So many people in today’s world suffer from some sort of emotional/psychological challenges, including anxiety, depression, unbalanced emotions etc. We will explore ways to heal and deal with these challenges, based on Torah.
No part of this can be duplicated without written permission from the author.
Part 1 (this section will be updated with new parts as we go along…)
I have always wondered what is so exciting about mountain climbing. So many people find it such a thrill to climb to the top of a mountain, despite danger or hardships that are involved. They feel exhilarated when they reach the top. I am not the mountain climbing type….or so I thought…
But suddenly I have realized that, in essence, we are all mountain climbers! Along our journey of life, each of us is given many mountains to climb. Every obstacle, test or problem seems like a mountain to us. When we allow the mountain to remain a mountain, we do not overcome the obstacle. But if we climb the mountain and we reach the top, then we feel a sense of victory. The mountain no longer feels like a mountain once you are at the top. There is a sense of exhilaration reaching the highest level. And I guess that is what life is all about: climbing the mountains that come our way and reaching the top: whatever spiritual level and realization God wants us to reach through this experience. Remaining strong in our faith despite the hardships, is successful mountain climbing at its best.
The other day I was sitting under some very tall trees and the wind was blowing through the trees, shaking them and making strong rustling noises. The branches sounded like they were going to fall off….the trees looked like they would fall over. But of course they did not. I thought to myself that life is very much like that. The winds of challenges rip through our lives threatening to break us….but just like the tree, we do not break. We may bend, we may shake, but we do not break. When a tree is strongly rooted to the ground, nothing uproots it . When we are strongly rooted in our faith and in our values, nothing will destroy us.
The writing is based on teachings from the Torah (the Bible), the study of Chassidus, the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and from lots of life experience (as well as having worked for a psychologist for several years). Read it and apply it to your life. You will see good results.
When a person is in a pit or a prison, the person cannot pull themselves out. It requires help. This book is the rope to use to pull yourself out of the imprisonment of your mind. Anxiety and depression, and in fact any type of mental or emotional disorder, is like a form of imprisonment: a very frustrating and painful experience. A prisoner feels they can never break free. But know that you can break free! You can break out of the imprisonment of your thoughts and of your mind. You can become free and be in a different plane , above all the negative thought patterns. This is called going out of Egypt. It says in Torah that every day a Jew must view himself or herself as leaving Egypt that very day. What does this mean? We were imprisoned in Egypt thousands of years ago. How can we still apply leaving Egypt to our life today? The answer is given in Chassidus, the mystical part of Torah, that Egypt, on a spiritual level, refers to limitations. It is a form of being imprisoned in bad habits, negative thought patterns, depression, anxiety, fears, worries or anything that keeps you from serving God with joy. To go out of Egypt means to leave all those limitations and rise to a higher level spiritually: a place where you can feel joyful. But to do so means we need the help of God. Just like God took us out of Egypt, He can take us out of all our problems and we need to know that it is possible. We are never stuck in a situation. There is always a way out.
Know that you are not alone. The majority of people suffer from some sort of anxiety and from various emotional issues. This is normal. It is part of the human condition. It is definitely worse in today’s society but there are tools you can use to help yourself. Life is full of challenges. Anxiety is just one of them.
Anxiety can include many things. It often includes fear that we are unable to control everything in our lives. We may want to prevent something that we fear from happening, or we want to know (or even control) what will happen in the future, yet we may feel helpless to do anything.
You should remember that when you focus on things you cannot control, that will automatically trigger the emotion of fear. Fear will then lead to anxiety and a need to feel we can control everything and everyone. Feeling out of control will often lead to panic attacks. Anxiety is a reminder that we are not in control…but the positive part of anxiety is that it reminds us that we do not have to be, and in fact are not meant to be, in control.
According to the study of Chassidus, a person’s mind will be unsettled and filled with anxiety and distress when his mind is not a proper vessel for the challenges he is going through. A person with a “broad” mind and strong powers of intellect can handle anxiety far more than a person with less developed intellectual capacities. This is not talking about intelligence but rather the ability of the mind to deal with a certain amount of emotional distress or anxiety. If it is too much for the person and he cannot deal with it, then the vessel is too small. As it says in Torah “ any expression in Torah of shortness of spirit refers to something that is unbearable for the person and his mind cannot tolerate it.”
Chassidus explains that bad moods, dark moods, and in general thinking negatively and seeing things in a negative light, comes from constricted consciousness. To expand consciousness, we need more light and more joy. Adding in Torah learning and in activities that bring happiness is helpful and brings more light into our minds. THE SECRET TO CONTROLLING AND ELIMINATING ANXIETY IS TO LEARN HOW TO CHANGE ONE’S THOUGHT PROCESSES FROM NEGATIVITY TO POSITIVITY. For example, if a person has constant anxiety about whether or not one is healthy, the person starts imagining the worst case scenarios, googling all kinds of symptoms and assuming all kinds of diagnoses which are not even accurate. How would one deal with this type of anxiety? By immediately pushing away a negative or fearful thought when it rises to the mind, and substituting a positive thought. The minute a negative thought enters the mind, the person has to refuse to ponder it or expand upon it and instead must substitute a thought such as “I am healthy. I am going to continue being healthy. I am worthy of being healthy so I can serve God properly. I am grateful and thankful for health and I ask God to continue granting me good health. I refuse to even consider any type of unhealthy condition in life.” As we accustom ourselves to changing our thought processes, we will develop a new mentality and a new way of looking at life and at the world.
If our thoughts are chaotic, our emotions will be chaotic. Our hearts can even beat irregularly due to fear, worry, negative thoughts etc. The secret is to control our thoughts and hence gain the upper hand over our emotions. Anxiety is an emotion. It usually has no logical basis to it.
At its true spiritual source, anxiety is a lack of trust in Hashem (God) because when we truly believe and understand that we control nothing and Hashem knows what is best and only does good for us, we stop feeling anxious But even if we intellectually understand that, translating it into feeling is hard work.
We need to internalize this idea that we are not in control of anything outside of ourselves. The only thing we can control is our thought, speech and action. But what path our life will take, or what the future will bring, or what the result will be of what we do in life, or whether we will become rich or not….all these things are not in our control. They depend upon the Almighty. We can try to influence or change our destiny through prayer and good deeds, through making the right vessel for blessings to rest upon, but we cannot CONTROL our lives and we cannot control others. We only can control OURSELVES.
Often anxiety encompasses one of the following things:
- We fear re- experiencing something that was painful or difficult for us. In other words, if we went through negative past experiences, we fear going through such a thing again. It created some trauma which often sits in our subconscious and gets triggered over and over.
- We worry about the future. This is basically a feeling of insecurity. We worry about how to manage financially or what will happen to us in the future. This can be based on many different concepts and worries: it can be worries about health, about money, about our kids, about our ability to function, when one will get married etc . It can take many forms. But the basic feeling is insecurity and fear for the future.
This is all connected to imagination: we immediately begin imagining all kinds of negative things when we are afraid or worried. Those things often have no reality but they spur anxiety.
Anxiety is increased when people overestimate the threat of an event or underestimate their ability to handle such an event. That creates stress and stress is part of anxiety. Stress breeds anxiety and anxiety breeds stress. It becomes a vicious cycle which sometimes gets out of control.
All the 42 journeys the Israelite nation went through in the desert before entering the land of Israel represent all the journeys and challenges each person goes through in their personal life. The Baal Shem Tov says that all of life is one big anxiety. The Baal Haturim says that all anxiety stems from being pursued. Pursued by what? By past traumas. The fear produced from those traumas pursue a person and become the source of anxiety.
Anxiety is based on a lot of imagination : imagining what MIGHT happen, what someone MIGHT say, what MIGHT BE THE RESULT OF SOMETHING, what MIGHT happen if we do or do not do something. For example, if a person fears losing their job, they start imagining how their life will be without enough income, the suffering they will go through, the things they will be unable to purchase and this creates a lot of negative emotions. Or if a person fears losing someone, or something, they start fearing how they will manage in such a situation: how sad, lonely, depressed or unhappy they will be etc. They start living in their imaginary negative emotions rather than in reality and they find it hard to accept deep inside that whatever the Almighty does is for the good.
Imagination creates fear and fear creates more imagination and anxiety. Usually, there is no basis to our worries and fears but our imagination builds things into a big issue. It is usually unrealistic but we believe it has reality to it. And that is probably the biggest fuel for anxiety: imagining negativity. Many people do not live a normal, happy life because they become too consumed with dark, negative, fearful thoughts based on their unhealthy imagination. They stop being productive and live inside an imaginary world that fuels negative emotions and fear. Unfortunately, we waste a lot of time and a lot of our life on unproductive, worrisome thoughts which have no positive effects. IT IS NOT YOUR SITUATION THAT CREATES YOUR EMOTIONAL REALITY: IT IS YOUR THOUGHTS. Why is it that our minds tend to imagine negative scenarios rather than positive ones? We tend to imagine things we are afraid of or worried about. How wonderful it would be if we would imagine happy, hopeful and good scenarios instead? Why is it that we do not generally do so? One reason is because we are afraid of being disappointed if the good things we imagine do not actualize. Another reason is that we want to be prepared for any negative occurrences, so we do not fall apart if something negative actually does happen. We do not want to go through trauma and therefore we often habituate ourselves to “expect” negativity, so that we will not have to go through shock or trauma unexpectedly if something unwanted happens (especially if we have already experienced some form of trauma or loss previously: we fear going through those emotions again). But instead of actually avoiding these traumas, we end up reliving them constantly in our imagination through our fear, and we end up in a vicious cycle of unhealthy thoughts and fears and emotional turmoil! REMEMBER: MOST OF WHAT YOU WORRY ABOUT NEVER HAPPENS.
We need to control where our minds take us. If you are going through a difficult time, do not allow your imagination to run wild or think all kinds of negative scenarios. Keep yourself focused in the present, promote positive, hopeful thoughts and leave everything in the hands of the Almighty, knowing we have no control over anything anyway (other than our prayers and good thoughts).
CONTROL AND FEAR
Many people have a problem whereby they want to control others. Where does this come from? It stems from fear (fear of what will happen, fear of being unable to run the show…..people who are overly controlling are people filled with anxiety, fear and insecurity). Being an overly controlling person is not healthy in any relationship: not in marriage or as a parent. One needs to learn to let go, give others their space and respect, and to put worries in the hands of the Almighty. We do not need to control everything, nor are we able to. Sometimes, people who are very responsible in life or in a position of being the main responsible person (such as the head of a family, the first born child etc.) can become controlling in order to make sure people do not take risks and things turn out okay. But taken to an extreme, it is not beneficial.
Anxiety always encompasses some type of fear. Fear can be something as silly as how others will view us, talk about us or relate to us. It can be fear that we are somehow failures in life. Or fear of facing feelings of guilt, or of doing something which produces guilt. Fear of the unknown is another huge cause of anxiety. We can see that clearly with the coronavirus. Everyone is insecure and worried because the future is unknown. Fear of death is another huge “manufacturer” of anxiety. It is one of the biggest fears human beings have. It is part of the fear of the unknown. Most traumas or negative experiences in life can be helped through support groups, speaking to others who have gone through similar things etc. But that does not apply to leaving the physical world: there is nobody to speak to, nobody to consult with, no support groups etc. That fuels a lot of the anxiety, insecurity and fear.
In reality, fear of dying shows that we value life. Many terrorists do not fear death nor do they value life. The two are connected: the more one values the life, the more one fears death.
It should be mentioned here that if a person has a constant fear of death, there is usually an underlying feeling of fear of punishment, which is based on some subconscious or even conscious guilt about something, or a feeling of somehow being unworthy. One must figure out what one feels guilty about or why one feels they do not deserve to be alive, so one can remove that fear of punishment or that feeling of being unworthy. Sometimes it is a result of judging ourselves too harshly. We need to know it is not our job to judge ourselves…. or others. We need to be truthful to ourselves and to God…. but not to be constantly afraid. We must realize that God understands everything and is not looking for ways to punish a person: He waits patiently for people to return to Him with love. It helps to keep in mind that if the Almighty found you worthy of being born, certainly you should find yourself worthy of living: if you matter to Hashem, you certainly have to matter to yourself! The Lubavitcher Rebbe instituted the concept of celebrating one’s birthday publicly in order to emphasize that you matter: that you have a unique mission in this world which only you can accomplish and you are important.
Although fear of death is a normal fear, it must be tempered with the realization that there is a Higher Force that controls everything and we must pray and ask for constant mercy, but not to be afraid in a paranoid manner. That will only lead to unproductive anxiety. Any fear must lead to something positive, otherwise it is a waste of time and energy. Knowing that there is an after- life and that the soul lives on, is definitely comforting but does not totally alleviate one’s fear. The fear of the unknown always creates tremendous insecurity, worry and fear.
Fearing God is the only positive type of fear. It is a pleasant experience, because we know that God is a kind father; it is pleasant to fulfill the commandment to revere Him as one is commanded to revere his father. In the Torah, there are two separate commandments connected to respecting parents: one is to honor one’s parents, “Honor your mother and your father”. The other commandment, to revere one’s parents, is learnt from the verse, “You shall each revere your mother and father”. This commandment requires us to respect our parents (hold them in high esteem), ensuring that we do not insult them or belittle them, and we make them relevant in our lives.
For this reason, to fear anything but God is a disappointing experience, because we subconsciously are exchanging God for something else. One should have absolutely no fear but the fear of God. Chassidut teaches that when the faculty of knowledge (da’at) is blemished, a person suffers from his unrectified power of imagination. When the faculty of might (gevurah) is tainted, one suffers from anxiety and fear. The treatment is to nullify all false fears and strengthen the fear of Heaven.
Worrying about what might happen is one of the biggest wastes of time. Ironically, what we worry about usually does not happen. Why waste time imagining things that may never actually occur?
As the Chassidic master Reb Michel of Zlotchov said: “There are two things that are no cause for worry: that which can be fixed, and that which cannot be fixed. What can be fixed should be fixed — so what’s there to worry about? (in other words, if something can be fixed, take the proper action to do so but do not waste energy on worry) What cannot be fixed, cannot be fixed — so what’s there to worry about?” (this does not mean that if something is not fixable it will not cause feelings of sadness or distress, but worry is not helpful because it will not lead to anything positive. Instead of worry, a person has to trust in the Creator of the world and pray for help. One must never give up or despair. Even those things that seem “unfixable” can be fixed, if permission is given in the Heavenly realms……. and for that, one must pray rather than worry)
There are obviously certain situations that will cause intense anxiety and depression (Ie. If a person is,
God forbid, struggling with an illness, or if a person is the care taker for a spouse or child who is ill, or if a person is struggling with infertility or any other number of problems that cause anxiety in any human being going through that experience.) In that case, anxiety is to be expected and at times one needs help to reduce one’s level of anxiety through psychological counseling or spiritual counseling, and through support of family and friends. One can never underestimate the power of a good friend or a word of encouragement to someone who is suffering. That is why it behooves each one of us to practice always speaking positively and strengthening others in their faith.
ESCAPE FROM REALITY SYNDROME:
People nowadays often feel unable to cope with their problems and feel a desire to do anything to escape from or avoid facing their uncomfortable reality. Hence, in society we see what I term the “escape from reality” syndrome.
Ours is a generation constantly looking for ways to escape from reality. We like to run away from responsibility. We try to divert our minds with cell phones, watts up chats, movies, music, drugs, liquor, travel, etc: anything that takes us out of whatever is making us uncomfortable or anxious. Everything is a different way to remove ourselves from the reality of life because it is often too painful to face life with all its challenges, worries and problems.
I would even venture to say that we are a generation of addicts. Everyone is addicted to something: some are addicted to drugs or liqueur, others are addicted to their desires that they feel unable to control, some are addicted to eating or smoking, and most people in today’s society are addicted to their cell phones, computer screens and technology, tv shows and movies etc. Why are we all so addicted? What is it about life that has turned us into addicts?
I believe much of it has to do with the lifestyle in today’s world. No longer do people interact the way we used to. No longer is family emphasized as it used to be, including extended family. No longer do friends get together as we used to. People are often lonely, sad, and many are struggling to get married but do not find the right match. People are discouraged and unhappy. This is the condition of exile which we are in, and the darkness increases. As technology increases, so does separation between people. And therefore, people look for ways to escape their unhappy lives and find some type of hope and comfort and distraction.
We can only temporarily distract our minds, allowing us to cope better. But we cannot escape….. and we should not want to. We need to face reality, face our challenges, and handle them with dignity and with faith. To live in an imaginary world constantly is dangerous! It leads to frustration when what our imaginary future or our imaginary existence is not fulfilled.
What is it about videos or movies that make people so excited? How is it that this has taken over our society so much? (Netflix, youtube, and so on) The main reason is that people want to live in a different reality in order to forget their problems and worries, or to escape a situation they are not happy in or are frustrated with. People want to live in an imaginary world which often continues long after the video is finished. For example, people who are unhappy in their marriage, want to watch videos showing people who have happy, romantic relationships. They then enter that imaginary world, somehow fulfilling that aspect of life in their mind, rather than in reality. The problem is that often people fail to work on their own marriages, to improve their relationships, and it just remains at the imagination level. This will cause great disappointment somewhere down the line because nobody can live forever in an imaginary world. And living in imagination can negatively impact others around you. Hence, it is very important to teach our children to be in tune with reality and deal with it in the most positive manner possible, working to improve whatever is in one’s power to make better.
It is helpful to keep in mind that this world is temporary and we are all reincarnated from previous lives. We are here to fix things we messed up before. So even if life is not as pleasant as we may have hoped, our souls choose the families we are born into and we consent to the life we are given because we know we have things to correct and accomplish. In reality, everyone’s life is a show. In one lifetime we play the part of a certain person; in another lifetime we played a different role. In one lifetime we may be rich; in another we may be poor. We are all actors, playing the roles assigned to us in this lifetime.
We need to practice living life moment by moment, not in an imaginary present or future (or even in the past, because much of our perceptions from the past is also based on imagination). When we live in the past, it is a very obvious way to increase anxiety. We relive negativity or we relive negative emotions or even create more negative feelings by going over and over past experiences that were unpleasant. This is unproductive and does nothing to bring about a feeling of tranquility or calmness. In fact, living in the past is not at all useful unless we learn something valuable from our past experiences. But even then, we need to take with us the lessons we learn, not the negative emotions of the experience. We need to discard the emotion and focus on the intellect, sorting out what is good to remember and what is damaging.
Learning to accept our situation in life is what helps us cope with it. If we fight our situation and constantly yearn for a different situation, we never can feel happy. If we learn to accept our situation and we do whatever is in our power to make ourselves happy within that particular situation, then we have a chance to lead a productive, happy life. That does not mean we cannot pray for a better situation or strive to improve things, but at the same time we need to live in the moment and appreciate the moment and get whatever positivity we can out of the present situation. People grow from problems and from their most challenging situations. We may feel we are suffering and gaining nothing from it, but we actually can be growing spiritually more than when everything is the way we want it to be in life.
Somebody once asked Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka , the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wife, what was her happiest moment in life and she responded “This moment right now.” This is a very profound answer because it basically means that you must live in the present, make the most out of this moment and you appreciate it because this is what God wants you to experience at this time, so you are grateful and happy. You are not living in the past or in the future. You live in the present, enjoy the present, and appreciate the present. This is a powerful concept in Chassidus. Chassidus teaches that God is creating the world at every moment out of nothingness. He is creating you every moment with a particular mission to fulfill. If you understand that, how can you imagine that God has forgotten about you or does not care? Nothing in the world is random. Nothing in your life is random. Just concentrate on the moment. Do not think about anything else, just the moment and how you can best serve God at this very moment in time.
FRUSTRATION STATION AND WRONG EXPECTATIONS
When we are frustrated in life, we feel anxiety. And most people are frustrated these days!
But what causes a person to feel angry , frustrated and unhappy?
Usually, it is a result of not getting what we want in life, not progressing the way we want, and not being able to accomplish or do what we want. Many people feel “stuck” in circumstances of life that they feel they cannot change and that they feel unhappy about. The majority of people are living in situations or places where they do not feel very happy or fulfilled.
Basically, frustration results from having expectations that are not being met. What does it mean to be stuck in circumstances we cannot change? It means we are not getting what we want and we feel our situation is hopeless and a constant source of depression or frustration or aggravation. We imagine we are stuck and unable to change things for the better.
