Healing From An Abnormal Childhood [#1974]

Question:

If one’s parents were not that emotionally healthy – and as a result, he/she has basically grown up with an abnormal childhood – I have several questions:
1) How can the person properly accept what has happened, in a healthy way, so that any damage and shortcomings in personality which has been caused to him/her as the result of an abnormal childhood will no longer bother him/her and negatively affect his/her behavior throughout the day? It is very aggravating to a person when he/she didn’t have a normal family or normal parents. The person feels so alone in his/her world and constantly feels ashamed from others, and he/she feels so different from others who grew up with a good, warm family.
2) Since the child didn’t grow up with his/her needs met, this has caused him/her to constantly be “dealing” with the issues that have developed from this, today when the child is a now a grown-up adult, he/she isn’t consciously aware of his/her physical actions, and isn’t concentrating that much on what she/she does. This has led to disastrous results. What is the way for a person to fix this issue, since he/she has never seen a normal home?
3. And what about all of the warmth and love that the child didn’t get, whether the child didn’t get it from his father or mother? How can this void be filled? Is it possible for the person to get his/her unmet needs from another source and become whole and complete again?
4. Furthermore, the now grown-up child has no aspirations in life – no physical interests and no spiritual interests. How do we awaken a person to aspire for goals in life, so that he/she can become like all other people who grew up normal and good?
Yasher Koach !

Answer:

  1. As it appears from the question, there are several points you mentioned here which need to explained and absorbed well in one’s soul, before we attempt to work with the specific issues mentioned which are bothering the person.

A person’s situation is affected in the present from the past, in two ways. One aspect is the personal shortcomings that have developed in the soul [which has resulted from the troubled past] – each of one’s personal shortcomings [are a result of the troubled past]. A second aspect is that the person becomes troubled by the very fact that he/she has these personal shortcomings which have developed. When one feels strongly troubled by this, the person will feel that it is impossible to change his/her personal shortcomings.

Addressing the first factor – the personal shortcomings at hand which have developed – the proper way to go about this is as follows. The first step in fixing problems is to gain a clear understanding of the personal shortcomings. When it is difficult for a person to accept that these shortcomings exist in his/her personality, one will certainly be unable to approach the issues properly and accurately. Therefore, the first step is that one will need to come to terms with the very difficulty in accepting the existence of his/her personal shortcomings.

Before continuing, I want to emphasize that I am not coming here G-d forbid to minimize the difficulty of what the person has been through and is currently going through. The purpose here is to try at least, to illuminate the person’s perspective on the situation, in a way which the person can, with the help of G-d, progress further.

  1. The very reality of any human being is that he/she is imperfect. Even more so, This World is defined by our Sages as “mostly evil, and minimally good”, meaning that our world is mostly imperfect. This is the reality which HaKadosh Baruch Hu has placed us in. Some people have shortcomings that are more obvious, and in others, the shortcomings are less obvious. Some people have developed personal shortcomings due to external factors, such as difficult situations in life, as in the case you described. They were negatively affected by their external factors. Others grew up in an external environment which was positive, but they were born with deficiencies in their nature contained in their soul: for example, there is natural disarray in the abilities of their soul, they have a natural imbalance in their soul, etc. The common denominator between all of the above people is that they are all bothered by personal shortcomings, which is subjective, because each person’s soul makeup is different.

Let’s proceed to the next step. There is a way to separate one’s current reality – to a certain extent – from one’s past. But there is also a more truthful approach: to connect the past and present together, in the proper way. We will explain this.

If one takes the first approach [separating from the past], a person is apt to feel that “Really, I need to serve Hashem as I should. But I have certain things which are preventing me – my personal shortcomings [that are a result of my childhood]. That is what is making it impossible for me to do what I need to do.” But that is not the truthful way to approach one’s current situation.

What is the truth? A person’s current level of how much he can serve Hashem is meant to become connected with one’s personal situation! One’s avodas Hashem is defined, precisely, by the unique circumstances which he/she went through, meaning that one’s unique circumstances and situation defines what one’s avodas Hashem is in the present. On a subtler level, one’s avodas Hashem is defined by two different realities: One’s external situation, and one’s personal situation.

But whether a person’s shortcomings were a result of growing up in a negative environment or whether they are natural imbalances in one’s personality, in any case, these are not “bothersome issues” which are “preventing” a person from serving Hashem. Rather, they are an intrinsic part of one’s avodah. Meaning, I need to serve Hashem from amidst those very shortcomings, from the exact situation which Hashem placed me in. Hashem has given each person his own personal shortcomings, and it is one’s bechirah (free choice) how he will act within that reality.

Therefore, if a person had a difficult childhood, and is currently suffering from it, this does not mean that he/she doesn’t have the tools to fulfill his/her purpose on this world and to succeed in it. For it is precisely one’s avodah that he/she needs to learn how to deal [with life], from amidst the very challenges. That what Hashem wants from him, personally (so it is irrelevant for a person to think about what Hashem wills from others).

  1. Now we will move on to describing the practical work which can help the case you are describing – at least as a starting point to begin with. It is in addition to reflecting about the points we already mentioned.

One should sit down and write a very detailed list of all the different positive things in his/her life – both the material aspects of life, as well as in the spiritual areas of life. One should write down all his/her successes and accomplishments – in spite of the fact that there do exist difficulties in his/her life. One should also write down any of the gifted qualities which Heaven has blessed with him, even though he/she didn’t work hard to acquire these qualities. For example, if one feels that he/she has merited to marry an exceptional spouse, this would be of great help to a person in his/her current situation. Getting more specific, one should take apart all of the details of each topic he is writing down, and see all the different positive aspects that are contained in any one thing.

