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October 21, 2014 / 27 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Dear Dr’

Easing The Trauma Of Divorce: A Reaction

Friday, November 30th, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I am writing to you in regards to your article, “Easing The Trauma Of Divorce” (Dear Dr. Yael, 11-16).

Now in my 30s, I am the product of a divorced home in which my parents made me, an only child, a pawn. Throughout my life the trauma and hatred I witnessed between my parents was unbearable. As a result, I am terrified to get married, despite the desire to do so in a normal and happy setting. I have gone for therapy, but this great fear is hard to overcome. I wonder if this feeling will ever leave me.

I still speak to both of my parents (neither of them remarried), who, to this day, hate each other so much that they cannot even be in the same room. Thus, how can I even have a wedding? I believe that had my parents divorced peacefully, my childhood would have been normal.

I work hard on my middos, am well educated and have a fabulous career. Without wanting to sound arrogant, I am confident that there are women who would be interested in me. Unfortunately, I am convinced that it is my deep fear of turmoil and unhappiness that is stopping me from getting married.

Dr. Yael, I strongly urge divorced parents to heed your sage advice to not turn their poor children into pawns during their divorce. If parents are getting divorced, they must try their hardest to make it as peaceful as possible, working together for the benefit of their children. I have happily married friends with divorced parents, but those parents did everything they could to keep things peaceful.

These friends seem to have come from homes similar to what you termed “the best possible divorce situation,” whereby their parents remarried and had an amicable relationship. Like you wrote in your column, my happily married friends from divorced homes felt the love and devotion from both parents as well as from their stepparents. I, on the other hand, think that my parents are emotionally not well – with that probably being the core issue in my situation. Having never remarried, they are extremely angry and negative people. I am sure that their emotional problems have also affected my view on marriage, as I do not want to end up like them.

I hope this letter inspires parents who are getting divorced to think carefully about their behavior as it pertains to the emotional wellbeing of the children they love. Only responsible behavior will spare their children the emotional destruction I’ve been forced to experience.

Thank you, Dr. Yael, for your helpful and informative column.

A Fan

Dear Fan:

My heart breaks for the predicament in which you find yourself. Even though you had a difficult childhood, Hashem obviously gave you other tools which you have used to create a life for yourself. All of these talents and your evident ambition should certainly make you very attractive to women.

As you seem very bright, please try to overcome your deep fear and get married. I would hate to see you live alone for the rest of your life. Learn from your parents’ mistakes and build a different life for yourself. If you feel that therapy has so far not worked for you, find another therapist who can help you. It is important to click with a therapist to the degree that you feel comfortable enough with him or her to share your insecurities. This will permit the two of you to begin the process of changing your views on marriage.

It is extremely difficult to want to get married and know how to make the marriage work, if you never saw a healthy marital relationship. But you can learn how to have a successful marriage through therapy. And once you feel equipped to enter into marriage, the concept will not be as frightening as it now seems.

You may also have to revisit some of your painful childhood memories and work through your anger toward your parents. When you succeed at doing these things, you may feel more comfortable with the idea of getting married. There are many children of divorced parents who are successful at overcoming their fears and insecurities, and are then able to build beautiful and happy families.

How To Feel Love

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I have an issue and it is causing problems in my marriage.

The home I grew up was not a warm one and I never received much love. For that reason, showing love to others is difficult for me – and for my husband. He is a warm and caring person and does not deserve my lack of affection. While I am working hard to change, I was wondering if you could offer some suggestions that might be helpful to both him and me.

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous:

Research shows that adults who do not receive a lot of love and physical closeness during their early years have a hard time showing love to their future spouses. Oxytocin is a hormone important in the development of children and adults, and is transmitted initially by the young baby being closely held to his mother when being fed. With this knowledge, parents whose children are in the NICU (neonatal ICU) will be encouraged to touch and hold the infants no matter how small they are. In fact, mothers are encouraged to do the “kangaroo,” whereby the mother holds the child skin to skin. Research shows that babies who are fed with bottles that were propped up (i.e., not held) have a harder time showing and giving affection to others as adults.

Children who are not taught to talk about their feelings and are not shown how to be warm and caring often have difficulty showing love to others when they are adults. Thus, if you grew up in a home where talking about one’s feelings and showing warmth were not taught, that may be why it is hard for you to act lovingly toward your husband. Other factors like self-esteem and trauma can also play a part in hindering one’s ability to demonstrate love and affection.