Having expectations from God (things should be like this because I am doing such and such…”.if I do this mitzvah, I should have that reward”….”if I follow a particular segula, the result will be such and such”….”.if I am being a good person I should not have suffering or problems”…), having expectations from or about our spouse or other family members or friends that are not fulfilled, having expectations from oneself that may not be realistic and that cannot be fulfilled properly, having expectations from life or what life should be like at any given point in time or stage in life (for example, in one’s younger years one should marry early, establish a family, start a business, buy a house, etc. and in one’s older years one should travel the world with one’s spouse, enjoy life, spend money on oneself and even help others) and in general having unrealistic or unfulfilled expectations, are all a formula for building up anxiety. Our expectations in life can even be good ones: to help others, do good and contribute something of value to society. The problem with expectations is that when they are not met or are not able to be realized, we become frustrated, upset and even angry (perhaps angry at Hashem).
One thing that helps at such times is to put aside all expectations and expected results and simply strengthen our belief in God and in His goodness. Just put ourselves into God’s very capable hands and let Him run the show.
In order to help us cope with frustrations, it helps to realize that our expectations may differ from God’s. Since God knows what is best and what each soul needs for its correction (tikun) and for its spiritual healing, we should put ourselves in God’s hands and not feel upset if things do not go as “planned”. How can we even try to plan our lives? We may feel we can choose our destiny but in reality we are totally in the hands of God. We don’t see the bigger picture. We don’t understand what our mission in this world is or why we are here. To superimpose our own ideas and wishes on creation is not right. We can and should pray. We can ask God that we should be able to accomplish our goals and that He should choose us to do certain mitzvot or that He should give us the merit to accomplish certain good deeds. But if life does not happen as we want or expect, we need to accept that with happiness and humility. Humility and submitting to God’s will are very important for tranquility of spirit and mind. We can only accomplish in life what the Almighty wants us to accomplish. Nothing is done with our own power. If we are able to do what we wish to do, it is a merit and a privilege and we should be grateful. But if we cannot, we should be humble, realizing that is not what we are meant to do now. In fact, the key to true health and happiness lies in true humility. Where there is true humility, the ego is nullified and neutralized and we are able to see things from a proper objective perspective, not to get hurt or offended or angry over things, and we are able to stop being judgmental of others and let go of unhealthy emotions.
Many people who are frustrated and feel themselves to be victims of certain situations, feel somehow entitled to lash out at others to take out their anger. They feel justified because of their suffering and they often use the excuse that they cannot control themselves. This is a very unhealthy mindset. Being frustrated in life or feeling angry because of your suffering is normal….but taking out your anger on others is not healthy for your relationships. It will just alienate people and cause others to feel hurt. It takes a lot of refinement for a person to control their emotional outbursts but the first step is to realize you are not entitled to those outbursts. Every situation is an opportunity for self growth and improvement.
Out of frustration can come tremendous growth: as we realize we may not be able to accomplish those things we so much wish to do, we nevertheless can channel that energy into other areas and accomplish new things: things we never imagined we could do. We discover hidden inner potentials.
If we make our happiness dependent on a particular thing (for example, “if I get such and such , I will be happy” or “if I am able to do such and such I will be happy”), then we will never find true happiness and we will feel very frustrated. Real happiness is becoming internally happy and serving Hashem (God) with an inner joy wherever we are, not dependent on a particular thing or situation to make us happy. Real happiness is unconditional happiness. We must not rely on bringing happiness to ourselves from the outside: we must not make happiness contingent on anything. Of course, we must pray for whatever we want and need, but we must not make a condition for happiness based on only a particular situation or thing, or we will end up very disappointed in life.
EGO IS THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE TO HAPPINESS IN LIFE. This is the cause of all anxiety and depression. Anxiety does not come from the Godly soul, which is constantly in tune with God’s will. Anxiety comes from the ego. We fall into depression or become hurt or resentful from others also due to hidden ego. Which part of us actually feels depressed, sad, hurt, angry etc? it is not the holy part of us, which is total humility and has no connection to ego. Rather, it is the “I” (conscious and subconscious) which fuels the ego through negative emotions. Negative emotions are always connected to ego. “I feel hurt”, “I feel angry”, “I feel upset”, “I feel depressed”……if we learn to put aside the “I”, we can learn to experience life differently and view others more positively. Not all our feelings need to be expressed, acknowledged or acted upon. Not all our feelings are truthful or valid. There is so much emphasis on validating one’s feelings but often that just means emphasizing ourselves…..it is far more important to learn to nullify our egos, to nullify ourselves, and to see life through our mission in this world. When we realize that if someone hurts us it is because it was decreed Above that we should suffer that hurt, we will not take offense or take it so personally. We do not need to so much emphasize our personal hurt. Rather we should try to figure out what it is we can learn from the experience: how to fix something within ourselves or our relationship with the person who hurt us, or sometimes we can ignore the hurt and move on and we feel empowered in life. But we do need to understand how the “self” is probably our biggest enemy.
Every human being has a certain self respect, which is healthy and needs to be acknowledged and appreciated. The Torah itself recognizes this need and that is why Torah teaches us not to hurt others, not to hurt the honor of someone else and to appreciate what others do for us. But too much attention to self is detrimental.
At times our emotional hurt accumulates for many years. It needs time to heal. We need to have support of our spouse or family members or friends to work through these difficult times. However, it helps very much to constantly feel ourselves as being nullified in front of Hashem and not delving so much into our own feelings, but rather to learn how to pass over those feelings and direct our emotions in a more positive way. The Torah teaches that if we pass over our own feelings of hurt or embarrassment, all our sins are forgiven.
We can elevate our consciousness above our own egos and reflect upon how the world is constantly being recreated by the Creator and how we are truly nothing in front of Him. We have a mission to accomplish in this material world and to get caught up in foolish arguments, hurt feelings and negativity is such a waste.
It helps to remember: we certainly have a choice to hold on to our hurt feelings, our grudges, our resentments….but in the long run, what do we gain by that? Life is precious and to waste it on conflicts and hurt feelings is a pity. We can let go of our hurt and resentments and give our relationships an opportunity to thrive and improve and then we can live life to its fullest with joy and good heartedness. We can fulfill our mission and purpose in life by concentrating on serving the Almighty, rather than serving our egos. We can feed our souls rather than our hurt feelings. We can nourish our spiritual side and develop that, rather than emphasize our physicality or our emotional needs. We can transcend rather than descend.
How do we deal with that? the first step is to ask God to have mercy on us and to help us overcome all our challenges and fears and worries. But the most important meditation we need to focus on is the greatness of the Creator and how small we are in comparison. The Almighty creates the entire world and each one of us every moment: if He would remove His life force from Creation for one second, it would revert to nothingness. Realizing we are “nothing” in essence, we then can deflate our egos and realize that we are here for a purpose and it is not about what we necessarily want or expect from life. We are nothing compared to Hashem, but we are something in the scheme of creation and we need to fulfill our purpose with joy.
There is a story about a chassid of the Mezeritcher Maggid who wanted to know how to be happy in the face of suffering. The Maggid told him to go visit another chassid of his, Reb Zushe of Anipoli. When the first chassid arrived at Reb Zushe’s house, he found that Reb Zushe lived in total poverty. So he asked him how to be happy while suffering so much. Reb Zushe told him “I don’t know why my Master the Maggid sent you to me. I have never suffered a day in my life.”
Another time someone said to Reb Zushe “how do you say the blessing that Hashem provides for all your needs when we see clearly you live in total poverty and do not have what you need?”
Reb Zushe responded: “I also need this poverty.” (Basically he was saying that if Hashem saw fit to make him poor at this time, obviously he needed that for his soul’s perfection so he was completely happy with it)
There is another beautiful story of the two brothers, the tzadik Reb Elimelech of Lisensk and his brother, the tzadik Reb Zusha of Anipoli. Once they were imprisoned in a cell together with a pail they needed to use as a make shift toilet. Reb Elimelech was very depressed , bemoaning the fact that now they could not learn Torah or do any mitzvos, because in a room with a toilet one cannot even think Torah thoughts. Reb Zusha laughed and said “I am happy.” When his brother asked why, he answered “Just because I am a Jew. That is enough reason to be happy.” Both brothers then began dancing from joy, celebrating the gift of being Jewish. When the prison guards heard them rejoicing, they ran to find out why because they did not want to see the prisoners rejoicing. When another prisoner pointed to the pail as the reason for their happiness, the guards removed it saying “If this pail makes you happy, then out it goes.” And after that the brothers could even learn Torah properly. When a person learns to be happy just because he or she is a Jew and has a part of Hashem inside, that itself brings salvation in many areas of life. It is a matter of simplicity. The less complicated we are, the less we allow things to disturb us, the happier we can be.
Simcha (joy) is the biggest antidote to anxiety and depression. We cannot experience two opposing emotions fully at the same time. When there is pure joy, anxiety and depression disappear automatically. Chassidus has a famous saying: “simcha poretz geder”, joy breaks all barriers. But becoming joyful is not simply a matter of snapping your fingers and feeling sudden happiness. We need to work on feeling happy. But a simple method to invite happiness is to simply go through the motions. Even if at the beginning you fake it, eventually you will feel it. Start smiling more. Just smile: smile to others, smile to yourself, find humor in things, laugh and dance and simply allow yourself to feel joy. Once you experience joy, you can elevate yourself out of your constricted consciousness and see the world and others differently.
Being joyful does not mean everything is good and easy all the time. It is the knowledge that every moment of life we are doing the right thing and fulfilling our purpose with happiness. It is a mindset. Being in a Divine place means being confident and joyous all the time. If we are in a place of sadness or depression, rehashing the aggravations, angers and problems we suffered years ago, is not a Divine experience. It locks us into an unhealthy mindset and emotions. We need to move our minds into a positive place of joy.
Interestingly, in Torah joy is mentioned in connection with the Jewish festivals. But there is a commandment to rejoice with your son, your daughter, your servants, the orphans and widows in your mist , the poor in your community etc. So we see that in order to achieve true joy, we need to bring joy to others. Then it bounces back on us. I am sure everyone has seen how having guests brings so much more joy than just sitting alone on a holiday or a shabbat. When we share joy with others, it increases our own joy.
To help ourselves become more joyful in general, it helps to remember that we are constantly a channel for Divine energy flowing through us, and Divine energy is always joyful and confident. There is no sadness in the world of Divinity. If we become depressed, sad or angry, it is because we are blocking that energy with wrong thoughts and messages that we feed ourselves. It is usually because we start to feel we are separate from Hashem. We feel detached and we feel we need to control everything in our lives and have whatever we want, when we want it. The joyful energy gets trapped or blocked through our negative thoughts . It is similar to what people call “blocked emotions”. When we have blocked or trapped emotions, it affects our ability to open up and feel happy. Divine energy and spiritual emotions can also become blocked by our negative thoughts.
The essence of happiness is that we let go and open ourselves to the Divine light flowing through us. If we try to force ourselves to be happy, it will not work. We have to allow happiness to flow through us. We need to let go of any negative, fearful, worrisome, depressing and sad thoughts. We need to push aside such emotions and realize that everything we go through is just a test: it has no reality to it. So to get so entrenched in our negative emotions and mindsets is literally like putting ourselves into a prison and a vicious cycle that never ends.
If the Almighty sends you a test, it is because He loves you and wants you to grow from it and He has given you all the tools you need to pass that test. If something is hard for you, it is a test. Accept it with gratitude.
Most trauma or emotional scars are the result of the way we interpret any traumatic experiences we went through. That is what turns us into a person who is despondent, low, sad, moody etc. We allow our painful past or present to define our relationship to ourselves and to others. Hence, our ability to feel joyful becomes blocked .
Bittul (self nullification) is aligning your will with God’s will: no longer having your own will or agenda.
Simcha is about opening yourself to the truth: realizing that any concealment we experience (which results in suffering, anxiety, fear, pain etc.) is not real in the sense of having actual substance in the spiritual worlds. It is just a test in this material world to overcome; to bring us to a higher level of connection to holiness. It is our sense of self, our ego, that covers the truth and blocks joy
When our sense of self or separateness is not covering up the truth, then joy flows automatically.
Going from a place of anxiety and stress to a place of calmness and joy, is not something you can force on yourself. But what helps is to realize you don’t have to protect yourself constantly from imaginary threats. You can let go. Let go of the layers of falseness. Then you can become a true conduit for Divine light and you will find it much easier to be in a state of constant joy.
It is through joy that we win all our spiritual and emotional battles.
In fact, there are studies that show how people who are happy seldom get sick….or if they do get sick, they recover much faster because joy actually enhances the immune system.
What is the connection between joy and victory?
The Alter Rebbe, author of the Tanya, describes in chapter 28 a wrestling match between two people: One is big and strong, the other, much smaller and weaker. However, the larger wrestler wrestles with heaviness and laziness. The second is light on his feet and wrestles with alacrity. Even though one is smaller, because he is joyous and full of enthusiasm and good energy, he wins. This also applies, says the Alter Rebbe, in our daily struggles with our dark side – our lowly, negative desires and lusts or our depression and sadness. To win these battles, we must become joyous. Sadness and depression are a sure recipe for losing the battle.
But how do we help ourselves to become joyous? We need to understand that a person’s joy stems from his or her connection to o-d. Our connection to o-d is what gives us so much good for which to be joyous. This joy also includes the faith that those things that do not look so good are also coming to us from God, who always loves us and is good to us. When we truly internalize this, we learn to become happy.
One thing that is comforting is to keep in mind that when we go through challenging times and we try very hard to feel happy but it does not work (and we continue to feel sad or down) it is very helpful to think back to the good and happy occasions we experienced in our lives. That helps to stimulate positive emotions and a feeling of hope. We must always keep in mind that happy times will return. Nothing remains stagnant. Things change all the time and happiness always follows unhappy times just as light always follows darkness.
On a practical level, increasing in joy also comes through interacting with people we like, through going out and doing things we enjoy, through keeping busy and forcing our minds to focus on positive, happy thoughts, through being productive and accomplishing in life and having goals and a sense of purpose . We also need to be physically well rested, to eat right (enough protein and less sugar etc.) and to feel relaxed. Dancing and singing is a great way to add in joy. And, of course, we need to look after our spiritual needs. It is also taught in Torah that the key to success in life (even in business), is to be joyful. But that is one precisely one reason the evil inclination tries to prevent us from being joyful.
Chassidus teaches that sadness or depression is not a sin in and of itself….but it can lead to sin because it causes a person to feel despair and to fall spiritually. Chassidus also teaches that happiness is not a commandment or a mitzva, but it can lead one to fulfill all the mitzvahs because it allows one to have an expansive mind and to feel connected spiritually and to grow positively.
A big component of joy is self- fulfillment. Everyone has goals in life and when we are able to accomplish those goals, it gives us great satisfaction. But what we need to remember is that accomplishing our goals is up to God. He is the One Who makes us successful in life. And if He allows us , and we have the merit, to accomplish our goals for the good, we become very happy. We should take a positive attitude in life, realizing God wants us to be successful. However, if we are unable to accomplish all the goals we wish for ourselves, we still can be happy by realizing that we each have a mission in life. We may not always realize what our mission is. It may not always be what we want but just the fact that we are on this earth to fulfill a mission for God, makes it meaningful and gives us a sense of purpose, which in turn leads to greater happiness and self fulfilment.
We cannot dictate how things should be in life. We can only pray and trust in Hashem: true trust that He will do what is right and what is best for us. Whatever happens to us is for our ultimate good. Whatever suffering we go through is temporary, because this entire world is only temporary . The main thing is what we do with this life time now and what we leave behind (namely our good deeds). We cannot take our material possessions with us to the next world. All we can take is our Torah study and good deeds. Just being alive in this world and serving God is the greatest joy a person can have and the greatest privilege.
The Zohar says that the face we show Heaven, is what is reflected back to us. If we are happy, Hashem responds with a happy countenance and showers us with blessings and open revealed good. If we show joy, then we are shown joy from Above.
When somebody says something nice and kind to another person, it can change their reality. It takes away loneliness and sadness. If someone smiles at you, even if you are in a bad mood, you will feel the need to reciprocate and that in itself will change your mood. You yourself should remember to always smile at others: you never know how a smile or simply greeting someone on the street can make a difference to their life. Sometimes you can help someone without even knowing it, just be smiling at them or greeting them joyfully. You can also smile at yourself because just smiling will help you dispel negativity, sadness and depression.
In most cases, we experience anxiety and fear because we lack true trust in our Creator. We are not sure if things will turn out the way we want. We are not sure Hashem will not allow any harm to come to us, because we think perhaps Hashem wants us to suffer….. or we feel He may “punish” us. We try to “force” Hashem to do what we want through displaying anxiety, which is a sort of cry for help: a cry that we cannot go through whatever fear or difficulty we are afraid of .
But if we really put ourselves into Hashem’s hands and accept whatever He does with happiness and humility, we will see that Hashem really does take care of us and nothing negative occurs. If we accept suffering with happiness, Hashem helps that we are able to see the good openly. In the face of simcha, no evil will befall a person. All will become open revealed good. This is all based on the Alter Rebbes writings in Tanya and many discourses on Chabad chassidus.
Simcha (joy) and btochon (trust) are connected. The more we trust, the more we will merit to see open goodness in our lives.
When we truly trust, we truly can feel happy and free of fear. And when we are truly happy, it helps us very much to develop a stronger level of trust.
The main way to strengthen faith and not to be afraid, is to continuously think of serving God with joy. Contemplate on the fact that the letters in Hebrew that spell “marah shchorah,” which literally means “black bile,” – referring to “dark thoughts,” or depression, can be turned to spell “hirhur sameach,” “a happy thought.”
FAITH VS TRUST
Since so much of anxiety is connected to lack of trust in God, we need to discuss what is the difference between emunah (faith) and b’tochon (trust).
Faith is believing that everything God does is for the good. If something happens that appears bad from our perspective, we still have faith that it is for the good. In other words, everything that occurs to us, God intends for our good. At a particular time, an event might appear to us to be bad, however, the inner intent is for our good. Sometimes, after some time, this inner goodness in the event will become apparent to us, and sometimes it might never become revealed to us. Nevertheless, we still we believe that God is good and that what appears to us from our perspective to be “bad”, actually contains within it a deeper inner good (just not perceivable by us on this material level).
But the Lubavitcher Rebbe asks a question. What is the real meaning of btochon, of trust compared to faith? What would be the point of trusting that God is going to give hidden good (which we interpret in a negative way and seems to us to be “bad”)? Something cannot feel good to us unless we can see it in a revealed way and appreciate the goodness. What would the use of our trust be if we end up with something that still looks “bad” to us? We could claim we were lacking some merit but we also realize the same result would have occurred even if we did not trust.
Trust (b’tochon) is an actual service of God. By actively trusting in God, we are able to make a change in our situation in a positive direction. We can expect revealed good results.
The Rebbe once described faith and trust in the following way:
If someone is drowning, he has faith God will send him something to hold on to so he can survive.
Trust is that even if we do not have anything to hold on to physically,we know and believe God will save us no matter what.
Prayer and teshuvah (repentance) have the ability to change our situation for the better. Through teshuva we become meritorious. Though before we were perhaps not deserving of a certain thing, through teshuva we can change ourselves and hence change our merits.
THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN STAND IN THE WAY OF TESHUVAH (REPENTANCE). We must realize that no matter how low we may fall, we can always fix things through sincere repentance.
If a situation that is difficult or challenging does not seem changeable, we need to know that nothing is impossible; nothing is truly unchangeable and everything depends on God and on our level of faith and trust.
Each one of us must feel like a small child who looks up to their father as the person they can totally trust; they can put their hand into their father’s hand and he will lead them in any direction because they trust him and feel totally loved and secure. This is the way we must view our Father in Heaven. We need to feel like a little child who totally trusts their father . When we adopt that attitude we learn to really accept everything with joy, even things that may aggravate us or cause us to feel uncomfortable.
The Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya, chapter 26:
“….the Gemara explains that one should accept misfortune with joy like the joy in a visible and obvious good. For it, too, is for the good, except that it is not apparent and visible to mortal eyes for it stems from the hidden spiritual world, which is higher than the revealed spiritual world. The latter emanates from the letters vav and hei of the Tetragrammaton (the four letter Divine Name) while the former derives from the letters yud and hei.
