Are there limits to respect for parents?

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    jO jO

    We have a stringent duty to honor our parents. But are there limits? The Talmud praises a Roman officer for maintaining his composure even after his mother tore his clothes and spit in his face in public (Kiddushin 31a). Many cite this story as proof that a child must passively submit to abuse by a parent. This view is mistaken and can lead to terrible tragedies. The sixteenth century halachic authority Rabbi Solomon Luria (the “Maharshal”) wrote that the above situation is only applicable if a parent suffers from dementia and is clearly not responsible for his actions. He states that if a child feels emotionally ill around a parent, he must set definite limits, such as moving far away. Maimonides states that parents “should not impose too heavy a burden upon their children or be too exacting regarding their duty to honor them, lest they cause the children to rebel” (Mishneh Torah).

    This fact hit home a few days ago when, after a lecture, a woman came over to me and whispered, “Do you remember Rivka A?” “Of course,” I replied. Although I haven’t spoken to her in many years, I remembered her as a sweet-natured young woman who always sat next to me in my classes and who enthusiastically put my child-rearing methods into practice. “Well,” the woman said, “Last week, she ran away, leaving her five children, including a 6-month old baby, with her husband and mother-in-law.”

    Feeling intensely sad, I drove back home, imagining what must have happened. During the year that she was my student, Rivka had confided in me that her mother-in-law, whom I will refer to as Sandra, was making her life miserable. From the moment Rivka married Dan, an only child, Sandra constantly criticized Rivka. A lonely divorcee, Sandra spent every holiday with them and had long conversations with Dan each day. Dan felt caught between two women, each of whom was fighting for his affections. Instead of telling him that his loyalty should be to his wife, his advisors told him to “keep the peace.”

    Before long, Sandra moved next door to her son, visiting whenever she pleased and constantly telling Dan that Rivka was a terrible mother and that she herself could do a much better job at parenting his children. To the public, it seemed as if Sandra was a devoted grandmother who wanted to lighten Rivka’s burden. In truth, she was slowly alienating the children from their mother. Rivka swallowed her pain, even as Dan began to imitate his mother, becoming just as critical and scornful. It was a sixteen-year long nightmare.

    Sandra is a narcissist with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). She needed to feel powerful, needed to be at the center of everyone’s attention and needed to be adored. Eventually, she succeeded in gaining the control she sought all along. Now she has her son and grandchildren all to herself. And lives were destroyed.


    Borderlines have two very distinct selves. On the surface, they are charming and generous to those who adore them. Often super-pious externally, they may attract attention with their unusual stringencies in religious matters. They may be devoted religious leaders, teachers or involved in helping professions. Adept at manipulating people, they move deftly into positions of power and influence. Outsiders would never imagine that, in private, these “saintly” people are tempestuous and imperious, screaming, slapping and turning family members against each other by playing favorites. Due to their need to be seen as perfect, they often become hysterical before visitors arrive, due to some minor imperfection, like a spot of dirt on the floor or a dish in the sink, or because they think a child did not show sufficient respect by carrying out their orders immediately and submissively. When the doorbell rings, they are all smiles and honey-coated talk.

    Borderlines hold an extremely high opinion of themselves. No matter how many people they hurt or how much damage they do, they insist that, “Everyone else loves me!” They feel that they are entitled to special treatment and worshipful admiration because of all the good they do for others. To live with a Borderline, you must follow unspoken rules, such as:

    If you grew up with a Borderline parent, it is likely that today you often feel anxious, confused and angry. Because your feelings were discounted, ignored or criticized, you have difficult validating your own feelings. Because you could not meet their perfectionist standards, you now feel, “Nothing I do is ever good enough.” You expect people to hurt you and are suspicious when people are nice to you. Terrified of being rejected or criticized, you anxiously seek approval, always putting other people’s needs first. You don’t feel worthy of love, joy or success.


    The only way to begin repairing the damage is by keeping your distance, both emotionally and physically. If not, you will forever be caught up in periodic storms of chaos and cruelty which will leave you reeling, while they go blithely on, smiling as if nothing happened.

    The most important thing is to refuse to feel guilty for their pain or scared of what they can do to you if you distance yourself or refuse to listen to them vent for hours. Borderlines are expert “guilt-trippers,” playing “victim,” making you to blame for their misery and illnesses. When you set limits, they will tell friends and relatives that you have abandoned them and encourage them to call and scold you for being such a terrible child/spouse/sibling. Refuse to explain, defend or justify your actions.

    “Release” them with compassion. This means that when you think about them (and they want you to think about them 24 hours a day), immediately think to yourself, “I release him/her to G?d, as this is too heavy a burden for me.”

