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December 11, 2016 / 11 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Yael’

Dear Dr. Yael

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

I was going through some old copies of Olam Yehudi and came across an article written by Dvora Waysman. I am writing to ask you for some clarity on an issue she raised.

Ms. Waysman, like most frum people, believes that family is everything that is good in a Jewish life – no exceptions. If a person does not get along with his or her family, it must be his or her fault. All families are warm and loving environments. Her article even says “families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts – but we do care about them because they are kin.”

What a harmful generalization. Since when does some shared DNA guarantee that a person will not treat his or her kinfolk like garbage?

Not everyone lives in Ms. Waysman’s idealized fudge house. In the United States and in other countries a tremendous amount of time, energy and money is spent to protect children from abusive family environments.

I grew up in a war zone. After struggling with depression for many years, I realized that my family was filled with toxic people. I am now estranged from my sister and had distanced myself emotionally from my mother. I took care of her physically as she aged, but out of duty. When my mother would do something particularly mean or callous to me, she would justify it by saying that, as she was my mother, she could do or say anything to me. Many family members use the “blood excuse” to justify their abusive behavior towards others.

Baruch Hashem, with a wonderful wife and great therapists, I have made progress in becoming a healthy person. As I said, many families create hostile environments in their home. There is even a tefillah in my Yom Kippur machzor that tries to reconcile “Honor your mother and father” with the painful reality that many mothers and fathers do terrible things to their children.

H. W.


Dear H. W.,

As a therapist, I know that what you endured as a child was, unfortunately, endured by many other people as well. An abusive family is toxic and can literally destroy a child.

I believe that “Honor your mother and father” does not mean “Love your mother and father.” And I think it is amazing that in spite of enduring the difficulties you describe growing up, you did care for your mother anyway.

It is true that growing up in an abusive home is very damaging for a child. There are parents who do not realize that raising a child means building his or her self-esteem and loving him or her in a way that builds his or her inner strength.

While I do not know your own mother’s family history, my professional experience tells me that people who are toxic were often raised in toxic environments.

It has been said that even among Holocaust victims, those who came from healthier homes were able to function with a better attitude than those who came from toxic homes. Author Victor Frankel wrote that the only thing in one’s control during the war was how one responded to being tortured. Those with a will to live and the ability to cope sometimes fared better. Dr. Douglas Labier, PhD once wrote, “First, consider some less visible forms of abuse, beyond the physical, that can create lasting consequences. For example, parental neglect; indifference to the child’s needs or temperament; outright humiliation; deliberate denigration. All may be fueled by the parent’s own self-hatred, jealousy, or narcissism.”

A study conducted by researchers at UCLA and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the effects of abuse and corresponding lack of parental affection across the body’s entire regulatory system. It found strong links between negative early life experiences and health, across the board. The effects permeate one’s entire mind-body system.

This study of 756 subjects suggested that “biological embedding” occurs through programming brain circuitry in ways that shape response patterns to subsequent stress. That causes wear and tear extending across multiple mind-body systems, and creates adverse health outcomes decades later. The researchers suggest that toxic childhood stress alters neural responses to stress, boosting the emotional and physical arousal to threat, and making it more difficult for that reaction to be shut off.

I often tell my clients that in coming for therapy and changing yourself and the way you relate to your own family in essence changes the lives of the generations that will emanate from you. Baruch Hashem, you found a positive, loving wife and somehow fought your own depression, even though you had to create your own survival tools.

Hatzlocha in your journey to psychological good health.

Dr. Yael Respler

Dear Dr. Yael

Friday, November 25th, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

Now that Yom Tov season is behind us, I wanted to share some of my personal experiences. My friends and I are part of what has been called the “Sandwich Generation” and share similar situations. Yet, we feel more like the “Shmatta Generation.” We all love our married children and grandchildren and many of us are blessed with parents as well. The following is a humorous look at our lives that may help others in our situation.

Our married children arrive usually as close to Yom Tov as possible. Why they can’t come earlier even if they live not so far away is a question none of us can answer. We all wonder why it is that our very frum children, many whom are learning in kollel and have very strict chumrahs in regards to kashrus that we must accommodate, seem very relaxed about arriving on time for Shabbos or Yom Tov.