This is also the meaning of the verse in Proverbs “Happy is the man whom You, God, chastises. For he whom God loves, He rebukes; like a father who cherishes his son.””. For this reason our sages of blessed memory stated the verse “Those who love Him shall be as the sun when it comes out in its might” referring to the reward of those who rejoice in their afflictions or sufferings. For one’s joy in affliction stems from the fact that being near to God is dearer to the person than anything of the life of this world. “
In Tanya, chapter eleven, the Alter Rebbe writes about how every moment we are all being recreated by God from the level of ayin (ex nihilo, from nothingness) which means His wisdom, which we cannot understand at all and which is much higher than anything we can relate to:
“Now when a person will contemplate in the depths of his understanding and will picture in his mind how he comes into being ex nihilo, at every single moment, how can he entertain the thought that he is suffering or has any afflictions related to “children, life, health and sustenance”, or whatever other worldly sufferings? For the ayin which is God’s chochmah (wisdom) is the source of life, goodness and delight. It is the Eden that transcends the world to come, except that because it is not apprehensible, one imagines that he is suffering, or afflicted. In truth however no evil descends from above, and everything is good, though it is not apprehended as such because of an immense and abundant goodness (at a level inconceivable to a person). And this is the essence of faith for which a person was created: to believes there is no place void of Hashem. And in the light of the King’s countenance there is life (this is the idea that when a person encounters a King, his sentence can be commuted and he will live). Accordingly, strength and gladness are in His place because He is but good all the time.” (meaning, whatever predicament a person finds himself in, God is there with him).
We acknowledge that God is the source of everything that happens, and that the world operates according to a Godly plan and a higher purpose. And although we might not perceive the goodness of God’s plan, we have trust that it is truly good.
This change in our outlook is itself a change in our situation. This trust itself transforms us and makes us worthy. And once we accept our situation with happiness, truly trusting in God , then the situation can actually change so that all that we will receive will indeed be open, clear good: the type of good we can perceive and understand.
Nachum Ish Gamzu was a sage who used to respond to all occurrences by saying”Gam Zu l’tova” (this too is for the good). The Alter Rebbe explains that this not only meant that an event which seemed to be evil would eventually become good, but that the event itself, by virtue of its source, was good even now in it’s present form and It’s true goodness would be revealed later on.
The Alter Rebbe in Tanya explains that when we trust in God and accept with happiness whatever we perceive to be “bad” or suffering, then the spiritual gevurot (dinim or forces of strictness) are sweetened at their spiritual source through chesed , ( kindness), and they are then able to be revealed as open good that we can appreciate.
We are not thinking about hidden good. We are thinking and expecting only open revealed good without any doubt. We totally cast our burdens upon Hashem and we trust He will make it all good. We trust Him so much that He vindicates our trust.
Rabbi Mangel is a holocaust survivor. He once spoke at a gathering and said that he never had nightmares after the holocaust and he never had difficulty sleeping, unlike most holocaust survivors. When asked why, he said that he had been raised with such faith that he knew everything God does is truly for the good and he knew no matter what he was going through, God was with him all the time. He never fell into despair or doubts. Therefore, he came out of the holocaust with his emotions intact and he did not suffer trauma like many other survivors.
It is important to force ourselves to try out the method of thinking good. Whether we feel in the mood or not, we can do it as an “experiment”: try thinking good and rejecting any worried or fearful thoughts. Just do it and see the good results. If you train yourself, with time it becomes second nature and you automatically will look at things with a more positive and optimistic view.
One time my husband and I took a taxi ride home and after we were back in our apartment, we realized we had left a very important bag in the taxi. We had no clue who the taxi driver was, as we had flagged him down on the street. We had no way to call him. We doubted we would ever get the bag back. But then we decided to try an experiment: we sat down and started thinking positively, that the bag would return to us and for sure we would get it back. Ten minutes later we heard the doorbell ring. The taxi driver found the bag in his taxi and returned it to us. We were sure it was the result of our thinking good. We felt that was a clear message from Above to encourage us to think good.
The Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, taught that the Hebrew word “safek” (doubt) equals b’gematria the Hebrew word Amalek (the nation that caused the Jewish people to lose faith when they left Egypt). But how does doubt affect us? Why is there a commandment to remember what Amalek did to us, and to eradicate Amalek and not forget ? Doubt starts in the mind, trying to affect our faith in God. We wonder: is God among us or not? That thought itself is the manifestation of Amalek. It takes on many forms: doubting if Hashem cares about us, is helping us, will protect us and resolve our problems etc. If doubt enters the level of speech, we find ourselves unable to clearly express our faith. We may stumble or stutter in our words. We have difficulty affecting others positively with our speech. And if doubt enters the level of action, it expresses itself by our doubts in our ability to do anything or be successful. We feel restricted and unable to accomplish or progress. A person’s hands become weak and their ability to walk can be affected. This especially affects one’s ability to accomplish for holy matters. If a person already moves to the “other side” of unholiness, then they can actually appear self confident, because Amalek helps them to do so. But a person who wants to be part of holiness and yet entertains some doubts, needs to work to completely uproot amalek within himself. He needs to uproot doubts, even on a subconscious level. This is part of destroying Amalek. And then he is able to “not forget”. Once Amalek is destroyed, the person moves on the next part of the commandament to “not forget”, which means to not rebel even slightly against God and His will. All of this is part of increasing one’s faith and trust. Everyone who is a believer and observant of Torah, tries to repress and deny doubts. But we have to go even further and destroy those doubts completely, hence increasing our faith.
This is where the saying of the third Chabad Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek comes in: Think good, it will be good.
Thinking good can actually affect and change reality. We are truly partners with God in shaping reality every single day. Miracle minded consciousness takes place this way. If a person puts their mind in a very positive place, they can actually bring about miracles.
There is a story to illustrate this concept of “think good, it will be good”. A young man once received a letter from his brother in Israel informing him that his father had suffered a heart attack. Back in those days long distance phone calls were extremely expensive and he received the letter a week late. So he was in a panic, thinking the worst, not even knowing if his father was still alive. He ran to the Lubavitcher Rebbe with the letter. As he handed the letter to the Rebbe he said “I don’t even know what to think…”. The Rebbe looked at him and said “Shocking! It is a clear teaching from our Rebbeim “tracht gut vet zein gut”, think good it will be good. “ So the young man left the Rebbe’s room feeling much calmer. He said some words of tehillim (psalms) and he picked up the phone and called his home. His mother answered and he asked how his father was doing. His mother replied that as of Thursday night suddenly things took a turn for the better and he was improving steadily. The man was so happy and he ran back to relay the good news to the Rebbe. The Rebbe asked him at what point his father started to feel better so he replied “when I started to think good.” The Rebbe told him to always make a practice of thinking good. (Obviously the Rebbe gave his blessings which helped to change things to the better too, ,but just the concept of thinking good has a powerful effect on reality and can actually bring about tremendous healing).
we must not allow any opening in our minds for any type of negativity. What does that mean exactly? if you truly work on thinking positively and believing in a positive outcome, and you truly trust God, then the outcome will be good. When we allow doubts or any negative thoughts to enter, we make it possible to affect the outcome towards a negative side. Why are our thoughts so powerful? Well, we know that thought is a very powerful thing. By Chassidus we know that thoughts can affect reality. Medical science supports this view: the more a patient has a positive outlook, the better the outcome of their prognosis. The more a patient is optimistic and hopeful, the better they will feel. It is called in modern terms: the power of positive thinking.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote once to someone: “One should not initiate-or introduce into the world-depressing lines of thought. Vigilance in this area provides a spiritual assurance that the matter in question will not become actualized.”
The Rebbe also wrote: “…the more you strengthen your trust in God, until it also impacts your thought and speech and action, the more will that trust materialize palpably…”
The Rebbe himself was an example of always thinking positively, always speaking positively and always seeing the positive and good in everyone and everything.
Many people fear something not going right, or fear disappointment, so we even learn to expect disappointment, almost as a protective mechanism. We learn to expect problems so that we will not be hurt if things do not turn out as we wish. But that is an unhealthy mindset. It does not matter if everything always turns out as we trust it will. The Almighty trusts us to fulfill His will. We trust Him to fulfill our needs and desires for the good. It is a mutual relationship and we should and must expect good results.
Nothing should dull our trust in God or our positive thinking. To live in fear of disappointment, is not at all a pleasant or happy situation. What does it matter if we get disappointed sometimes in life? Why do we feel we never should go through disappointment? Why do we feel we deserve always to have what we want? Sometimes the pain or disappointment of not getting what we want is something we need to go through, for whatever reason. But doubts are not something we should allow to creep into our minds.
In order to help ourselves get out of the worry mind set, we need to convert our worries into prayer. We need to cast our burdens and fears onto our Creator (and also to tzadikim who present our pleas and requests to the Almighty on our behalf, since their prayers are often more readily accepted). The Lubavitcher Rebbe once said that the Rebbeim have broad shoulders, meaning they can handle a lot of problems, and people should not be afraid to overburden the Rebbe: that is what he is there for. So instead of trying to handle your worries alone, give them over to the Almighty and let Him take care of things. When you actually let go, you will see amazing results.
ANXIETY AND SOUL CONFLICTS
Everything has a spiritual source. Where does our anxiety really come from, on a spiritual level? Most anxiety is a conflict between the spiritual and the physical; between what we feel in our souls to be right and what we want from a physical, material point of view. The book of Tanya by the Alter Rebbe explains that a Jew has two souls: a Godly Divine soul, and a materialistic oriented animal soul. The Godly soul is connected to the yetzer tov, the good inclination. It is an actual part of God and is intrinsically and instinctively connected to and drawn to holiness, wanting to run away from anything impure or unholy. The Godly soul is mostly intellectual. It is located mainly in the brain and from there it’s energy is diffused throughout the body.
The animal soul is connected to the yetzer hara (the evil inclination). It is materially oriented, totally connected to materialism, physicality, physical pleasures and is mostly emotional , rather than intellectual. It is self centered. It’s location is mainly in the left part of the heart.
Anxiety comes from the animal soul. Any thoughts or emotions that are not productive, that are not positive and or not connected to Torah and mitzvos (and are materially or selfishly oriented), come from the yetzer hara and animal soul. They strive to lead a person away from the true path of Divine service and prevent them from fulfilling their potential. In fact, Chassidus teaches that a person never sins unless a spirit of folly (coming from the yetzer hara) enters a person and covers over the truth, rendering them insensitive to their spiritual yearning and purpose. This spirit of folly works on a person by convincing them that whatever they do wrong, they will not be disconnected from God. A person must not listen to the advice of the yetzer hara or the spirit of folly: a person must remain firm in their desire to stay connected to the Almighty and serve Him properly.
The Godly soul is never anxious. Holiness has a certain tranquility that accompanies it.
There is a constant struggle between one’s good inclination and one’s evil inclination. Both fight to control the person. This constant conflict automatically generates anxiety. We each need to get to know our personal evil inclination. Everyone’s yetzer hara is different and it can be very subtle and confusing at times. How can we know if something is coming from the yetzer hara (evil inclination) or the yetzer tov (good inclination)? By seeing the results: if it leads to an increase in depression or takes one away from one’s Divine service or interferes with serving the Almighty with joy, then it is NOT coming from a holy place.
If you feel distant or estranged from God, then it is a sign you have done something wrong. In general, anything that leads to sadness, anxiety, depression, laziness or feeling apethetic, is from the yetzer hara. (So you might ask: what about sadness over one’s sins or failures? The Alter Rebbe addresses that issue in his book of Tanya and he says that even sadness over one’s sins is from the yetzer hara because it leads to self pity, depression or inactivity and lethargy. However, bitterness over one’s sins is healthier because that leads to determination to change. We all feel deep inside what is right or wrong: we feel guilty when we are on a wrong path, unless we conceal our feelings so much that we lose our sensitivity to truth. But as long as we feel guilty or anxious when doing something we know is morally wrong or against Torah, then we have a motivation to change. When we do what is right, we will feel happy and get rid of much anxiety or depression. The yetzer hara really wishes to be defeated, as Tanya explains. It’s mission is to confuse us and test us, but it really wants to be defeated. And when we succeed in defeating it, we realize how empty it was and we then feel great joy and closeness to Hashem.
Of course, as mentioned before, the real underlying spiritual cause of all anxiety is a lack of being properly connected to God and a lack of total trust in God. If trust is missing, tranquility will be lacking. When tranquility is lacking, anxiety takes over.
At some point in life, people may fall into a feeling of apathy, a lack of enthusiasm. Apathy is a subtle form of depression. It also has some anger or hurt behind it: when we feel angry inside or frustrated, we often become apathetic, almost like a rebellious child who does not care to do many things if they don’t get what they want. When we become apathetic, this is a warning sign. It leads to a degeneration in our service to God. And this is a trick of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) to bring a person to depression.
The Tanya speaks about how at certain times a person’s heart becomes dull and we feel unable to pray or a person may even find it hard to sanctify himself in what is permissible.
Chapter 29 of Tanya offers the following advice on how to deal with this:
“In this case, the advice given in the holy Zohar is that a wooden beam which cannot catch fire should be splintered….a body into which the light of the soul does not penetrate should be crushed” (which will then render the body a receptable for the light of the soul)….
“The cause of this deficiency is the arrogance of the animal soul which exalts itself above the holiness of the light of the divine soul, so that it obscures and darkens its light. Therefore, one must crush it and cast it to the ground. This means setting aside time to humble oneself and considering oneself despicable and contemptible. A broken heart leads to a broken spirit (breaking the spirit of arrogance and unholiness).”
By humbling oneself, one is able to rise out of apathy and regain one’s enthusiasm and joy in life.
A truly happy, grateful person cannot feel apathetic. A person with a raison d’etre, a true sense of purpose in life, will never feel apathetic
OUR NEGATIVE THOUGHTS DO NOT TRULY BELONG TO US
How do we work on not dwelling on negative or impure thoughts? It helps to understand that those thoughts are not our essence and not truly part of us. Those are simply superimposed on us from outside ourselves: they are often a product of our upbringing, or our environment whereby kelipa (impurity) sometimes cleaves to us. In fact, impurity is attracted to the opposite: the more pure someone is, the more impurity tries to cleave to that person to gain lifeforce from them because even the side of impurity has to receive vitality from holiness to continue to exist. Tanya explains that when we dwell on impure or negative thoughts, we give life to them.
Sometimes negative thoughts arise from our subconscious minds. Once we know that, we can consciously refuse to allow them access to our conscious minds.
How do we do that? By simply pushing them away when they try to enter, much the same way a host will not allow certain guests into his house. He will refuse them entry. We need to do the same with unwelcome thoughts or emotions. Remember: you are not your thoughts. Thoughts are considered “garments” of the soul and just as we can change a garment, we can change our thoughts. In fact, we have to shed those thoughts that conceal our inner essence of holiness and do not allow our souls to shine through. Our thoughts are simply that: thoughts. They are not our essence. Once we realize that, we do not have to fear our thoughts so much because they are something we can control in the sense of whether we allow them to enter or reject them. You are not responsible for the thoughts that “fall” into your mind. But you are responsible for whether or not you accept or dwell on those thoughts. In fact, we do not want to entertain thoughts of impurity (kelipa) because by dwelling on such thoughts we add vitality to the impurity. In order to vanquish impurity and negativity, we need to control our thoughts. Sometimes it is a big struggle but we are completely capable of discarding impure or negative thoughts. We need to fill our minds with Torah and holy thoughts so there is no room for other thoughts. If we concentrate on a Torah concept deeply, that is helpful to keep our mind occupied and distracted.
The mind is an empty vessel: it can be filled with good and holy thoughts, or with impure and unholy thoughts; it can be filled with happy thoughts or sad thoughts; with productive thoughts or unproductive thoughts. We have a constant choice what we fill that vessel with. Many thoughts will fight to occupy our minds. The mind always needs to be busy and filled with some thoughts. We need to be selective. And we CAN be selective.
There is a very interesting point to mention: 99% of our thoughts are not really coming from us. They come from a foreign place. There is, in fact, a type of meditation on this. You simply observe your thoughts. You don’t delve into them. You just observe passively, like from a distance. You start to realize that most of your thoughts are not really yours! They have no connection to what you really want or believe. As you passively watch your thoughts, like an observer, you realize your thoughts actually seem crazy at times. In a sense , we are all crazy. But the difference is that a truly crazy person does what he thinks. But we do not follow through or act on our crazy thoughts, so in reality we are not crazy. We simply suffer from crazy thoughts that are not really part of us. The proof is that the majority of whatever you are thinking inside your head, you do not want exposed to others. You find it shameful or embarrassing. That means it is not really part of you. You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts do not define you.
A rabbi in the holocaust death camps once wrote a book speaking about this. He shows how to partition your thoughts: “these are healthy thoughts”, “these are negative thoughts” “these are not my real thoughts or wishes”, “I do not want to think, say or do that .” or ”these are not thoughts to dwell on” or “these are thoughts to be rejected and pushed away.”
The point of this type of meditation is to clear your mind: to get rid of the chaos in your mind. Many people can’t handle the noise in their mind. As we learn to partition and identify our thoughts, we are able to get rid of unhealthy thoughts and promote good thoughts. We separate ourselves from thoughts that are not what we truly want.
People have a constant flow of thoughts in their mind. It all depends how much junk we are allowing into our system. We need to push away thoughts that are foreign or unproductive. But first we need to become aware of what a foreign thought is.
Many times a foreign thought attaches itself to a particular person in order for that person to reject it and break that kelipa (unholiness, or negativity), hence elevating the Godly spark trapped within that foreign thought. But if a person obsesses about the thought, or dwells on it, pursuing it, that is where it becomes unhealthy and does not accomplish spiritually what it should. Instead, it drags the person down to a lower level.
Many people become obsessed with their unhealthy thought patterns , thinking something is wrong with them: they wonder why they have such thoughts in the first place. They come to the mistaken conclusion that they must be abnormal, crazy, impure, unhealthy…so many doubts creep into their minds, bombarding them with guilt feelings that just increases the cycle of unhealthy thoughts. But once we know these thoughts are not us, and are not anything we really believe in or want to think or act upon, we can work on rejecting these thoughts and organizing our minds in a far better manner. This helps to rid the world of impurity and to fix the part of the world connected to your particular soul.
We have to look at negative or unhealthy worrisome thoughts like unwelcome guests. We have to be the master of our own home (our minds) and we must not allow any unwelcome guest to enter. In Tanya, chapter section Igeres hakodesh, chapter 18, the Alter Rebbe writes: “Therefore, a person’s service to His Maker consists of strengthening himself and prevailing over the kelipa (impurity) in all it’s manifestations. That is, to expel it completely from the body, expelling it from the faculties of thought, speech and deed……after that he will be able to bring out the captive from prison….(meaning the captive hidden love within the heart of every Jew. Once he prevails over the kelipa by refusing to think, speak or act improperly or in any manner contrary to God’s will
The Baal Shem Tov once had a talmid ( a student) who was suffering from all kinds of negative thoughts that he felt unable to control. The Baal Shem Tov sent his talmid (student) to a certain chassid’s home. The talmid knocked on the door many times but the chassid would not open the door. He saw him through the window in the house but the home owner would not open up. The talmid left to go find an inn to sleep at and he came back the next morning and then the chassid opened the door for him. The talmid asked him why the night before he refused to open the door or acknowledge he was waiting outside. The chassid explained that he only opens when he wants to. The talmid got the message that he had to learn from this only to open his mind to positive thoughts: he had the ability to control that aspect of his mind. Negative thoughts can come knocking but we have the choice to open the door and let them in, or push them away and reject them.
If we feel we are not succeeding in expelling the negative aspects within ourselves, sometimes we need to use the power of gevura (strength, strictness): that may mean becoming angry at our yetzer hara (evil inclination) and putting it in its place. A good example of that is when the Jews were in the desert after the spies returned from scouting out the land of Israel and gave a negative report. The Jews started complaining they did not want to go into Eretz yisrael, thinking they could not win over the nations living there. Then Moshe Rabbenu shouted at them saying “how long will you complain? You will not go into the land, your caracasses will fall in the desert”. When they heard those harsh words, suddenly the people changed and said “no, we will go up to the land to possess it”. How did that sudden change occur? When Moshe shouted at the people, the kelipa and arrogance fell, and the impurity and doubt in God disappeared and their true Jewish faith shone through. Kelipa is the side of impurity, of unholiness. It is like a shell surrounding a nut: inside the shell is good fruit but the shell itself is impure and cannot be utilized. Kelipa is the covering over of holiness which does not allow us to access the inner purity. That kelipa must be broken or rejected.
