Debbie agreed to come, and over the next few months we talked about the difficulties she was having relating to her parents and how much she hated school. What emerged was that Debbie had never really spoken with anybody about her inner-world issues. She had a lot of built-up anger that was now directed at her mother. As I had suspected, Debbie was acting out her frustrations by trying alternative behaviors, like body piercing.
In truth, her body piercing was a sign that she was in trouble, and my goal was to allow Debbie to work out her issues in a positive way and to help Debbie’s parents establish a better relationship with her.
To accomplish this, I made the following suggestions:
- Schedule a weekly time to spend with Debbie outside of the home doing fun activities.
- Address her need for control by rewarding her for fulfilling responsibilities in the home.
- Find a tutor to help Debbie do better in school.
- Explore and nurture Debbie’s potential talents.
Over the next year, I continued to talk with Debbie and her mother about strengthening their relationship. I tried to convey to both Debbie and her mother that if they could work to become slightly warmer to one another, they may actually enjoy their relationship and begin to support each other through this difficult emotional period in their lives.
After working hard to free up spare time, Debbie’s parents began to schedule weekly outings alone with Debbie. They also discovered that Debbie was interested in pursuing her talents in art and design and hired a tutor to give her private lessons in computer graphics and web design. Gradually, both sides seemed interested in making the relationship better, which was a sign that the situation could improve.
Recently Debbie’s mother called to tell me that Debbie had spoken to her about her body piercing. Surprisingly, Debbie had been willing to speak openly about her body issues and said she was just experimenting and had taken out the pierced jewelry several weeks before.
Although the body piercing was the original issue of contention, it proved to be a catalyst for Debbie and her family to resolve deeper and more fundamental emotional inner issues. Debbie’s parents felt more confident in their ability to deal with a situation that they had believed was out of control. Improving the relationship was the key to helping Debbie with a difficult and painful time in her life.
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of “At Risk – Never Beyond Reach” and “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.