    To help you forgive (from a distance), realize that most Borderlines have a history of early abandonment or abuse. Many had cold and rejecting parents or lost their mothers early in life. As a result, they are untrusting of people, highly controlling and inwardly very anxious.

    Don’t try to change them. Emotional illnesses are like stains on a fabric. Some stains can be removed with time and effort. But BPD is a character disorder, which means that their behavior is an integral and inseparable part of the person’s personality. People who don’t feel ashamed of their behavior will not make any effort to change, because they do not think anything is wrong with them. Your task is to learn to deeply and completely love and accept yourself, even though you, too have hostile feelings at times and to cheer your efforts to become a reliably loving and safe person. This is the only path to healing, one which can take a lifetime.

    taken from written by By Dr. Miriam Adahan


    jO jO,

    thanks for posting this article, I grew up with such a parent. Dr. Adahan’s decription of the symptoms as well as the effects they have on the person’s kids are so amazingly accurate, much more accurate than I could have ever described it despite having lived though it myself. Is there anyone else here in the coffee room who went thru this?


    don’t feel bad about not being more persistent. Part of the problem is that the Borderline thinks he/she is perfect so I don’t see any way to get such a person to agree to go to therapy. But perhaps you can somehow get the spouse and kids to get therapy so they can deal with it without it destroying them emotionally. And give them lots of chizuk and support.


    Of course there is a limit to honoring your parents. One is not required to allow one’s parent to make his/her life a living hell. However, you must be careful how you go about it — you certainly shouldn’t demean, denigrate or humiliate your parent in public or private.

    The Wolf


    “not required to allow one’s parent to make his/her life a living hell.”

    Yeah but imagine what your next life will look like? Oh man…


    limits to respect for parents…

    Hmmmmm, I guess it depends if you are the child or the parent.

    My parents need me to initiate all calls and visits, I discovered that the phone really does work both ways for most people but sadly not for my parents.

    I do try to extend to my parents every bit of respect that I possibly can, most of the time they let me know how I have fallen short.


    When my parents begin to inform me of how often their friends get calls and visits from their children/grandchildren I know what comes next and I do interrupt and end the conversation right away. It doesn’t even matter how often I call or visit it doesn’t ever seem to be enough. The calls and visits are becomming even less frequent.


    There are definitely limits. My in-laws treated me very badly from the start, to the point where my husband had to take a stand. He told them that I came first, and that if they ever wanted to be a Bubbe and Zaidy to our children, they would have to change their behavior. That was that, both halachikally and hashkafikally; the spouse comes first, even if it means having to stand up to the parents and tell them they are wrong.


    “not required to allow one’s parent to make his/her life a living hell.”

    Yeah but imagine what your next life will look like? Oh man…

    noitallmr, I’m confused. Are you saying that one *is required* to allow to his parents to make his life a living hell if they choose to do so?

    The Wolf


    Wolf, I posted a reply on YOUR entry regarding the ywn cf creation debate.

    Will Hill

    The Torah says “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

    What are the sources, should any exist, mitigating or limiting that all encompassing commandment (one of the ten commandments)?

    Any such mekor?



    don’t feel bad about not being more persistent. Part of the problem is that the Borderline thinks he/she is perfect so I don’t see any way to get such a person to agree to go to therapy. But perhaps you can somehow get the spouse and kids to get therapy so they can deal with it without it destroying them emotionally. And give them lots of chizuk and support. “

    You are right, of course,but the family members will not seek out therapy, and the kids have been brainwashed after two decades of mental and verbal abuse, into thinking this is normal. They crave any positive attention from the parent, and then rationalize away the bad behavior. The parent is excessively controlling, because it is the only aspect of life in which her or she has any control.


    Re: Wolf

    “noitallmr, I’m confused. Are you saying that one *is required* to allow to his parents to make his life crazy if they choose to do so?”

    Most certainly not. But if you have the strength to overcome this really hard Nisayon imagine how much Schar you’d get upstairs…


    “The Torah says “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

    What are the sources, should any exist, mitigating or limiting that all encompassing commandment (one of the ten commandments)?

    Any such mekor? “

    Yep, it also says in the Torah, “Ish imo v’aviv tira-u, v’es Shabsosai tishmoru,” a man should be in awe of his mother and father, and keep the Shabbos. Very strange second part of the sentence to be attached to the first. What has one thing to do with the other? So Rashi explains that although we are enjoined to respect and hold our parents in awe, if our father commands us to be mechallel Shabbos, we do NOT have the obligation to listen to him. That is the mekor. We have certain obligations to our parents, but when they tell us to do an aveira, we do not have THAT as an obligation. You continue to show respect to your parents in all other areas, though.