While it is helpful to understand why you have an unloving nature, it is more important to try to make a change – a difficult task for an individual to accomplish. Most people find it easier to initially change their behavior, even if it does not feel natural, as over time this can lead to a more substantial change in feelings and personality.

You can begin with your husband by showing him love. If expressing it verbally is too challenging, perhaps writing him notes will be easier. So this even if it is not something you have ever done and as I said, feels a little strange. If you are going to try saying the word, then practice what you want to say in advance, so that it will be easier for you in the moment. Try using loving speech often, as this will help it become a part of your nature. Metoch shelo lishma, ba lishma – behaving in the right manner, even if not for the sake of Hashem, can become for the sake of Hashem. The same is true with a person’s nature. From behaving lovingly, even if you are not doing it from of a loving feeling, will become a feeling of love. Furthermore, just by giving more to your husband, you will begin to feel closer to him.

It also may be helpful to figure out what your husband’s “love language” is. Individuals are programmed to feel loved in different ways, and often, we may think we are acting in a loving manner, but are not really giving our spouse what he/she needs.

Here are some examples of love languages (based on the work of Dr. Gary Chapman):

Meir and Shani come into my office feeling very frustrated with each other. Everyone thinks that they are a perfect couple. They are financially well off, they are an absolutely stunning looking couple, they have five beautiful children, and two homes. They are viewed as the “perfect couple” and both are active in many chesed projects. However they are miserable.

Shani says that Meir is a workaholic and has no time for her. Meir says that he feels Shani has no appreciation for all of his hard work and the lifestyle he provides for her and their family.

What is missing? When I ask each of them to list the other spouse’s positive qualities Meir lists all the things that Shani – cooking, taking care of their home and the children etc. He says he appreciates all that she does and that he tells her so very often. Shani says that Meir is a hard worker and that she does appreciate his work, but she needs him to spend time with her. Meir wishes Shani would verbalize more appreciation for him.

Easing The Trauma Of Divorce

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Dear Dr. Respler:

I am currently involved in a yearlong custody battle over my three children, who are all under the age of 10. I did not want or provoke this situation. My wife – with limited success – continues to enlist the children over to her side in her declared war on me. I, on the other hand, advise them that this fight is not their problem and that they should stay out of it. I tell them that they are totally innocent, and that they should honor and love both parents.

During my visitation time, I play with them, read to them, cook for them and do school work with them. In short, I do everything the children need, even those things that are traditionally done by mothers.

The children appreciate what I do for them. However, their mother is constantly trying to get them to see things her way. She tells them that they should help her get their visits with me curtailed because, in her words, “fathers don’t know how to take care of children,” and “mothers know how to better take care of children.”

What amazes me most is the percentage of people that share that line of thinking. Rabbis who are affiliated with batei din and marriage counselors who ought to know better have this underlying, forgiving attitude toward mothers – in spite of the children’s needs. Statements like “it is not right to take children away from a mother,” or “children need a mother,” or “children always go with the mother,” or the famous “mothers take better care of children” are commonly offered as so-called self-evident truths. This even applies to fathers who have always been thoroughly involved in their children’s development. Custody is only given to a father (very reluctantly) when there is absolutely no alternative. And when that happens, people see it as unfair.

I find that women almost blindly sympathize with the mother in these situations and are not interested in the facts. They immediately assume that the husband, the beis din, the courts and the lawyers are a bunch of clever villains while the poor mother and her lawyer are the victims.

I wonder if all these people know what divorcing mothers frequently do. They destroy the fathers’ image in the children’s eyes, in order for them to be totally dependant on the mother. They teach their children to lie to, and steal from, their father. They coach them into making false accusations against their father, saying, “The more bad things that you say about Tatty the better.” They inform the children of accusations made by the father against the mother in court and sometimes even show them court papers, in order to arouse their sympathy and sway them to their side.

In a nutshell, many mothers teach their children to betray their father.

My goal in writing this letter is to remind people that when they judge a divorce situation – which really should never be done – they need to consider the best interests of the children more than is sometimes done and to remember that there are no “self-evident truths” in divorce cases.

