By Yehuda Krohn, Psy.D

Text and Image published in collaboration with the Jewish Press.

There are situations in life that hold us back from reaching our fullest potential. They essentially keep us down. Some situations derive from our environment. They are about transitions, related to work, school, or even the change of seasons. Some hit closer to home, as with the experience of trauma or even the recent birth of a child, yet others are harder to pinpoint. They include mood changes along with challenges as to the ways we perceive, think, and feel.

The articles in this edition of Mind, Body & Soul, demonstrate how to recognize obstacles to wholeness and growth and how to rise above them.

More specifically, in this edition, Pamela Siller identifies a key variable, resilience, which predicts how adaptively people will respond to trauma and tragedy. Sarah Miller equips new mothers with tools to face the challenges that arise at a time many associate with joy.   

Rachel Rosenholtz strikes, for parents, a healthy balance, in supporting their children who face school difficulties. Elisheva Liss shows us how to tilt the balance of our approach to otherwise painful experiences.

Mendi Baron supports parents in shepherding their teenagers through the change of seasons, particularly the fall and winter. Chaya Kohn lights the way for those who struggle with emotional difficulties, even overwhelming ones, to get the help they need.

I’d like to share my own thoughts about rising above.  They go beyond both individual and one-on-one experiences and relate to factors that would break apart a family, a community, a people.

When a family experiences a tragedy, there are numerous forces at work, each of which has the potential to divide them.  A family member serves as the glue that holds together disparate members and factions.  When that family member passes away, the family drifts apart.  Other times, family members are so helplessly at odds with each other, that they are “primed” for bitter conflict. All it takes is a single highly charged event, a tragedy, to touch off a war.

Additionally, tragedy and trauma include a sense of extreme danger as well as powerlessness. Our brains cannot tolerate such feelings, and our minds will do almost anything to ward off the extreme vulnerability that these feelings create.

One “trick” our minds play is to disassociate ourselves from those in our larger family who’ve been harmed; something along the lines of “Oh, we haven’t been close to them for years,” or “That side of the family isn’t like us, anyway; they’re not religious/too religious/[fill in the blank].”

Another trick involves blame. Many trauma victims tend to blame themselves for the horrific things that happen to them, even when they are clearly not to blame. From the mind’s perspective, it is better to feel that we had (and continue to have) control over our own fate, even as this leads to a sense of guilt, than it is to feel powerless. (“If only I had noticed the malevolent look in that stranger’s eyes…”)

Those a step or two removed from the trauma may blame themselves (“I should have stopped her from going out.”)  or– and here is where divisiveness comes to play– they may blame the actions of others, however tenuous the connection may be.  (“They brought this upon themselves. It has nothing to do with me.” or “That group created a culture of harm. Let’s punish them.”)

The games that our minds play do not ultimately protect us. They create a false sense of safety, a false sense of control, a magnified sense of outrage and blame. These tricks ultimately impede victims of trauma from becoming survivors of trauma.     

In the aftermath of last month’s horrific Pittsburgh synagogue attack, in which 11 Jews were murdered, we face forces that would divide us. These forces feed off differences, between Jews, that were already present. There may be differences in observance, differences in political orientation, even differences between those who do and don’t speak Hebrew.

We desperately need to find a way as a family, a community, a people, to rise above these differences. We must learn to avoid the “easy way out,” of blaming others, of allowing old disagreements to flare up, or even of disassociating and drifting away from Jews who don’t exactly resemble us.

If we can honor the indivisibility of the Jewish people, we can begin to take in the enormity of the Pittsburgh tragedy. The sense of shared grief could be a starting point from which embark on the pathway to the fullest healing.

May Hashem bring comfort to members of the Pittsburgh community and to the larger community, speedily and in our days.