We also wonder if they allow their children the same amount of freedom in their individual homes as they do in ours. Over Yom Tov our grandchildren turn our homes into scenes that resemble the aftermath of a hurricane. It is amazing what a bunch of little guys can do! If you need a quick demolition team, they can get the job done in no time at all, and they won’t charge you a penny – they will, however, accept payments in cookies, candy and all the junk that is not fit to eat.

If you want chocolate faux paint on your walls, this artistic crew is sure to create original paintings. They also offer free wake up service – at decibel levels you can’t even begin to process.

Don’t get me wrong, I love them all, but having 10 grandchildren under the age of 10 means it gets really wild. The fighting doesn’t stop and wrestling matches go on all day. They say grandchildren bring nachas and simcha – that’s true, nachas when they first arrive and simcha when they leave to go home.

While all our children probably have rules of conduct in their own homes, when they come to us, they are suddenly on vacation. We not only cook and serve, we clean up and babysit.

One amazing story: The day after Yom Tov one of our friends got ready to go to work. As she looked to leave the house, she couldn’t find her car keys – either set. As there had only been one grandchild in her house for the second days, she assumed that either he took them with him or hid them somewhere in the house. She called her daughter who looked wherever she could, but to no avail. Running late, she took a cab to work figuring that when she came home she would say the tefillah for finding things and put money in the pushka.

Later in the day, one of my friend’s younger children decided to look through the house. He found the keys in a closet at the bottom of a case of grape juice – three sets of keys, that is. My friend’s two and her husband’s extra set.

Dr. Yael, as I said, we love our children and grandchildren, but how can we get them to help us keep the demolition crews under control and maybe come a little earlier to help and alleviate our anxiety?

We look forward to your response.

Members of the “Shmatta Generation”


Dear Members,

The “Sandwich Generation” definitely has to deal with a lot. Baruch Hashem, many of us have parents and children that require our attention and it can often be overwhelming.

As to why your children show up at the last minute, it could be that they don’t want to burden any of you more than necessary, so they wait until the very last minute to come. It is possible that if you mention wanting them to come earlier, they would. You can say something like, “We love when you come for Yom Tov, but sometimes we worry when you come so close to the zman. Maybe you can come a little earlier, so we don’t have to worry.”

Regarding the demolition team, well that’s not really going to change. Your children should definitely try to have some sort of rules at your house, but the reality is that their kids are off schedule at your house and that makes it hard to police them. The younger generation often have many children close in age and they feel a bit overwhelmed. I often think they don’t realize how much additional work they are dumping on their parents. They may just be relieved not to have to do it all.

Make sure you ask for help with setting and cleaning up and let them know you need at least an hour to lie down, so you can be more refreshed and able to enjoy all the company. Saying something like, “Sweetheart, would you mind helping me in with the food,” will most likely get a positive response. You can also just announce that you need an hour or two to lie down and then you’ll be happy to read to the children or play a game with them. This tells your children that you won’t be available all afternoon to be with the kids, but that you can play with them a little later while they nap.

Communicating your needs in the moment will be most effective. If your children do not respect your wishes after you communicate them, then you may need to have a conversation about it. Most likely, your children are just not thinking about your needs and are not purposely trying to make you into a shmatta.


I hope that you continue to enjoy your parents and your children and that you have much nachas from the entire mishpacha!

Dr. Yael Respler

Dear Dr. Yael

Monday, November 21st, 2016

Dear Dr. Respler,

As an avid reader of your largely insightful column, I was troubled by one of the letters which appeared recently that in effect unilaterally excoriated the use of the Internet. Those few students in my literature classes who, over the years, have elected to myopically view the Internet as simply a tool to compromise the integrity of religious observance, rather than embrace it as a unique apparatus designed to facilitate the improvement of academic essay writing and navigate the terrain of literary research, have confronted tedious challenges their tech-savvy classmates had been spared.