Sincerely,

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous:

I hear your pain and feel for you. While much of what you say is true, unfortunately, there are many fathers who play the same game and speak negatively about the mother of their children – to their children. No parent should use a child as a pawn in a divorce situation. To better the odds that a child from a divorced home will become more successful in future life endeavors, couples must work on keeping things amicable rather than stormy. The research of Wallerstein and Kelly makes this point very clear.

It is unfortunate that there are situations in which divorce is the only option. However, the process is incredibly painful for the children involved and parents must make every attempt to ensure that the children feel safe and secure – and that their needs are the priority for both parents.

In our practices, both Orit and I have seen the devastating effect of the trauma on children. For my part, I counsel parents on how to be more effective with their children in all situations. We work hard teaching parents how to imbue derech eretz in their children. Nonetheless, all these wonderful techniques are often ineffectual in a home filled with pain and strife.

Marriage Compromises

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I am struggling in my marriage after just five years. I am, by nature, a very outgoing person. I love to go out with friends and have people over for Shabbos meals. My husband, on the other hand, is quieter and would rather be home and stick to our routine. This causes a great deal of friction; between work and the kids, I do not have much of a social life and always want to invite people over or go out with other couples.

My husband likes to be alone and resents the fact that I want a fuller social life. I begrudge his not understanding my need to go out or have friends over. This has led to neither of us appreciating the other’s wants. When we were dating I knew that my husband was not as social as me, but I figured that opposites attract. I also didn’t want to be with someone who would always be running out of the house to be with his friends. I am happy that my husband wants to be home with me, but I wish that he would also enjoy going out – as a couple. I know I can’t force him to enjoy going out, but it bothers me when he doesn’t have a good time when I am able to convince him that we should share an evening out.

How can we solve this problem?

A Frustrated Social Butterfly

Dear Frustrated Social Butterfly:

Marriage is very challenging when spouses have different needs, but it is a positive sign that you are able to appreciate that your husband enjoys being a homebody. Since you cannot force your husband to have a good time going out with others, perhaps he would have more fun if the two of you go out alone and do something that is mutually enjoyable. It’s possible that your husband does not feel as comfortable as you in social situations and would feel less pressured and thus happier if it was just the two of you.

Here are some suggestions: consider asking your husband whether he and your friends’ husbands would be comfortable babysitting the children when you go out with your friends.

Another way to be more sociable is by inviting friends to join you for Shalosh Seudos or to you go visit a friend on Friday night after lighting the Shabbos candles. You should also ask your husband to meet you half way by sometimes having company over for meals.

If he agrees to any of these ideas, you will have more of the social life you desire.

It is important to understand that while your husband is your partner (and hopefully your best friend) he need not fulfill all of your needs. Instead, you can have some of them filled by friends (as I’ve described) in ways that will both meet your wishes and not make your husband unhappy.

As I said earlier, it can be difficult when each spouse has different wants. However, even you married someone with the same wants and needs, other issues would surface because no two people are exactly the same.

Hashem creates a match between two people in order for them to help each other grow and become better individuals. Perhaps you and your husband can learn from each other and try to make compromises, so that you both feel fulfilled and understood. Additionally, it might be a good idea for you to talk to your husband about his reason for not liking to go out or having company over. This might give you some insight into what makes him uncomfortable. And inquire as to whether he has a chavrusah or close friend that he would enjoy socializing with.

Use “I feel” messages when you speak with him so he does not feel defensive. While doing this, it is important that you approach him in a calm and gentle manner. Otherwise the conversation may lead to an argument.

It is essential that you and your husband understand that just because you have differences on the issue of socializing with others, doesn’t mean that you do not care about the other’s desires. And if you and your husband are expressing an “I don’t care” message, you need to strengthen your communication methods.

Keep Up The Good Work

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I feel extremely guilty about my elderly father and am filled with anger toward my sisters and brothers in regards to his care.

First the latter: My five siblings give me, the youngest child and one of three daughters, little help in caring for our father, instead they provide me with constant advice and criticism. Unfortunately I am the only one who takes care him (I visit every day); my father lives near me and has a full-time attendant. Some of my siblings live nearby and others further away, but they only visit him occasionally – and basically expect me to do everything.

My three brothers feel that as sons, they are obligated to do less. My two sisters claim that they are busy with their married children. Well, I also have married children but somehow find the time for our elderly father. One of the things that angers me is the remarks they make. For example, they’ll say that since I was his favorite child, I am the one obligated to care for him. As our parents were wonderful to all of us, I cannot understand how they can turn their backs on him now – just when he needs us most.

