Family First Inbox: Issue 806| August 16, 2022
“I was astounded to read your article on religious abuse. Not because the phenomenon was new to me, but at your bravery in printing this piece”
Let’s Redt Fewer Shidduchim [Mix and Match / Issue 805]
After reading your polls about shidduchim, it seems that everyone thinks we should be redting as many shidduchim as possible. At first glance that sounds great — I love when I hear someone has thought of me and redt me to someone! But many times, the answer I get is that the boy has so many résumés and is looking into five other girls. I get stuck at the bottom of the pile and never hear back.
What if we stopped sending so many résumés? What if we stopped redting endless numbers of shidduchim just because we want to feel like we’re doing something?
I know that sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out. Instead of sending shidduch résumés for all eight girls you know to one boy and never hearing back, try to actually think which girl makes the most sense and send only that one. We’re not G-d and we can’t know who’s best for whom, but maybe we can try to put just a little more thought into suggesting shidduchim so the idea has a chance.
So many shadchanim just send every résumé on their desk to every boy. The boys and their mothers get so overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. Let’s pause, try to think of an actually good idea, and then girls may get a chance to go on that long-awaited date.
A girl at the bottom of your pile
Subtle Shaming [Shattered / Issue 804]
As a victim of religious abuse, I want to thank you for your recent article. When I picked up the Family First and saw the cover page, I was so moved to see that you were willing to be a voice for all of us and bring crucial awareness of this topic.
The abuse that I went through was always so subtle that I didn’t recognize it for what it was, until I started to feel the effects. While the examples and stories in your article were more severe, I also think that there’s value to hearing and knowing that abuse can be very subtle and hard to detect — but can still be just as damaging.
I was never forced or coerced; instead, I was controlled by the ridicule that I got for doing anything that didn’t fit into my parents’ view of right and wrong. They had an extreme view of Yiddishkeit and kept and (expected us to keep) every chumra as if it were halachah. Our home was filled with suffocating guilt and shame.
There were also the sarcasm and insults directed at anyone who didn’t live up to my parents’ standards. Add to that the conditional love I grew up with, and you have a girl who truly “wants” to do what’s right. I really believed that I was making those choices and for the right reasons.
Now, the trauma has caught up with me. On the outside I look like any other frum kollel wife. Inside my heart and home, I’m fighting what feels like a losing battle. I’m constantly at war with myself. There’s the PTSD and panic attacks that make keeping almost any aspect of Yiddishkeit excruciating. There’s the guilt that was so deeply ingrained in me that haunts me as I try to heal. There is also a part of me that on some level wants to be frum. And there’s the fear of someone finding out about what’s going on under the surface and bringing shame, embarrassment, or worse to my family.
I was lucky enough to find a rav who truly understands abuse, trauma, mental health, and how it all affects a person. He is a father figure who hears me and whom I can look up to. He devotes hours to listening to my pain and helping me navigate the battlefield within my mind.
The hope that I have of finding a path within authentic Judaism that could work for me is entirely thanks to the amazingly dedicated, caring, loving and understanding team supporting me — my husband, rav, therapist, and mentor — who have welcomed me with all my challenges and confusion.
By writing this letter, my hope is that someone out there will become aware of subtle abuse going on for them, someone around them, or even unintentionally by them. That all victims find caring and accepting individuals to guide them along their healing journey, including an understanding rav and a competent therapist. And that anyone who is subconsciously or inadvertently using any form of shame to ensure that someone keeps halachah will recognize that it’s just a means of control and find a way to learn and implement a more effective method that isn’t damaging.
I salute you for opening the conversation that will surely lead to more awareness and thereby more healing.
Beyond the Home [Shattered / Issue 804]
I was astounded to read your article on religious abuse. Not because the phenomenon was new to me, but at your bravery in printing this piece.
The article was enlightening. I have always been deeply disturbed by people asserting control over adults using frumkeit as their tool, but had no idea that this sort of behavior had a name. Over the years, I have watched this happening countless times, in private homes and in public settings: the friend who resigned from her fulfilling job immediately after her sheva brachos as per her new husband’s instructions (her coworkers were all frum but diverse); the cousin who insisted that her husband stay in kollel for ten years (he ended up hiding in his car for much of that time, watching movies); the student who was the only one in her class excluded from shabbaton (her father didn’t approve of girls going on overnight trips); the groups who disseminate vile propaganda each time their community hosts an event that doesn’t fit their narrative… I could go on and on.
