difference between remaining in a painful stalemate and moving forward towards healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

Interestingly, being hooked on hope is a form of ‘future faking’ yourself. You may nurture a belief that things will eventually change, creating a deceptive narrative, perhaps thinking if you modify your behavior—if you become more accommodating, more patient, or ask for less—then maybe they’ll change. However, the only change occurring is you morphing into a ‘pretzel’ or a ‘doormat,’ with them continuing to exert control and show you ever-less respect and acknowledgment, leaving you drained and depleted.

Admitting that this person you chose is emotionally abusive may cause you to feel that your judgment was flawed, leading to years of enduring just to avoid conceding to a mistake. It’s painful to recognize but could be costing precious years of your life. 

If this resonates with you and you find yourself hooked on hope, it might be time to consider making significant changes.

Another factor keeping you tethered to a Hijackal is the internalized belief that ending a relationship or marriage equates to failure. Remember, you didn’t marry the Hijackal, but the persona they presented. When the real them emerges, it’s not the same person you vowed to, moved in with, or started a family with. This disparity doesn’t spell failure but instead a lesson learned.

While I provide examples rooted in romantic relationships, being “hooked on hope” applies to any relationship, be it with parents, siblings, adult children, or their spouses. Hoping a Hijackal will change is futile. At best, they might feign change momentarily. Claims like attending church or counseling might surface, but they often exaggerate or lie to appear right or gain the upper hand.

Without self-reflection after such a relationship, there’s a high risk of falling into a similar trap. You might misinterpret the early signs of another Hijackal, mistaking their manipulative tactics for genuine affection.

Change is a constant. While Hijackals remain stagnant, you possess the capacity to change and grow. 

The key takeaway? Stop hoping for the Hijackal to change and start investing energy into your personal development. Reflect on the relationship dynamics and turn your focus inwards: Have you lost your identity while trying to appease the Hijackal? They might withhold love, but now you realize they can’t offer the kind of love you seek. Their primary interest? Using you for their benefit.

Realizing you’re caught in a hope trap with a Hijackal is the first step. The next? Prioritize your well-being. Shift your attitudes, expectations, and focus. They might not change, but you certainly can.

*Hijackal: Someone who hijacks relationships to meet their own needs and relentlessly scavenges them for power, status, and control.

Host of the Save Your Sanity podcast, Dr. Rhoberta Shaler helps clients worldwide to recognize, release, and recover from toxic relationships and emotional abuse. She is the author of Escaping the Hijackal Trap and Kaizen for Couples.

2 Responses

  1. Diane says:

    Wow that one really hit home for me. My husband changed right after the wedding. He married me because I had beautiful skin and he had just finished his medical study to be a Dermatologist. It was all an act to use me to make him look good. I got away from him after nearly 10 years and wondered what happened to my life and my goals. He took them all away and didn’t bat an eye. He died a few years ago but years after leaving him in 1980 I am finally able to see the truth of all the things he did to devalue me. I made a life for myself and my girls and never looked back. He smeared my name to all of our mutual friends so when he left none of them stayed in contact with me as HE was the Doctor and I was nothing. He degraded me every way he could. He took all the money and investments when he threatened me if I asked for anything he would take the kids. I signed off of it all and the judge had me sign an inequitable settlement paper. I didn’t do anything right to protect my financial future but I made it and he is dead. He can never do anything to hurt me again.

  2. Leslie says:

    Good for you Diane!
    You protected your children, and outlived him! Sorry to say, but thank God he’s dead!

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