“When people heal from developmental trauma, they stop the progression down the generations, and are able to validate and be present with their children”
She Shouldn’t Have the Power [Words Unspoken / Issue 803]
I work as a senior midwife in a busy Yerushalayim delivery room, so the Words Unspoken letter about doulas hit close to home. The letter was written by a woman who felt that her doula had taught her that the kind of birth she had was fully in her control, and she was unprepared and devastated when things didn’t work out that way.
Let me preface by saying that I absolutely love my job, and most doulas I have worked with have been fantastic. The line I found most troubling in the letter was, “Please, you have so much power!”
Therein lies the core of the problem. No pregnant woman should be giving any one individual so much power, be it the doula, the doctor, the midwife, the mother, or a friend. I have had countless laboring women in the midst of contemplating taking an epidural ask me if I took one, or if they should take one. I always answer that my labors have nothing to do with their labors, and then I explain the pros and cons of the epidural, and leave the decision in their hands.
A woman has (usually) nine months to prepare for her birth. She should use that time to do research regarding her birth options, including where to give birth, with whom, pain relief methods, and what policies exist in different birth settings, among other things.
All that being said, like the author of the letter wrote, you cannot plan for every contingency in a birth. That’s just the nature of birth. In order to reduce the feelings of vulnerability, I feel that the best way to approach birth is with enough education from varied sources to make informed decisions, but with an open mind that birth by no means always goes as we planned, and Hashem will guide the process as He sees fit. That way birth can, b’ezrat Hashem, be a wonderful and empowering experience.
Aliza Altmark, CNM
When Challenge Becomes Trauma [Inbox / Issue 803]
I’m responding to the letter writer who wrote that the word “trauma” is overused. As someone who is still trying to recover from my childhood trauma of being bullied, I would like to say what I’ve realized: It is not the past trauma that is causing the pain, but rather the dysfunctional way a person has learned to cope with challenges by suppressing emotions that bring on repeated cycles of pain and dysfunction (as Mrs. Radcliffe puts it — “frozen”).
The only way out is through. A person must feel the pain through a challenge and can come out on the other end whole. A child who went through a significant challenge without supportive adults in her life will become traumatized because she will learn ways to suppress feelings.
In my case, I realized that the way I coped with the bullying was by disconnecting from reality and living in my own dream world. As an adult, I found living in reality equally challenging. I could not deal with the emotional pain required to accomplish anything in life, so I would instead ruminate and dream about what it was I wanted to accomplish. If someone emotionally hurt me, I did the same thing. Instead of feeling the pain and moving on from there, I would ruminate for weeks on end about whether it was right for me to feel hurt, not because it kept my feelings locked inside and kept me in my head.
So, yes, challenges are a part of life. But challenge becomes a trauma when we don’t have parents or supportive people who help us learn how to deal with challenges in a functional way.
True Healing Is Possible [Inbox / Issue 803]
Once again, Sarah Chana Radcliffe has written such an important, clarifying article. I so appreciate the way she explains what developmental trauma is, and most of all, the possibilities for its healing.
A hallmark of developmental trauma is constant invalidation. Just a page before this article, Sara Eisenman writes about the unconditional acceptance model. People who had early models of acceptance are more likely to accept themselves. People raised on criticism (even with their parents’ best intentions) — not so much.
The amazing thing about healing for developmental trauma is that we can actually gain the capacity to accept ourselves unconditionally (and then grow) by working with someone who accepts us as we are.
When people heal from developmental trauma, they stop the progression down the generations, and are able to validate and be present with their children. It’s amazing to witness this healing process.
Research has shown that the main indicator of the success of psychotherapy is the therapist-client rapport. Meaning, what type of therapy is used is less important than the connection between the therapist and client. Viewed through the lens of developmental trauma, it makes so much sense. Therapy can be a reparative attachment experience. As Sarah Chana writes, newer therapy models focus on the connection. True, deep healing really is possible.
One last point: Looked at from this perspective, it’s obvious that therapy should be a gentle, positive experience. It’s important for potential clients to know this. If therapy isn’t going well, people with developmental trauma are more likely to assume the problem lies within themselves, and will try to push through an unhelpful therapy relationship, at risk of causing further damage to themselves. If your therapist becomes defensive or isn’t willing to hear you out when you have a concern, please know that it is not your problem and you deserve better.