The Alter Rebbe writes in Tanya:
“At times one must arouse the holy attributes of severity (gevurot) in order to temper (sweeten) stern judgments which stem from the animal soul and the evil inclination whenever it dominates a person…”
This is the idea of getting angry at one’s evil inclination in order to put it down and allow the light of the soul to shine through and affect one’s body and mind with positivity and joy. Sometimes, when we have difficulty overcoming negativity within ourselves (or we feel like arrogance or anger are taking over our reactions) we need to shout at our evil inclination and put it down: a broken heart will cause the arrogance to shatter and then our Divine souls can shine through and we can see things through proper eyes and with proper emotional reactions.
As we achieve mastery over our thoughts and emotions, we refine ourselves automatically.
Children are unable to process their emotions properly because their intellect is not properly developed or matured yet. But as they grow up, they learn to process their emotions through their minds. They temper the emotions with intellect. Many adults need to learn to do that as well (some adults are still on the emotional level of a child). That is part of maturing. By controlling our thought processes, we can better control our emotional responses to situations.
Chassidus teaches us that verbalizing one’s emotions increases them. If a person is angry, talking about the incident that brought about that anger will not relieve anger, it will only increase it. You can talk directly to the person who hurt you in order to work out the situation but to speak to others and constantly go over and over the details, even to yourself, will just bring about more anger. Speech has a power to create. If one become angry, the best thing to do is to go to a quiet place and wait until the anger calms down. Speak less. Be patient and wait. The emotions will dissipate. The intellect is more objective and will therefore help to calm the emotions.
Do not delve too much into yourself or into your mind. Delving into our problems increases them. Do not take your problems so seriously. Remember: the mind cannot think two things at once, so if we replace unhealthy thoughts with healthy ones, that is half the battle right there.
A mind empty of holiness or Torah will attract negativity or impurity and promote negative emotions, such as anxiety. The Lubavitcher Rebbe often quoted this idea: if the mind is empty of Torah, it will become filled with negative matters because the mind always needs to be busy and to be thinking. It is a vessel that needs to be filled with something at all times. Obviously, for someone suffering from obsessive compulsive thoughts, it may seem difficult to control one’s mind. But it helps to busy oneself learning more Torah. start memorizing by heart many parts of Torah or Tanya and delve into deep concepts in chassidus. When the mind is busy delving into holy matters, it helps to get out of the habit of delving into other unhealthy thoughts.
Torah study provides something positive to focus on all the time. And Torah shapes and changes our thoughts. It is like a computer: once we install a particular computer program, any other information we enter into the computer is interpreted according to that program. Same with our minds: when we feed our minds Torah knowledge, it affects the way we think and interpret things we see or hear or learn. Torah thoughts are light and automatically banish darkness.
ROLE OF THE SUBCONSCIOUS
There is a type of anxiety or depression that can often be vague. We are not even sure why we feel anxious or depressed. We just can suddenly feel anxious for no particular reason.
At times, a feeling of sadness descends upon us without any apparent cause. We have no idea why. We just suddenly start to feel sad or down. Something triggers it, but we have no clue what. In that situation, you need to do some digging: did you have an argument with your spouse that left you feeling sad or insecure? Did you feel like a failure at something? Are you worried about something? Are you nervous about something that happened or that you fear may happen? It is very important to do some soul searching and to dig deeply into your mind and figure out what it is that is bothering you. What are you really worried about? What are you really feeling anxious about?
But what if you really cannot attribute your anxiety or sadness to anything in particular?
If you cannot figure out any reason at all, often you may have a subconscious issue disturbing you that got triggered by something you are not even aware of. And if you are unable to really arrive at what is bothering you subconsciously (because sometimes you cannot come in touch with that, or you cannot handle becoming in touch with the subconscious), you still can help yourself by praying that you should be helped from Above to get rid of whatever is bothering you or affecting you. Everything can be healed at its spiritual source. Prayer and humbling yourself is a great means to overcoming internal darkness.
The messages we pick up in our subconscious minds throughout life, shape our ideas, feelings, expectations etc. REMEMBER: WHAT YOU BELIEVE BECOMES YOUR REALITY. So, for example, if as a little child you picked up the belief that you were no good, that your parents did not love you (even if there was no truth to that), you would subconsciously accept that idea and it would affect your self-esteem, your behavior, how you relate to others (perhaps constantly looking for approval) , your relationship to your parents etc. That feeling would get triggered if you have an unpleasant encounter with someone and then you may feel sad or uncomfortable without realizing why.
It is very helpful to come to terms with these subconscious issues: to become aware of them so we are able to move forward without inner conflict. The way we perceive reality: the way we perceive the world or others, is based a lot on our experiences in life and the ideas we accept in our subconscious minds. It is part of cultural conditioning, based on other people’s opinions of you and many often inaccurate beliefs you picked up in childhood, due to misperceptions. In fact, many of us become trapped in wrong thinking based on perceptions we believe in….our intellects become a sort of “mitzraim” (Egypt) and we need to go out of Egypt by opening our minds and allowing ourselves to accept other ideas and perspectives in some areas ( as long as those ideas do not contradict Torah and truth).
It is very important to separate who we really are, from who we come to believe we are based on external ideas or subconscious beliefs that we accept as we go through life. Our subconscious minds are powerful and affect so much of our daily lives.
Here are some examples to better understand:
A young man had a very bad stutter. He finally went to a hypnoanalyst for help to overcome this problem, which caused him anxiety and embarrassment. Under hypnosis, they discovered that the stuttering began when he was a small boy. His father accused him of doing something wrong and started to beat him and shout at him. The boy wanted to explain why he did whatever he was being punished for, but his father did not allow him to speak, so he tried saying “But….but….but…” and from there, because of his fear and frustration and never being allowed to complete his sentence, he developed his problem of stuttering. Now, many years later, he was already married and yet still stuttering. Under hypnosis, the therapist discovered that he did not really want to let go of his stuttering because he thought his wife married him out of pity for him and if he stopped stuttering, he feared she may no longer want to stay married to him! The therapist called in his wife and asked her if she would be happy if her husband got rid of his stuttering. She said of course. Then the hypnoanalyst was able to , under hypnosis, remove the subconscious wish to keep stuttering and immediately after that the young man was able to speak normally.
A young girl developed severe asthma. When she went through analysis with hypnosis, they found out that as a tiny child she saw her grandfather have trouble breathing and everyone ran to him. She, wanting more attention, decided subconsciously if she will have difficulty breathing, everyone will pay attention to her too. Her asthma developed because of that. Physical and emotional symptoms often develop from the subconscious. Of course, as time went along she really developed asthma and she attributed it to allergies or other causes. But the deep underlying original cause was subconscious.
A woman who had difficulty losing weight or sticking to a diet, went to a hypnoanalyst and through therapy discovered that she had a subconscious problem whereby food gave her comfort and security because as a child her parents always fed her when she was upset, and that was why she could not give it up. Once she became aware of what was bothering her, she was able to eat normally and lose weight.
A young girl was shouted at often in her childhood and developed a feeling that she was no good. Her father shouted because he was frustrated in life, going through a stressful time, and he did not know how to control his anger. But his daughter, who was small and could not understand her father’s pressure in life, thought he was angry at her and that she was somehow no good. She accepted this idea in her subconscious mind. Feeling she was no good created many issues for her, ranging from fear of something bad happening to her, or subconscious anger towards her father because she felt he was angry at her for no reason. As she grew up, she felt guilty for harboring anger towards her father. That reinforced her feeling of being no good. She developed strange patterns of OCD behavior to get rid of her guilt and anxiety. And she had no idea where all this came from. Eventually, with the help of a therapist, she was able to recognize the source of her anxiety and she was able to let go of it. Hence, her OCD habit patterns improved tremendously.
A woman who gave birth suffered from post- partum anxiety and depression. (And yes, there is such a phenomenon and it is connected to physiological aspects such as lack of rest, hormone changes etc. But very often there is more to it than that. Certain subconscious worries , fears or even anger can be there and it comes to the surface or expresses itself suddenly because of the emotional vulnerability of the moment. Perhaps her husband has not been as helpful or caring to her as she needs. She then may build up subconscious resentment over time but she does not express that much since she feels fine and manages in her life most of the time. She moves the issues to the back of her mind and pays them no attention. But the moment she is unable to manage well and she feels physically exhausted or emotionally drained, the subconscious anger may surface or get triggered). For example: Sara went through a very difficult pregnancy with a couple of traumatic situations during that year which caused her a lot of anxiety. After giving birth, she was totally wiped out, felt exhausted, and needed her husband’s help. Her husband did try to help her as much as he could but he did not fully understand how much she needed him at her side, even for emotional support. He went out with friends to have a good time and relieve his own stress. He did not show the sympathy to sara that she desperately needed. He did not fully acknowledge her suffering. After a couple of months, Sara collapsed. The emotional turmoil took its toll on her and she began to cry a lot and she even had thoughts of harming herself, to the point that she did not know how to deal with it. She felt like she was going crazy. She was actually suffering from post- traumatic stress syndrome but she did not realize that.
It was only after she spoke to a therapist that she began to realize part of her problem was a subconscious anger and resentment she had to her husband for not being there for her as she needed, and instead of communicating that properly, she turned her anger inward and developed crazy thoughts of wanting to harm herself, but she knew they were not truthful thoughts: she never would act upon them. Nevertheless, they consumed her mind day and night and she found no peace within herself. Once she realized the source of her problem, she was able to speak to her husband and make him understand her feelings and needs. He responded very well and she understood that it was not his fault: he loved and cared for her. She started to realize that her husband had always cared about her but did not know how to show it or deal with her anxiety. She came to realize that she did not have to rely so much on her husband for total happiness either: she was able to cope with life on her own and to be happy without being so clingy. That in itself brought her a feeling of freedom and joy and improved her relationship in her marriage too. That made it easier for her to get rid of her negative thoughts, that had no real basis anyway.
A young man was interested in getting married but he found himself unable to make a commitment. While dating one young woman, he took off an entire week without any explanation. The woman felt he was not serious or really interested. Later she found out that this young man’s father had always ignored his children, gave them no love or attention and his mother had also ignored them and did not know how to be there for them emotionally. Therefore, he was unable to give love as he never experienced it properly. You can only give what you have. If you never had something, you cannot give it or share it unless you have therapy or get it in some other way. So this young man was subconsciously afraid of getting married; afraid of making the same mistakes he saw his parents make. He did not want his own children to suffer. He did not understand how to show his wife that she was important to him. He did not even realize he was showing any lack of attention by not contact the young woman for a whole week. He never saw a good , healthy marriage. He knew subconsciously that he had anger towards his father and mother and that he wanted to be different than they were…but he did not know how.
An elderly holocaust survivor spoke once and said that he survived the holocaust but he emerged from the ashes of Auschwitz a totally broken man, unable to see any way to move on in life as his entire family had been killed. After some time he suddenly felt that he could ,and must, move on. He eventually married and started a family. He said that what saved him a lot were good friends he had who fulfilled the role of the family he was missing. A good friend or a good family can often substitute for the love a person lacks due to childhood problems or traumas. So never underestimate the role of friends, extended family and even good mentors.
Most often our subconscious feelings or emotions are not actual reality, but they affect us on a deep level in all aspects of life. For example: a little child may pick up the idea that he or she is not loved by their parents. It is not true at all but the child picks up that message somehow and develops a negative self- image or a lack of self -esteem and many other negative emotional reactions. If they come in touch with these subconscious messages, they can remove them and replace them with positive messages. When we get rid of our negative subconscious emotions, we are able to move forward in life and deal with people in a positive manner . ALL OUR BEHAVIOR ISSUES ARE CAUSED BY OUR BELIEFS: EVEN SUBCONSCIOUS BELIEFS THAT WE PICKED UP AND ACCEPTED OVER TIME. TO CHANGE BEHAVIOR PATTERNS, WE NEED TO DIG INTO THE ROOT BELIEF THAT FUELS THAT BEHAVIOR AND CHANGE IT.
Many husbands and wives have marriage problems because of the subconscious issues one or both may be dealing with and may not even be aware of. Those issues really have nothing to do with your spouse but you take it out on your spouse, the person who is closest to you. It affects the marriage in a profound way.
For example, David was subconsciously angry at his wife for what he interpreted as a lack of respect towards him. His wife, Ruth, was not at all intending any disrespect but sometimes she may have said things that triggered such a reaction in him. So instead of discussing what was really bothering him, David would flare up and get angry at Ruth for silly matters. She could not understand why he was suddenly angry and fighting with her. Things would escalate into a big fight and both of them felt terrible afterwards but could not fully understand why they were having such a huge fight over nothing. Many marital issues are based on subconscious anger, worries or emotional issues that have not been resolved. And the couple will fight about foolish matters (“why did you leave your socks on the floor”, or “why are you being so fanatical about kashrus when it is not necessary” or “I told you not to do that, why do you not respect me or listen to me?” etc. etc.) Those are never the real issues but many couples do not realize what their real issues are.
For example, Aaron would constantly shout at his wife “You are trying to take over and be the boss and over rule me”. In reality, his wife had no such intentions and had no idea what he was talking about. She felt hurt and insulted when he would say that and she felt as if he used that as an excuse to force her to abide by whatever he said. Aaron would constantly say that tohis wife because deep inside he had a subconscious feeling of failure. He had a long term conflict with his own brothers who had disrespected him and refused to show him the honor or respect due to an older brother. He felt he was not in charge, not looked up to and he felt threatened if anyone voiced an opinion different than his or questioned anything he wanted. He interpreted that as someone trying to over rule him because he felt deep inside like a failure and he had a need for respect.
The subconscious is very powerful and can often wreak havoc on our relationships.
If we have a subconscious anger to a parent, we need to sit down and think why is that. We need to analyze ourselves, our motivations and our emotional reactions. Did the parent really do anything to harm us? Or is it just a wrong message we may have internalized as children? Or are we frustrated in life and looking for someone to blame? Are we angry at authority? Are we angry at Hashem and transferring that anger to the other main authority in our lives, our parents (or sometimes a wife may transfer anger to her husband, the authority in her marriage)? Often a subconscious (or even conscious) anger towards a figure of authority reflects a subconscious anger towards the Almighty.
A young woman once came to the Lubavitcher Rebbe complaining that she had so much anger to her father, who had abandoned her and her mother after they got divorced. The Rebbe said to her very simply : “a child is never allowed to judge their parents.” That sentence healed her and she realized her anger was consuming her for no reason and she had no right to hate her father, based on being judgmental towards him. She had to instead concentrate on how she could respect him, rather than hate him. It was not her duty to analyze why her father did anything. Yes, she and her mother suffered….but there was no reason to constantly blame her father and hate him. Didn’t she want a relationship with him? Didn’t she want to move on and not harbor so much anger, which was only harming herself?
Isn’t it time to discard negative messages we accumulate from youth and move on? We can accomplish a lot just by sitting down and thinking deeply about ourselves, our lives, our past experiences. We can talk to ourselves and that in itself often helps subconscious ideas to surface so we can discard them.
Certainly training ourselves to think positively and expect good things rather than negative ones is very useful in all apsects of life.
An example of learning to reprogram our minds and change our thinking patterns is the following:
There is an expression “when it rains, it pours”. This is usually used in connection to hard times or problems. When difficulties happen, it often brings with it more difficulties, God forbid. Why is rain used as a metaphor? Because generally people look at rain as a negative thing: something to feel gloomy about.
But in Judaism, rain is considered a blessing. Therefore, we can look at this expression positively: when it rains blessings, it pours. Blessings bring more blessings. It is very important to train our children from the time they are very small to look at the world positively: to think positively and to have a generally optimistic, positive view of life. They need to be trained to interpret life with a positive message.
THOUGHTS LEAD TO EMOTIONS AND EMOTIONS LEAD TO THOUGHTS
Thoughts are usually based on emotions. In chapter 8 of Tanya, section of Shaar HaYichud Ve haemunah, the Alter Rebbe writes: “Within every thought in the world there is clothed some emotive attribute that causes one to think that thought. “ We all have certain emotions depending upon whatever we are going through at any particular time (and depending upon our experiences in childhood and what we pick up on a subconscious level) and those emotions can be anger, fear, love, hate etc. These emotions start from the heart (the seat of emotions) and rise to the brain and we begin thinking different thoughts based on our emotions. We also interpret much of what we see or experience in life, based on these emotions. For example, if we hate someone or are angry with someone , we will see that person and judge their behaviors very differently than if we feel love to that person. Sometimes you can have a huge fight with your spouse and feel a tremendous anger and sometimes even feel something like hatred to your spouse……you see everything in a negative light and start thinking about all the other person’s faults…..then a day later when you make up, you feel love for your spouse and you feel ashamed of your previous anger and you see all the good qualities…..and no, you are not schizophrenic! But which emotion is true? Well, at the moment, whatever you experience seems real to you. But the truth is always the more positive side of things. However, your true feelings can be covered over by your emotions and momentary perceptions. But in all honesty, many times you can also be harboring subconscious anger and beliefs about your spouse which can be totally false, but you put those things into your mind, and at a vulnerable moment of anger or a fight, those emotions and beliefs surface and you start to validate them. Then when you calm down and make peace, you realize those are not your true feelings and it is almost frightening to know you can harbor such opposite feelings in a matter of a few hours!
We all see life through emotional lenses: through filters based on our experiences and perceptions that we pick up throughout our life, as well as messages we accept subconsciously. We are affected by knowledge we gain in life and by our belief and value systems that are ingrained in us from youth. (That is why education is so important from a young age because we can shape our children’s views in a healthy way depending on the education and values we instill in them when they are small).
Also, some people have more of a natural tendency to kindness and will therefore tend to see life and situations in a more positive light. Other people have a more natural tendency to strictness and will see life in a more negative or harsh light.
Definitely our perceptions and character traits affect how we view and relate to situations.
For example, Rebecca was raised in an abusive home. She never knew her real mother and her step mother treated her cruelly. Her step mother abused and neglected her, not feeding her, not taking care of her, leaving her alone in the house from a young age etc. Rebecca grew up believing no mother or woman figure could care for her or mean good for her. She could not trust women. She could not believe a mother could even like her. So anytime a mother figure (mother in law, older woman, even a sister in law) would show her kindness or would even try to give her space so she would not feel pressured about things that she might not like, she would interpret it as the person not truly liking her because she would view and judge things based on her past experiences and beliefs. It was only after she came to consciously realize what she was doing, that she was able to work through her emotions and realize a mother figure could be kind, could wish good for her and could like her. She no longer had to feel anger to the person or resentment. Then her relationships were able to improve. She had to become aware of how she was viewing things and why. But until becoming aware, she would harbor hidden anger or subconscious resentment that affected her way of speaking, behaving or even thinking. And that anger and resentment caused her anxiety and stress but she did not know how to deal with it.
All our experiences and beliefs color how we interpret what we see or experience. And by the way, the number one job of our ego is to alter and color our perceptions. If we have wrong perceptions of things, often it is because we are too self -centered and look at things from our own egos, rather than from a Higher perspective.
In America in particular, society tends to emphasize the “self”. That is why so many people go to therapy and strive to figure out why they have this issue or that issue….often people make too much out of their issues, imagining they have all kinds of problems . People are too self- consumed and too much into “expressing” their feelings and speaking openly about their wishes and pursuing their own agendas. There is too much self analysis.
People often lack respect for their parents and elders, constantly thinking they know better than their elders. People lack the ability to go out of themselves to help others. This is the result of the modern society we live in. This is one reason so many people are in therapy these days, unable to deal with their own issues and conflicts. Everything becomes selfishly oriented and people lose proper values. This itself leads to anxiety and depression because deep inside we know we were created for more than selfishness and we feel incomplete, unfulfilled and lacking.
This is not to imply that if someone is suffering through emotional turmoil that we should dismiss their emotions or try to deny them. We can validate emotions and feelings, but not harp on them too much. We need to teach ourselves and others to validate emotions but then work on dismissing them and not paying so much attention to them. People often hold grudges and hang onto negative emotions such as anger. That is very destructive. We need to acknowledge feelings…… but be ready to let them go. Acknowledge emotions exist and need to be dealt with, but they also need to be controlled and refined, not exploited and overly emphasized.
Now, although thoughts are based a lot on emotions, it is a two way street, meaning that our emotions are born out of our thought processes too. First comes wisdom which then gives birth to understanding, which then gives birth to our emotions. Our rational soul (and even our Godly soul) thinks things based on our education and value system and what we are taught is right or wrong, good or bad etc. When we learn some wisdom, it affects our feelings. If we learn good things and proper things, then our emotions develop accordingly. Thought and emotion work together. The Tanya says that the emotions develop according to the intellect: the more our intellects mature and the more understanding we have, the more refined our emotions will become as well. As it says in Tanya: “a child, having no wisdom, is always angry and unkind, and even his love is for trivial things which are unworthy of being loved because he lacks the understanding to love things which are worthy of love, for love varies with the level of one’s understanding”.
