Family First Inbox: Issue 803| July 26, 2022
“How we see ourselves as Jewish women in a world with a tortured and unhappy definition of a woman is something we must hold sacrosanct”
Address the Cause, Not the Symptoms [Inbox / Issue 802]
It’s incredible how instinctively shameful suffering from limerence can be; from a very young age, we all know that this is something to be shoved under a plush rug. Since Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s masterful article several weeks ago, I have seen dozens of posts in various frum women’s groups, where those who experienced this asked the very same question as last week’s letter writer: “Did I write this?”
As someone who has suffered bouts of limerence for decades, it is essential to understand why adolescents and adults — and which particular individuals — are at risk for this unhealthy coping mechanism.
Emotional strength or weakness is irrelevant. Hashem created human beings in a way that they require physical and emotional nurturing during their primary years. But there are those whose primary caregiver was unable to raise them in a way that they felt safe, genuinely seen, soothed, and secure. (To understand this further, I’d recommend reading Dr. Dan Siegal’s research on the Four S’s of attachment, or listening to one of Rabbi Shimon Russel’s or Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson’s many shiurim on this topic.)
Due to a variety of factors, such as physical or emotional illness, or even a simple personality difference between parent and child, some children grow up with a hole in their heart. There’s a huge array of potential reactions: Some will turn to addictions to quiet the metaphysical bleeding; others will numb all of their feelings in order to banish the searing pain and develop a logical approach to life devoid of any emotion; still others will subconsciously seek out a replacement parent figure to fill the gap in their soul and become obsessed with that person.
My first incident of limerence occurred when I was a ten-year-old in camp and suddenly “knew” that if the counselor of the bunk next door would befriend me, all would be right in the universe.
A letter writer suggested we eliminate seminary and dorming due to the risk of limerence, but I experienced this dozens of times in school, shul, camp, summer jobs, as well as in seminary. Do we seek to eliminate all of those institutions because the potential for unhealthy relationships exists in those places?
Seminary in Israel was actually when I was free of my parents, who looked fine to the outside world, yet regularly shamed me behind closed doors. I was finally able to go to therapy and learn about healthy coping mechanisms.
Seeking to abolish seminary due to the potential breeding ground for obsessive relationships is as logical as seeking to eliminate camp or shul for the very same reasons. Addressing symptoms, rather than root causes, is never an effective way to heal. The problem is clearly a result of hurting children who are raised by caregivers who are not emotionally attuned to their offspring. The clear solution is to include the education of emotional health in the chinuch of our children, to prevent the next generation from the suffering that many of us experienced.
I always wonder why askanim and rabbis do not realize the vast potential of curing so much of what ails Klal Yisrael by addressing this issue. Most of the tzedakah organizations are raising money for those who are physically and/or emotionally incapacitated in some way. When children are raised with the confidence to go out into the world and support their families, rather than being victims of challenging childhoods that fill their psyche with shame and hinder them from building the resources and ambition within themselves to figure out parnassah, they will not grow up to be adults who need tzedakah assistance to make ends meet.
I believe it’s reasonable to anticipate that we will lower the number of individuals who need healing when children are taught to regulate their emotions instead of numbing them throughout a lonely childhood and having them erupt as various illnesses as adults — as is the inevitable result of repressed emotions.
May we all be zocheh to yeshuos!
Been There, Bought That [Inbox / Issue 801]
I’d like to politely disagree with R.G.’s letter, “Is This Chinuch?” which questioned Chanie Nayman’s letter about how, knowing that she gets frustrated when her kids’ socks get black as they run in and out of the house, she decided to spend money on buying more socks so as to avoid that feeling of frustration.
R.G. asked, “Do we throw money at our kids to buy ourselves some peace, or invest effort to train them into responsible, mature habits?” She concluded that “chinuch sometimes needs more thought and direction than the short-term band-aid solution of ‘just buy more.’”
I don’t believe that Chanie’s point had anything to do with indulging our childrens’ every whim just because “we can.” In fact, I don’t believe her point had anything to do with our children at all. It was about us. Me, you, mothers in general. We all try so hard to do our best. To be good mothers. And so many times, our own desires, however trivial they may be (think: wanting the kids’ socks to look clean while no one else in the family cares!) are completely disregarded in the face of filling everyone else’s needs and running a household.
