"Like most parents, when my son Jon started getting sent home from school with notes from the teacher, I wasn't that concerned. I'd just started a new job, there was a new baby in the house, and we'd just started to seriously adopt a Jewish lifestyle. Jon was six years' old, and there was a lot going on in his life. I thought that once everything calmed down again, he'd stop acting out at school.
But that's not what happened: as the months and years passed, Jon was routinely getting into more and more trouble. First, he started talking back to the teachers and not doing his work. That's when the school first suggested we take him for an evaluation, to see if he had a learning difficulty.
Jon was clearly struggling to keep up with the pace of work in the class, and I suspected he might have dyslexia, as reading was a big struggle for him.
In my mind, that was the reason for all the other issues he seemed to be having, including his social isolation and malicious outbursts.
We did everything the school psychologists told us to do; we took him for every evaluation we could, but in the meantime, while it was clear that 'something' wasn't right with Jon, no-one could tell us what was actually wrong.
We went from pillar to post trying to get answers, but no-one had any for us. He wasn't disruptive in the class - quite the opposite; the teachers often told me that they wished he'd come out of himself more, to participate - but outside the class and at home, it was another story.
He teased his two oldest sisters cruelly, and was constantly saying horrible things to them and playing cruel tricks on them. I figured it was just a regular part of growing up, albeit quite upsetting. I'd talk to him about his bad behaviour, he'd apologise 'with all his heart' and I thought we'd resolved the problem. But his relationship with his sisters was strained, and it pained me greatly to see that they didn't really like him.
Then, I started getting phone calls from other mothers at school: Jon had been bullying their children and saying all sorts of nasty things to them. I marched him straight round to apologise, and again he went straight into his 'sorry from all my heart' routine - which is when I started to realise that something really was 'wrong' with my son.
He apologised so easily and glibly, I saw he didn't mean it in the slightest. I started to pay closer attention to his behaviour, and what I saw increasingly disturbed me.
He'd do things to upset or hurt people in any number of sneaky or covert ways, and when I tried to challenge him about it, or talk to him about how he would feel if someone was doing those things to him, he'd just look at me with a quizzical expression on his face, as though he had no idea what I was talking about.
Academically, he was still struggling, which I simply couldn't understand, because Jon had a brilliant mind: within minutes of any new toy, gadget or machine being brought into the house, he'd instantly worked it out. He was also very observant, and registered even the smallest details of what was going on around him. But with people - there was a complete disconnect. Also, he'd fly into rages if things weren't done exactly as he liked them: his peanut butter sandwich; the pillows on his bed; the window in his room which had to be left just so.
I started to dislike my own son...
It's hard for any mother to admit this, but I was increasingly starting to dislike my son. The more I tried to give him my time and attention, the more he tried to make me feel guilty and 'bad' when I didn't immediately do what he wanted.
If I wanted to go out with my husband for a date, he'd whine and make such a big fuss of being 'scared' that I'd cancel our plans. He was 11! Even my six-year-old was less trouble. After this happened a few times, my normally placid husband exploded at Jon, and started accusing him of being a nasty, exploitative, manipulative and selfish person, who only thought about himself.
My husband is one of the kindest, gentlest and most patient people you could hope to meet. If Jon had succeeded in getting underneath his skin, I could see that 'the problem', whatever it was, was much more serious than I'd thought.
At this stage, I started taking my son to various Rabbis, to get a blessing for him. He'd act amazingly while we were there - the perfect son - but at home and at school, his relationships and marks continued to deteriorate. He had no friends. They'd last a month or two, and then Jon would start treating them like trash, or trying to control every aspect of their life, down to who they could speak to and what they could eat, and even the weakest of them would eventually rebel and walk away. His siblings couldn't stand him - and I couldn't blame them. We all walked on eggshells around him.
His bar-mitzvah year was coming up, and I was tearing my hair out, haunted by visions of no-one inviting him to their barmitzvah, and worse, no-one showing up to his.
Could it be Aspergers' Syndrome?
Around that time, I happened to read an article on Aspergers' Syndrome, and a light went on in my head that maybe that was the problem. I went online to look it up, and in one of those weird quirks of fate (or I guess you could say 'Divine Providence') I landed up on this site that was talking about narcissism.
Apparently, there are a great many similarities between Aspergers and Narcissism, especially in the younger years.
