Right vs Loved

 Dear Dr.T.,

 My eleven your old daughter really has a hard time getting along with others – whether family,  neighborhood, or school. We spend a lot of time talking to her and listening to her complaints about the other kids. She always thinks someone is leaving her out, not keeping a promise, or cheating her. When we try to show her another side, she starts in on us, saying that we don’t stick up for her, that we always take the other child’s part. 

Basically, if she thinks someone has done her wrong – she has a fight unto death. She doesn’t accept explanations or apologies. She stews in her anger and the unfairness of it all and her friends just give up trying to make up with her. She will refuse to talk to them until she comes around – which can easily take a month or two. If it’s a sibling, she will ask us to punish the offender. If we refuse, she will say something to the effect of either you punish him [the offender] or I will. If we do nothing, she might smack her opponent, or wreck some of his things in order to make it ‘fair.’

 At this point we feel really worried. At the rate she is going, she soon won’t have any friends at all. I should add that she is generally a mopey, touchy, nervous girl- but I am not sure if that’s chicken or egg. She also has angry outbursts at home. Other than this, she does okay in school. The teachers have no complaints and her grades are decent.

 Dr. T.,

 I share your concern about your daughter. It also is not clear to me whether her chronic sadness and irritability gets her into trouble with others, or constants fights make her sad, angry, and irritable. But, I would imagine that the two issues feed on each other and are somehow connected. Though it would be best to focus on the whole picture, this brief response will focus on your daughter’s relationships. However, I certainly do feel that her feelings bear looking at. I would  recommend a professional consultation and therapy to help her with her emotional regulation.

 In the meanwhile, it seems from your description that his not a case of your daughter being bullied by her peers, but rather a situation where she is highly-sensitive and truly feels hurt. I also gather that when these feeling come up for her, she has trouble holding them, looking at them objectively, or expressing herself with appropriate words.

 Your daughter, like many others seems to have a strong sense of what is right, fair, or due her. If someone does not measure up to her ideal, she feels it is only ‘fair’ to punish them. It sounds like she has little capability to have empathy for, or even see, the other. She is not happy unless or until she can even the score.

 But, here’s the thing. We all have to decide in life whether we want to be right or loved. Often those two desires conflict – as anyone who has made concessions for the sake of preserving a relationship knows.

 People who have to be right are difficult to deal with and others generally avoid them. Whether it’s about being ‘out’ in jump rope or ball, what the Halacha is in a particular situation, or forgetting someone’s Simcha- the insistence on being in the right- even when we are- distances us from others. This is a concept well worth learning young, and one your daughter would benefit from.

 How do you teach her this? Well, it sounds like she is not open to hearing from you. But, she can’t avoid seeing you, and modeling behavior is best way of teaching it. So whatever, the slight – intentional or not- model seeing the other side. Perhaps the person was just heedless, or careless – and really- it’s no biggie. A neighbor failed to return a favor – well, we don’t know her reasons or even what’s going on with her. Your sister skipped your daughter’s graduation where she was valedictorian – well, maybe it was too painful for her that her daughter was not. By your constant modeling of empathy and an ayin tov, you teach your daughter a healthier way of handling the inevitable rifts in relationships.

 Something else to model to your daughter is the idea that a mistake is only a mistake- and something that may happen more than we like. We are happier when we can accept ourselves and others as fallible and imperfect. And, our acceptance will lead to more positive relationships as well. So, for example, when someone forgets to respond to a Simcha and shows up nevertheless, it’s not a nerve – but just a mistake. This view -which sidesteps the right-wrong issue- is sure to earn more friendship and good feeling- and peace of mind for us as well.

 The demand for justice and fairness in relationships gets us into trouble with others and destroys good feeling. It makes a person constantly unhappy because nothing is fair when governed by the most imperfect of species – humans. Empathy, overlooking, seeing the other’s point of view- all these earn us the love and affection of those we hold dear.

 The saddest thing is that when we are difficult in a relationship- explode in anger, insist on justice and our need to be right- we burn our bridges. Initially, we may feel good about sticking up for ourselves and giving the other grief – but when our feelings dissipate, our friend may still be feeling resentful. So, while we may be ready to move on, our friend is not – and we have lost what we want most – close relationships.

 I hope your daughter can take in some of these messages and benefit from them. And, please do seek out counseling with a therapist who is experienced with children.