Nowadays, you can hardly have a conversation without hearing the term “self-care” being thrown about. But putting aside manicures and lattes on the daily, real self-care is about being in tune with our own desires, those desires that typically get squashed down by laundry and meals and carpool and more laundry and shopping and laundry.
Here’s a personal example: I love coffee. I spend a little extra on the type of coffee I buy so that when I sit down with my kids in the morning, we can all enjoy breakfast together.
Some people might think the amount I spend on coffee is obscene. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, I don’t know. What I do know is that it enables me to create warm, pleasant experiences with the people I love.
For me it’s coffee. For Chanie, it’s socks. For each person it will be something different.
What if, by splurging a little in certain areas, we could allow our kids to have happy, carefree, life experiences — while ensuring that our own needs are met, so that we can enjoy the experience with them?
Lifelong Task [Freeze Effect / Issue 801]
Sarah Chana Radcliffe’s article on trauma was excellent. As a trauma therapist and trauma survivor myself, I am glad that you did not provide any “magical cures” or “happily ever after” scenarios.
Healing requires building a positive self-image and learning self-empowerment skills. This is a lifelong task, especially since a traumatized brain has been programmed not to trust oneself or others and because survivors often marry people who repeat the same behaviors that wounded them in childhood.
Trauma — or Part of Life? [Freeze Effect / Issue 801]
I appreciate Mrs. Radcliffe’s articles and wisdom. But I wanted to comment on the article about how past trauma can hamper your present life.
Today, more than ever, we blame every difficulty on a past or hidden trauma. But we forget that we live in a world that is not perfect, a world that includes stressed parents, financial difficulties, low self-confidence, even disasters.
The psychology movement has convinced an entire generation to blame its issues on childhood wounds, that we have all been traumatized. But we forget that difficulty is a part of life. If anything, previous generations had so many more traumas — people who died without medication, people who starved due to lack of food. Yet for some reason, they were much stronger than us and much healthier. This is how the world has always been — and, wonder of wonders, Hashem has brought us medicine to “heal,” as each and every one of us has the power to succeed in spite of everything!
There are even approaches today that say that if the mother experienced fear in pregnancy, it will affect the fetus. But fear is part of life! Yet since we are so sure that everything affects our kids, we raise our children with nail biting and a feeling of despair. What a pity. Parents remain weak, full of self-recrimination, which children pick up on and use as an excuse to shed responsibility.
Avraham Avinu had ten nisyonos. Not ten traumas. The word “trauma” is overused, and it’s a pity to pass off the opportunities for growth by labeling them as just another trauma. I would love to read more about the difference between “real” traumas, where professional help is a lifesaver and a must, to the typical stumbles and hardships of life, which are part of His master plan for each and every one of us.
Sarah Chana Radcliffe responds:
I actually agree with you, Tehilla, about the prevalence and necessity of human suffering. And you may be right that the word “trauma” has been overused of late. As the article explained, the original use of the word referred to events that provoked a serious mind-body response to life-and-death situations. It has since come to refer to almost any emotionally painful experience.
Nonetheless, I don’t feel the word is problematic, as long as we understand that trauma is inherent within the life experience, and no one is exempt from undergoing experiences that are deeply disturbing, painful, challenging, or difficult — call them what you will.
Fortunately, in our day and age, we do have help for the suffering caused by these sorts of experiences. And there’s no reason not to access it — the help itself is a gift from Hashem. Just as newly invented medicines should be utilized even though previously people lived without them, therapies that reduce suffering should be employed when possible.
Plenty of Holocaust survivors went on to live hugely successful lives; we Jews, who’ve been abused since the beginning of time, never let trauma get in our way. And yet there is no need to suffer from unremitting nightmares and anxieties if we have a cure for them. Functionality is not the only indicator of wellbeing. Emotional and physical health also need to be taken into consideration and helped along when possible.
Hard and hurtful experiences in no way entitle people to blame anything on their life circumstances. You and I know that it’s Hashem that decrees the journey and that it is a challenge to be negotiated, not an excuse to relieve one of responsibility.
