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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 4/07/06

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Dear Rachel,

I am writing about an extremely painful subject that I’ve never seen before in your chronicles and hope this is the right place to turn to. Truthfully, I’ve never even heard of the concept until recently – but have been made aware that it does exist in our frum community.

A good friend of mine has confided in me that for the past number of years, she has self-injured herself on her arms and legs. There was a point where she did it quite often. Thankfully, now it’s much more under control. From the way she describes it, it stems from a low self-esteem combined with a pain that she feels the need to get out. It’s hard for her to pinpoint exactly what spurs it on. Usually the SI only results in scratches, but there was one incident where her leg did start to bleed.

If you would meet her on the street, you would never know that she has this problem. She tries very hard to keep it on the back burner, not to think about it and to go about her daily life in a normal and healthy way. I think she is often successful at that. But when she does feel the need to self-inflict, it’s scary – to her and to me. She has tried seeing a therapist but did not feel it got her anywhere and, in fact, just made things worse.

In addition, she is young and single and has little money to spend on therapy. Asking her parents is not an option as they aren’t even aware of the problem. In general, she feels very alone in her situation, and that very few (if any) can truly understand her enough to help her. Even I can’t fully comprehend her need to self-injure, though I know it is real.

Rachel, I implore you – my friend is wonderful person who shouldn’t go through this alone. In her words, even therapists are scared off by her condition. Have you ever encountered others in a similar situation? Is there hope and help for someone like her – someone she can speak to that can understand and help her figure out how to rid herself of this horrible situation? Is this something that is curable? I eagerly await your response.

Thank you

A Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned,

Your friend is suffering from a personality disorder. SIV (self-inflicted violence) is her way of distracting herself, preventing her from dealing with bottled-up emotional pain. Somewhere along the line, she has most likely suffered some form of abuse that she has not at all or sufficiently dealt with and cannot let go of. She has yet to learn how to cope with her challenge in a healthy way.

Although your friend could gain tremendous benefit from counseling, the wrong kind can end up doing her more harm. Obviously she has opened up to you and let you in on her lonely struggle. As her confidante, you are in a position to impress upon her that she is one of Hashem’s beautiful creations, and causing herself harm demonstrates a disregard for His handiwork, as well as a lack of respect and hakoras hatov for her Creator. Fortunately, this phenomenon is not generally life-threatening and does not call for extreme measures to be taken in order to save the person from serious harm.

To gain a more helpful perspective on the subject, you may try visiting the site www.selfinjury.org. In answer to your question – yes, it is curable. And the fact that “it’s now much more under control” is encouraging news. The important thing to remember is not to push the panic button, and to refrain from criticizing or threatening the sufferer – who feels isolated enough as it is.

Continue to give your friend an understanding ear and be there for her – in a non-judgmental way. In time, and with the right kind of help and a friend like you, she will overcome.

With the advent of Pesach, we usher in a new spring season – a time of hope, rebirth, and reaffirmation of our faith in our One and Only. As we commemorate our freedom from oppression and hardship, we recognize that suffering has made us a stronger and more resilient lot. With emunah and prayer, hand in hand, we each have the power to overcome adversity and to rise to a loftier level of existence.

May this be the year that Hashem hearkens to our heartfelt plea of l’Shana Habaah b’Yerushalayim. A happy and kosher Passover to all of Klal Yisrael!

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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