The Final Account: Lawrence Peacock on Losing a Parent

Life has a way of placing things along our path in a curious and auspicious way. This, for example, is how an article by Lawrence Peacock caught my eye today, about learning to live in the absence of our parents. It was an almost eerie coincidence, as my husband’s father passed away last week, the last of our children’s four grandparents. An hour after my good friend invited us for dinner, in a caring gesture because we were mourning the loss of a parent, she had to call and uninvite us because her own mother was being rushed to the hospital for an emergency heart operation. Today I learned of the passing of the parent of yet another friend. My own parents passed away a few years apart, a few years ago. This is the time in our lives in which, like myself and my husband, our friends are all dealing with the loss of parents and with the reckoning that this profound event brings in its wake.

The article I stumbled upon is well written and addresses beautifully several important points, one of the most important of which is the need to raise our children so that they can not only survive, but thrive without us when we are gone. However, the message that stood out for me was the author’s treatment of the aspects of his father that he missed even while his father was still alive, or those qualities in his father which were not what he would have wished for. As he matured both as a son and as a parent to his own children, Peacock candidly expresses how he lovingly ‘released’ his imperfect father from being the only person to shape his own identity and found valuable and admirable qualities to identify with in others, friends and mentors. Our parents did not choose their biological and genetic predispositions, nor the circumstances and traumatic experiences to which they were exposed, which shaped who they have become. What is in our power to choose is what we want to keep and emulate and what we want to pass on from our parents to our children, as well as what we choose to differentiate ourselves from and leave behind.

The fact that I happened to notice the article today is the kind of serendipity that leads some to believe in synchronicity, in some grand plan, or in the fact that the universe is actively teaching us lessons or responding to the vicissitudes of our human lives. From a less mystical perspective, I do believe that the universe is offering us, even if passively, an endless richness of incidents, people and objects that catch our attention in auspicious ways, as our changing needs heighten our attention to them.

The equanimity that Peacock has chosen to share can bring solace and comfort to many in the final separation and the final account of our relationships with our parents.

 

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Celebrity Reminders of Mental Anguish

Yesterday’s media headlines brought another poignant reminder that mental illness can afflict even the biggest names, with pop star Ariana Grande  opening up about her struggle with PTSD and anxiety in the aftermath of the Manchester terror attack that killed 22 people at her concert last year. Grande revealed to British Vogue that she has always struggled with anxiety, but that, unsurprisingly, the traumatic event triggered distress than she had not experienced before and symptoms with which she is still coping.

In her Vogue interview, Grande stated, “I feel like I shouldn’t even be talking about my own experience – like I shouldn’t even say anything” because of the extent of the trauma and suffering caused by the attack to so many others. Like others who have witnessed traumatic events at which others lost their lives, survivors often feel they don’t have the right to speak about their own suffering. Yet the admission to a lifelong struggle with mental illness, especially one coming from a celebrity with such a large and young fan base, might serve as the reminder many need that they are not alone in suffering from anxiety or other mental illnesses. The openness of today’s generation of young celebrities, from Selena Gomez opening up about her anxiety and depression, to Demi Lovato sharing her diagnosis as bipolar, marks a step in the direction toward ushering in a future in which mental illness can finally be destigmatized and truly understood. Only by shaping a truthful and frank narrative of mental illness can we hope to make it easier for individuals to openly seek help before the symptoms rob them and their loved ones of their well-being or even of their lives, as the suicide of fashion designer Kate Spade, also yesterday, tragically shows. An accepting and unprejudiced environment will allow early identification and treatment.

            Irit Felsen

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Audio recordings available of my ten lecture series: “Our Parents, Our Selves, Our Changing Lives”

I have posted on my Youtube channel the audio-recordings of  a ten-lectures series I gave in Brooklyn last year. The lectures were focused on enhancing the lives of children of Holocaust survivors at this chapter in their lives. Issues characteristic of growing up as a child of survivors were reviewed, including unique vulnerabilities as well as strengths, with a particular aim of enhancing current relationships with spouses, siblings, and one’s own adult children, and helping those still caring for aging survivor parents.

The lectures were given in the context of the “Discussion Group for Children of Holocaust : Our Parents, Ourselves, Our Changing Lives”. The ten meetings took place monthly in Boro Park, Brooklyn, between May 2016 and June 2017, and were made possible by Bikur Cholim Chesed Organization, with support from the Center for Advancing Holocaust Survivor Care of the Jewish Federations of North America.

You can listen to the recordings of the lectures by going to this link.

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My Paper Entitled “Parental Trauma and Adult Sibling Relationships in Holocaust Survivor Families” was Accepted for Publication in the Journal of Psychoanalytic Psychology and is now Posted Below

The paper discusses observations from encounters with adult children of Holocaust survivors suggesting accentuated differences among adult siblings in their respective roles within the family of origin, as well as in the siblings’ general adaptation styles. These dissimilarities are often accompanied by a negative quality of the relationships between the siblings and mutual resentments that can escalate to complete cutoffs. It is proposed that effects related to un-metabolized parental trauma infuse implicit and explicit interactions in the family and polarize normative processes of sibling differentiation. Such processes represent intergenerational transmission related to parental trauma that extend beyond the parent–child dyad, influence the family as a system and often damage the sibling bond. The resulting loss of family connections for the third generation perpetuates the loss of ties with extended family and the broken generational continuity which have been some of the devastating consequences of genocidal trauma.

