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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
6 Iyar, page 5
Don't Play Games at Your Child's Expense

by Chaim Walder

Those involved in the area of emotional and mental problems are exposed to all kinds of disturbances and difficulties with which people must cope. Most problems may be completely resolved, or at least to a significant degree. But the most serious problem, according to all opinions, is manifested by a person who either does not recognize his problems or is unwilling to treat them under any circumstances.

One of the gedolei Yisroel once told me that many punishments are meted out to man in this world. But sometimes, there is an additional punishment: one that seems to be minuscule, but makes the suffering of the individual total and irresolvable. He was referring, of course, to punishment in the form of a stubborn mindset that causes a person to refuse all attempts to help him.

People give various reasons for their unwillingness to receive treatment. The most striking reason is that they are unprepared to admit that a problem exists. They insist that the problem lies in their environment, in which case, there is no reason to seek treatment.

Sometimes a person despairs of himself and has no strength to help himself. If he is left with a vestige of strength, he uses it to battle those who want to help him or would want to if given a chance.

Some people do understand that the problem lies within themselves. But although they desperately want to emerge from it, they suffer so much and are so torn inside, that they don't believe that anyone would ever be able to understand them.

Others are simply ashamed and emotionally incapable of being treated. They are ashamed to face a therapist: ashamed in front of their families and ashamed of themselves. They prefer emotional suffering over the imaginary suffering supposedly caused by the humiliation they might feel by admitting the need for help.

No one who is physically ill ever has a problem admitting that he is sick and then requesting help. Because physical illness can be seen and even assessed, one's close as well as distant environment accords the treatment legitimacy. The sick person receives backing and encouragement from family members and friends. From an emotional standpoint, he merits attention and support that help him and imbue him with strength and happiness.

Emotional problems are by nature different than physical problems. In general, it is impossible to see them or to guess that they exist (at least not in the incipient stages). When external symptoms appear (depression, outbursts, concentration on oneself without consideration of one's surroundings), society judges the sufferer harshly. People tend to see the obvious. When a person doesn't make efforts in his studies or his work, behaves in an unsuitable manner, disseminates an ambience of sadness and depression, and worst of all, bursts out at his fellow who hasn't done anything to him, people aren't particularly motivated to help him. Perhaps in the beginning they try to calm him and to persuade him, in a logical way, that his behavior isn't acceptable. Later come the sanctions: ignoring, hurting, accusing, ostracizing and presenting him as a disgusting, monstrous creature.

In the opinion of those involved in the field of emotional and mental problems, as well as according to simple logic, most emotional problems begin with insignificant things. Were they to have been taken care of in a timely manner, they wouldn't have developed. But unlike physical problems (when every cough causes you to sprint to Kupat Cholim, where you try to cough as much as possible so that everyone will know what's wrong with you), as far as emotional problems are concerned, the opposite takes place. You and your social circle try to consider all possibilities: except for the possibility that a problem exists. True, there are also doctors for emotional problems, and in general, such a person doesn't even have to be a doctor. In the beginning it is enough to take counsel with an intelligent person who understands enough about the human soul to encourage the sufferer to share his worries. A doctor comes into the picture when the soul is really unwell. But the lack of a man and his social circle's ability to admit to the existence of a mental problem and to overcome the shame and go ahead and treat it, brings people and entire families to a bottomless pit.

What hurts is that these things generally begin from something insignificant.

A child who is going downhill in his studies who receives help in the scholastic area and encouragement from his surroundings can be set on course after a few months: at the most, by the following school year.

However, a child who is not treated -- or worse than that, is treated harshly -- will continue to decline in the coming years and will develop an inferiority complex. He will lose interest in his studies because he has grown accustomed to failure, and one who has no interest in studying cannot acclimate to a regular study framework.

Take a boy whose parents haven't shown an interest in him since elementary school (let us suppose, justifiably) and who is a social outcast: how long can a normal person endure under such circumstances? How long will it take him to develop a broad range of psychological and even psychiatric problems? A year? Two? Five?

Often, the sudden decline of a young man -- and even a serious outburst -- constitutes a yeridoh letsorech aliyoh. It causes society to recognize that the boy has a problem and needs help. The more the problem is hidden, the more difficult it becomes, while the sufferer becomes less prepared to recognize it and to accept help from others. Even if in the end he agrees to accept help, the formidable stone barrier he built around himself over the years makes it very difficult to reach him.

In order to help a child or a youngster who displays signs of distress, there is no need to turn to a psychologist. At times, the very act of turning to a psychologist lowers the sufferer's morale and creates another problem. It is enough to turn to groups and people known for their ability to extend emotional help. They will offer a broad spectrum of solutions for help in a manner that will neither damage the sufferer's self esteem nor hurt his feelings. This help can be offered by means of tutors or educational advisors, or by means of a person whom the youngster admires and to whom he feels close, or even by means of a psychologist who is not defined as such. Experience proves that when a person is emotionally prepared to accept help, he can be led judiciously to the type of help he needs: by a display of friendship and trust, not offending him.


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