Knowing that many thoughts stem from our emotions (and also our emotions come from our thought processes and especially our subconscious minds), we need to become aware of our emotions so we are able to reign in and control our thoughts, or even change our thought processes. We need to come in touch with our emotions in order to release them: we often need to express our emotions in order to get rid of them (as long as that is done in a controlled, healthy way that will not harm our spouses, children etc.). To suppress emotions or fears or other problems is not healthy in general: often under hypnosis a person is helped to get rid of negative emotions or thoughts or issues and to replace those negative things with positive suggestions, which then help one to behave better and be happier.
In fact, many heart problems such as atrial fibrillation, have an emotional aspect: the heart reacts easily to our emotions. If we are angry, hurt, frustrated or aggravated, the heart will beat irregularly or fast etc. Over time this can cause actual heart problems which become difficult to control. Getting our emotions under control helps a lot. However, first we need to come in touch with what is really bothering us or hurting us. Then we can strive to heal from those issues and emotions. But not everyone can have hypnosis. It is , in fact, very difficult to find a responsible and good hynpoanalyst these days and it is not always practical. Therefore, we need to find ways to help ourselves to be emotionally healthy. Just delving into our minds and figuring out where we are hurt or aggravated, or what truly bothers us, is often the first step to healing. We need to become aware of what flares up or triggers our negative emotional responses. We need to observe our emotional responses and try to be aware of why we react in a certain way, or why a certain word or situation elicits such a strong emotional response from us. Then we have to trace where those emotions first began and why. After that we can work on getting rid of, or neutralizing, those emotions to the point that they will not affect us negatively anymore. Many people may find it difficult to trace their emotions to their origin and some people are unable to deal with their emotions or the traumas they went through. In that case, we have to find other ways to cope with our negative emotional responses.
The more we are able to make ourselves happy in life, the easier it will be to let go of negative emotions. People who are suffering from emotional pain, are usually depressed people, whether they admit it or not. The pain becomes too much to bear and creates physical and emotional problems. The more we can make ourselves happy, the easier it is to let go of our problems. Happiness is the key to healing in life. It takes us out of our misery and elevates us to a higher level whereby we become above our problems and they no longer affect us so deeply.
We have a Divine gift; God created the world in such a way that by nature the mind has the ability to rule the heart. The heart is the seat of emotions and feelings. Remember: emotions are subjective most of the time; intellect is more objective.
If we see we have difficulty handling our thoughts that are based on our emotions, we must realize that we have the power to overrule our negative or improper thoughts: the mind is stronger by its nature and can steer the thoughts in whatever direction the mind wants. That is where Torah learning comes in: when we learn Torah, we have in our minds holy thoughts and we can recognize when a thought is coming from a holy place (the Divine soul and holy part of us) or a negative place (the evil inclination). Then we are able to push away the negative thoughts and replace them with good, positive and holy thoughts. We cannot think two thoughts at once. If we put good thoughts in our minds, we cannot entertain negative thoughts at the same time. If you find yourself bombarded by negative thoughts, try to change to positive thoughts. Gradually we can habituate ourselves to having primarily good thoughts. We also need to often change our mind set: if we thought something was okay, we now can change that to realize it is not okay, it is not healthy, it is not holy etc. And by re- educating ourselves, we then empower our minds to think properly, which in turn gives birth to better emotions. We are then able to hate what is wrong and to like what is right or proper.
One very important way to help ourselves develop that inner holiness is to follow the advice given by the Alter Rebbe in his book the Tanya, in chapter 27:
“Even in matters that are fully permissible, every act of sacrificing one’s impulse, even if only for a short while (ie. delaying to partake of even something permissible or essential), with the intention of subduing the sitra achra (the unholy part of the universe: the force of impurity) in the left pat of his heart ( achieves this purpose of increasing holiness in the person and in the world).”
For example, when a person wants to eat but delays his meal for an hour less….so too if one restrains his mouth from saying things which he greatly desires to say (about mundane matters, even if there is nothing forbidden in them) and likewise regarding thoughts in his mind (he suppresses thinking mundane thoughts), even by the slightest subjugation of the sitra achra here in this world, the glory of God and His holiness is greatly elevated on high.
From this holiness, a sublime holiness issues forth upon a person below, to assist him in this service of God. This is what our sages meant when they said “if a person consecrates himself in a small measure here below, he is sanctified greatly from Above…..when one sanctifies himself in permissible matters, he thereby fulfills the positive command in the Torah to make oneself holy.”
When one strives consciously to separate himself from impurity , negativity and unholiness, and to make himself holy in those things that are permissible, eventually one will truly become holy, since he is helped from Above.
DEPRESSION AND BITTERNESS
Anxiety and depression often go hand and hand. Anxiety is a part of depression and vice versa. It is very common to have anxiety with some sort of depression, even though it may be very subtle. Being depressed also causes one to feel anxious and uncomfortable.
As mentioned before, many doctors end up prescribing medication for anxiety and depression. Those medications can have terrible side effects and often do not actually resolve the problems: they are a temporary cover up. They may have their place in certain severe cases, but overall it is best to try to discover the real underneath source of the anxiety or depression. A person needs to become a master of accounting: to really delve into the depths of one’s mind and soul to honestly figure out what is bothering the person. For that one needs honesty. To take medication just to try to silence one’s mind, is not a long term or comprehensive solution.
According to Kabbalah, the mystical aspect of Torah, depression is a cry of the soul: the soul is not satisfied, is lacking something, and needs something (needs spirituality and meaning in life). Depression often means the soul is crying out because of its lack of spirituality, purpose, meaning or goals in life . Adding in Torah learning helps to relieve depression. One needs to answer the cry of the soul. Many people who are depressed are people who are more sensitive; more aware of their souls. But their souls are not being fed enough spirituality and they do not find true happiness in material matters .
Depression derives from kelipas nogah (the side of unholiness in the universe; the side of impurity).
Kelipa will cleave to the person’s soul, concealing truth and Godliness and making it much harder to sense the truth. A person can become confused, feeling imprisoned in their thoughts and actions, unable to break free of their negative thoughts or behaviors, and impurity will lead to depression. Depression leads to lack of vitality. Depression is not a sin in itself, but it can lead to every sin because it causes a person to lose enthusiasm and to see everything negatively. It makes a person closed up and inactive and lacking in feeling or vitality. Depression is not a healthy state of mind. It leads to inactivity and lack of progress in life . Depression is usually a manifestation of hidden anger or resentment.
The book of Tanya, explains that bitterness can be a positive feeling (as opposed to depression which is not positive). Bitterness motivates one to change and take positive action in one’s life. That is what can bring about true change when one takes time to contemplate one’s lowly state. One may then feel bitter about many aspects of one’s character or service of God or even many aspects of one’s life. But that is what ultimately can motivate change.
When we emerge from a state of sadness into a state of happiness, this is the idea of joy that comes out of sadness. Sadness itself is not positive. In fact, sadness and self pity are a subtle form of ego: too much concentration on self and on one’s expectations of oneself.
Bitterness over sins or failures is different and can motivate change. But even bitterness is only for certain times. One must not constantly walk around in a state of bitterness or self deprecation. That would eventually lead to low self esteem or to depression.
In fact, in chapter 31 of Tanya, the Alter Rebbe writes that if a person feels depressed about mundane matters or even for some unknown reason , he should redirect his depression to become a master of accounting, taking stock spiritually of his level and how he needs to improve himself. Then he should arouse his good inclination to overcome his evil inclination, and by doing so, by directing anger towards the evil inclination within himself, he will then rid himself of his depression.
The joy that follows sadness or bitterness is like light that comes out of darkness. This light is brighter than a regular light. That is why many people who overcome challenges, sufferings, depression and other problems are aglow with a special light: an inner light that others can feel. They dispel darkness, they dispel their own inner darkness, and this light leads to true joy.
There is a mitzvah to serve God with joy. We may not always feel joyful but we need to do our best to generate feelings of joy as much as possible.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in a “farbrengen” (a Chassidic gathering) once said that joy comes out of sadness or hardships and therefore, knowing that joy and light will surely follow darkness, even in the darkness one should already begin to rejoice, anticipating the happiness that will soon follow! This is an amazing way to focus on the positive and not delve too much into the suffering or sadness. Even when things are tough and we truly are going through a difficult challenge, this thought of anticipating better times is what can help to alleviate the suffering and keep us focused on the good which will eventually follow.
We know that God only dwells in a place of simcha (joy). So any form of sadness,depression or lack of gratefulness is connected to the side of unholiness. Our sages advise us to redirect the depression toward spirituality by becoming, as the Tanya says, “a master of accounts”: sitting at certain designated times to ponder how far one is from God and how much we need to work on improving ourselves spiritually. We need to work on feeling humble, grateful and happy with our lot. This will channel the depression into a more positive situation.
In fact, there is a teaching from the Zohar (mystical part of Torah) that depression, pessimism and anxiety can prevent the flow of blessings from Above. It is very important to free ourselves from depression.
Tanya explains that every time the Divine soul, the spark of God within us, breaks free of its constraints and lowly state within the body , this is just like the exodus from Egypt. At that time the Jews had to run away from Egypt because the evil in their animal souls had not yet been refined and they had to run away from evil . The impurity only stopped and was eradicated when the Torah was given…. until the Jews sinned later with the golden calf and reawakened the impure side of the universe.
All of this describes the spiritual service that helps to get rid of depression, by utilizing one’s spiritual tools to come in touch with one’s soul and connection to God. True joy, truly ridding oneself of sadness or depression or anxiety, has to do with truly connecting to God on a more truthful level. When one is properly connected, there is no sadness. God cannot dwell in a place of sadness.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MELANCHOLY, DEPRESSION, BITTERNESS AND ANXIETY
We have already discussed depression and bitterness but now we will discuss in more detail the differences between melancholy (sadness), depression, bitterness and anxiety.
Melancholy and depression are from the yetzer hara. They do not lead to positive change. A person simply feels down and lethargic and useless.
Bitterness (feeling bitter or angry over one’s mistakes, sins or low spiritual state) can lead to positive change: a person is motivated to do better and fix themselves. It can have a positive place in one’s growth.
But this is only if the bitterness is over spiritual matters. If however the bitterness is caused by suffering we go through in life, where we become cynical, bitter and angry or resentful, that is not a positive thing at all. Becoming a bitter, unhappy person is coming from a place of unholiness. It will only bring a person to feel dissatisfied in life and unappreciative: unable to be grateful and happy.
Being bitter comes from the feeling of being wronged in life…which means that we are somehow upset with God and we feel whatever we are going through is unfair and we do not deserve it. That in itself leads to anxiety and to depression.
We therefore need to learn to utilize bitterness in a healthy manner to bring us to a better level spiritually.
A major issue in today’s world is loneliness. This was true even before coronavirus. How much more so nowadays! Perhaps loneliness is one of the biggest causes of depression and anxiety. Most people today in American or western society are taught to go for themselves: to go selfishly after their own lives and not to worry about or feel responsible for others. That even carries over into ignoring elderly parents, putting them in old age homes and not even visiting often. Western society actually breeds loneliness and isolation, which in turn breeds depression, anxiety and sadness.
Many old people suffer from extreme loneliness and lack of family or close friends. Often they turn to watching soap operas as a substitute for family life. It is a very sad reality of life in western society.
In certain societies, particularly in many middle eastern countries (and among Sephardic Jews), isolation is not such an issue because the emphasis is on family, on respecting the elders, on living together, helping each other and having unity together. But in America and many other westernized countries, the trend has become isolation, separation and hence added depression. One reason for all this isolation is because the big corporations encourage this. They want people to mistrust each other, not to have close relationships and to become self centered. They encourage people to go after their own lives and to find happiness only in buying things and in living separate, independent lives. We are a society with a frenzy for buying. Shopping on line has only made things worse. Do we really need all the things we buy? Definitely not. But if a person feels lonely, lacking in self worth and a bit depressed, we subconsciously accept the message the corporations feed society: that if we buy things we can somehow (irrationally) achieve happiness. It is almost like rewarding ourselves for our loneliness. Like a little child, we seek some kind of comfort and if we do not find it within our relationships or our life, we try to find it through buying more and more material possessions, and becoming more and more self centered. Parents often do not know how to give proper love and attention to their children so they try to make them happy by buying them gifts: another gadget, the latest phone, another toy or book….but it never brings love. We all need healthy relationships and without that, it leads to an underlying feeling of depression. Many children do not know how to honor and esteem their parents because they are too busy trying to become independent and disattach from their parents, but in an unhealthy way. This also does not lead to happiness on any side. I would venture to say we are a depressed society in general! Everyone is chasing happiness and attachments and good relationships. We all are connected to Hashem but we also don’t always feel that or know how to reveal that essential connection. We also have connections to our parents and grandparents, but not always can we feel it properly or express it adequately because our egos get in the way. We often suffer from “attachment disorders”. (But truthfully, everything is within each one of us because we are all part of Hashem: the real “you” is essentially the embodiment of the truth, that God has no source and His existence is innate and intrinsic. If we do not allow another person’s existence to express itself and to be included within us, then that is ego rather than essential existence. The true “I” has to be humble and truly make room for others We need to be bitul. If we do not have bitul and humility then ego is very dangerous and destroys relationships.).
One Biblical figure we can gain strength from is King David. His entire family was against him at first. He was ostracized by his brothers and even his father mistakenly thought he was an illegitimate child. Only his mother knew the truth and gave him support. But he grew up alone and feeling alienated from his own family . But that never got him discouraged. He would go to the fields to shepherd the sheep and he found solace in composing tehillim and singing to God. He always felt close to God and he never lost hope in life. And this is an example to all of us: no matter what our situation, we are always close to our Creator and He to us. He loves us unconditionally. He hears our prayers. He knows our sorrows. He gives us strength to go forward throughout life’s challenges . Like King David, we need to develop a strong relationship with God and to feel happy even by ourselves, even when isolated and on our own….because we are never truly alone. Hashem is always with us, as King David says in tehilim that he is never afraid because Hashem is always with him.
KABBALOS OL (accepting the “yoke” of Torah without questioning)
In society today, most people lack “kabbolos ol”( accepting the yoke of doing what God wants simply because these are the commandments of the Almighty). Kabbolos ol also is a mind set: following orders without questioning and without arguing. It is an attitude of humility and subservience. People today try to justify being lax in many areas of observance, somehow imagining that we have the right or option to decide what things we want to do or observe and what things we do not. This is because people no longer have that attitude of subservience, humility and “kabbolos ol” previous generations had. That, of course, also leads to lack of respect in general. Why do children today have difficulty respecting and revering their parents, teachers, clergy etc.? It is because of the same idea: lack of subservience. Somehow children think they know better than their elders and that many things do not matter. Many women feel it is somehow below their dignity to be subservient to their husband. This is because people in today’s society tend to think our minds can decide things on our own and we do not like to look up to elders, to Torah, or to accept a force higher than ourselves and our own minds. This is what causes the degeneration of society. And this is what causes a lot of unhappiness and confusion. Parent child relationships suffer. Marriages suffer.
Yet everyone still chases happiness. We all want to find happiness in some way or another. Unfortunately, we often fail to give over to our children the right values and ideals and happiness continues to elude people. Society tries to influence our children away from morality, proper family values, and to get them to “tolerate” or accept abnormality or immorality. Society brings confusion and blurs boundaries. Children do not feel secure or happy (even many adults do not). Deep inside, all human beings have a spark of holiness: we sense what is right or wrong. But that spark can become covered up and even dirtied through wrong influence, wrong environment, picking up wrong attitudes etc. It is very important to instill the right values in our children from the time they are young and to spend a lot of time talking to them, explaining right from wrong, giving children (and teenagers) reasons for why they should or should not do something. Society puts a lot of pressure on people to spend money, keep up with the latest styles, newest technology etc. But does that bring happiness? No, it tends to bring a lot of anxiety instead. And one reason is a feeling of emptiness: we spend so much of our time chasing emptiness and never feeling fulfilled . We lose sight of what meaningful relationships are and exchange them for false relationships, surface relationships or even for no relationships, preferring to spend hours on our phones or on the internet.
Kabbolos ol and a proper attitude of “bitul” (self nullification) is what leads to happiness. We are able to give ourselves over to a higher cause, to an authority other than our own minds, and we feel secure and confident in our lives. Without that, people tend to get lost and flounder in a world filled with distractions, confusion and unhappiness. Certainly, we see that giving up old values and traditions does not lead to greater happiness or better marriages.
SOME POSSIBLE CAUSES OR SOURCES FOR ANXIETY, DEPRESSION AND PANIC ATTACKS:
Root causes of anxiety, panic attacks or depression can be many and varied. Below are some scenarios or possibilities:
Was it a traumatic experience that one suffered in childhood or even later in life that is still in the subconscious, eating away at the person?
Was the person sexually abused in childhood or at any time in life?
Did the person lack love and positive attention as a child?
Did the person feel unworthy and good for nothing at some point in life?
Was the person emotionally or verbally abused? (Verbal abuse at any age can be very damaging. There is a saying “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never harm me”. That is a lie. I would change that to read: “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can break my heart.” Being verbally abused, attacked verbally, criticized, accused etc. can very much lead to frustration, anger, hurt and a broken heart. It leads to a feeling of being misunderstood and unappreciated. If a person feels unable to speak up or is not even fully aware of this being an abusive relationship, the person may feel anxiety or depression. )
Was the person physically beaten? (We are not talking about an occasional spanking to correct a child’s wrong behavior. We mean consistent physical beating, as in a husband beating his wife, a father beating his children constantly, even as they grow up. There is sometimes a fine line when it comes to defining abuse.)
Is it an abusive situation one may be in now and one feels helpless to change ?
Is it a marriage problem and one does not know how to communicate properly with one’s spouse so it is very difficult to make the marriage a happy, satisfying one?
Is it because one feels frustrated and unable to speak up or voice one’s emotions or thoughts (perhaps because of a spouse, parent or teacher unwilling to listen, or because one is too timid to express oneself adequately etc.)?
Is it a fear or worry one has, perhaps over financial matters? (It is very important for people to learn to live within their means financially. Don’t be in debt. If you live within your means and don’t feel obligated to copy the lifestyle of others, you will feel happier and less pressured.)
Is it fear of failure? (there are many areas one wants to succeed in and fear of failure is a big issue for many people. To help oneself, it is important to know we are not perfect, failure is part of the human condition, we need to pick ourselves up and go forward . In life, we must fear nothing except the Almighty. We must never fear failing or we would be afraid to even try anything. And often that is an excuse or trick of the evil inclination trying to prevent us from progressing in life)
Is it a worry about health? (here too one must do one’s utmost to prevent illness, to live a healthy lifestyle, to do what is needed to guard one’s health….but not to worry. Worry has the opposite affect. Worry breeds worry and is not productive)
Or is it connected to worries about one’s children (and their health, behavior, future etc.)?
Is it an emotional problem one developed over years, for whatever reason: ie. one’s upbringing, the way one views oneself , lack of self- esteem etc. All of that can fuel anxiety and one may not even be consciously aware of why one is feeling anxious.
Does the person come from a dysfunctional family which created tremendous anxiety and insecurity?
Or is the person having a struggle controlling their yetzer hara? Is there a conflict between what is right and moral, and what the person may feel a desire to do? Is the person feeling guilty with this conflict and feeling somehow impure, or no good? That itself will generate tremendous insecurity and anxiety.
There are so many possible worries and emotions a person can go through in life, and worry takes down a person’s mood and creates anxiety on many different levels. Healing requires a holistic approach which combines spiritual health, physical health and emotional health.
DENIAL, PROJECTION AND REPRESSION
Modern psychology describes three main defense mechanisms that we often utilize in an attempt to avoid dealing with the cause of our worries or anxiety. Those three mechanisms are denial, projection and repression.
Denial is a defense mechanism that is defined as an unwillingness to accept reality as it is.
Projection comes as a response to being unable to handle our own negative emotions (including guilt and shame) causing us (again, in defense of our own psyche) to project them onto another person. When we project, we actually blame someone else for harboring the emotions that we ourselves feel but are incapable of handling or expressing. Since we cannot deal with the truth , which often casts us in a negative light, we enter into denial and projection.