As I read that site, my eyes nearly dropped out of my head, and I started to feel sick to my stomach: it was describing my son's difficulties to a tee. There in black and white was the lack of empathy, the lack of remorse, the egotistical, manipulative behaviour, the inability to 'see' anyone else's needs, the impulsivity, the need to control or crush others, the strange 'disconnect' from experiencing normal emotions, the inability to admit he'd done anything wrong, or feel ashamed of his behaviour, the obsession with perfection.
The worst thing of all was when I read that Narcissism was apparently 'incurable'.
For years, I'd been making excuses for my son and his bad behaviour, telling myself that he'd grow up, and grow out of his difficulties. When that last straw got pulled away from me, I practically had a nervous breakdown.
The Uman Advice
I called my husband at work, and told him he had to come and meet me urgently. I took my laptop with me, and we just sat in the coffee shop going through one narcissism site after another, each of which just seemed to confirm our worst fears about our son.
My husband had been doing a lot of spiritual work over the past years, and whereas I was crushed and devastated by what we were reading, he got filled up with a holy determination to find a solution for our son, that would enable him to live a happy, fulfilled life, as a decent, caring human being.
He went to speak to his Rabbi, and he came back with a stunning piece of advice: take your son to Uman, to the grave of Rebbe Nachman.
Our Rabbi wasn't a Breslever, per se, but he was a big believer in developing a real relationship with G-d, and he liked to quote a lot of Breslev books. I have to admit, I was pretty sceptical when my husband told me what the Rabbi had suggested. But I was also desperate: since we'd 'diagnosed' my son's problem, I was seeing it manifest more and more clearly with each day that passed, and I can't begin to tell you the amount of heartache I experienced at that time.
I'd always liked to talk to G-d, but my conversations with Him went up in intensity and duration from that point on. My kids would come in to the room in the middle of me davening and catch me sobbing into my prayer book. The whole house was tense; everyone, even Jon, could feel something big was happening.
Something had to give.
I gave my husband permission to take our son to Uman, and while they were away, I prayed with such intensity and kavana that G-d would do a miracle for my son.
They went, they said the Tikun Haklali there, they came home - and I scanned my son for some sign that he'd changed, that something was different. Nothing. He was still tormenting his sisters, still aloof and withdrawn in the classroom, still alone and friendless.
Holy Help from Hevron
That's when I cracked. I went to Hevron, to the tomb of the Patriarchs, and I cried my heart out for hours, begging G-d to help me, and to help Jon, until I fell asleep.
I woke up with the strangest feeling: I didn't know how, but I knew I'd been answered, some how.
That evening, Jon was going through his usual routine of playing a cruel trick on one of his siblings - he'd taken her diary, and was refusing to give it back - when she started to cry from frustration. This was not an unusual occurrence, but what was unusual was Jon's response: he stopped, he got this confused look on his face, and I felt I saw a glimmer of conscience stir in his soul. I told him to give the diary back - and he did, without complaint.
I can't explain why or how, but I just knew he'd changed.
That was more than three years' ago, and now Jon has blossomed into a more or less 'normal' teenager. He's still quite reserved and a little socially-awkward, but his relationships with his siblings and with his peers have improved tremendously, and while he's not the star student, his marks have picked up considerably in school, too.
My husband and I now often enjoy our son's company, and every time I hear him apologising, or offering to do something kind for one of his sisters, or volunteering for something at school, I can't tell you how much gratitude I feel to G-d.
After that day in Hevron, I made a deal with G-d that I would pray for my son every day for 10 minutes, and I've done my best to stick to it. My husband made a deal that he would say the Tikkun Haklali for Jon every day, and that he would also go back to Uman on Rosh Hashana, to say thank you, if he got better. We also did a sizeable pidyon nefesh for our son with our Rabbi.
If you ask me 'what fixed my son' - I don't know what, specifically, to tell you. But what I can tell you is that over the last three years, he's literally transformed into a different person, who's much more easy-going, caring and sincere.
We didn't get a formal diagnosis for him because we didn't need one: I know that my son had narcissism. And I know now, that he doesn't. G-d cured him. That's all. And I want to give the other mothers out there hope that if G-d cured my child from his apparently 'incurable' condition, that He can certainly do that for you, too.
Even if they can't and won't pray for themselves, we can always do the praying for them.