Dr Judith Guedalia

Taking Home The Lessons Of Gan Eden - Ultimate Kindergarten (Part Two)

Last week I related right after Simchat Torah and the beginning of the new cycle of Torah readings, how I was pondering about my role in helping patients in my practice, based on the first readings about Gan Eden. In returning one of the many phone messages I received during the previous week, I finally did make telephone contact with the urgent caller.


"Baruch Hashem," she said. Well, she really said: "Baruch Hashem; Baruch Hashem; Baruch Hashem; Baruch Hashem; Baruch Hashem; Baruch Hashem." Uh-oh, I said to myself, too much overkill on B"H for just returning a phone call.

"How do you think I can help you?" I ask.

"Baruch Hashem, He directed me to you. Baruch Hashem you will be the shaliach (agent) of success. Baruch Hashem."

"Excuse me, could you please back up here a bit? I don't really understand why you called me in the first place. In what way do you think I can help you? I may not be the right 'agent'?"

"Baruch Hashem, He guides me and He got me your number."

"Baruch Hashem," I say now, for loss of another mantra, "in what way do you think I can help you?"

"Baruch Hashem, I am looking for a school for my daughter. I was told that you know many things."

"Your daughter?"

"Baruch Hashem, she is out of jail right now; Baruch Hashem, the drugs she was taking did not harm her, and now we are, Baruch Hashem, looking for a school for her. Yes, even though she is not content living with us and has run away many times.

"Baruch Hashem, we have many children who have survived." "Survived?" I ask. "Yes, we have had a lot of tzorot (trouble) with our children; some have run away; some have gone 'off the derech'; some have chosen lives very different than our own. Baruch Hashem, He knows what He is doing."

"Besides the drugs, and specifically regarding the daughter you are speaking of, are there any other things you can tell me that might help in my directing you to a school for her?"

"Baruch Hashem, she is raising her son well; Baruch Hashem, hopefully she will marry the boy's father."

I am a little, or a lot, out of my league here. "You have really had a rough time," I say to her.

"Yes, but Baruch Hashem, things are improving for my other children. Right now, they are not being abused by their father. Also, you know, drugs, promiscuity and those other horrible 'off the derech' behaviors are improving. Baruch Hashem, even though some don't want to live home with me they are, Baruch Hashem beginning to find their ways."

"Baruch Hashem, they got out," I say to myself. This is not what Hashem wanted for us in Gan Eden - to be going with the flow! We were given gifts of life, children, a place to live and be protected, but we had responsibilities and obligations to not just praise the Almighty, but put the new world in order - give it definitions, criteria for differentiating. We are obligated to use the earth to produce G-d's blessings, not just sit there and laud Him.

What I was hearing seemed like a horribly out-of-whack example of "learned helplessness".

How could these children, or any children for that matter, find their way, when no way was shown? No directives or directions were given. Just go with the flow, and blessed be Hashem.

Cognitive intervention with this family would be very challenging. After being taught how to see, hear and listen - not talk (maybe even by teaching them another language like Sign Language) to break the vicious cycle of words with no meaning/understanding behind them, the team of therapists would have to include Maslowian instruction and "unlearning" of "learned helplessness".

Prior to Maslow, researchers generally focused separately on such factors as biology, achievement, or power to explain what energizes, directs, and sustains human behavior. Maslow posited a hierarchy of human needs based on two groupings: deficiency needs and growth needs.

Within the deficiency needs, each lower need must be met before moving to the next higher level. Once each of these needs has been satisfied, if at some future time a deficiency is detected, the individual will act to remove the deficiency. The first four levels are:

·    Physiological: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.

·    Safety/security: out of danger

·   Sense of belonging and of being loved: affiliate with others, be accepted

·   Self-esteem: to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition

From hearing this mother's comments, I felt that her children sorely lacked these basic needs; these needs would never be met unless they got out of the rut of "learned helplessness".

While studying the relationship between fear and learning in early 1965, by doing experiments on dogs using Pavlovian classical conditioning, Martin E. P. Seligman and his colleagues, accidentally discovered an unexpected phenomenon. In Seligman's experiment, instead of pairing the bell with food (and getting the dogs to salivate when they heard the tone even when no food was present) he paired it with a harmless shock, restraining the dog in a hammock during the learning phase. The idea then, was that after the dog learned this, the dog would feel fear on the presentation of a tone, and would then run away or do some other behavior.

Next, they put the conditioned dog into a "shuttlebox," which consists of a low fence dividing the box into two compartments. The dog could easily see over the fence and jump over it if it wished.

They rang the bell. Surprisingly, nothing happened! (They were expecting the dog to jump over the fence.) Then, they decided to shock the conditioned dog, and again nothing happened! The dog just pathetically lay there! When they put a normal dog into the shuttlebox, one that had never experienced inescapable shock, the dog, as expected, immediately jumped over the fence to the other side. Apparently, what the conditioned dog learned in the hammock, was that trying to escape from the shocks is futile. This dog learned to be helpless!

The children in this family never felt the security of having someone care for their psychological needs: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc. They never sensed safety/security and being out of danger at home; they never fit in, and never felt a sense of belonging and being loved: or a common affiliate with others, as they were always being "hit" with new abuse as well as lassitude and absence of direction. How could they "fit in" when "in" was so ephemeral? How could they achieve self esteem, be competent, gain approval and recognition, when their actions were reactions and the "derech" was so "fuzzy"?

Again, I reiterated that she had a very tough year, and I would be pleased to direct her to a therapeutic team, who would help her get some direction, and then talk about her children after that.

"Children," she said. "I didn't even mention that I might have had double the number of children I have today, had Hashem not intervened, Baruch Hashem, to give me the many miscarriages I have endured."

"Baruch Hashem," I said to myself, feeling His control over all of us again.


Originally published in the Jewish Press on November 15, 2006.


Tags: Cognitive Intervention | Deficiency Needs | Growth Needs | Jewish Press | Learned Helplessness | Maslowian instruction