Three Ways to Develop a Hope Complex

Ron and Makayla

“I overcame the constraints other set on me by understanding my strengths and using those strengths to serve others.”

By Ron Sandison

In interviewing hundreds of young adults with autism for my fourth book on Autism, Growth & Transitioning into Adulthood, I discovered the greatest hindrance to growth and transition is a hopeless complex.

American psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman discovered the hopeless complex while researching learned helplessness in 1967 at the University of Pennsylvania. Learned helplessness is a behavior that occurs when individuals experience failure enough times that they believe they are incapable of success, causing them to stop trying.

Dr. Martin and his partner Dr. Maier were conducting electric shock experiments on dogs, a highly controversial method viewed by today’s standards. The first group of dogs received a painful shock on the right side of the lab, learning quickly to move to the left side to avoid the shock again. The second group received shocks on the left side, so they learned to move to the right. However, the third group was shocked on both sides, so they remained in their spots, intelligent enough to realize that no matter where they moved, they would feel the shock; they learned helplessness.

A hopeless complex can be the result of past bullying, chronic illness, difficulty with communication, struggles in academics, distorted perspective of all-or-nothing thinking, repeated sensory issues overloads, emotional breakdowns, and failure with relationships and employment. The fruits of the hopeless complex are: despair, lack of motivation, fear to try new things, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

For years I experienced a hopeless complex. My hopeless complex was due to years of bullying and struggles with gainful employment and relationships. I felt hopelessness in my thirties as I received wedding invitation from my friends while I was single and living at my parents’ house. I’ve learned three powerful ways to overcome hopelessness.

  1. I developed a hope complex with a healthy self-efficiency—the belief that when I set about a goal or task I had the power to accomplish it.

    This mindset motivated me to keep pushing forward even when I experienced little success. Perseverance finally paid off and now I see the fruits of my hard work—a family, career, and nationally published books.

    Small steps in the right direction, lead to a breakthrough. This requires a plan of attack and a kick in the butt to self-start both of these are extremely difficult for us on the spectrum. Every book I’ve written began by a thought, followed by an outline and scraps of paper with ideas. As I filled in the outline of the chapters with details and stories my book became a reality. It takes me about 1,200 hours to write a book. My friend Jeff Snively said, “Always make the activity your goal. Not the reward.”

    Don’t start when you feel motivated—just start—motivation will follow. Actions produce results. Writing a book, getting a job, passing a drivers tests, or moving out of your parents’ home all begin with a plan followed by actions. It may seem like an enormous task to undertake. But like eating an elephant all it takes is one bite or step at a time.

    Your plan of attack to accomplish your goal may look like this:

    Goal = Move into an Apartment

    First step, cut free from toxic relationships. People who are negative and make you feel worthless or friends who influence you to make wrong choices like drink or use drugs or skip work. You don’t want toxic people in your apartment.

    Second step, create a support team, friends and family members to motivate you and hold you accountable to reach your goals.

    Third step, each day spend an hour searching for jobs and email your resume to at least 5 companies a day until employed. You will need employment to pay for rent.

    Fourth step, once employed save money for apartment deposit.

    Fifth step, research cost of apartments in the area and create a monthly budget.

    Sixth step, purchase items you will need for your apartment.

    Eighth step, a housewarming party to celebrate your new independence.

    Notice a plan of attack requires actions. Without actions a plan remains only an idea. A plan creates an outline of steps you need to accomplish your goals. I like to say it like this, “Passion + Goals = Results.”


  3. I developed a hope complex by awareness of my strengths and how I can use them to help others.

    We on the spectrum have a tendency to let others dictate our constraints, shackling us and preventing us from thinking beyond those constraints.

    I overcame the constraints other set on me by understanding my strengths and using those strengths to serve others.

    My strengths in the workplace is humor, attention to detail, and faithful attendance—I never missed a day of work in 14 years at the hospital. When my coworkers feel discouraged I am able to make them laugh with my witty psych-stories. My coworkers also know they can count on me to be on time for work and ready to go.

    Ron in Tampa

    I enjoy my career and using my gifts to help others. My talents in the workplace earn respect and praise. This motivations me to give 100%. When we work in a hostile workplace or a job unrelated to our strengths we feel discouraged and exhausted.

    One of my friends on the spectrum described the workplace environment, “Employment itself has many challenges including doing things that you may not want to do, in a place not of your choosing, with people you may not get alone with, in a way that you may not wish to.”

    Finding a career we enjoy requires a self-awareness of our abilities, our likes and dislikes, passions, and what our goals are in life. On my career path, I found that doing something was better than doing nothing, as it gave me motivation to get up in the morning, prevented isolation and provided a sense of achievement.


  5. I developed a hope complex by putting the past behind me and marching forward with confidence. Our hopeless complex was formed over years and sometimes decades of unresolved pain, abuse and a sense of failure.

    A hopeless complex makes us feel defeated and perceive the world from a distorted perspective of failure. What if we can reverse this process and cultivate hope?

    A man placed his wet clothes in the dryer and set the dial on maximum heat. Returning forty-five minutes later, checking his clothes, he discovered the clothes were still dripping wet. He touched the dryer and it was cold. While exploring the dryer’s heating duct, he discovered a bird nest. This nest prevented the dryer from accomplishing it purpose to dry clothes. This nest was from one branch, a patch of mud, leaf, and twig at a time.

    Likewise a hopeless complex was from one branch of abuse, five patches of bullying mud, twig upon twigs of firings from jobs and many countless leaves of broken and unhealthy relationships. Removing the hopeless nest from our lives will release the power of self-confidence to accomplish our goals. We can reverse the hopeless complex by cultivating hope and putting the past behind us. Three ways to live in hope.

    First, create hope with a support team to encourage you when you feel emotionally dead. Friends and family are often good at finding the silver lining of a situation. These friends can provide you with sound advice to accomplish your goals and the small step you need to take.

    Second, forgive yourself for past mistakes and don’t allow them to haunt you. Think of each mistake as a learning process. Write in a journey the lesson you learned from them. Use journaling time to make a list of the qualities you like about yourself, including your strengths and talents. This can help boost your self-esteem when you’re feeling down about a mistake you made.

    Third, make plans for the future and blueprints to accomplish them. Plans make the future look brighter. As I mentioned earlier have a plan of attack; write down your goals on paper and the steps to accomplish them. A support team is important to keep you guided in the right direction. My plan for the future is to be the first US congressman with autism.

Abraham Maslow an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, stated, “I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental health.”

A hope complex empowered me to experience independence and accomplish my dreams. We cultivate a hope complex by understanding our strengths and a healthy self-efficacy—the belief that we are able to accomplish our goals. As we put our past behind us and march forward in hope, we will see new opportunities for employment and relationships and have the courage to take risks.

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society ofAmerica. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum was released in May 2021.

Ron frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016.

You can contact Ron at his website or email him at

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