A good example of this is found in the Torah. When the spies returned from spying out the land of Israel and gave a negative report of what they “perceived” as reality, the Jewish nation started to complain and said ““Because Hashem hates us, He took us out of Egypt to hand us over to the emorites to destroy us.” Rashi says that this was a defense mechanism . The people hated Hashem because of what the spies said. Unable to acknowledge that they hated Hashem, they said instead “Hashem hates us”.
Instead of projecting our negative feelings on another person, or looking to blame someone else (including Hashem), the sages recommend sharing our negative emotions , our shame and our anxiety, with a caring friend or therapist, who will take part of the burden of the anxiety off our shoulders. Just speaking to someone is part of the healing process. If you don’t speak of your problems, they only grow bigger and can look like a mountain after a while, when in reality they are not difficult to discard if one has a proper person to confide in. The Torah exhorts us to speak to a good friend or mentor when we are troubled, because just opening up to someone and speaking helps to release much of the anxiety and fear and we are able to look at it more objectively, through the eyes of the person we speak to.
Repression (suppression) defends our psyche by unwittingly pushing our awareness of our negative traits into our unconscious, or subconscious, mind.
But, just as our psyches are naturally eager to free us of negative anxiety, we can also consciously decide to heal the anxiety by using it in a positive manner. In the end, anxiety is an expression of psychological energy, and instead of trying to get rid of this energy, we can channel it in positive ways.
The way to change our negative energy from anxiety to a sense of positivity is to allow a glimmer of light, of oneness with God, to affect our consciousness. Instead of suppressing or repressing any evil within ourselves, or any negativity, we need to find ways to deal with it and heal it. We need to separate ourselves from evil, even within ourselves, and work on healing ourselves. That way we truly can arrive at a place of holiness and inner calm and happiness.
We need to accept reality but to do so we need to admit the truth to ourselves and look at things objectively. Then we can proceed to take positive actions to change our reality and to improve things. We need to be honest enough to see our own faults, negative traits, problems and to admit we need help or we need fixing (or healing).
We all have to acknowledge reality . We have to acknowledge our true emotions, not cover them up by projecting them onto someone else. And we have to acknowledge our wrong deeds, confess them and fix things. A big part of “teshuvah” (repentance) is confessing whatever one did wrong. Confession, expressing in words, brings to the fore of consciousness forgotten things. Without confessing the words, one cannot manifest repressed memories one could not cope with before, in order to fix or get rid of them. When we mention verbally what we have done wrong or are regretful about, we begin to realize how shameful we feel and how foolish our behavior or thoughts or words have been and that allows us to let go of those things and correct them.
Guilt is another word for responsibility and blame. If someone cannot cope with guilt, they repress or forget it because they do not want to take responsibility and admit any wrong. Repression is the defense mechanism for getting rid of our guilt. Guilt is sometimes too much to handle psychologically. In the maamar V’Ata Tetzaveh the Rebbe said: If there is one person who would do 100% teshuvah, that would bring Moshiach. It must mean that person is taking responsibility for everyone in the world, as if he is guilty. After exile, if even one person accepts responsibility, that is enough to bring Moshiach. But for most people that is too much to handle. But in general, for each individual, we need to accept responsibility for whatever we do wrong, correct it and accept that we have been forgiven. If we are unable to forgive ourselves, that is unhealthy because if God has forgiven us, we need to forgive ourselves too and not carry on with our guilt in an unproductive manner.
Primal Repression is repression before you become consciously aware of what you are repressing. Repression is considered an unconscious response that removes our misconduct, desires, or even negative emotions and experiences from our consciousness, pushing it into our subconscious, where it sometimes wreaks havoc on our mental well-being and burdens our actions with unresolved tensions.
Secondary repression however is a positive form of repression, because it is done with full awareness. The sages in the Torah refer to this as diversion , consciously removing a worry from our awareness and paying no attention to it, even though we are fully aware of what is bothering us. We basically ignore it, but in a healthy way, not giving it so much importance and yet not trying to deny that it even exists. This is a way of separating ourselves from inner evil, conflict, negativity and revealing our inner goodness. The Lubavitcher Rebbe referred to this as “hesech hadaas”, removing one’s mind from one’s anxiety by diverting the mind to healthier matters, such as learning more Torah or busying one’s mind with other things. The Rebbe believed in and worked to reveal the inner goodness inside each person because everyone has that core of inner good. When we realize that, we realize we can strive to achieve our higher potential: we are all good deep within. We need only reveal that.
ROLE OF GUILT AND BENEFIT OF FORGIVENESS
Feeling guilty, as we said, is a major source of anxiety and depression. Guilt is a normal part of the human psyche and has a positive purpose at times, if not taken to an excess. Guilt can bring a person to change for the better. But it can also eat at a person and create a lot of conflict and anxiety.
It is very important not to accumulate feelings of guilt. Rather, admit whatever we may feel we have done wrong, do what we can to fix it, but do not harbor guilt. It serves a positive purpose for a while to bring a person to change or fix what they are doing wrong, but if carried to an extreme (or if the guilt has no proper basis and is only because of a low self esteem) then it is not a positive feeling.
A person may feel guilty for any number of reasons: something one did wrong (it could be an “avera”, (a sin), or not living up to some expectation of oneself (or someone else’s expectations of us), or something one did to hurt another person. Feeling one is not up to behaving the way one is expected to , feeling a failure in various aspects of life (as a spouse, parent, child to their parents etc.), having expectations of what one should be doing yet not feeling up to doing it, can all cause tremendous feelings of guilt and insecurity. Sometimes a parent, spouse, employer or any other important person in one’s life, can cause one to feel guilty , even if that guilt is misplaced or based on the other person’s wrong interpretation of one’s motivations, words, actions etc. And sometimes one may even do things subconsciously , without being aware of them, which can hurt the other person and the other person may accuse a person of doing things intentionally or simply being insensitive etc.
In fact, if something goes wrong in one’s life (a car accident, losing a job, a child catching a virus because of going to play at another child’s house etc. ), we may sometimes feel we are somehow to blame. A person tends to think their choices in life may affect the outcome. A person who is extra sensitive tends to feel they are to blame for many things that are not even in their control. There are numerous things that cause guilt and conflicts within a person. Feeling conflicted in any way creates anxiety and, if sustained over a long period of time, can lead to full blown depression. Sensitive people tend to suffer more from anxiety and guilt. They get affected more by any negative news they hear; they start comparing themselves to others and wondering what merit they have. In fact, people often feel even subconsciously that they are no good on some level, not worthy, and they therefore may feel a need to punish themselves. People often feel guilty that perhaps they are not behaving the way they should towards their spouse , parents, children or others and this can create feelings of inadequacy and being somehow no good. Hence, they develop a cycle of negative or obsessive thoughts, or feel like they are crazy, or develop severe anxiety because they have a hard time facing what is really bothering them. Nobody wants to feel they are truly no good, or truly to blame for something. And nobody wants others to see their faults or recognize their weaknesses. So we cover up many things and hide things and deny things. That in itself creates a lot of anxiety because we do not feel truthful to ourselves or others.
It is very important to figure out what one may be feeling guilty over. Try to figure out when the anxiety began and what might be causing one to feel guilty. Once you reach the source of the guilt, that is a very powerful way to heal the anxiety. One starts to realize one may have created anxious or obsessive thoughts as a response to one’s guilt, but once you are able to forgive yourself , you no longer need to sustain those negative thoughts or emotions or anxiety. And this is the key: forgive yourself for anything you may feel you are to blame for. Realize everything is from Hashem and you do not have to feel you are somehow deficient and need to be blamed. Also, nobody is perfect. People make mistakes. That does not mean one has to feel anxiety or feel guilty for making a mistake in life. And if someone else tries to make another person feel guilty (as a way of getting rid of their own guilt or feelings of inadequacy, or often as a way of trying to control another person) that can often feel abusive to the person being made to feel guilty.
A very important aspect of letting go of guilt, is to have open, honest communication with people we may have hurt, or who may have hurt us. We need to discuss our feelings, worries, motivations and failures so we can come to good conclusions. Just understanding one another can alleviate much guilt.
If we are able to forgive ourselves and to let go of any type of blame or guilt (and also able to forgive others), we then can open our eyes to see the many miracles Hashem (God) does for us and recognize the good. And we can then refocus our attention on positivity instead of looking at things through a negative lense. And that includes our own self- image. The more we can forgive ourselves, the more we can learn to love ourselves and bring out our good qualities. The more we feel we are no good and have a negative self- image, the more we will delve into negative thoughts and emotions. It is important to try to understand others, even those who may be overly controlling or filled with their own emotional baggage. But it is also important not to allow the other person’s negativity to affect you to the point of becoming depressed or feeling like a total failure in life.
It is very healing to be able to forgive others. When we work through our feelings and thoughts, eventually we can reach a level of forgiveness, understanding that others are not perfect, make mistakes, and we can forgive. Of course, it is very good if the person who hurt you asks forgiveness. But even if not, within your heart you can reach a level of overall forgiveness in most cases and that brings inner peace. Being angry with others, or holding a grudge, constantly brings a feeling of agitation. It does not bring tranquility. So being able to forgive and let go of the past is an important part of getting rid of anxiety and moving forward without being bogged down by negative emotions. (There are some situations where it is very difficult to forgive, and sometimes it is not even healthy to forgive, but we are talking in general terms. Overall, forgiveness can be very healing). The reality is that when we are hurt and retain feelings of anger, or find it hard to forgive, that anger and bitterness hurt us. The other person is usually not even aware of our feelings and may not care. But we need to find a way to forgive, or at least work through our emotions enough to not feel bothered: to also not care anymore. We need to let go. Letting go is very hard but very important. It is the ego that stops us from forgiving others or even asking forgiveness. We need to let go of our egos. Letting go relieves a lot of anxiety on all levels. How do we let go? By realizing that holding on to unhealthy emotions is only harming ourselves. We also often lack understanding: that whatever the other person may have done to hurt us of course was wrong, but that person was only a messenger from God Who somehow wanted us to go through that hurt . Every single thing that happens to a person, is predetermined from Above. And whoever is the one who causes the hurt or damage is just a messenger from Above. Why? Perhaps as a correction for something from a past life (maybe in a past life you did something to harm this person and you need to now go through a similar thing in this lifetime), perhaps it is a test, perhaps because Hashem sees the relationship with that person is unhealthy for us and better we should separate….there are many possibilities and scenarios, but the main idea is to realize it is all for a good purpose. When we accept that, we can let go and not harbor hurt feelings or anger. In Tanya, Igeres hakodesh,epistle 25, the Alter Rebbe writes:
“Our sages of blessed memory said “whoever is in a rage, resembles an idolator….because at the time of his anger, faith in God has left him. For were he to believe that what happened to him was God’s doing, he would not be angry at all. True, it is a person who has free choice who cursed him, hit him or caused damage to his property (or upset him in any other way), and is therefore guilty according to the laws of man and Heaven for his evil choice….nevertheless, regarding the person who is harmed, this incident was already decreed in Heaven and God has many agents to work through (in other words, if this person had not caused the harm, someone else would have done it because it was decreed the person should go through this harm, suffering, aggravation or whatever).” The Alter Rebbe bases this on a story about King David. Shimi ben Geira once cursed King David and for cursing the King, one is liable for death. But King David said not to do anything to him because it was God who put into the mind of Shimi to curse David so therefore it was God Who wanted this to occur.
Realizing all of this helps one to handle hurt feelings in a healthier manner, without becoming so angry or insulted or resentful (or filled with a desire for revenge). If we learn to accept the hurt and insult with inner happiness, knowing it is decreed from God for a good purpose, it will not eat us up inside as much. That does not mean the person who caused the hurt is off the hook or should not apologize. It just means you will handle the situation with more dignity and without becoming as upset or stressed.
Sometimes a person who hurts you will not come to ask forgiveness. That in itself is frustrating and hard to deal with. But if that is the case, you just have to be patient or do your best to put the whole situation out of your mind. Sometimes it helps just to realize that God is the True Judge of the world and He sees and knows everything. He knows what that person did to you and that you are hurt. Nothing and no one escapes His judgment…. but there is a time for everything. If God is patient, certainly we must be as well. It helps to get to a place inside yourself where you really no longer care about the hurt. You will see it from a higher perspective.
There are times when a person may ask you forgiveness, and yet you may feel they are not sincere. They may have done something to really hurt you (to cause you emotional, psychological, spiritual or even physical harm or suffering) and you may realize that their repentance is not totally sincere or truthful. You should still work on yourself to be able to forgive them within your own heart. If they ask forgiveness, of course you should do your best to forgive them. You must not harbor anger towards the person (because you realize whatever they did to you was something you had to go through, for whatever reason) and even if you feel they are not totally sincere when asking forgiveness, it is hard to truly ascertain what is in the heart of another person. At any rate, you hope and pray they will change with time and truly repent. However, there are times you may feel it is more of a favor for the other person if you do not forgive them completely, if you see they need to do deeper teshuvah (repentance) and really fix themselves properly (because you really care about their soul and you want to give them the opportunity to fix themselves). But from your part, you should not harbor true anger or resentment, not because what they did was okay or even necessarily forgivable: only because it is not healthy for you to harbor anger. They still are responsible for what they did wrong and they need to correct that. And it is helpful to remember that the Almighty sees and knows all and He will exact retribution when He sees fit and in what manner He sees fit. It is not our job to judge others or try to take revenge or punish others. Leave that to Hashem.
If we have been hurt a lot, it is difficult to always forgive fully, but we can let go of the emotional turmoil within ourselves and move on in life. We can work on not harboring hate, which only hurts us. It sometimes helps to imagine having a conversation with the person who hurt us: confronting them and letting our feelings out. And sometimes, actually confronting the person in reality is very useful (but we need to realize the other person may not acknowledge our feelings and may not show that they care). The Rambam says when someone hurts you, it is a mitzva not to harbor anger or resentment in your heart, but to speak to the person and tell them you have been hurt and ask why they have done that. If , however, you are dealing with someone who is not sincere and truthful and they do not care about your feelings, then you need to be able to release your own emotions and hurt feelings so you can move on. You can actually pity the other person for not having the courage or strength of character to ask forgiveness. Perhaps they really wish to but are too proud or afraid. It also helps to realize what Torah teaches: that we each achieve perfection through our fellow human beings. That means, we learn and grow spiritually from every encounter (positive or negative) with someone else. It all has a purpose ordained from Heaven (often connected to past life relationships). So why become angry or upset? Learn to grow from each situation and become more refined and a better person yourself. Life is too short to waste on negative emotions that eat you up.
Also, it is important to point out that sometimes, when we are hurt by someone, our continuous hurt feelings actually can harm the other person. There is a story of a young yeshivah bochur who once played a prank on a fellow student. They were traveling somewhere by bus and the other student prepared some water to use for washing his hands in the morning when he woke up after sleeping. The first yeshivah bochur took away the water to play a joke on his friend. When the other student woke up, he was so aggravated and upset about the water being gone that he got very angry with the yeshivah bochur who did this and he said he would never forgive him. Many years later, that yeshivah bochur married and he and his wife were not blessed with children. The Lubavitcher Rebbe told him to think back to a time when he hurt someone and go ask forgiveness from that person. The bochur had already forgotten this prank but he suddenly remembered, contacted his old friend and asked forgiveness. The friend told him he was never planning to forgive him, but since the Rebbe said this, he would do so. Sure enough the yeshivah bochur and his wife were then blessed with a child. From this we see that holding onto anger and not forgiving can also hurt others and prevent blessings from coming down. We certainly do not want to be responsible for causing others to suffer….it can also bounce back and hurt us in the long run.
Not only is forgiving others healing and beneficial, but asking forgiveness is also very healing. We need to be honest enough to realize when we hurt someone, even unintentionally, and not to be afraid to ask forgiveness and say we are sorry. This is very healthy for everyone.
Sometimes we get hurt for no reason, assuming things are intended towards us even when they were not. It is important to know that not everything that happens to you is about you. We do not need to take everything personally. When I take someone else’s issue personally, then I am making it my issue and I cannot help the other person properly. For example, if I take too personally someone shouting at me, then instead of seeing the other person as someone who is struggling with anger, I become upset and get hurt instead of being able to remain more objective and find ways to help the other person overcome their anger. And why do I often take things personally? That is because of my own emotional issues. (That is not saying anger is okay or should be approved of. Not at all. But if someone has anger issues, they need to be dealt with in a healthy way, but you don’t need to take it personally if you are not doing anything intentionally to flare up that anger)
Not always can emotional hurt be remedied by intellectual understanding. Lectures and hearing about how to deal with one’s hurt or negative feelings may not help at all. Sometimes a person is hurt in life but then over year that hurt is triggered many times when a person is let down, disappointed or hurt by others over and over again. After a while, the person becomes broken inside: emotionally broken, heart broken and even depressed. What helps is to give time to oneself to heal from the hurt. And often one has to separate oneself from unhealthy relationships or hurtful situations so one can become more detached: to get to a place where one realizes they do not have to be the victim or scapegoat any longer. Others may want to find a scapegoat for their own problems or sufferings and they may make someone else into a victim. We do not have to play the part of victim to satisfy others.
In fact, we always try to blame someone else for our suffering or problems. This is, in fact, a concept which is connected to the Azazel goat which was thrown off a cliff on yom kippur to atone for the Jewish people’s sins. We all try to find someone to be a scapegoat.
This phenomenon started with the first man, Adam. He blamed his wife Eve for having eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But Rashi explains that by blaming Eve, Adam was being ungrateful to
God, Who gave him his wife. To correct this, one must feel mercy for Eve, who was seduced by the snake to eat the fruit. The snake represents Amalek. All of one’s “anger” should be directed toward Amalek. It is a commandment in the Torah to “Remember what Amalek did to you….do not forget.”
We must feel mercy for Eve who was seduced by the snake and also for the person who was seduced by the person seduced by the snake, in this case Adam. The universal message is that every person should take responsibility, blame only himself, and not point fingers at others.
The truth is that people do things with their own free choice…but the result or outcome of their free choice is determined by the Almighty. If someone does something to hurt you, they may be making a bad choice. But how it affects you ,or what results from that other person’s bad choice, is up to Heaven and intended for a purpose. How you react to things is up to your understanding and your choice. For example, Yosef hatzadik was sold to Egypt, into slavery, by his own brothers. But in the end, he turned out to the viceroy of Egypt, second in command to king Pharoah , and he was able to save his family from hunger. Yosef harbored no anger towards his brothers, even though he was deeply hurt from their hatred towards him, because he realized what happened was orchestrated from Above and was meant for good.
We also must keep in mind that the way we judge or react to others, is the way Heaven judges and reacts to us. If we are forgiving to others, Heaven forgives us. If we overlook the faults of others, Heaven overlooks our faults. We need to emulate our Creator: emulate His attributes of kindness, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and so on. Sometimes Hashem sends someone our way that we can show compassion to, so that we then are worthy or compassion from Heaven. Everything is an opportunity to make our own lives better and open new channels of blessing.
In reality, whenever going through difficult times or whenever we experience things we cannot understand and that are painful or frustrating, deep inside we may feel angry at Hashem. If someone hurts us and we see the other person having an easy, happy life while we are suffering, we may feel not only a bit jealous, but we may feel angry at the other person, somehow wanting to see him go through some hardships so he would recognize his mistakes and apologize….. or at least we would feel that Hashem cares about our hurt feelings and is not ignoring us. Even deeper than that, we may harbor some feeling of resentment towards Hashem: why are we suffering and the other person who hurt us is not? And why, in the first place, did Hashem put us in this situation (which we feel we do not deserve)? There are many subtle forms of anger to Hashem which we try to deny. Many people react with anger to God when they suffer or things do not work out the way they want in life.
It is important to come in touch with our feelings and acknowledge if we are feeling angry or upset and then work through those feelings. Everything that happens to us is for our good or is a correction from a past life. Feeling angry is not productive. Our faith is not based on whether things work the way we want. Our faith is unconditional. If things go as we want, that is a bonus and often a reward for our unwavering trust. But it is not a guarantee of things going as we want .
The fact that someone else, even a person we consider evil or unkind, is blessed with more than we have, or with an easier life, is not a proof that Hashem loves that person more. We cannot know that other person’s past life or the good they may have done. We also cannot know our own past life or the negative things we may have done that now need correction in this lifetime. Through His kindness, Hashem may bring to us certain negative situations in order to cleanse us, out of His love for us, not out of anger or as a punishment. We need to concentrate on what we have to fix within ourselves, rather than trying to compare to someone else. The other person has his own things to fix and that is between him and Hashem. It is not our job to make calculations for, or about, others. The Judge of the entire world takes care of that.