At the same time, I feel guilty that I don’t do more for him. My father complains a lot, causing me to sometimes become angry with him. I find it hard to spend a lot of time with him, although I visit every day, take him to doctors, cook his favorite foods, and make sure he has everything he needs.

I need your advice on how to deal with my anger toward my siblings and guilt about my father.

Angry and Guilty

Dear Angry and Guilty:

It is amazing that one father is able to care for six children, but six children cannot care for one father.

I am impressed by your devotion to your father and your adherence to the mitzvah of kibud av. What I would suggest is that in dealing with your father’s complaining try to validate his feelings. You may find that this helps decrease his complaining. Often when people complain, the natural response from the person forced to listen is to say, “It is not so bad, so stop complaining.” This usually makes them complain more. Saying to your father, “I know how you must feel; it is not easy to feel that way,” may make him realize that he’s being heard and understood. As a result, he may complain less.

With respect to your siblings, you should confront them in a nice manner. At a minimum, you will feel better having told them how upset you are and why. They may be rationalizing to themselves that you enjoy having all of the responsibility.

Use the “I feel” message, as others are usually less defensive when confronted with that strategy. Say something like, “I know that you all have busy lives, Baruch Hashem, and you probably do not realize that I feel I end up having to take care of most of Daddy’s needs. Let’s make a schedule whereby everyone can chip in, so that none of us feels overwhelmed.” If they don’t increase their involvement in your father’s care, at least make it clear that you feel bad when you receive their advice and criticism, especially when you are the one handling most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, it is generally the one who does the most who winds up receiving the most criticism. But please take solace in the sechar that you are receiving for honoring your father.

If you validate your father’s feelings and he continues to complain, validate your own feelings. This does not mean that you should limit your visiting time with him and beat yourself up for sometimes feeling annoyed and frustrated. Remember that taking care of an older person is very difficult, as he or she often does not feel well and thus may be more critical and irritable. With this in mind, let yourself off the hook when you are feeling upset.

While it is certainly important to treat your father with loving care and not show him your annoyance in any way, if you sometimes feel that way (which is only normal), do something nice for yourself instead of feeling guilty. Also, remember two things: your reward may not be evident in this world, and your children will probably accord you the same respect that you are demonstrating to your father.

Stopping A Child’s Tantrum

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I am married and have a two and a half year old son. He is a wonderful child, but when he does not get his way, he often has a tantrum. Sometimes, I just give him what he wants because we are in public and his behavior is embarrassing. But I cannot always give in, especially when what he wants is dangerous or unhealthy. It is then that I do not know what to do.

I try to ignore his behavior, but he just gets louder and louder. Then I get very frustrated and, I am embarrassed to say, yell at him or give him a potsch. While I feel terrible afterwards and try to make it up to him, the situation has becomes a vicious cycle.

What can I do to stop my son’s tantrums? I don’t want to yell at him, but I don’t know what else to do.

A Frustrated Mother

Dear Frustrated Mother:

Tantrums are hard to deal with, but there are some true and tried techniques that can help lessen them.

It is important to first understand why your son is having tantrums. Often children act out because they are seeking attention, are tired, hungry or are uncomfortable with or about something. Children also tantrum because they are frustrated, generally due to not being able to get something they want, e.g. an object or a parent’s attention. Frustration is an inevitable part of children’s lives as they learn how people, objects and their own bodies work.

This type of behavior is very common in children ages 2-3 as they are acquiring language skills and generally understand more than they can verbally express. It is this inability to communicate their needs that causes the frustration, which may trigger a tantrum. As children acquire more language and better communication skills, their tantrums usually decrease. However, it is important to not make it seem as if they are getting what they want because of the tantrum, as that does nothing more than cause it to be habit-forming and more difficult to control.

The most effective way to deal with tantrums is to, whenever possible, avoid them in the first place. Here are some strategies that can help:

1) Distraction is a very effective technique when it comes to tantrums. Children have short attention spans and can be distracted fairly easily. Give your son a replacement item for whatever he wants or begin a new activity to replace one that does not meet your approval.

