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Don't Try to Force Your Child to "Fit-In" and Make You Look Good

posted Sep 22, 2016, 7:39 AM by Tracht Beefor   [ updated Sep 22, 2016, 7:42 AM by Z9 Network ]
YY JacobsonYY Jacobson
Author, International Speaker and Life Coach

Mental Illness, Depression, and Social Pressure

By: Rabbi YY Jacobson

Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein in honor of Sholom Yosef Gavriel ben Maya Tifcha, Gavriel Nash.

My article last week—in wake of more than 80 untimely deaths in the Jewish community since last Rosh Hashanah 5776, by men and women younger than 35, who died from overdose or suicide and the like—triggered many comments, questions and objections.

The conversation is long overdue. In my opinion, it must include first and foremost, three vital points.

1. Stop the stigma of mental illness.

We emphasize, accept, respect, and love patients who are physically ill. Yet when it comes to mental illness, many of us shut down. Many people who struggle with mental challenges—chemical disorders, depression, and all other forms of mental challenges—feel that if anyone finds out the truth about them, they will be shunned for eternity. They feel they can’t talk to anyone, because nobody will lend them an ear or a heart. They feel that nobody will be there for them. In their minds, we blame them for their problems. As one young man suffering from mental illness told me: “My father told me, ‘Just snap out of your issues and get back to normal living. Enough!’”

This is deeply tragic. People do not choose these types of challenges; they are the result of Gd’s choices. What they need most is the feeling that they are not victims of the devil, destined to a miserable life. They are powerful souls (neshamos) who can bring light into the abyss of darkness. Our acceptance, respect, and affection for them helps them empower themselves and see themselves from another vantage point.

I heard the following story from the person it happened to. There was a young woman struggling with mental illness. It was very serious, to the point that she was suicidal. After a long ordeal and hospitalization, and much advice from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, her father thanked the Rebbe for “schlepping her out of her deep darkness.”

The Rebbe responded: “She was in no dark place that I needed to take her out from there.”

When she left the hospital, the Rebbe wrote to her: “From now on, may you serve Gd with joy and gladness of heart.”

Trust me, the Rebbe knew very well the seriousness of her condition. He was deeply involved in her entire journey, down to the electric-shock treatment given to her. But, in my opinion, the Rebbe was attempting to give her the feeling that he will never look at her as this “dark, scary soul.” He will look at her as a shining piece of G-d who was sent down to this world with infinite power, sent into a very deep space of darkness in order to reveal light there. The Rebbe reminded this person that she is an ambassador of Gd, not a victim of the devil.

Till today, this woman, who has many challenges, lives with a deep sense of purpose, joy and dignity.

This is not about denial and being naive. On the contrary, it comes from a broad, sophisticated and Divine perspective, where we do not run away from trauma, pain, and mental illness. We have the courage to stare them in the eyes, and to see the pure light of those souls struggling with something they did not choose.

We got to change our paradigms about mental illness.

Admittedly, sometimes it is very difficult. Unlike the physically ill, individuals with mental illness often say and do very hurtful things to people who love them most. Yet, we must remember, that they are not bad or malicious people; some of them possess the biggest hearts you will encounter on our planet. They were given a trying challenge, beyond what most of us can even fathom. Nor is it our role to become supermen who will heal them. We can’t heal them. They must find the tools within themselves (of course with the guidance of true experts in the field) to make their lives manageable and meaningful. But we can embrace them; we can be here for them; allow them to be open with us—and treat them with the dignity they truly deserve. 

 2. Stop trying to make your child “fit in.”

Parents and educators must be attuned to what their children and students need today, based on who they are at this very moment. Do not try to create a child who will make you look good and make you proud in your own social and religious circles. Do not try to force your child to “look good,” so that everything appears normal. Your goal is to allow your children to discover their own depth, their own soul, their own beauty, their own purpose, their own creativity, and their own connection to G-d. You want to make your children believe that they are more powerful than all of their trauma; that they may have “chains,” but their soul and willpower are more potent than all the chains that life conferred upon them.

How do you give youngsters that sense of power? By loving them infinitely and unconditionally. By making them feel and understand how valuable and powerful they are, and how much G-d believes in them, even if they do not believe in themselves. How awesome and perfect they are in the core of their being, which nobody can ever take away. No illness, no molester, no traumatic experience, can ever rob them from their wholesome, perfect, sacred, confident, joyful, holy and Divine core. There is a sacred unshakable purity and sense of wellness in each of us that nothing can tarnish and destroy. We need to show our children they do not need to fear their own challenges, because we do not fear them. They can talk about them, they can look at them, and they can share them with us. We love them unconditionally and we believe that a “chelek Elokah mimaal”—a “fragment of G-d,” as the mystics define the soul—can overcome trauma, abuse, mental illness, and addiction.

Never allow your children’s choices to become a personal affront to yourself, and never sever the relationship. Keep the bonds as strong as ever. Talk to experts who will help you—but experts who believe that a soul is “a part of G-d,” and that every Jew is holy forever, and that—as Elijah the Prophet says (in the Midrash Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, chapter 14)—the Jew comes before Torah. You break the Tablets to save a Jew!

(Some of us will never forget the endless flow of tears when the Lubavitcher Rebbe communicated this message on Simchas Torah 1986, and then again on Shabbos Shoftim 1989. It is one of the deepest memories etched in my mind. I never saw the Rebbe weep with such intensity and for so long—and on Simchas Torah! The Rebbe said then, that the entire Torah concludes with the story of Moshe Breaking the Holy Tablets—because the ultimate message and zenith of all of Torah is: We break even the Torah to save a Jewish soul.)

This is not because Torah is secondary. To the contrary, the Jewish soul is one with Torah. “Yisrael, Oraisa, v’Kudeshah Brich Hu Kula Chad,” the Jewish people, Torah and G-d are all bound up in a singular oneness. By breaking the Luchos (The Tablets) and embracing a soul, you are allowing the neshamah to ultimately discover the Torah etched within her very core.

Stop trying to make your child “fit in” at all costs, even at the cost of his/her miserable future and dignity. Do not worry about what your relatives will say at the next family simcha. Think about one thing and one thing only: What do I need to do to allow my child to flourish, to discover his or her infinite dignity, to feel wanted, loved, cherished, and accomplished?

3. Talk and listen—constantly.

We must constantly talk to our kids and listen to them. We must talk to them about the dangers of abuse of all forms, and always, always communicate with them, watch them, listen to them, be attentive to their state of mind, and build unshakable bonds of trust with them.

More than anything, do not make them feel like outcasts, losers, disappointments. Believe in them, so that they can believe in themselves. See them as fragments of Gd, as particles of holiness, as rays of infinity.