By Elisheva Rabinowitz
Eight years ago, *Sara, a 30 year old woman, became a Baal Teshuvah (BT). She came into my office because she was still struggling with issues of feeling “less than” her neighbors. Her neighbor, Rivki, always looked put-together, with the latest shaitel and clothes from NY. Even though she had 12 children, her house was spotless, and her neat and clean children were (seemed) always well-behaved. Sara pined to look, act and be like Rivki. She asked, “How can she do always be put together, but at my house there are toys on the floor, dishes in the sink and everything doesn’t look “perfect”.
Sara is not alone in her struggles to fit in and be accepted by her peers. Many BTs desire to “fit-in” and be liked by others which can make the transition from a secular Jew to a BT a challenging one. How can Sara fit in, or does she need to? How can Sara learn to accept herself? How can Sara learn that it’s not emotionally healthy to compare herself to Rivki or anyone else? These questions are important to address, and as a licensed counselor, I try to help my clients find a place for themselves in the Frum world, and more importantly, a loving place within themselves.
The reason that it is important to learn ways to accept yourself is because HaShem wants you to focus on YOUR ROLE in Olam Hazeh (this world). When you focus on your role and yourself, then you will free yourself up to be closer to HaShem, have more time to fulfill your role and improve the rest of your life; instead of chasing the “Life would be easier if I was a FFB”; “If I could only be put together like____”; or “If we only knew all the mitzvot of shabbos automatically then life would be easier”.
I would like to make some simple suggestions on how to address this issue of accepting who you are (though you may need to address this issue on a deeper level):
1.Understanding Your Strengths-Who are you?
I want my clients to focus on and understand their strengths, so I ask them, “What makes you unique and special?”
If you are having some difficulty thinking of what makes you-you then here’s some suggestions
(Please use this list as a starting place, but not as a limitation):
Gentle,Prepared,Loving,Imaginative,Alert,A good listener
If the list above does not help you think of your positive attributes, then you might want to ask yourself, “If a friend was describing me, she would say I am _________.”
After you have thought of 3-5 words that describe you, then I encourage you to repeat those words to yourself to reinforce your strengths and talents. Sometimes people tell me that they feel “stupid” saying, “I am a _____ (positive attribute) person” because they don’t see the benefit of the activity. One client asked, “How will saying these statements make me feel better?”. The bottom line is that you need to believe in your inner worth; therefore, when you tell yourself positive messages you boost yourself self-esteem. Also, it is important to always remember you are Tzelem Elokim, made in G-d’s image, He loves you and you have many fine qualities. This exercise is meant to develop your awareness of your strengths, not to cause haughtiness. Your goal is to strengthen your image of yourself, but you should be cautious not to inflate or deflate your positive qualities.
2. Be Patient and Loving with Yourself
Sometimes BTs (generally speaking) can be so busy and focused on everyone else that they forget that HaShem loves them. For example, I’ve heard people make the following statements:
1. *Avi learns ___ blatt of Gemara a day and I only learned____;
2. I can’t juggle 3 carpools, but Sara has 5 carpools; or
3. I don’t know how to “speak the lingo”
These types of statements may make you feel “less than”, embarrassed, or angry, but you have many successes, and you continue to learn more things. BTs need to be reminded that He sees how much they’ve changed and how many steps they’ve taken to grow closer to Him. He loves them and He wants them to love themselves. I want to clarify that the above statements don’t mean that they are finished growing and learning, but BTs need to focus on their true abilities, strengths and their path of Teshuvah.
Recently, I made a recommendation to my client-be patient and loving with yourself and focus on your accomplishments. Certainly, my statement is easier said then done, but each step we take toward this goal the more emotionally healthier we become. A Frum from birth woman recently told me, “I don’t know if I grew up in the secular world, I would decide to become frum-it seems so hard”. She could not understand how someone could decide to change so many aspects of his/her life.
If you stop and think about it, you have made so many changes, such as where you eat, how you eat, how you spend your time, how you carry on a conversation… and that’s just the beginning. Therefore, I recommend you making a list of all the things you have changed-improvements you’ve made in your life (even if it was 10 years ago). Then, “pat yourself on the back” for each step you have taken and the many more steps that you will take. It may feel strange to “pat yourself on the back”, but through recognition that we are trying to integrate into a life that FFB have been familiar with all their lives can be challenging and a test. Therefore, take a moment and review all the steps you’ve taken, thank HaShem for lifting you up and carrying you toward Him.
On a daily basis, BTs need to navigate a sea of issues that can be challenging and impair their sense of well-being. Below is a short list of items that you may have experienced and some reactions (in parenthesis) I’ve heard about :
1. Dating (You met him when and now you’re getting married. Don’t you think you should date for a couple of years to make sure “He’s Mr. Right”.)
2.Shalom bayis (I thought 2 people get married and hope not to get divorced);
3. Having children (What is a pidyon haben?; Do you plan on having more kids?);
4. Pesach cleaning (What is that? How long does that take?);
5. Tisha B’Av (When is that? What is that? “Oh, it’s in the summer when we were on vacation, so we never paid attention to that day”);
6. Make Bar/Bas Mitzvahs (How will we explain to our families the difference between Frum Bas Mitzvah and what I had);
7. Kosher (What do you mean you can’t eat my cooking anymore); and
8. Sending our children off for Seminary or Bais Medrash (Your family asks, “Your sending your kids where and they are going to do what?” and then they add, “Don’t plan on staying there.”).
Therefore, a BT will be more able to address challenges more easily with a positive and strong sense of him or herself.
As Sara focused on what made her special and all of her accomplishments, she was able to focus less on everyone else’s perfect home (which in reality is only in fairy tale books). She learned to think positive about herself and others, and see HaShem’s loving kindness in her daily life. We have no guarantees in life, so live life to the fullest today!
*Name and information changed for privacy
For some BTs, these issues may be easy to handle, but other issues may be more challenging, such as how to handle family issues that arise or pressures of being a BT women or how to resolve issues from “my past”. If speaking to someone who is sensitive to the needs of the BT would be helpful, please feel free to contact me, Elisheva Rabinowitz at 410-736-8118.
Elisheva Rabinowitz received her MA in Clinical Psychology, and is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC). In her private practice, she works with adults and children who experienced traumatic events in their life, such as a death of a parent or abuse. In addition, she is sensitive to the needs of the Baalei Teshuvah. She has spoken for Chana, Counseling, Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women, on the topic of domestic violence. Also, she has spoken for N’Shei Agudath about wellness and stress and anger. Currently, she in the owner of “BalancedBodies4Women” and specializes in: Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (abuse, stress and anger management, grief and loss issues), stress and anger issues and eating issues, such as emotional overeating. She is a member of Nefesh: The International Network of Orthodox Mental Health Professionals and American Counseling Association (ACA). She counsels clients pro bono for The Shofar Coalition.
In addition, Elisheva Rabinowitz holds several wellness certifications, such as Personal Trainer and Group Exercise (such as Pilates and Yoga). She helps her clients obtain a healthy and fit body, prevent serious illness, reduce stress levels, and increase their energy. In addition, she helps them overcome roadblocks and become accountable for their actions, making wellness part of their lifestyle, not just for a week, a month, or a year, but for a lifetime.
Elisheva Rabinowitz can be reached at 410-736-8118 or email@example.com or www.balancedbodies4women.com