    The Wolf,

    I agree with you 100%.


    the problem is that its a catch-22. For most people who have parents like that, if one doesn’t back away somewhat then they won’t have the strength to fight any nisayon, let alone one as difficult as this one. i’m sure there are exceptions though, people to whom Hashem has given an unusually large dose of emotional strength.


    I don’t know these people of course, but from my experience its probably not that they think its normal, its probably more like they were brainwashed to feel like they don’t deserve any better treatment. But if they know that you are there for them you never know if at some time they will finally feel like they have had enough and you can give them suport to help them recover.


    I know exactly what you mean, I have the same situation. You have to set limits, but what works for me is to call as often as I can get myself to even though its extremely difficult and just tell yourself that you are doing this l’shem mitzvah and that you won’t take all the putting down seriously or let it affect your self esteem. Tell yourself that its caused by their shortcomings not yours and be proud of yourself for calling. Also if you remove any expectation from your heart that it will ever be different then it won’t be dissapointing every time you call or visit that nothing has changed. Also in my case when I’m told how much I fall short, if I just say sorry (even though I’m not), instead of defending myself, that ends the ranting much quicker.


    Wolf, I posted a reply on YOUR entry regarding the ywn cf creation debate.


    I’m sorry, but I can’t seem to find the post you’re talking about. Please email me and I’ll respond.

    The Wolf


    Many parents today had parents or grandparents who survived the Holocaust. Interestingly enough, those survivors are always given great respect from their children-and MANY of these survivors are dysfunctional emotionally. I disagree that one can blatantly say that there are limits to kibud av veaym. In a case where a parent is overstepping bounds, a rav should be consulted for advice. No one should take any psychologist’s article of a personal case she dealt with as a blanket heter to cut off their parents.


    smalltowngirl: I have the exact same problem as you. Whatever we do is not good enough for them. Their friends kids give better gifts for their birthday, anniversary etc. then we do. Their friends kids have them more times for shabbos or yom tov. The grass by them is always greener on the other side. I feel your pain!!!


    What is to be done if the one with BPD (or any similar emotional disorder) is seen as a “saint” in the community?

    BPD… sounds a bit like a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar. bipolar sometimes comes along with schizophrenia, but it is distinct. There are severe mood swings and behavioral changes. At one point they can be depressed, sleep all day, have no appetite, suicidal… and later (minutes, hours, days, months even between shifts) feel as if there is no end to their power and ability. They dont sleep, think they have superpowers (fly ect), belive they are G-D and unstoppable at anything they try. There are varying degrees at each stage…


    Just keep in mind the following 2 thoughts 1)who bought u into this world, and 2)Think about how u want your children to treat you…


    Mrs. Beautiful, I am very grateful to my parents for really doing the best they could with the tools that they had. However I will not allow even my beloved parents to hurt me.

    It may seem as though I don’t show enough respect to my parents, but it is the best I can do without putting my own feelings, self worth, and basic sanity at risk.

    As far as how I want my children to treat me? I am a very different kind of parent to them and they know the difference.

    I don’t feel like I disrespect my parents I simply can’t fulfill the mitzva as prescribed.



    I find that once you are married you have more of a leeway in the respect you give your parents since you are not always around them. You certainly don’t have to let yourself feel hurt by them, whatever hurt means in your scnerio. However, that does not exempt you from this Mitzva. Meaning Kibbud Av V’aem in the best way you can fulfill it in the setting and stage u r in. Ex: calling, visiting, bringing your children over so that ur parents can reap Nachas etc… I find once you are married and have a family you should be much less sensitive to their comments than you might have been as a girl. Also, keep in mind that as your parents age and get older they may not be at the best of health, and they may be worried about their health, which may sometimes cause them to say things they don’t mean. Your parents love you, do your best to love them back, despite all odds.


    Every situation must be handled according the merits of the individual case.

    However, according to HaRav Dovid Cohen and other poskim:

    *Children (even adult children)of abusive (sexual or physical)parents are exempt from communication. Based upon the effects of trauma caused to the individual by interaction. One need not receive a psychological diagnosis to determine their mental health is suffering due to the interaction.

    *Children (even adult children)of verbally, or emotionally abusive parents are NOT exempt from communication, UNLESS they have a bonafide medical diagnosis. However, limitations should be worked out regarding the type and duration of interactions. There must be an exit strategy to avoid mental harm of the child.

    *If a parent causes financial loss to a child, they are responsible for restitution. Kibbud Av does not give a free pass for parents to harm their children. Din Torah for financial loss are permitted.


    artchill- WELCOME! to get a proper welcome, head to the “new member’s” thread and asdfghjkl will wecome you on behalf of the whole CR- or someone will do it for asdf! :o)


    artchill; welcome to the coffee room, on behalf of the coffee room board we welcome you!!!

    xerox: thanx for doing it for me!!! i’m only a night poster & on weekends!!!

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