With much wishes for healing for us all!
Tzipora Schiffer, LMSW
Miracles in Kosice [Lifetakes / Issue 803]
As Shabbos was drawing to a close, so too was my careful reading of your magazine. I was very moved by the final piece, “The Blanket,” by Elana Moscowitz.
The last sentence “I see miracles” truly resonated with me. I was in Kosice for Shavuos this year with my children, Rabbi Zev and Bina Stiefel, Chabad shluchim in Slovakia, and their family. We celebrated my granddaughter Shaina’s bas mitzvah with Kosice’s wonderful community members, and the real miracle I saw was the warmth and enthusiasm the community feels toward continuing and, indeed, strengthening Jewish life in this beautiful city.
Despite the darkness of the past and the decimation of this once vibrant community, Jewish life has taken on more meaning in Kosice in the last few years. There is a strong Israeli presence, including many Israeli students who study medicine, dentistry, and veterinary medicine at the university.
My daughter prepared a magnificent kiddush after davening in Shaina’s honor in the old and unused shul, while the little beis medrash was filled with community members who came to hear the Aseres Hadibros and daven. Although most were unfamiliar with the tefillos, their excitement at having a minyan, a chazzan (my son-in-law), a drashah in Hebrew and Slovak, and seeing the sefer Torah raised high brought tears to eyes of older people and wonder to the younger people.
I am taking the liberty of sharing a photo I took of the formerly magnificent shul before Shabbos. I hope that they inspire readers whose family hail from Kosice (and others!) to visit and support the community. Rabbi Zev and Bina are always delighted to hear from those with connections to Slovakia and are working hard to create a vibrant, permanent home for Kosice’s Jews.
May we be zocheh to see the ultimate miracle before Tishah B’Av.
Ramat Beit Shemesh
Move Beyond the Diet [Kitchen Encounters / Issue 802]
I just wanted to share my feelings on the article by Barbara Bensoussan on the nutritarian diet. I understand completely that there are situations, such as the one mentioned, where a highly restrictive diet is crucial for health and not optional.
But as someone who baruch Hashem has a large family and is trying perpetually to lose the same ten to 15 pounds after each child, usually unsuccessfully, I found the article frustrating. I realized that as I was reading the description of the diet, my first thought was, Hmm, is this a diet I can manage?
Why? I am not in a health situation that requires me to be on a highly restricted diet. It feels like eating healthy is pushed from every side, so much so that when someone wants to just eat basic foods Hashem created for us to eat (dairy, wheat, etc.) they need to feel guilty. I don’t believe Hashem created major categories of food that we should avoid.
Again, for specific health situations — such restrictive diets must be necessary. But for the average frum mother trying to slim down, let’s cut ourselves some slack. Let’s be compassionate with ourselves. Let’s focus on our beautiful families and all we have accomplished, besides for how much weight we’ve lost, and try to be more at peace with the body Hashem gave us.
A Brave Move for Health [Kitchen Encounters / Issue 802]
Kudos to Barbara Bensoussan, who is willing to swim against the current to prevent her husband from developing full-blown diabetes. In doing so, she is protecting him from the well-known effects of this condition, which can include nerve damage, cardiovascular disease, stroke, amputation, blindness, kidney disease, and premature death. Not only that, but since so many modern-day chronic illnesses stem from our poor food and lifestyle choices, she may also be helping him avoid developing cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, gout, and sleep apnea, among other things.
It may take some time to adjust to Dr. Fuhrman’s “nutritarian” diet, but the improvement in the Bensoussans’ health will be well worth the effort!
From the “Good Kid” [All the Same / Issue 801]
As soon as I started reading the story “All the Same,” I felt a strong feeling of déjà vu. This is exactly the situation I am in now. I too have a twin sister, and we just came back from seminary. I’ve been running around for interviews, sending emails, and talking on the phone to who-knows-who, while my twin hasn’t gone for even one interview. And guess who’s still looking for a job, and who already has a (well-paying) job lined up for next year? You guessed it! I belong to the former category, while my twin belongs to the latter.