Having said that, I feel you have barely touched the surface of what is a prevailing issue, that goes far beyond spiritual abuse at home. I was in tears when I read the following in the article: “He’s convinced you that it’s all your fault, you’re not a good mechaneches, you don’t know how to raise the children, you’re too permissive, you’re not a good disciplinarian. He’s manipulated you in ten different ways, and he’s done it all in the name of Hashem.”
I pray that your article may be the beginning of a new wave of awareness, in which this (and every other form of control and abuse) will be recognized for the evil that it is.
Turn Inward [Inbox / Issue 804]
I read the letter from the anonymous good kid and I felt her pain.
I, too, am a mother to twin daughters and it’s certainly not easy to watch as a parent how one child seemingly comes in last despite efforts. I can only tell you that in business, there are trends and there are steadies. Those who stick to their lane and don’t focus on the competition and just keep putting out consistently quality products do well in the long run. My advice to you: Turn inward. Focus on what you can do to build the best you and do it well.
A Mother Who’s Been There
The Damage of Dysfunction [To Be Honest / Issue 803]
I found Lisa Twerski’s article about what constitutes abuse to be both informative and very interesting to read, but I wanted to make a point about highly dysfunctional relationships.
Trying to assert oneself may not always work in a highly dysfunctional marriage if the dysfunctional spouse has no concept of boundaries. The dysfunctional spouse may not back down in response to the assertiveness; they may either ignore the assertiveness and boundaries, or will push the limits and test the boundaries and eventually trample them. The functional spouse will still continue to be mistreated, used, verbally insulted or bullied.
These behaviors may escalate when boundaries are put in place, or may lessen as a way of manipulation for the boundary to be removed and then escalate again once the boundary has been removed.
I know the article, which explained the differences among healthy, dysfunctional, and abusive marriages, was published as a basic guide for the public, but it’s not always so black-and-white easy to discern the core dynamics of a relationship. There can definitely be actual abuse in a highly dysfunctional marriage — it’s not always just a case of the functional spouse “feeling abused.”
True, the motives behind these behaviors are not malicious or driven by a need to control or instill fear (as Lisa Twerski defined an abusive marriage); however, they are still abusive behaviors and the functional spouse is still being ill-treated and traumatized. I believe this is a kind of abuse, even if the spouse is not in danger of being actually harmed.
Lisa Twerski responds:
Agreed! And thank you for the opportunity to clarify two important points. One is what you referred to: the fact that there is a wide range and large variation in what it might mean to be living in a high conflict, dysfunctional marriage. Where many will find that asserting themselves is something they can do, others will find themselves with a spouse who can’t or won’t respect their boundaries. In fact, the reason that the high-conflict, dysfunctional marriage gets confused with domestic violence is because there is mistreatment and abusive behavior. Mistreatment and abusive behavior are not confined to cases of domestic abuse.
In fact, that’s the other point I’d like to clarify. Countless times, people (family members, askanim, etc.) have reached out wanting me to give a clear assessment of whether a situation is one of domestic violence or one of dysfunction. Over and over, the reason given for wanting to know if it’s a case of domestic violence is because, “If it’s domestic abuse, then they should divorce, but if it isn’t, then maybe they shouldn’t.”
Although I never see it as my place to recommend whether someone should divorce or not, there’s something else that always makes me uncomfortable with this request and how it’s presented. That is the fact that people can suffer terribly in marriages that would not be called cases of domestic abuse. There can be abusive, demeaning, insufferable treatment in those marriages as well.
Considering a situation one of domestic abuse connotes that particular dynamic that was described in my article. However, the absence of the level of danger, or the core dynamic that defines when something is a case of domestic abuse, does not take away from how bad a dysfunctional marriage can feel to someone. They can be excruciating too. The delineation of these definitions and core dynamics so that someone can be assisted in getting the most appropriate help shouldn’t be used against someone when their spouse won’t get help, when the help isn’t helping, or when the person feels too hurt to keep trying. Additionally, these descriptions shouldn’t be seen as absolute truths that don’t have variation and nuance from case to case. They do, as this reader has pointed out.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 806)
Oops! We could not locate your form.