Our True Identity [Editor’s Letter / Issue 800]
I am writing in response to two recent editor’s letters.
Several weeks ago, the editor’s letter questioned a new wife who relishes eating in a restaurant her new husband holds as kosher when her father did not hold by that hashgachah. The point highlighted was that we should feel a sense of pride at our observance of stringencies, not a sense of relief at being released from them.
But a new wife viewing her new husband’s kashrus standards as some sort of kulah is a dangerous precedent to set. A woman leaves her father’s house and his mehalech, and follows her husband. In a healthy marriage, she doesn’t view his standards as “less than,” nor should she try to explain why her father’s more rigorous standards are more appropriate. It is a nuance kashrus-wise, but a lack of kavod habrios toward her husband. Her identity as her husband’s wife should be a fundamental way of seeing herself.
Another letter asked what was wrong with a woman who finds “sipuk” in her employment. It’s analogous to the concept “chesed begins at home.” Chesed is beautiful but when chesed becomes a woman’s identity, overriding her identity as Jewish wife and mother, the chesed has gone too far. “Sipuk” from employment is wonderful, but when employment forms the basis for a woman’s identity, competing with her identity as Jewish wife and mother, things become less than ideal.
How we see ourselves as Jewish women in a world with a tortured and unhappy definition of a woman is something we must hold sacrosanct. We can’t assume our way of life is strong and test its strength by failing to meaningfully nurture our true identities.
Support for Chronic Illnesses [Medical Mystery / Issue 799]
Thank you for the fascinating article on EDS and POTS in the Medical Mystery this week. Dealing with chronic illness can be really challenging and isolating, and I would like to inform your readers that they don’t have to go through this alone. There’s an amazing support group for frum teens and young women called MyTEAM. They service girls from around the world who struggle with all kinds of chronic illnesses, including EDS and POTS, and many more common and lesser-known conditions.
MyTEAM is a safe haven for all those who are lucky enough to be part of it. Everything they do is a great blend of positivity, fun, and most of all, validation. You join MyTeam feeling alone, scared, and “defective.” And after just a short time you’re empowered, learn to accept, make amazing new friends who are just like you, and you even laugh about your condition!
Their services include peer support, mentors, daily emails, teleconferences, monthly mailings, care packages, in-person events, shabbatons, and more.
They can be contacted by emailing email@example.com.
A lucky MyTEAM member
Perfectly Timed [No Big Deal / Issue 797]
While I was sitting and feeding my baby, I randomly pulled out an old Family First from deep in the middle of the stash near my rocking chair.
An hour before, a friend had called to ask me if we’d agree to rent out our apartment to her in-laws from Canada who would love to visit her family for Shabbos. I really didn’t feel comfortable with the idea. There would be lots of kids, and who knew what they’d do to my house. And the task of putting it all back in place after Shabbos seemed overwhelming. I named a price I thought was fair for the work involved setting up the house and leaving it in a guest-welcome state while getting myself out with my own family for Shabbos. She told me that her in-laws weren’t planning to spend that amount and she said she’d get back to me.
It was then that I sat and read Mimi Mandel’s piece, “No Big Deal,” about a woman who stretched herself out of her comfort zone to host someone who needed a place to stay for Shabbos. I heard myself thinking though the narrator. My husband also told me, “You don’t have to say yes… I already told them the answer is probably no,” and “If it’s too much for you, then don’t do it.” When Mimi expressed doubts about her decision, her husband’s line deeply resonated with me: “I always feel like, baruch Hashem, I don’t have that many uncomfortable things going on in my life, so if something like this comes up, it’s not the biggest deal.”
Mimi agreed to host the guest, who shared the terror and pain he witnessed when he was growing up. The contrast of his life to her own helped her realize how blessed she’s been, and that having less privacy for one Shabbos is really not that big of a deal.
As soon as I finished reading, inspired to stretch myself, my friend called to tell me that her in-laws wouldn’t be taking the house, as it was too expensive for them. I immediately dropped the price to the amount they were ready to pay.
When my husband came home he was shocked at my generosity, having seen how uncertain I was about the whole thing. I handed him the article, and his smile told me I’d done the right thing.
Thank you, Mimi and Family First, for inspiring me to reach higher.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 803)
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