Let me be clear, my charges are all frum students in Touro College’s Machon L’Paranasah. They are yeshiva graduates and of chassidic origin; they simply have taken advantage of technology that will eventually allow them to compete in corporate America. More importantly, it has not lessened their zeal to continually ponder Talmudic thought and implement its findings.

It is, respectfully, intellectually disingenuous to suggest that technology is “…killing our community…” Painfully and frustratingly aware of the two-edged sword the Internet poses, it is, assuredly, up to the parents who, in their objective to pass along their spiritual legacy to their progeny, must be cognizant of the fact that secular education must include the latest that technical innovation has to offer. The tech-messiahs of whom you refer may “clearly agree with the rabbanim,” but I also believe that the spiritual and secular can indeed coexist.

Parents need to be more diligent in inculcating their sons and daughters how toxic haphazard usage of the Internet can be. At the same time, for those parents who want their offshoots to successfully meet the demands and challenges of the world marketplace need to take understand how helpful the Internet is; its a device that offers the entire landscape of knowledge at our fingertips.

With respect,

R. N. G., Professor at Touro College and University


Dear R.N.G.:

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to write this important letter.

I am well aware of all the advantages of the Internet and do not believe that there is nothing positive to be found online. The original debate was about the use of cell phones and continued with a letter from a woman who felt her family was addicted to technology.

You are correct that it is up to parents to inculcate their sons and daughters about the toxicity of the Internet. However, what is to be done when the parents themselves are addicted and incapable of setting limits and boundaries?

Certainly in a perfect world, we would all use the Internet only for appropriate matters. Unfortunately, our world is not a perfect one and I and other therapists have seen a whole host of addictions affecting families in our community.

It takes only one click to reach an inappropriate website and be exposed to material that can have serious consequences for marital relationships and healthy views of women.

In essence, there are no clear answers. It seems that the world you live in is one in which students are able to utilize the Internet in appropriate ways. I, on the other hand, live in a world filled with addictions and marital problems that fifteen years ago our community never faced. And it can all be laid at the feet of the technological advances society seems to celebrate.

The issue is incredibly complicated. Our rabbanim don’t experience the “good” the Internet provides; they deal with the broken families and teens who have walked off the derech because of it. Once upon a time, a person who wanted to be unfaithful or a young person who wanted to view inappropriate material did not have an easy time finding outlets. Today, however, the Internet and social media have given us all access to thousands of strangers with whom relationships can be developed. In addition, social media has given us the belief that we have so many friends, superficial relationships to be sure, but for some an easy outlet for inappropriate behavior.

The ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, while amazing in one way, can also be very dangerous. Texting and using Snapchat (where the texts and images are only seen temporarily and cannot be saved) make having inappropriate conversations much easier and much more accessible. People often say things via text that they would never say to someone face to face. I wish I could just publish columns that focus on all the amazing things the Internet has to offer. However, that is not possible.

Thank you for helping to highlight the benefits of the Internet and for helping me explain the issues more clearly. I hope that parents take appropriate steps to safeguard their children so they can become 21st century learners and be successful in this new world!


Dr. Yael Respler

Dear Dr. Yael

Monday, November 14th, 2016

Dear Yael,

I was both troubled and saddened by the letter from the mother whose children were abused by the meshulach she and her husband allowed to stay in their home. The pain and harm this man caused is something that cannot be calculated.

While I think your response was the correct one, there was a critical piece that was not addressed. How could the family not have pressed charges? It was misplaced rachamim to feel badly for this man’s family at the expense of their own children. The proper action would have been to press charges against him. This would have sent a strong and appropriate message to their children that if something bad happens, their parents will do everything possible to protect them.

This brings me to my second point. It seems highly likely that this man has engaged in this despicable behavior before and may have even abused his own children. How could they have just sent him back with a warning? How did they even know that he really has a wife and children and, even if he did, that he still lived with them?

Let this be a lesson to all of us to be vigilant in regards to the people we bring into our home and if G-d forbid something does occur, to take the proper steps to deal with it.

