The Right to Hope

Dear Family Members,

I often hear you say that “There is no hope. It will always be this way.” While I completely understand why the complex situation, a series of setbacks or years of unsuccessful treatment coupled with pessimistic mental health professionals can lead you to feel this way, this statement is patently false and, even worse, it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. So while I get why you feel this way, I fervently advise you to shake it off!

The one thing that is undeniably true about life is change. As time passes, both your loved one and yourself will grow and change, quite possibly, for the better. I have personally witnessed numerous cases where a seemingly impossible situation took a turn for the better. Both the passage of time and lived experience affect the progress of the disorder. And a positive, supportive attitude especially among family members, and, ultimately, among those with BPD, has a tremendous impact on remission and recovery.

As Peter Berger, a seminal twentieth-century sociologist wrote, “It is through hope that people overcome the difficulties of any given here and now. And it is through hope that people find meaning in the face of extreme suffering.” (Peter Berger cited in Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense: A Vision for Jews and Judaism in the Global Culture [London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011], 231–252.). So whether you feel hopeful or not, it would be wise to embody and radiate a sober mixture of hope and realism because that will help you and your loved one overcome your difficulties!

Of course, this is very hard to do, but perhaps it will motivate you to remember that the more you know and learn about the disorder and practice effective interactions, the more your relationship with your loved one will improve over time and the greater the chance that your loved one will successfully implement new attitudes and skills.

Over the last twenty-thirty years, there have been two major developments that inspire great hope. Thirty years ago there was no evidence-based treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder, now there are several approaches (DBT, Metallization, Schematherapy, Good Psychiatric Management, and Transference-Focused Psychotherapy). Thirty years ago neither BPD nor its connection to complex post-trauma was well understood. Massive advances have been made in these regards so that even non-specialists have a better chance of addressing BPD, or at least referring those with BPD to the appropriate clinicians.

On a personal level, living alongside the disorder, you may feel that the future looks bleak, but, I urge you to remember that the situation is far from hopeless. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, ob”m, distinguished between hope and optimism: “Optimism is the [cock-eyed] belief that things will get better. Hope is the faith that, together, we can make things better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it takes a great deal of courage to have hope.” (Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, Chapter 11, p. 177)

In this column, I will argue that hope—the faith that we can make things better—is both a reasonable and necessary position to adopt for BPD family members. We should not, nor need we, wallow in despair. There are more reasons to be hopeful than you may be aware of, and it is more important to feel and act hopefully than you may realize both for yourself and for your loved one!

On this note, please start on your journey of hope, by reading the following article on the Israeli National Educational Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder’s website.

With Hope, Skills, Empathy, and Support,

Meshulam Gotlieb, Co-Founder and Executive Director NEABPD, Israel

P.S. You are also invited to peruse the articles and videos on our website, sign up for our free newsletter and live Zoom lectures, a free peer-to-peer counseling session, and/or our flagship Family Connections program. We look forward to meeting you and sharing hope, skills, empathy, and support!