We need to constantly remember to appreciate and thank Hashem for all the blessings He does bestow upon us, rather than comparing ourselves to others and feeling frustrated or upset. It often helps to thank Hashem for all the problems He does NOT give us so we can appreciate His kindness. Just waking up each morning and being alive is enough reason to thank Hashem. Torah teaches us that the first prayer we say upon arising in the morning is Modeh ani (we thank Hashem for giving us back our souls when we wake up because during sleep our souls ascend to the Heavenly realm and in the morning they are restored to us).
Sometimes we need to redefine our characters in order to cope better with our situations in life and get rid of frustration or inner hurt. For example, a man named David was raised in a Sephardic home and was always told that he is the first born and needs to be responsible for everyone and find solutions for everything in life. He lived like that for 30 or 40 years, always being in control of everything and he felt that was his role in life. Much of his need to control everything and to control others was based on fear: fear of what would happen if he lost control, or fear of what direction his children would go in life, or how financial worries would be resolved.
Over time his married children did not want to ask his advice so much and they did not come to him for solutions anymore. What was the result? With time, David started to feel useless and no longer needed. This hurt also triggered and reminded him of other times in his life where he was made to feel useless, no longer needed: where his own brothers turned against him for no reason and no longer respected him. It was actually that original pain he was reliving. Over time he had developed emotional issues that he buried deep within. He actually felt subconsciously guilty for the difficult life he had and for the suffering his family was going through. From time to time, his hurt feelings would surface and he would even say sharp or nasty things to his wife or other loved ones, without even fully understanding why he reacted that way and he later felt guilty about that. But eventually he became aware of what was bothering him. He realized he was broken emotionally and could not bear the pain anymore. What would help him cope with that? intellectual understanding may not remove the emotional hurt inside. What helps , of course,is to come to the realization that he does not have to be in control of everyone or everything. His children may not respect him the way he saw in his home as a child, but he realized maybe he does not have the right to expect that from them. At the same time, he realized that he needs to let go: to pull back and no longer feel he has to give constant advice or push for certain solutions (even if his advice is right or good). He decided he would say whatever he needed to say one time and then pull back and leave it up to the others whether or not to listen. It was then out of his hands. He no longer had to feel responsible. He no longer had to take it personally if things went wrong or to suffer over results that could have been prevented. He also realized that by pulling back somewhat and distancing himself emotionally from certain people, he was then able to avoid feeling hurt by them. In other words, he needed to let go and to detach somewhat in order to avoid being hurt or triggering his own emotional issues. And with time, he knew he would heal. He still maintained a good relationship with his loved ones, but he no longer depended on them for his happiness or emotional security or for feeling useful. He no longer felt he had to be responsible for everyone and everything or guilty for the mistakes others would make. He also decided he would try to find a place in his heart to forgive his brothers for the hurt they caused, not because of them, but for himself: in that way, he could move on in life and not suffer from them.
He could now look for a new mission in life to give him a sense of purpose and not depend on his habit patterns. We cannot force others to always do what we want or respect us the way we want or even to be considerate and not hurt us. We can only protect ourselves from being hurt and go forward with resilience. So often deep emotional hurt needs time to heal, as well as some distance or detaching oneself from people or situations that trigger that hurt or sadness. With time, emotions dissipate and cool down. But only if not constantly retriggered.
It is important to mention here that there are some people, men in particular, who feel they always need to solve problems and find solutions for everything. They feel guilty if they cannot solve issues. When unable to find solutions, they feel out of control and it creates a lot of anxiety within them. Usually these are people who are very responsible in life and very mature,so it can be a positive attribute. But if it leads to anxiety the antidote to that is to constantly keep in mind that nobody has to control everything in life: the Almighty runs the world and is the One who has to solve problems. If we are His messenger to do so, fine and well. But if there are things we cannot solve right now or cannot help or cannot control, know that this is also part of the bigger picture, the bigger plan, and we are not responsible for that. Take a step back and disassociate yourself from situations you cannot deal with. If your feelings of wanting to solve problems or control situations leads to anger, frustration or anxiety when you are unable to do so, then you should realize those feelings are not coming from the right place. Rather they could come from a feeling of wanting to be constantly in control, a feeling of insecurity when out of control of others or one’s own situation, or it can be from a feeling that one has to solve all issues in life, when in reality God is the One Who solves problems and over time things work out as they are meant to. Being too controlling usually stems from being too fearful. It helps to keep in mind: if you are able to help a situation or solve a problem, then you know that is a mission you are given and it is your responsibility to do your best. If you find yourself unable to do anything, then leave it to the Almighty. Sometimes other people need to go through certain situations and we cannot prevent that. Developing anxiety or worrying excessively is counter productive. Our worrying does not help anything or change anything. It only aggravates us.
NARCISSTIC OR INSECURE?
Narcisstic people are very easily hurt, demanding in terms of their needs, their desire to be acknowledged and respected, and they come across as being unreasonable, emotionally needy and self centered. But in reality, many narcisstic people are extremely insecure, depressed and feel totally worthless. They feel useless and need to have others acknowledge their self worth constantly.
How can you deal with such people? You need to recognize what they are really suffering with deep inside. It often stems from their childhood. You need to be able to give respect but not feel abused or unappreciated yourself. You need to have open communication and let the other person know if you cannot understand their needs or relate to that….but give them the space to feel those emotions and discuss why they have a need for so much respect and so on. Often just talking about it relieves some sort of anxiety or depression. It is therapeutic.
Do not take their behavior or accusations personally. Just try to give them support, love, respect and yet do not allow yourself to be abused or hurt in the process. That can be difficult at times but you have to understand it is not about you. You are not doing anything to hurt them or aggravate them. They are already hurt in life, already aggravated, already stressed and full of anxiety. You are just triggering those emotions in some way. So try to avoid the triggers. Find out what bothers them and try to avoid that. But realize you are only human, you will fail at times and it is a way to grow and refine yourself as well. If the other person is open to therapy, it can help them. But many people who are deeply hurt people in life or deeply depressed, do not want to go for therapy: do not want to acknowledge their own faults. It makes them feel more unworthy and useless. So you have to find a way to preserve peace at home and to keep the atmosphere healthy and happy without making yourself feel like a good for nothing.
Sometimes there are very basic or important relationships, such as that of a child and parent, that end up in a negative way. Obviously, as children (even adult children) we need to fulfill the obligation of honoring and appreciating our parents. But if this relationship becomes abusive or negative (even emotionally abusive), or the relationship is unhealthy in any way, we sometimes need to respectfully pull ourselves away from that relationship for our own good, and often for the good of our marriage. Many people feel guilty about that. The parent/child relationship is often complicated.
For example, Hinda’s mother never liked the man Hinda married. She was very critical of him and constantly saying negative things. That affected Hinda’s way of looking at her husband, and over time it also negatively affected their marriage. After many years of constantly trying to juggle her respect to her husband and her respect to her mother, her husband finally told her he was fed up, he no longer wanted her to be in contact with her mother because it was negatively affecting their marriage. He had tried for years to be kind and nice to her mother but it never worked. So now he felt it was time to simply cut the relationship. Hinda felt guilty. But after a while she realized her husband was right. She could not dance between both relationships in a healthy manner. So instead of feeling guilty, she understood she had to take a stand (respectfully, not in a hurtful way) and just distance herself from her mother, not telling her why (so as not to hurt her) . Her mother was not happy that Hinda stopped talking with her. But Hinda had to side with her husband and support him. He deserved that. He never deserved the negativity her mother had projected on him. And once she made that decision , she felt a relief. Why should she eat herself up with guilt? It was time to take an action which perhaps was not the best solution…. but there was no good solution in this case.
Hinda realized a lot of her guilt was coming from worrying that she was doing something against Torah, or feeling she would look bad in the eyes of her siblings, or that she was causing her mother to be upset and she never wanted to hurt her. But she also realized that if the Almighty wanted her to have a good relationship with her mother, it would have worked out that way. And since He allowed so much negativity to affect her and her marriage, perhaps she needed to do something to separate herself from that negative energy and allow her marriage to flourish….and that was also the will of the Almighty. She decided to let go of her guilt. She had to listen to her husband and that was also what Torah said. She always hoped with time she would be able to have a better connection with her mother but she had to get her priorities straight and protect her marriage. At the same time, she prayed that somehow things would change around and she could resume a positive relationship with her mother and still maintain shalom bayit (peace at home ) with her husband.
Aaron had a very difficult childhood. When he was small his parents separated. He grew up without his mother for much of his life. His father traveled a lot for work and Aaron used to come home from school hungry and all he could find was dry bread, which he ate. Later in life he suffered from his brothers being cruel to him and abandoning him when he needed their help. Throughout his life he was abandoned, abused in some way emotionally and he finally felt he could not take it anymore. When his daughter Rachel wanted to leave home and did not want to ask his approval or permission, he felt very hurt. It awakened all his negative emotions of being unworthy, disrespected and as if he did not matter. It caused him to fall into a depression. His daughter did not want to disrespect him but she also did not understand him properly and she was a bit rebellious minded, wanting to do what she wanted despite her father. She wanted to be independent. She had been influenced by the secular mentality in the American society. How should such a situation be handled? Aaron felt he needed to avoid communication with his daughter for a while, so as to avoid opening the subconscious and conscious wound he had. His daughter of course felt hurt and yet understood to avoid him for a while. Aaron would require extensive therapy to get out all the deep inner hurt he had absorbed all his life. But what could be done to improve such a situation? His daughter, first of all, needed to understand the concept of being really respectful to her father. What is respect? Besides going through the “motions”, or doing what is “halachically correct”, the main thing is to do what is morally right. Not to cause pain or suffering to one’s parents by making sure to show them that they matter, they are significant and they are relevant to one’s life. Every child should discuss respectfully with their parents their plans and wishes in life and get the advice and guidance of their parents. Even if they do not follow everything their parents say, at least they should listen, consider their advice and explain respectfully whey they do not want to do things this way or that way, and to try to make sure their parents are okay with their decisions and give their blessings. The child can only benefit that way. To have an independent mentality and want to push away one’s parents is always hurtful and never beneficial (unless the parent is abusive). Children need to appreciate what parents do for them. Children need to acknowledge their parents and the sacrifices parents make for them. When respect is as it should be, many other things would work out automatically. Aaron would then not feel triggered with his pain…..he would feel happy to have a respectful, caring daughter. He would feel she loves him and is considerate of his feelings and wishes. There are times a child may also have to give up what they want to do in order to do what is right….for example, if a parent is ill or disabled and needs help, but the child wants to leave and go after their own life, is it right? Or should the child stay for a while to help their parent? At some point they may need to leave to pursue marriage or whatever,but it should be with the consent and blessing of their parent….not in opposition to their parent. Of course parents need to consider their children and their wellbeing also. It is never one sided. But overall, secular society promotes separation, independence, rebelliousness and a subtle angry attitude which harms the parent/child relationship. The earlier parents instill in their children respect and gratitude, the better the relationship will be in the long run. Parents need to have inner dignity as well.
Sometimes the relationship between spouses becomes unhealthy too. Men sometimes turn out to be narcisstic, angry, easily hurt, feeling disrespected and worth nothing, yet desperately needing to feel appreciated, loved and worthy. This requires working on one’s marriage, on one’s relationship, realizing what each side needs….and even if one side does not want to go to marriage counseling or therapy, the marriage can still work out if at least one side is very understanding and both sides truly love each other and want to speak honestly together. Always remember: the person who is hurt is like a wounded animal, or a very insecure child who needs love and care. The person who is hurt needs support, needs to know people love them and feel they are useful and needed. This itself is part of the healing process.
For example, John suffered a stroke that left him compromised on one side. Suddenly a man who was always active, in control, busy and giving was unable to function on his own, was dependent on others, felt himself to be a burden and he went into a deep depression. He tried not to show it. But he developed a super sensitivity to needing respect and consideration from others. Even the slightest lack of respect triggered a feeling of resentment or anger or hurt within him. He felt somehow he was a burden on everyone and no longer relevant and that caused him to lash out at others. He did not need a lecture on how this was not right and the other person did not mean to hurt him….he needed to see support, acknowledgement of his feelings and to explain to others his emotional needs so he would not fall apart inside. His wife felt torn apart between her husband, her children and others but she knew she had to be there for her husband. He needed her the most. If she would not understand him, who would? Talking openly helped. They would discuss his feelings. He understood where these feelings came from and he admitted it was after the stroke that he became so sensitive. But he also said he could not help himself, he could not control his emotions and he needed people to understand him.
Sometimes all we have to do is understand the other and give them the respect and love they deserve.
One of the greatest problems people go through in marriage is a lack of sensitivity to each other. What pains a spouse more than anything else is when the “rules” are being kept, and when consideration their goodness is acknowledged — but there is no real interest in the person’s true inner thoughts and deepest feelings. There is a kind of wall between them: a lack of real empathy and understanding. This damages a marriage a lot and can eventually cause love to fade. It is very important to really try to understand the inner needs and thoughts and desires of your spouse: to really care and not give a feeling of indifference or apathy.
There are many people who suffer from what is called an “ocd” disorder (obsessive compulsive disorder) which can include obsessive thoughts, obsessive and/or compulsive behaviors etc. Obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors are like being trapped in a prison. It often stems from an emotional distress or severe anxiety. Having obsessive or intrusive thoughts is itself very stressful . People suffering from obsessive or intrusive thoughts tend to put too much importance to their thoughts, somehow believing them to be true. It is very important not to give importance or credence to such thoughts. In order to discredit them, one needs to use humor. Humor is a good tool to dismiss intrusive thoughts. We need to stand back and observe at a distance our thoughts and learn to laugh at them. We need to laugh at ourselves. Don’t take yourself too seriously. This is a very important way of dealing with unwanted thoughts or behaviors. When we can laugh at ourselves, it relieves a lot of anxiety because anxiety is fueled by the way we respond to intrusive thoughts or negative thoughts. We need to remove our minds from them and learn to use humor to dispel such thoughts. Remember one thing: if your mind can create certain thoughts, your mind can also erase and dispel these same thoughts. The mind is very powerful.
As Viktor Frankl taught: we can all rise above our problems and our obsessive thoughts. We can find purpose and meaning in every aspect of life and not allow other things to affect us negatively.
We cannot just dismiss intrusive thoughts but the best way to get rid of them, is to replace them with other healthy thoughts. Over time we will develop a new pattern of thinking.
OCD often has its source in some sort of fear, or some sort of guilt. In the book Romeo and Juliette, one of the characters developed an OCD problem of hand washing constantly due to guilt over having murdered someone. This is an extreme case. But often hand washing is associated with a desire to remove guilt or to remove some feeling of being dirty or impure.
It also often involves an element of fear of punishment: somehow the person subconsciously feels they deserve to be punished or they are afraid of being punished by God, without even having a real reason as to why they might deserve punishment.
OCD behavior can also can be triggered by extreme stress or anxiety or even a feeling of desperation (like they will never get out of a certain unhappy situation). For many people, OCD begins when they feel stuck in an unhappy situation, unable to do what they want. They cannot get what they want. To protect themselves from facing their real emotions, or even to substitute something for the frustration/anger/resentment they may feel, the person develops a series of ritual behaviors , or may delve into obsessive thoughts which have no basis in reality. This is a substitute for facing what is really bothering them. But these rituals themselves become very stressful and the person can become very frustrated, angry and feel helpless to change these rituals. Nevertheless, on some level, these rituals relieve some anxiety or provide some sense of security, as paradoxical as it sounds. The person suffering from OCD does not believe they will ever be able to live a normal ocd free life. But this is not true. OCD can be helped, can be healed and, like so many other emotional or psychological issues, once the problem disappears, the person has a hard time even believing they once suffered from that problems. This is because it had no reality to it: it was just a test. But once it leaves, it is gone.
OCD can manifest itself in many forms.
A person may develop a fear of something and then imagine that very thing happening. For example, there was a young girl who learned about the dangers of drugs. She became so frightened that she developed an imaginary fear of drugs being everywhere. Everything she touched she imagined had some kind of drugs on it. She had to wash her hands constantly to avoid coming in contact with any type of drugs. It was obviously an illusionary situation, but why did she carry that fear to such an extreme? She somehow looked down at herself deep inside and felt she was not a good person. She felt vulnerable to negative forces. She therefore had to protect herself from such things. Sometimes OCD is a spiritual issue too: a person may feel vulnerable and not protected if, for example, they do not have a proper, kosher mezuza on their door. Irrational fears can then surface.
Another teenage girl was going off to school overseas, to a seminary to study for a year. She was the oldest at home at the time. Her parents were going through a difficult situation at home and she was very helpful. She felt a deep seated guilt to leave and go after enjoying her life. When she got to school, it did not take long before she developed an ocd disorder with frightening, obsessive thoughts and a tendency to wash her hands. When her mother visited and found out what was going on, she realized it probably was connected to a sense of guilt. She spoke to her daughter, saying she really was happy she was at school learning and she had no problem with her going away. Once her daughter became aware of her own guilt feelings, she was able to overcome her obsessive behavior patterns.
Another child was very unhappy and bored at home, living in a place without a regular school system. She developed an ocd habit pattern because of feeling depressed, frustrated, a bit angry at her parents for not sending her away to a school , and so she started behaving and thinking in an obsessive compulsive manner. Her parents realized she was doing so because deep inside she wanted to drive them a bit crazy so they would want to send her away to school, or just because she was frustrated at not having the life she wanted and she fell into a sort of depression. She also was feeling somehow guilty wanting to leave home. These conflicts and feeling that she was not a good daughter, started her negative behaviors.
Another major aspect of ocd is that people prone to such behavior are often perfectionists on some level. They expect perfection from themselves and others. Anything that requires a lot of details and rules can increase ocd behavior. For example, in Torah there are many details in observing certain mitzvot (commandments). Most people handle these matters normally, as they were intended to be handled. But a person with ocd goes to an extreme and always worries whether they fulfilled the mitzva properly. It is their way of handling their inner anxiety, without even being aware they suffer from anxiety. They always feel they did not do something right or they have an exaggerated fear of punishment. It is an exaggerated sense of self. Someone with OCD may spend much too long preparing for mikvah immersion, always fearing they overlooked something, did not clean themselves well enough and so on. But even if they get over that obsession, unless they really get over their OCD habit patterns and way of thinking, they will just transfer the OCD to something else.
Often OCD is a way of hiding a fear of something else: perhaps a fear that if they did not fulfill something correctly, they will fall pray to some kind of punishment. The ocd person often feels, even subconsciously, that they deserve nothing and that somehow something negative will happen to them. It is an irrational fear based on unhealthy subconscious worries or things that the person cannot deal with and does not know how to get rid of: often a subconscious guilt or fear. And this ocd way of thinking or behaving gets extended and translated into all aspects of life: religion, marriage, family life, the work place etc.
For example, a person who has a normal mentality in life , when told that he has to hear every word of the Megillah reading on Purim and if he misses one word he has not fulfilled his obligation, will listen carefully to the megillah and do the mitzvah correctly. Of course, if he truly misses a word he will hear it again. But someone with ocd will constantly worry whether they missed a word, imagining that they did not hear everything or their attention was diverted momentarily, and they will become very obsessive about needing to hear the megillah again. They may even go so far as to hear it several times, never feeling sure it was done properly, even though hearing it so many times is exhausting and makes the person nervous and distressed.
A woman with ocd may constantly worry whether she fulfilled the mitzva of going to mikvah adequately and whether her immersion was kosher enough. But it is not because of the details involved in observing these commandments. It is all because of her ocd habit patterns which translate into every part of her life and cause her to take everything to an unhealthy extreme. She may spend hours cleaning herself before going to mikvah, to the point of exhaustion and even frustration, but she feels she must do so or her immersion would not be acceptable. There is a strong element of anxiety with OCD.
A woman with ocd will clean her house for Pesach to an extreme and still worry that she missed something. She never feels satisfied or content. She always feels something has to be wrong.
And maybe that is part of the problem: a persistent feeling that something must be wrong, nothing can be okay. The person never feels relaxed and happy about what they do. They have a difficult time feeling happy in life when plagued by ocd habit patterns of thinking or behavior. It affects everything to an extreme. It is connected often to low self esteem, guilt feelings and never feeling able to please everyone. A person may have a constant or even subconscious fear that they deserve nothing and are deserving of some kind of punishment.