R. B.


Dear R. B.:

I was happy to receive your letter as I felt the same way that you did. However, as the mother seemed so distraught, and they had already sent him back to Israel, it seemed more prudent to focus on preventing child molestation and/or dealing with it more effectively.

Several years ago, I supervised a number of counselors in different schools. At one point, it became clear that one of these counselors was molesting boys under his care. While we did our best to convince the parents of these boys to press charges, they refused. They did not want their children to have to testify in court.

Often, people who are molested are reluctant to report what happened. As a therapist, you can encourage them to do so, but often their reluctance stems from a fear of being put in the public limelight and having to testify against the person who molested them. Frequently, parents do not want their children to testify for fear it will traumatize them further. This creates a very challenging situation. If those being molested refuse to take action, and often won’t give you information about their molester, there isn’t much a therapist, teacher, counselor or rav can do.

As to your second point, it’s not my job to make a parent feel guilty for something he or she did under duress.

However, as a general statement to our readers, I stress again: Do not let molesters go free. Please report them immediately to the proper authorities. If you don’t, you may be putting other children at great risk.

Also, to parents of children who have been abused: make sure they get immediate professional help. Meet with the counselor/therapist first to ensure that he or she is a good fit. Make sure your child is comfortable with the person. If your child does not want to go for therapy with the person you chose, give it a couple of sessions, and then find someone else if your child is still uncomfortable.

Children must be able to play out, talk about, or draw about their experience. Molestation and child abuse will have lasting effects; however, a child will have a much better prognosis if he or she is given the opportunity to express the pain and take back the control lost through the abuse. Even young children need the opportunity to play out their experience with a competent child therapist.

Remember that children don’t just “forget” what happened to them. They may repress their terrible memories, but this will likely affect them negatively at a later point in time.

Thank you again for your letter and hatzlocha.

Dr. Yael Respler

Dear Dr. Yael

Friday, November 4th, 2016

Dear Dr. Respler,

As a professor of child development in a graduate program and a loyal reader of your column, I want to thank you for the incredibly important public service you have provided over the years. I have often used your excellent insights and well-thought out answers in my classes.

I would, however, like to comment on a point you made to “A Guilty Mother” in the October 7 issue. While most of the suggestions were on point, I do take exception to item number three in which Dr. Susan Schulman advises that parents tell a child to confront the abuser and “tell him that your parents are very strong and you know that he’s just trying to scare you.” I fear that some abusers might panic and do physical harm to the child in order to prevent him or her from reporting what has transpired. Perhaps a better approach might be for the child to appear cooperative and attempt to get away in whatever manner he or she can.

It is very sad that there are predators and pedophiles in our midst that would do harm to our beloved children.

Wishing you hatzlocha,
A devoted reader


Dear Devoted Reader:

Thank you for your letter and those very kind words. Thank you also for the opportunity to clarify some points of confusion in regards to that specific column.

Dr. Susan Schulman advises parents to tell their children that anything that is covered by a bathing suit is off limits and cannot be touched by anyone. Everything else in that column was written by myself and Dr. Orit Respler Herman.

You are correct that it’s more prudent to teach our children to run away and let a trusted adult know what happened as soon as possible! While our suggestion was a way of helping a child appear strong, you are correct in saying that some abusers can be violent and this strategy can cause a child to be harmed.

Many abusers seek our children who seem vulnerable; thus it is important that we build up our children’s self-esteem and confidence. When the abuser is a stranger, that confidence can keep the child safe. Unfortunately, when the abuser is a family member, that confidence has no effect.

In addition, I never meant to suggest that victims could choose to be victimized. Anyone can be victimized and no child ever chooses to be in that position. Our hope has to be that a child who has a great amount of self-esteem or confidence will, at the very least, feel comfortable reporting an abusive situation as quickly as possible. It is also imperative that you tell your children that no one can hurt you and they should never be afraid to tell you anything that happened to them. Most importantly, we need to teach our children that inappropriate touch is never okay.

Along these lines, our reactions are very important. We must be sure to remain calm and help them process what happened in an appropriate manner. This is especially true when children are telling us that they got in trouble at school or that they did something wrong. If we yell or overreact to the information they have shared, they will stop filling us in.