This list should not be written down quickly. It doesn’t take 1 or 2 days. One should get used to regularly adding to this list, whenever he/she finds a quiet, calm time. It should not be viewed simply as a time to simply write down things, but also as a time to think about what’s good in your life, in a way that involves you soul, throughout the day.

When one regularly practices adding to this list, one slowly gains awareness of different positive aspects in his/her life. This will provide a person with a feeling of aliveness and general hope to continue serving Hashem, in spite of the existing difficulties and challenges in one’s life – and, even more, to serve Hashem precisely from the difficulties and challenges. The mere exercise of writing this list already has the power to bring one’s soul to a healthier perspective. However, one should keep reviewing the list every so often, so that one can maintain cognizance of the positive aspects in his/her life.

  1. Above, we have attempted to get to the root of difficulties on a general level. But some of the other questions you asked (Points 1 and 4) are about more specific issues. Let us now address those specific issues.

4-A) The reality of a person, with regards to his/her relationships to others, consists of several factors: (1) Those who are “above” the person – his father and mother, and his Torah teachers. (2) Those who are “parallel” to the person – one’s spouse and one’s friends. (3) Those who are “below” the person, such as one’s children (and if one is a Torah teacher, his/her students).

It is very important for a person to draw a general picture of all these different relationships, because it gives a person an idea that even if one is lacking in certain relationships in his/her life, there is still more room for the “map” to expand. Even though any of these relationships may have their issues, it is still very helpful to become aware of all the different possibilities of relationships in one’s life, so that one will now know that he/she will need to invest time and energy in order to build any of these relationships.

Avraham Avinu was commanded by Hashem to leave behind his father’s home. He took himself and built a completely new life for himself, a new family, new students, and more. What we can learn from this is that one can view all the different existing relationships in his/her life as an opportunity to invest energy into them and build them anew. One may have a good relationship with his/her parents, but is lacking in a relationship with his/her spouse, or with his/her friends, or with the children, etc. Each person has unique circumstances which Hashem has placed him/her in. Each person needs to serve Hashem and progress further depending on his/her unique situation, and do whatever it is within his/her hands.

But now we will add on another point which is very clear. Avinu Av HaRachaman – “Our Father, the Merciful Father.” We all have a relationship with “Above” – with our Father in Heaven. From Hashem’s perspective, this reality exists completely and constantly and forever, and it is the task of a person – from his/her perspective, which is that of a human being – to build in the soul, a deep recognition of the “great love that Hashem our G-d loves us with”, and, simultaneously, to reveal a fiery love in our soul for Hashem, which is described as “For love [for G-d] is as tough of death, its flames are flames of fire.”  (One also needs to fear Hashem and all the other parts of one’s avodah.)

We shall now mention the other side of the coin, which is that there is a place in the soul of “alone”. Chazal state “Therefore, a person was created individual.” When one is properly balanced in his/her ability to be “alone” [refer possibly to the Rav’s Da Es Atzmecha, “Getting To Know Your Self”], this is a very constructive power. It is clear that when a person is in a situation in his/her life and he/she truly feels “alone” [apart from others and alone with Hashem], it is much easier for him/her to identify with this power and to serve Hashem with vigor, with positive results.

4-B) It is true that when a child grows up in a family where his/her needs weren’t met, the person later in life will still be lacking in those needs. However, one needs to know that it is only a partial problem [as opposed to a complete problem], and therefore, it is possible to fill those needs, such as by seeking counsel once a week with a mature person – in spite of the fact that it will still not fill the void completely.

In regards to the issue you describe that the person is mostly “dealing” with issues of the past [and isn’t focused]: the problem here is, that the person is trying to deal with his/her issues in a way that is above what he/she can really handle. The shortcomings do exist, but the person has to know his/her limitations, and how much he/she can do right now about them. The main part of the difficulty here is because the person is blowing up his/her issues too much.

Going deeper with this, a person’s life needs to be mainly built from within oneself. Whatever a person receives from others is but a tool to help a person, but one’s main avodah (task) is to build his life, now, from within oneself, and to receive minimally from others. One should not have the attitude that the life is based on whatever one received from his/her parents. The more a person builds his/her individual and internal life, one’s attitude towards how much he/she has received or didn’t receive from his/her parents will change [for the better, because he/she will feel much less needy of them].

4-C) [Even in a case where one did not receive that much love as a child], One should still recognize the little bit love that he/she did receive. Correspondingly, if one is able right now to receive a minimal amount of love from his/her parents, one can strive to receive it.

Going deeper, one should try to reach the ability of pure self-love, which would fill whatever one is lacking [Editor’s Note: this is explained about in Inner Silence Series_ 015_ Expressing Love To Hashem] On a deeper level, [one can feel] Hashem’s love, which is a higher level than all of the above [Editor’s Note: refer to Bilvavi Part 5 _Loving Hashem].

4-D) Firstly, one should calm the soul, as you have mentioned, and to leave this defeating attitude that “I am missing so much in my life, so my life is ruined”. When one learns how to place boundaries on what he/she is lacking [to stop blowing up the issues] and one’s soul thereby becomes calmer, that is when one can begin tackling the issues, with assistance from Heaven.