The paper has been accepted for publication and permission granted to post the final version on my website prior to formal publication. Please feel free to read the full paper from this link.

            Irit Felsen

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REMINDER: TOMORROW: Helping Parents Towards Growth-Promoting Parenting: An All-Day Workshop on May 8, 2018

On Tuesday May 8, I will be giving an all-day workshop organized by the Ohel Mel and Phyllis Zachter Institute for professional training. The workshop will take place at the Kingsway Jewish Center at 2902 Kings Highway, in Brooklyn.

I like to start my presentations about parenting with a quote by an unknown, that states: “The reason parenting remains an amateur sport is that, just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, the kids get older and throw you new curves.”

Indeed, parenting has always been a challenging life-long commitment to which one comes with no prior experience other than our own experiences of what it felt like to be a child in our family of origin. Research has shown that parenting has a pervasive impact on children’s development. In fact, parenting continues to be very important in the lives of young adults. This history of our relationships with our parents, which was very benign for some and less benign for others, is in every step we take as the adults we have become and as the parents to our children. However, child-rearing practices have changed dramatically over the recent decades, adding to the confusion of parents as to which are the ways to best handle the challenges of raising children today. The workshop will address key concepts relevant to parenting, family risk factors, and protective factors for children’s development, and the view of parenting as a growth process for parents as well.

The workshop will address specific issues related to the role of parents in the treatment of a child or adolescent who is the “identified patient”, whether in joint treatment or in the individual psychotherapy of the child. A strong emphasis will be given to models of parenting interventions that involve the parents without the children and aim to reduce family risk factors and enhance positive factors across the entire range from families who struggle with severe emotional and behavioral problems in a child, to families who seek guidance towards growth-promoting positive parenting due to relatively minor issues they’ve encountered. The workshop will provide participants with knowledge of specific tools that can be used in educating parents and in treatment, including some excellent online tools which can be incorporated into the work with individuals or groups.

                Irit Felsen

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Helping Parents Towards Growth-Promoting Parenting: An All-Day Workshop on May 8, 2018

On Tuesday May 8, I will be giving an all-day workshop organized by the Ohel Mel and Phyllis Zachter Institute for professional training. The workshop will take place at the Kingsway Jewish Center at 2902 Kings Highway, in Brooklyn.

I like to start my presentations about parenting with a quote by an unknown, that states: “The reason parenting remains an amateur sport is that, just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, the kids get older and throw you new curves.”

Indeed, parenting has always been a challenging life-long commitment to which one comes with no prior experience other than our own experiences of what it felt like to be a child in our family of origin. Research has shown that parenting has a pervasive impact on children’s development. In fact, parenting continues to be very important in the lives of young adults. This history of our relationships with our parents, which was very benign for some and less benign for others, is in every step we take as the adults we have become and as the parents to our children. However, child-rearing practices have changed dramatically over the recent decades, adding to the confusion of parents as to which are the ways to best handle the challenges of raising children today. The workshop will address key concepts relevant to parenting, family risk factors, and protective factors for children’s development, and the view of parenting as a growth process for parents as well.

The workshop will address specific issues related to the role of parents in the treatment of a child or adolescent who is the “identified patient”, whether in joint treatment or in the individual psychotherapy of the child. A strong emphasis will be given to models of parenting interventions that involve the parents without the children and aim to reduce family risk factors and enhance positive factors across the entire range from families who struggle with severe emotional and behavioral problems in a child, to families who seek guidance towards growth-promoting positive parenting due to relatively minor issues they’ve encountered. The workshop will provide participants with knowledge of specific tools that can be used in educating parents and in treatment, including some excellent online tools which can be incorporated into the work with individuals or groups.

                Irit Felsen

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My Paper in a New Book In German: “Trauma and Psychosis”

I have just received my copy of a new book published in Germany, in the German language, entitled “Trauma and Psychosis” (“Trauma und Psychose”), and published by Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. The relationship between traumatic experiences and psychotic illness is particularly significant in the treatment of psychosis.  This book addresses issues relevant to this topic, starting with an examination of the influence of Theodor Meynert on Freud’s concepts, by Theodor Meissel, and moving on to my paper about the historical application of the medical diagnosis of “Schizophrenia” to survivors of the Holocaust. An earlier version of my paper in English was previously published by Kavod and can be accessed at this link.

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It is an honor to be included in this prestigious publication, and particularly important for me to include in this professional publication in the German language the paper in which I addressed the most neglected of all survivors, those whose suffering led to the total destruction of the capacity to live a normal life. These survivors have been, for the most part, diagnosed as schizophrenic patients and therefore excluded from the narrative of surviving the Holocaust when, in fact, many of them have succumbed to psychotic functioning due to the traumatization and the loss of family and social support that they suffered because of the Holocaust. The inclusion of the testimonies of these survivors, for whom there will be no other witness, is a critical, tragically late addition to the literature about the impact of extreme genocidal trauma.

Other papers in the new book (in German) address the particular meaning of the frame in psychoanalytic treatment, by Marion Oliner; the relationship between aspects of family dynamics and the manifestation of psychosis, by Terje Neraal; psychotic functioning as a defensive adaptation among severely traumatized youth, by Birgit Riediger, and an in-depth case vignette by Stefan Reichard with discussions by Andrea Pavlik-Kellersmann and by Michael Dumpelmann.

                 Irit Felsen

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