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I am following your column for quite some time now and must admit that I am quite pleased by the way you address problems. So what do you think of this:
I grew up in a chassidishe home and was molested by a family member, quite a number of times.
Before I got married, I kept pushing aside the embarrassment, the horrible pictures that came to mind, and the guilt.
Baruch Hashem, I am very happily married to this wonderful man, (who knows nothing about my past), and my life is at its best with my husband and kids. I feel blessed.
So why, when I should be the happiest ever, do all those horrible thoughts keep returning to haunt me? Sometimes I get all worked up because of the guilt, and then there is this feeling of resentment against my parents for not seeing the signs and not having had an open enough communication going for me to be able to say anything.
Now there is no way I can put that family member down, since in our community this would place a horrible damper on my own and my children’s life (and I am not looking for that just now).
So what do you suggest I do to get rid of this nagging guilt and shame and the rest?
Shamed and alone
Often when we place ourselves in a past situation, we grieve over our incompetence and imagine how differently we would ‘handle it’ today – notwithstanding that we managed as best we could with the sechel and understanding we had then.
Despite the futility in our agonizing over something that is over and done with, the cycle tends to repeat itself: A good many of us are almost never satisfied or pleased with our past performance.
Of course this can be a good thing – when it serves as motivation for improvement, for we are never too old to learn. On the other hand, we ought to practice objectivity and limit our self-castigation by applying logic to our reasoning – just as we would if we were sitting in judgment of someone else.
You suffered as a helpless victim of another’s weakness and not because of anything you did to bring it on. This is not said simply to make you feel better – it is the reality. All the same, your feelings of guilt, shame and anger are normal, given the trauma you were subjected to. (You should have received counseling long ago to help you deal with these emotions.)
While it is relatively easy for me to recommend that you seek therapy, it may be far from simple for you to take me up on such advice. With your husband in the dark about your secret torment and your marriage Baruch Hashem in fine form, therapy sessions may raise more than a few eyebrows.
And yet, you can take great pride in your accomplishments to date. You have not merely survived a horrific experience, but have kept yourself together and gone on to build a meaningful life – no small feat by any standard.
Plus, the wisdom and strength that you have come by through your unfortunate exposure now place you in a position to be ever more vigilant with the care of your young and vulnerable ones. By the same token, try to be sensitive and understanding of your parents. Where they come from, they have in all likelihood led a sheltered existence and could never have fathomed such danger lurking in their midst – hence their total oblivion.
One way of assuaging your guilt, which stems partly from “allowing” the guilty party to get away with his heinous act, is by channeling the energy triggered by your negative emotions in a positive direction. Become the “enlightened” force of the family. “Educate” not only your own children but your nieces and nephews as well, on how to avoid uncalled for and inappropriate contact or intimidation. As their doting aunt, gain their trust and assure them that they can safely confide in you. If, G-d forbid, a pattern of abuse threatens to rear its ugly head again, your honed instincts will prompt you into action that will ensure the preservation of the emotional and physical health of the innocent (as you had wished for your mother to do).
Another outlet that you may want to explore, one that may do wonders for your bruised self-esteem and rid you of your lingering anguish: Consider signing up for psychology courses offered at your local advanced education facility – your schedule permitting, of course. Not only could this potentially bring about a catharsis for your heavily burdened heart, it can eventually earn you certification and the chance to reach out to other hurting souls in your community.
Above all, always remember that Hashem is wise to the secrets that lie deep within you, and you can safely unburden your heart to Him. He has guided you thus far along your destined journey and will be with you in all your honorable pursuits, come what may.
While you contemplate your options and possibilities, take joy in Hashem’s blessings and in your achievements – your exalted role as yours husband’s eishes chayil and as dependable loving mother and role model to your beautiful children.
A personal recommendation, if I may: Chase away any looming black clouds on the horizon by investing in an MP3 player or iPod (if you do not yet own one). Load it with your favorite songs and allow the inspiring tunes to permeate your senses and enhance your every move and mood – a fabulous pick-me-up while working your chores, whether in the kitchen, garden or on the treadmill. Portable speakers can take the place of headsets when your children are on the scene – they will benefit both from the music and from having a happy, upbeat mom around.
May your future be filled with nachas, joy and healing.