Dr Judith Guedalia

Anger vs. Midot: States And Traits From Chaim K.'s Perspective

By Dr. Judith Guedalia and Chaim K. © 2008

Over the Hagim I met many Americans who − once introduced to me − said something like the following:
How is Chaim K.?
_option_option_option_option_option_option_option_option We feel so spiritually uplifted by your writings, by your, we mean Chaim K. and you.
How does he do it?
Is he really as copasetic as he seems?
Is he really suffused with so much Firgun for others?
To quote Greer Fay Cashman the Jerusalem Post columnist: "Firgun is one of those Hebrew words that defy exact translation. The closest interpretation is 'not begrudging', but in point of fact firgun derives from a Yiddish word fargenigen that means enjoyment. The Yiddish word was in turn derived from German. Thus lefargen is to take pleasure in someone else's achievement." (http://info.jpost.com/C005/Supplements/5766/07.html)
But more than any question the one stands out: "Where is his anger?!"
So recently, when Chaim K. and I met, we spoke about some of these questions but spent more time on: "What does he do with anger?" This was the one that most piqued my curiosity too, over the three years we have been meeting.
"I have thought about this from my perspective," he winks. The double entendre is that in his motorized wheelchair he is at a reclining angle all the time, so that his "perspective" both encompasses the angle at which he observes the world around him as well as the one he has as a CSI (Cervical Spine Injured) quadriplegic on a respirator − these seven years, since the car hit him.
He continues: "I could be a bitter person, but I live at home, with my family and anger would spoil my time − our time, together when we are trying to behave 'normally'. Anger is a defense mechanism that doesn't pay!"
"Firgun on the other hand means that I don't begrudge someone what he/she has, even if seeing someone walking or biking or anything does squeeze and pinch my heart. I let it go quickly, because it would only harm me if I held on to it.
"It isn't easy to not be angry; I have worked very hard on my Midot (personality traits) to keep from being bitter, angry and jealous. I could look at teens and others my age, younger and older, moving-on with their lives and I could be very bitter and jealous, but where would that leave me? Would it help? Would I walk? Would I move? Would I feel anything other than green with envy and bitter?
"Don't write that I am so perfect. The other day a frum woman parked her car in a spot reserved for the handicapped and I was indeed furious at her. How could she be so selfish, so without hesed, a frum woman?! I even asked her, as she walked away. She turned from me and continued walking away from her car. But do you know something, I felt badly. I felt that the anger poisoned me and didn't budge her. So really there was no purpose in my feeling angry at her, rather I pitied her and family that she was so 'rushed' that she lost her 'midot-compass' and could not get back on the right path. How would she be able to give proper chinuch to her children?"
In essence, what Chaim K. has intuited over the seven long years of his situation is what Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. of The Child Trauma Academy (www.ChildTrauma.org) talks about in his seminal article: "The Neurodevelopmental Impact of Violence in Childhood". In other words how "States" become "Traits", I might oversimplify and say: how the event − more precisely − the biological, chemical/ physiological, cognitive and emotional consequences of a traumatic event, shapes the traits a person may have consequent to it in the present, and in turn, how these traits will go on to affect those around him/her, and physiologically change her/him and progeny, ever after.
These changes may be life saving for that individual at the "entry point", as they stem from the earliest part of our brain, the "reptilian" area which becomes the Limbic System; they are responsible for survival − Fight or Flight; Freeze or Feign Death. In psychological terms, one might say, become aggressive or escape − where escape may mean to dissociate/depersonalize and regress/repress.
When children are threatened they are likely to regress and display "immature" behavior − e.g. suck their thumb; bed-wet; need their old, discarded "transitional object" − "blanky" or teddy for example. Regression, a "retreat" to a less mature style of functioning and behavior, is commonly observed in all of us when we are physically ill, sleep-deprived, hungry, fatigued or threatened.
During the regressive response to the real or perceived threat, less-complex brain areas (not the higher cortical or "thinking" part of our brain) mediate our behaviors. If a child has been raised in an environment of persisting threat, the child will have an altered baseline, such that the internal state of calm is rarely obtained (or only artificially obtained via alcohol or drug use). In addition, the traumatized child might have an "over-sensitized" alarm response, over-reading verbal and non-verbal cues as threatening. This increased reactivity will result in dramatic changes in behavior in the face of seemingly minor provocative cues.
All too often, this over-reading of threat will lead to a "fight or flight" reaction − and increase the probability of impulsive aggression/regression/dissociation. This hyper-reactivity to threat can, as the child becomes older, contribute to the transgenerational cycle of violence. Perry's article presents this accompanying table to help one "visualize" the hypothesized "causal"/ adaptive events:



Environmental Pressures




Resource-limited Unpredictable


Resource-poor Inconsistent



Cognitive Style








Affective 'Tone'




Systemic Solutions




Focus of Solution


Immediate FUTURE


Rules, Regulations and Laws


















Table 3. The continuum of adaptive responses to threat in a living group (family, organization, community or society).


In summary, then, exposure to violence activates a set of threat-responses in the child's developing brain; in turn, excess activation of the neural systems involved in the threat responses can alter the developing brain; finally, these alterations may manifest as functional changes in emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning. The roots of violence-related problems, therefore, can be found in the adaptive responses to threat present during the violent experiences. The specific changes in neurodevelopment and function will depend upon the child's response to the threat, the specific nature of the violent experience(s) and a host of factors associated with the child, their family and community (see Perry & Azad, 1999).
When I go over this research with Chaim for this article, he responds with concern about the children of Sederot, Okef-Aza and Ashkelon, the areas being shelled multiple times daily over the last years!! Again Chaim K. understands and interprets to the "here-and-now" this most neurobiological and behavioral study, as if he studied it inside out − which, I guess, one can say he did and does!
"What can be done to help them?" he asks.
Perry et al continue: "The focus of the solution can be the future and the least powerful members of the living group (e.g., children and women), they can be treated with the most flexible, nurturing and enriching approaches."
Chaim K. has chosen to have his own apartment within his families' apartment. He has his own entrance but is clearly a part of a multi-generational home with weaker and stronger members in an ever-extending cycle of life of "flexible, nurturing and enriching environment".
By living in a normal environment not overloaded with Newspapers, Radio and Television as well as other stressors, Chaim has mitigated these reactions and allowed himself to become a sensitive, creative and understanding member of society. He eschews violence/anger responses and reactions, seeing them as the enemies of healing, and "snuffers" of his burning light of wholeness and health.
May we all learn from his unique behavior and have the Traits to turn adversarial States into positive Midot. The specific changes in neurodevelopment and function will depend upon the child's response to the threat, the specific nature of the
Originally published in the Jewish Press on June 12, 2008.

Tags: Anger | Cervical Spine Injured | Chaim K. | CSI | Firgun | Jewish Press | Quadriplegic | Regression