This essay will appear in next week’s Jewish Press. Generally, as per my arrangement with The Jewish Press, I do not post columns until the issue is on the newsstand. However, due to the nature and timeliness of this subject, The Jewish Press is permitting its release prior to publication as a public service.
Abuse Survivors; Please Do Not Suffer Alone
By: Dr. Benzion Twerski and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
In recent days, reports have circulated in the media and on the Internet about the tragic early passing of yet another young man in our community. Those reports indicate that the trauma of childhood abuse followed him and complicated his adult life to the point that it impinged on the quality of his personal relationships.
It is not the intent of these lines to substantiate these reports nor is it to dismiss them. Rather, we wish to use the opportunity presented by this horrible calamity and the dialogue it has created on the internet and in the street to once again loudly and forcefully reiterate the message we have been projecting for many years to victims of abuse – “Please reach out for help and do not suffer alone.”
For even in the event that the facts as reported in this particular tragedy are not accurate, they are most certainly consistent with the pattern we have unfortunately seen over and over again, where victims of childhood abuse go through unspeakable agony as they attempt to singlehandedly deal with the toxic aftereffects of the trauma they suffered in their formative years. We have each encountered numerous instances where untreated childhood abuse follows victims into adulthood, shredding their marriages and rendering them often incapable of entering into a loving and intimate relationship with their spouses until a trained mental health professional helps them sort things out. We have each been involved with more than a few childhood abuse victims who became addicted to heroin and/or cocaine, in an unsuccessful attempt to wash away the searing pain of their trauma. We have each paid more than a few shiva calls to families of abuse victims, who years and even decades later took their own lives.
There are a number of reasons why abuse victims would not avail themselves of intervention and assistance. Some are understandably reluctant or frightened to share the facts of their abuse with others. Others, who did have the courage to confide in adults in their lives were encouraged or intimidated into remaining silent – especially if the perpetrator is a respected individual or a close family member. This sends a horrible message to the victim – that he or she has done something that cannot see the light of day. The result is a that a never-ending video loop now plays in the mind of the victim, as societal pressure abuses them again and again, by forcing them to remain silent and unsupported.
There are many events that simultaneously involve more than one “system.” For example, when one gets arrested for driving under the influence which caused injuries or death, there are criminal penalties for drunk driving and financial reparations due for the damages caused. However, neither of these tracks deals with the fact that the perpetrator has a drinking problem. Courts realize they cannot treat alcoholism, as revoking licenses, impounding cars, and even jail terms will not prevent recidivism – especially if treatment is warranted but not followed.
Various efforts have been undertaken in recent years – all of which are necessary – in the arenas of prevention, education, training, and the need for reporting. And we both have proudly participated in many of them. However, despite the fact that these initiatives and the awareness they generate are often soothing to past abuse victims, none of these help them regain their footing. Only therapy by a licensed and trained professional can accomplish that.
We are therefore reaching out to anyone who was ever abused or molested in their childhood years and begging you to please do yourself the ultimate favor and get help.
Therapy may not solve all issues in your life, but it will do much to make your future brighter and filled with greater promise. In fact, many survivors thrive and build beautiful lives for themselves and their families following successful treatment.
It may be true that some people are resilient and survive with little apparent damage (apparent is the operative word). However, this is not the norm, and with the dangers involved, we would not recommend that you even risk this small chance. So; for your sake, and for the sake of your spouse and children, please, please get help.
This may mean several things:
- Contact a mental health professional who is experienced in counseling trauma victims. (I strongly feel that well-intentioned individuals like me, who do not have professional training in abuse treatment, are not equipped to deal with these issues and should limit our involvement to supporting the efforts of the professionals, and steering those who seek our guidance in these matters directly to them. Y.H.)
- Get information about trauma and its effects.
- Connect with other victims/survivors. The camaraderie and support are invaluable.
We strongly suggest that you ignore those who inform you, that getting married and starting a family will help you, “Get over it.” Experience has taught us that it will often complicate things rather than heal them.
Please, please do not suffer alone. Reach out for help today.
In closing, we offer you our sincere and heartfelt bracha that Hashem grant you menuchas hanefesh and simchas hachayim (tranquility and joy) in your lives.
© 2009 Dr. Benzion Twerski and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is a regular columnist in The Jewish Press. Dr. Benzion Twerski is a renowned and much sought-after mental health professional who holds a Ph.D. in psychology from University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Twerski has been one of the leading voices in our community on the issue of child abuse for more than a decade. He lives and practices in Brooklyn, N.Y. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org