Changing the environment can also be helpful. Consider using an excited voice and saying, for example, “Let’s go for a walk!” Even if your child is still screaming, chances are good that he will stop when you get outside. You can even begin to walk outside alone, knowing that most children will want to follow their parent – even when they’re upset. If you are unable to go outside, go to a different room and use a distracting activity to divert your son’s attention.

2) Children often tantrum because they want attention. This is because they prefer negative attention to no attention at all. This includes a parent’s reaction to a tantrum. Many studies show that when a parent gives a child attention, including the negative kind, the child will increase the level of his or her current behavior.

It is important to reward your son when he behaves well. Any positive reinforcement for non-tantrum behavior sends your son the message that he will get attention when he does not throw a tantrum. This will increase his positive behavior.

3) It is important to give your son a feeling of control. Giving your son choices is a great way to help him feel autonomous while still doing what you want him to do. For example, instead of asking him what he wants to drink, ask him if he would like a drink of water or orange juice (or something else that you find acceptable). This way, you are giving him the freedom to choose without the opportunity to ask for something you will not allow. So instead of asking your son whether he wishes to take a bath, an offer he is likely to refuse, use choice questions such as, “Do you want to brush your teeth before your bath or after your bath?” By giving your son as many acceptable to you choices as possible, you will avoid having arguing over his decision.

From Depression To Happiness

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Dear Dr. Yael:

I am a man in my 50s who, Baruch Hashem, has had a good life. I am married with children and grandchildren and was always a happy-go-lucky person, thankful for all the berachot bestowed on me.

This year, though, has been very difficult for me, with many family and personal problems. I have begun to experience something that I have never really had before: depression. Out of nowhere I begin to feel upset and anxious, and I do not know what to do to get rid of these feelings. I have never been a negative or sad person and I don’t know how to return to my old self. I try to think more positively but my mind always starts to find the negative aspects, and it often snowballs and makes me feel more and more depressed. I do not know how to get out of this cycle or how to be more upbeat. I do not want to feel this way, yet find myself returning to depressing thoughts more and more. Please help!

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous:

Without having a chance to sit and meet with you, it is hard to say exactly what your issue is. However, it is possible that you are experiencing either an adjustment disorder with depressed and anxious mood or feeling some dysphoria. Both of these disorders can be similarly treated. Your thoughts seem to negatively impact the way you feel and this in turn makes you think more negatively – and subsequently you feel worse. As you noted, it is a difficult cycle to end. The most important thing to do now is to go for professional help before you get worse. Here are some ideas I believe will be helpful:

One helpful Cognitive-Behavioral Strategy is to restructure your thoughts. In order to do this, you must ask yourself questions. For example, what’s the argument for and against a particular thought? What would I tell a friend in the same situation? Is there any way to look at this positively? Is thinking about this helping me or making the situation worse?

Try to rationally think about the truth. Chances are that you are having cognitive distortions that make you overgeneralize, thus painting a limited occurrence with a broad brush (e.g., believing that if just one problem arises, your life then becomes problematic or terrible). You might also be personalizing things, like when someone ascribes an external event to himself when there is, in reality, no connection between the person and the event. (An example of this is when a stranger or aquaintance is rude to you and you incorrectly conclude that you must have done something to cause the person’s rudeness.)

Another possibility is that you are making arbitrary inferences, creating – with no supporting information – a not necessarily correct conclusion (not necessarily the right one) in a certain situation. An example of this is when – despite no actual information to support his or her belief – a person believes that someone either does not like him or her or that the person believes him or her to be a horrible person. All of these cognitive distortions are untrue and unhealthy because it causes the one with this condition to have a negative self-view.

In therapy the first thing a client will learn is how to identify these problematic thoughts which in addition to increasing depression and anxiety, also reduce a person’s ability to cope with his or her environment. If you are theoretically able to identify when you are doing this and are then able to replace these thoughts with a more realistic view, you will begin to feel better.

The next step is for you to practice replacing these negative thoughts. Some therapists ask their clients to write down specific thoughts, when they took place and how he or she felt at that time. Then they are asked to think of a replacement thought that is more realistic to the situation and to rate how that thought would make them feel. It starts out as an exercise, but hopefully over time you will begin second-guessing these negative distortions and replacing them with more positive, realistic thoughts that engender more positive feelings. It is never helpful for anyone to think negatively, even if a situation is not a positive one.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/from-depression-to-happiness/2012/10/05/

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