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When keeping a secret causes pain

Timna was in her last year of high school and doing very well there. She was well-liked, had a group of close friends, and was also a leader in her local branch of the Scouts youth group. And yet at home, she was angry all the time. She would fly off the handle at the smallest provocation. She would isolate herself from the family however she could, prepare food for herself to eat alone in her room with her headphones blasting aggressive music.  When she did talk to her parents, it would be in a tone of barely suppressed rage even if nothing at all had happened. Timna’s parents asked her over and over what the issue was, but they never got any reply. They felt like she hated them both but especially her mother, and they had no idea she was keeping a secret.

Timna asked her parents to find her a therapist and her mother brought her to Kav L’Noar. She told the therapist that she felt guilty about her bad relationship with her parents. Timna remarked: “I am jealous of my friends who are so much closer to their parents.” But she didn’t know how to repair the damage. The therapist worked with Timna intensively on communication and building a sense of trust and connection. After nine months, both Timna and her mother said that things were much improved.  They had developed a more relaxed and even fairly warm relationship. Timna said thank you and goodbye to the therapist.

When the reason is more painful than the problem

A year and a half later, Timna’s mother casually announced that she was going to a bar mitzvah party that night for her friend Tzippora’s grandson. “You remember Boaz? It’s for his son.” Timna froze. She hadn’t heard the name Boaz for over ten years, but his face was seared in her memory. Tzippora was Timna’s mother’s best friend. She lived nearby and her youngest children were of similar ages to Timna and her siblings. When Timna was a child, the two families would regularly get together in each other’s houses.

There was one long summer when Tzippora’s eldest son Boaz had moved back into his parents’ house together with his wife and two-year-old son.  Because he was doing renovations to his own apartment. During that summer, there were three occasions when Boaz managed to get the then eight-year-old Timna away from everyone else in the house. Everyone,  including from her own mother who was sitting downstairs with Tzippora, when Boaz molested her.

The pain of exposing the secret

Boaz was both threatening and charming and made sure that Timna knew that she had to keep it secret. Timna for her part was very confused. She didn’t really understand what had happened.  She knew it was very unpleasant and that it felt extremely wrong, and yet she also felt flattered by the attention. Timna thought that she must have encouraged him in some way, that she was responsible. She kept it all completely secret. Boaz then moved out into his completed apartment far away and Timna never saw him again. She had done her best to put it out of her mind all these years.  But, hearing that her mother would be in the same room as him brought it all flooding back to an unbearable degree. She picked up the phone and scheduled an appointment with her therapist at Kav L’Noar.

Breaking The Silence

Timna told her therapist the whole story but said that she wasn’t interested in pressing charges against Boaz. “I just want to put it behind me, but for real this time.” By now Timna was nineteen and in the middle of her national service at a local hospital. Ever since this had all come up again, she was finding it impossible to interact with male staff members or patients. “If they ask me to bring something to a male nurse, I panic. I try to swap with the others so I only deal with female patients. If a man talks to me, I get a roar in my ears and I can’t hear a word he says. This isn’t sustainable. I want to live a normal life, finish my national service, travel, get a good job, find a husband one day. I need help.”

Processing the abuse

The therapist worked with Timna on processing the abuse.  Timna slowly began to accept that even though she felt guilty, she had been an entirely innocent victim. The therapist also helped her understand that she had unconsciously blamed her parents for not protecting her from Boaz.  This blaming was what lay behind her intense anger towards them. She encouraged Timna to tell her parents what had really happened back in that terrible summer. The therapist also helped Timna learn to stave off the panic she felt when around men.  They practiced grounding herself, and mindfulness exercises.  Eventually they practiced role-playing imaginary encounters with men in the sessions, in order to build up her confidence.

Timna is now in a much better place. She is still very cautious but is gradually learning to feel more comfortable around the men she comes across. She signed up for a cookery workshop which is open to both men and women and managed to stay calm and focus on the cooking. At home, she no longer hides herself away from her family- and now enjoys making gourmet meals for everyone every so often. Timna’s therapist will continue to support her whenever needed.

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*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

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