This does not mean that you should condone bad behavior; rather, it means you should lovingly explain why what happened was wrong (not that they were bad, but their actions were incorrect) and help them figure out how to act differently in the future. If his or her actions warrant it, a fair consequence can be given, but an incentive for good behavior in the future and helping your child find a better way to handle the situation will likely be more effective.

Having a strong and positive relationship with your children is like an insurance policy. It will protect them from many types of predators and from knowingly entering into harmful relationships. There are, unfortunately, many harmful people who know how to be chameleons. They know how to pretend to be whatever you are looking for during the dating process and in the early stage of friendships. That makes them hard to avoid.

Thank you again for your letter and for helping to clarify our response. May we be zoche to a time in which abuse no longer exists in any form. Hatzlocha!

Dr. Yael Respler

Dear Dr. Yael

Friday, October 28th, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

My husband and I were touched by the letter in your column a few weeks ago from a baalas teshuva who felt unaccepted by the people in her community. This is an experience we are familiar with. We are also baalei teshuva. However, another reason we can identify with your letter writer is because we are, at this time, unable to have children.

We are both young and have an unusually healthy lifestyle.  When people would ask us why we didn’t have kids yet, we used to be able to explain that I was still in school. This seemed to satisfy most people, and kept them from asking for a while.  But now, we no longer have that excuse.  We have been accused of being unfamiliar with the Torah, and have been told by some “friends” that their children have no interest in us because we do not have kids.  (We know this to be untrue, but it still pains us – especially as I have a background in early childhood education, and we can see that kids gravitate towards us.)

Not having kids right now has not been a matter of choice for us; in fact, we have been silently working with specialists to identify any issues causing us problems.  We have come across amazing resources and people through this process, and we believe that all of this is part of Hashem’s plan.  At the same time, we are finding it very difficult to live in a community in which most conversations start with a glance at my stomach; in which the decision to go to shul every week hangs on our fluctuating tolerance for an onslaught of baby carriages and pregnant women; in which people rarely talk to us anymore, or invite us for Shabbos, since we’re not part of the “in group.”

We have both lived here for a while now, and have done our best to contribute over the years.  But we are at our tipping point.  You mentioned in your response to the other letter that you could recommend friendly communities – would you be able to elaborate?


Dear Anonymous,

I understand your dilemma and I think there are two issues occurring in your situation.  I actually think the “children” issue is more challenging for you than your backgrounds.

People who are frum from birth and who come from supportive families suffer as well. Over the years, I have treated many couples struggling from infertility and secondary infertility. Unfortunately, people can sometimes be insensitive and say hurtful things to these couples.

I have had chassidishe couples with two children who wanted more children and were criticized by others for being modern.

I feel uncomfortable recommending specific communities. I will say that I live in Boro Park on a warm and friendly block. Other people may have different experiences. This just goes to show that in different neighborhoods you can have friendly and un-friendly blocks. Thus, all I can suggest is that it may be a good idea for you to look for a different block.

When people are unfriendly to me, I go over and introduce myself, and comment on something positive I have noticed about them. Generally, this helps generate a warm conversation.

If there is someone in shul whom you find bright and interesting, strike up a conversation relating to the davening, the rav and his family etc. Volunteering for a women’s organization in your shul is another good way to meet people.

If you can try to start a conversation with a smile and a compliment and demonstrate interest in the other person, you will be sure to win new friends.

Maybe you can try to create new friends with other couples or other women individually and not be part of a “group” or “clique.”  These “groups” can often lead to the need to keep up with others which can cause shalom bayis problems.

Perhaps you are hurting so deeply due to your struggles with your infertility that you don’t realize that there are other people around you suffering from the same or similar issues.

During our time in galus we are all faced with challenges; some are more obvious and others are hidden. Or, as I like to say, some are wrapped in clear garbage bags and others in black garbage bags.