I just have one question: why is it that the disorganized, laissez-faire, carefree twin has everything fall into place, while nothing magically works out for the hardworking, organized one? I’ve seen this pattern throughout my whole life, and it just doesn’t seem fair. Not only does everything work out for her, but my twin is also a charmer — so she does zero work and gets all the accolades and attention. Meanwhile, I work hard for everything, but even if I am successful at something (even a prestigious something), it still goes unnoticed. After all, I’m not “struggling,” I’m a “good kid.”
Parents, don’t give all the attention to your easygoing, charming children. Also notice the ones who work hard — maybe you should even be giving them more attention than your other children, because they are actually doing what they’re supposed to be doing, unlike your other “chilled” kids.
Anonymous (y’know, shidduchim)
Seminaries Need to Prepare [Inbox / Issue 801]
To Suffered in Sem,
We have never felt more validated than we did after reading your letter about how you experienced limerence during your seminary year.
You are not alone in your emotionally tumultuous experience of seminary. The number of girls who suffer through seminary is much higher than teachers, principals, and even our peers think.
Seminary is a fantastic opportunity for growth, but also a tremendous opportunity for unhealthiness to fester. Any and every mental health issue will surface, and unhealthy or “intense” relationships abound in seminary, usually leaving scars on all members of the relationship, as well as roommates and other friends. Often, these scars become evident when we land back home and are expected to work, attend school, and get married. Often, these scars become evident at the same time as we become hyper-aware of our reputation in shidduchim.
More than that, our experiences are often invalidated by our friends, neighbors, aunts, and even dates, so we’re encouraged to smile and talk about how much we loooooved seminary. Once, one of us began telling a friend about our real seminary experience, not the Katzefet-Kosel-Coffix-Chesed-Chavayah version, and she said, “I guess that was $25K wasted!” Most of us who suffered through seminary were very much aware that our parents were paying over 20 Raymour and Flanigan couches for us to be there. It’s a heavy load of guilt on top of everything else, always there in our MASA backpacks and tucked into the pictures on our walls when we couldn’t fall asleep at night or get up in the morning. If you loved your experience, we’re so happy for you. But don’t judge those of us who didn’t.
As a group of formerly “unhealthy” friends who were fortunate to stabilize but not lose touch with each other, we have a lot to say. We don’t want to say that seminary is unnecessary or problematic or shouldn’t be encouraged. The opposite is true — each of us gained and grew immeasurably from seminary. However, seminaries need to be equipped for the mental health and relationship challenges that many girls face there. And this needs to be done with sensitivity, tact, and compassion. The staff of our seminary was very aware of our “problematic” group, but we were constantly left feeling judged, scrutinized, and isolated, which only exacerbated our struggles.
Every seminary should have a confidential person to speak to, because shame and guilt often prevent us from reaching out to our parents for help. It’s true that some seminaries have a therapy fund, but even approaching the principals about your struggles is embarrassing. More than anything, girls who are struggling want to be seen as being just like everyone else.
Another huge part of struggling in seminary is the feeling of isolation. It can feel like everyone else is super excited about a tiyul or so inspired from the classes and you’re just... not, which feels lonely. It would be nice if more people understood that not everyone loves seminary, and that’s okay.
Finally, every girl needs to come to seminary prepared. The same way packing lists and seminary spreadsheets circulate and high school teachers talk about maximizing the spiritual opportunity, mental/emotional preparedness should be emphasized as well.
Let’s hope for more awareness around mental health in seminaries so that every girl can maximize her time and grow through the incredible opportunity that seminary is.
Suffered in Sem, Too
Underground Poets [Behind the Book / Issue 800]
I felt a whole bunch of things while reading Judy Landman’s description of her new book of poetry, Seasons of the Rain. I felt happy and proud and connected because I, too, am a poet and have shared her experience by having my poems reveal hidden parts of myself and bring about tremendous healing and personal growth. I also felt sad that her experience in wanting to get the book published confirmed what I have felt for a long time — that “there is no market for poetry in our community.”
But maybe that’s not true. Maybe there is a market — among many other like myself, but we’re all just a bunch of individuals who haven’t yet joined together to create a visible “marketplace.” Call us the underground poets.
Historically, totalitarian societies have sought to kill and imprison rebels, democracy activists, and poets. Because the impact of poetry is that real — it wields the power to upend an entire dictatorship, to galvanize the masses to see, think, feel, and act differently. Let’s find out what the power of poetry can do for our community. Let’s create the market.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 804)
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