Your nisyonos are wrapped in black garbage bags. Someone who is clearly struggling with a disease has a nisayon wrapped in a clear garbage bag.  That does not make your situation any less painful.  It may just be that people do not realize that you’re also going through your own struggles.  It’s also possible that others are envious of you because they do not realize what you are going through.  You may present to others as this healthy, educated, with-it couple that may actually be a psychological threat to them.  Obviously this is only a theory since I do not know you or your attitude to others at all.

Although it is so hard to go through infertility, a positive attitude can help.  Think about sharing your situation with one or two other women and asking them to daven for you. This might be a risk, but one worth taking. Only you can decide that. However, if you can foster a friendship with others dealing with similar issues, it can be a source of support to you as well.  I wish you hatzlocha in dealing with this challenge.

Dr. Yael Respler

Dear Dr. Yael

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

Dear Dr. Yael,

Let me begin by saying that I love my wife and children very much. So, why am I writing to you? My wife has serious issues with anger management. I don’t necessarily blame her; growing up she heard and saw lots of fighting between her parents. On the other hand, my parents divorced when I was 10; they both remarried and have an amicable relationship. It is like we have three sets of parents – both my step-parents are very nice to us and to our children. I have siblings from both of my parents’ second marriages and step-siblings. We all get along.

Honestly, the only time there is any discord is when we go to my in-laws who have been married to each other for over 40 years. The fighting is out of control and upsets my wife very much. I have suggested that we either stay home or just go to my parents, but my in-laws make my wife feel guilty if we don’t come.

However, the experience is so negative and there are serious ramifications for our family. My wife overreacts to everything after we have been there and it makes things more difficult at home. When I have discussed it with her, she says that when she gets angry it’s because she has been provoked by me or by the children. She doesn’t seem to see that she reacts to what goes on at her parents.

My wife loves your column and we read it together every Friday night. I think it would be so helpful if you would address this issue in a future article. I changed enough details so that people will not recognize our family.

I know my wife does not want to be this way. She is a very ehrliche person who tries hard to work on her middos. Other than this one issue, we have a wonderful relationship and marriage.

I hope you can help us.



Dear Anonymous,

As I write this column, we are about to begin the Yomim Noraim period with three cycles of two-day chagim. This is stressful for everyone, even those who are in highly functional families. Those who are part of the sandwich generation and must deal with aging parents and married children find it even more difficult. As do those who are single, couples struggling with infertility, divorced mothers, divorced fathers, those who are struggling financially, etc.

In other words, we all go through this period of time dealing with more stress than usual. And so working on our middos during these days is a must, though not easy.

Today, we will discuss anger. Developing a strategy for anger management is not easy to do, but it is doable. The first step is admitting there is a problem. If your wife can’t do that yet, perhaps you can sit down and have a calm and loving conversation with her. Start with saying something like, “I love you very much and appreciate everything that you do to keep this house running! I noticed something that I think we could work on that can benefit the family. Sometimes, when the children or I seem to be stressing you out, I feel that you become very upset and yell. I know you don’t mean it and that you love us all very much, but it makes me feel bad when you yell and I think the children are also being affected. Maybe we can think of a silly/secret word that I can say when I see you becoming upset that will remind you to calm down. What do you think?”

Hopefully, your wife will accept what you are saying and you can come up with a word or phrase together. However, even if your wife becomes defensive, understand that she has heard what you say, she is just not accepting it yet. Do not turn this into a fight; just ask her to please think about what you said and end the conversation.

In time, if she truly is the good person you describe, she will understand how her actions affect all of you and work on a plan with you.

Another good idea is working on breathing exercises. This is something you can do together – tell her it’s something you read about and want to try.

  1. Take ten deep breaths – in through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then breath out slowly through your mouth.
  2. Close your eyes and imagine a calming scene.
  3. Give yourself a time out.
  4. Say out loud that what just happened is not the end of the world and everything will be okay.

As to your in-laws, it may be prudent to come up with a game plan for that situation as well. For example, decide that if x, y and z happens, then you will do a, b and c. If you prepare for a variety of situations in advance, you and your wife may be better able to deal with what comes up.

Hatzlocha and have a good Yom Tov!

Dr. Yael Respler

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/dear-dr-yael-92/2016/10/16/

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