It has nothing to do with being religious. Nevertheless, OCD affects one’s religious observance, just as it affects one’s performance at work, one’s housekeeping, marriage etc. It overflows to all aspects of life but those things are not the CAUSE. One does not develop ocd because of being religious. And overcoming ocd is not helped by abandoning religion. Ocd is a problem in itself and has no rational basis to it. If one breaks one habit pattern but still retains their ocd habits, it will simply transfer to another area of life.
How to actually overcome this problem? First, understand that it takes a strong will power and the belief that you can overcome this. And you really can. You need to NOT pay so much attention to the compulsive behaviors. You need to force yourself to actually do those things you may be afraid to do, or force yourself not to do something that has become a habit (that gives you some sort of feeling of control or comfort). For example, some people develop a need to constantly wash their hands, even when there is no dirt. They wash and wash their hands over and over again, to an unhealthy abnormal degree. So how to stop that? Just force yourself not to do it, even once in a while, so you see that you are capable of controlling this and it does not control you. Break those negative patterns even if it bothers you or causes you extreme discomfort at that moment . Eventually you will reach a level of normal behavior: a proper balance in life. You need to experience a normal way of life and that will eventually become your new second nature. The Rambam says that when a person wants to acquire better character traits, he or she must repeat those behaviors over and over until they become second nature. Repeating negative behaviors also makes them “second nature”. In order to break those behavior patterns, we need to repeat healthy patterns of behavior and work on ignoring the negative things.
It is very hard to initially force oneself to go out of the fear and actually do what one is afraid of, so a helpful way to begin is to take baby steps. Do a bit at a time and record your victories. If you manage to not do something negative, or to do something you are afraid to do or that you prevent yourself from doing, write it down and be happy about every little success, even if you fail another time. Do not pay attention to failures: just go forward and record your successes. With time, things will improve. You need to believe that you CAN overcome these things. Never listen to people who say something is hereditary or unable to be fixed because there is an actual chemical imbalance. Even if those things have any truth to them, with strong will power, prayer and determination, one can overcome things in a surprising manner. A Jew is above nature and not limited by nature. A diagnosis of something does not mean that will determine one’s life forever.
This is where the motto of the Rebbe Maharash comes in “ l’chatchila arriber”, go over all obstacles as if they do not exist and they won’t. In other words, just ignore your inner doubts, negativities and fears and just go forward and do what you have to do. You will see how you can overcome everything.
Another trick to use is to imagine yourself in front of a good friend or someone that you would be embarrassed to show your ocd behavior to. When you feel embarrassed , you suddenly find you are able to control yourself and not display such behavior. So that is proof that this type of behavior can be stopped and can be changed. It actually helps to spend time with friends or others so that would inhibit your behavior and not allow you to exercise the negative patterns. With time and effort you will be able to let go of those behaviors, realizing they serve no purpose.
Sometimes ocd behavior (and especially intrusive or compulsive thoughts) can be connected to spiritual reasons: perhaps tefillin needs to be checked, or mezuzot? Perhaps there is something truly lacking that is in need of correction in one’s observance of taharat hamishpocha (mikvah)? For a Jew, spiritual mitzvot affect one’s mind and body. There was a girl who felt that she constantly needed to wash her hands in a ritualistic manner. She had no idea why. Later, when she became observant of Torah and mitzvos and started to wash her hands “negelvasser” (the ritual washing in the morning upon waking up), her obsessive need to wash hands left her.
This emphasizes the need to take care of any spiritual issues. For a Jew, spiritual and physical are very much connected. If a Jew does not eat kosher, it can have a negative affect on one’s thought patterns, behaviors etc. If a person’s mother did not observe mikvah, it can affect the child who may then display certain impurities that manifest in obsessive thoughts and even compulsive behaviors.
Intrusive thoughts are very painful to experience and often have a connection to the subconscious.
What many people fail to understand is that intrusive thoughts are very normal in many circumstances of life. It does not mean a person is crazy at all. As long as those thoughts remain on the level of thought and do not manifest in harmful actions, they are nothing to be worried about, even though they may be obsessive and disturb a person’s happiness. But they are not something one has to be afraid of or feel is a sign of being abnormal. On the contrary, they are somehow a protective mechanism when life gets too difficult or too stressful. Sometimes it is easier to have intrusive thoughts than to deal with the real subconscious issues bothering us.
Dr. Sarno came up with a similar theory: people suffer physical pain, often back pain or even other physical problems, because they are unable to face certain subconscious problems they have and it is easier to suffer physical pain than face their real emotional issues. It is often trapped emotions or trapped trauma in the body that can lead to such pain.
This is similar to the concept of psychosomatic disorders: actual physical illness or problems can often be traced to emotional or psychological causes. The cause of the illness, rather than being physical, is actually emotional but it manifests physically in the body. Most diseases have some psychosomatic component.
In most cases , intrusive or obsessive thoughts do not require medication. Medications have many side effects and compromise one’s functioning in so many ways, so it is best to avoid medication whenever possible. Obviously, a person going through such a situation should be evaluated by a caring psychologist, but all too often psychologists rush to put people on medications. Try to find a psychologist with a reputation for NOT being quick to prescribe medications. With time, most situations resolve themselves and the person comes out stronger and with more determination and understanding on how to deal with life. Of course, if someone is dealing with severe depression there is a place for medication, but each situation needs to be evaluated properly. There is a place for therapy as well. But it is very important to always choose a therapist who is going to help without hurting…in other words, a therapist is useful to discover what one’s underlying emotional issues are. But if a therapist takes things a step further and tries to blame or criticize a parent, for example, and try to cause the child to disrespect or lose respect for their parent, then the therapist has failed in their work. The best is to find a therapist with proper moral and religious values. Otherwise, they can do more harm than good. In fact, nowadays many people go to therapists and unfortunately many therapists try to remove guilt feelings from their patients in a wrong way. Instead of encouraging the patient to take responsibility in life and do things that are morally correct, they often encourage the patient to stand up against their families or to go after their own lives, ignoring the needs of others, which eventually makes a person insensitive to others or their suffering and more self centered. This is not what therapy should be! This often encourages the break down of family values, ,respect and true care.
Viktor Frankl , a holocaust survivor and a psychologist, developed logotherapy. Part of his logotherapy was something he called “paradoxical intention”. Paradoxical intention is often helpful in OCD behaviors because the person is encouraged to purposely do the things they fear, or think the thoughts they fear….but to do so with humor, realizing how silly it really is and that it is not the threat they imagine. After a while, the person gives those things up, seeing how foolish they are, devoid of meaning or any merit. When a person tries to avoid thinking about certain thoughts, those thoughts often chase the person subconsciously. But if a person consciously tries to think those very thoughts he is afraid of, he will realize how useless they are and will be able to let go of them.
In life we need to understand we cannot control others nor can we control life….but we can control ourselves and our behavior and our reactions. Once you realize you can be in control of your emotions, and thoughts, and that anxiety does not have to control you, that is the first step towards healing . Also, you should not pay so much attention to these anxiety producing situations or to your worries or anxieties: just try to remove your mind from them and get busy doing other things. Do not give them so much importance. With time the habits fall away and you no longer feel the need to do these extreme behaviors. You come to realize how silly it all is. But at the time, it does not feel silly to the person: it feels very disturbing and like some force is pushing you to do these things. You feel almost forced into thinking or behaving a certain way. You feel unable to break habit patterns, and almost insecure to give up negative thought patterns or habitual rituals even though you suffer from them. But one has to know that it is possible to break free. Knowing that with time things will get better and OCD can disappear, is helpful.
Keeping one’s mind occupied with learning or memorizing Torah is helpful. And just keeping oneself busy in general is important so that there is no time or energy to delve into unproductive thought patterns. Doing a hobby like playing a musical instrument, sewing, needlepoint, artwork etc. is good to keep busy and creative at the same time.
Where do obsessive thoughts come from ? You may think you are crazy…… but you are not. Obsessive thoughts are often a protective mechanism but they are truly disturbing. You need to be assured that you can control your mind, although it may be difficult. But you are capable of overcoming these thoughts.
However, it is very important to try to get to the bottom of one’s unhappiness and the source of one’s negative habit patterns. One needs to figure out what is the real cause for one’s sadness or anxiety and try to work out a way to either fix it, or even if it is not something that can be changed, at least to deal with it in a healthier way. Often in the subconscious are messages we pick up that fester in our minds and cause these obsessive thought patterns to surface in our conscious minds, so we need to become aware of our subconscious worries, fears, messages and work on changing them or overcoming them. Sometimes we need help for that: a psychologist or even a hypnoanalyst who can get to the real bottom of things. (Please note: a hypnoanalyst is not the same as a person who does hypnosis. It is important to choose a very experienced, clinical hypnoanalyst or hypnotherapist for proper therapy and treatment through hypnosis) We need to change the tape in our subconscious minds. When we perceive or accept certain suggestions on a subconscious level, it is like a tape that plays over and over without us even being aware of it. Under hypnosis one can change the messages that are playing and put in new, positive messages. Sometimes we can do that ourselves, if we are able to bring our subconscious up to our conscious minds and consciously change the messages. Not always do we need to do actual hypnosis. Sometimes we can become aware of wrong messages we picked up in our childhood when we were too young to perceive things correctly and we now can realize those messages were not correct and we do not have to accept them any longer. We can reject them and throw them away and put a new message into our minds.
Even if we are unable to access our subconscious causes, we can still change our behaviors and thought patterns with training and hard work, and also with determination and will power. The will is very strong. Once we realize that whatever ritualistic behaviors or thoughts we have are not productive, not useful and that we are capable to stop them (and nothing negative will happen if we do), we then can change our behaviors and give up unhealthy activities or thoughts. It takes some time, and it will not happen overnight, but eventually we can totally give up negativity and live a healthy, happy life.
It should also be mentioned here that obsessive compulsive disorder sometimes is connected to lack of nutrition. Sometimes people do not eat well , or even go through a kind of anorexic problem where they barely eat and they lose a lot of weight. They may be missing vitamins and minerals or even protein. Sometimes this will trigger ocd behavior. The Lubavitcher Rebbe was once asked about the ocd condition of washing hands constantly and he said often these types of behaviors are connected with a weakness of the body which affects the mind. Proper nutrition is very important to mental health as well as physical health. One needs enough B vitamins (through whole grains, meat etc.) and one needs enough of all vitamins and minerals to stay properly balanced in body, mind and soul.
OUR OBSESSIVE THOUGHTS DO NOT DEFINE US
We need to know that our obsessive or negative or depressed thoughts do not define us. They are not our essence and they are not reality. They are similar to a mosquito buzzing around that you cannot get rid of. But we do not have to allow the mosquito into our house. We put up screens on our windows and doors to keep mosquitos out. And we need to put up screens in our minds to keep negative or anxious or obsessive thoughts out. And sometimes (this is a very deep concept) certain obsessive or negative thoughts may fall into our mind in order for us to get rid of them ; to purify the world. According to Chassidus, there are two ways to elevate the world: permissible things are elevated by using them for the service of Hashem. Forbidden things are elevated by rejecting them completely, hence purifying the world. We have to know that a negative, impure or obsessive thought is not really coming from us: it is just something that falls into our minds (or sometimes rises from the subconscious based on experiences we have had in childhood or ideas we picked up during our life) but those thoughts are not truly us. The same way they can enter the mind uninvited, they can also be pushed out and rejected.
Unwanted, intrusive or obsessive/compulsive thoughts are usually a product of our subconscious minds, as we mentioned before. They usually have a source in unresolved emotions or conflicts: anger, fear, hurt, shame etc. Sometimes these thoughts are a protective mechanism to prevent us from thinking what we really are afraid of, which is even deeper.
Or, sometimes they have a spiritual source: they come because of eating non kosher foods (which, for a Jew, will affect one’s thoughts), or they come because of not having kosher mezuzos on our doors (because mezuzos protect us from impurity). But they always seem to come from out of nowhere, without any obvious cause or reason, and they cause tremendous anxiety.
However, we have to know that we are able to overcome these thoughts and get rid of them. We do have that power and with God’s help we can succeed. We never should feel hopeless or believe we are unable to be victorious because if we give power to anything other than God, we then are saying there is a force outside of God that can control us. And that is simply not true. Nothing can have absolute control over a person except God Almighty. And if we are struggling with unwanted or foreign thoughts, we need to know we have the ability to get rid of those thoughts. We must never define ourselves by our weaknesses, problems or negative thoughts. Those are challenges we are given to work on and get rid of. Those are not our essence.
In fact, Chassidus explains that before Moshiach comes, there is something referred to as the war of Gog and Magog. But this is not a physical war. It is a spiritual war. It is the stream of foreign or alien thoughts that run through our minds all day, including thoughts of worry, fear and anxiety. Many of these thoughts just descend upon us without any actual cause from our parts. On Shabbos we rest from the war of gog and magog, and we rest from these foreign thoughts, similar to Moshiach who will bring peace to the world. Shabbos is the secret to winning the war of Gog and Magog. Eating three meals on Shabbos is what prevents the suffering before Moshiach.
We also must keep in mind that as dark and difficult as something might seem, tomorrow is a new day. Every day Hashem recreates us and the entire world and we can feel new each day. Just seeing the sun rise in the morning gives hope. A new day brings a new mazal and a new opportunity for life and growth.
HOW TO CHANGE OUR THOUGHT PATTERNS AND BREAK THE VICIOUS CYCLE OF UNHEALTHY THOUGHTS:
Our minds are very adept at developing patterns of thinking which are difficult to change or break out of. We also tend to focus on negative things more than positive things. It is human nature.
One major problem is the way we constantly think and re think whatever it is we are worried about, fearful of, upset about, angry about etc. How do we break that habit of over thinking and re thinking our problems? One way is to force yourself to focus on something else at that time. You can start looking through photo albums and commenting on the pictures, or focus on anything you want to and start reviewing details in your mind. Focusing your mind on something else, even for a while, helps to break the negative flow of thoughts.
Often, we get locked into thinking negative thoughts. We find it hard to notice or acknowledge or even focus on anything positive. We see things in a very limited way. In that case, we can utilize what is called cognitive reappraisal to help change that. To do this we need to shift our thoughts to more positive ones. Start forcing yourself to notice and think about the good things and to also see opportunities to grow and learn and improve through whatever situation you are in. This helps to unlock our thought processes and allows us to change our focus to more positivity.
Most of our anxiety and negative thoughts are connected to imagining frightening,worrisome or negative scenarios. To break that habit we need to use mindfulness and good imagery: we can take a moment to imagine our negative emotions or thoughts disappearing into the wind or whatever we want to calm ourselves and let go of those negative ideas.
Our minds are a bit like computers and we tend to overthink everything. To break that pattern we need to change our scenery or environment: it can be something as simple as taking a walk, going to sit by a calming body of water, doing some activity that forces us to use our minds in a different way etc. It is kind of like rebooting our minds, just as we reboot the computer.
If we have a really hard time controlling our emotions and thoughts, we can also use our parasympathetic nervous system to calm ourselves down. The easiest way is to do some deep breathing which awakens the parasympathetic nervous system.
Because we tend to imagine negative things more than positive ones, a helpful strategy to break that habit it to force ourselves to sit down , close our eyes and start imagining positive imagery. Whatever makes you happy and optimistic is what you can practice thinking about. As you do that, the negative thoughts will recede into the background and you will find yourself feeling happier and more hopeful.
NEGATIVITY THAT COMES FROM OTHERS, NOT FROM WITHIN OURSELVES
There is one other thing to be aware of, even though this may be difficult to understand. Just like positive thoughts can affect reality in a good way, including yourself and others (by thinking good you bring about good: our thoughts do impact reality), so can negative thoughts impact reality negatively. That means, sometimes another person may be thinking negatively about you (or even speaking negatively about you) and you do not even know about it. But on some spiritual level you feel it and that can cause you to feel sad, depressed, or even angry. Your moods can change drastically from one moment to the next, depending upon what is happening in the spiritual realms to the part of our soul on high (there is a part of the soul in the body and part in the spiritual realms that connects to the part within the body: both affect each other). Sometimes an accusation is taking place in the spiritual realms (because if someone else has a complaint or anger against you, a judgment takes place in Heaven) and it can affect you. So what can you do about that ? Not much, as you cannot control other people’s thoughts, words or actions. But you can pray that God should protect you from such things. And mostly you can work on thinking positive thoughts about yourself and others, and when you truly become in a very happy, positive mood, negative things will not be able to affect you as much. If you make an opening for depression or negativity, it has the possibility to affect you more. But if you build a sort of spiritual wall around yourself (and part of that can include your prayers, reading tehillim , giving charity and so on) then you can actually prevent negative thoughts from reaching you or affecting you. It is kind of like the idea of “ayin hara”, an evil eye. It won’t affect so much if you do not think about it or pay attention to it. As we become happier, more positive people, we will find it easier to shake off any feelings of sadness that try to attack us and we will become in the habit of being happy. (I would mention that it is preferable to avoid posting pictures and information online about your family or personal life because that can bring jealousy from others and that is a source of ayin hara).
There are some people who are afraid of damage that they think others can cause them with their evil thoughts , anger or accusations. The best way to handle such things is to not be afraid. Only fear Hashem. And instead try to feel compassion and pity for the person who has so much negativity that they constantly project negative thoughts or wishes on others. You simply do your utmost to wish good for others, to think good, and to pray that Hashem should protect you and your loved ones from any sort of negativity (just as we pray every day in our morning blessings, that Hashem should save us from ayin hara). To become angry and start thinking negative, hurtful or vengeful thoughts about others is certainly not what Hashem wants so we simply have to do our best to pray for protection from all sorts of negative forces and just increase in doing good and trusting the Almighty.
HUMILITY AND BEING HAPPY WITH YOUR LOT
The more we learn to be humble and simple in life, the happier we will be. We often are judgmental of others. That is problematic because we can misinterpret what others say or do, based on our own usually false judgments.
And we often are too judgmental of ourselves. We need to realize we are all human. We make mistakes. We fail. That is part of how God created us and created the world. We just need to pick ourselves up and go forward without condemning ourselves for our failures. We do not have to be perfect. We just have to work on improving ourselves.
In pirkei avot we learn that ours is not to complete the work but neither are we free to desist from it. we need to make the effort: results are up to Hashem. But unfortunately, many people suffer from an over active guilt complex and they feel somehow they need to be perfect and in their mind, failure means punishment from God or a spouse that may reject them etc. etc.
A lot of people suffer anxiety because in their subconscious minds they have a feeling that they are unworthy, not deserving of happiness or goodness, and they are constantly waiting for some punishment. For example, Nina went on a vacation with her children and the children wanted to go jet skiing. Nina remembered a story of someone she knew who went jet skiing, had an accident and was killed. She was afraid to take any risks with her children. But why was she suffering such anxiety? Because she was allowing negative thoughts to surface, and deep inside she felt she perhaps did not deserve happiness. She had suffered a lot in her life and she was always waiting for disappointments, which she had become accustomed to. She was almost afraid to expect good things because it was painful to go through disappointments if those good things did not materialize. She also somehow thought if she would be extra cautious in life, somehow she would protect her children from danger. But she really was acting out her own anxiety and her own feeling of being somehow unworthy . She needed to change those messages in her mind and to allow herself to expect good things and to think good thoughts and to just go forward with happiness, trusting in God and not worrying. (Of course anything really dangerous would not be something she should allow her children to do, but in this case the jet skiing was not really a big issue and she did not really want to be over protective of her children as they were already grown up).
Many people feel anxiety over a life they feel was wasted, or over not accomplishing things they were hoping to accomplish. (But this is because we assume our life was meant to accomplish something else instead of realizing that whatever situation we are in, and whatever we went through, was specially tailored for our soul’s correction and there was no mistake: life would NOT have been better in another place, with a different spouse, under different circumstances, because the life you are leading is the exact life Hashem wants you to lead to fulfill your mission in this lifetime. Become happy with your lot!) To truly be grateful for whatever blessings we have and becoming very happy and content with your life is the key to achieving happiness. But to do so requires humility, not a feeling of entitlement. Vulnerability to negative forces can be avoided by behaving with humility and expressing concern for others. If we are compassionate to others, Heaven will show compassion to us.
INNER CONFLICTS/CHALLENGES OF LIFE
Another source of anxiety is when our wishes conflict with what we know is right according to Torah. This creates a lot of inner conflict and tension. We have a Divine Soul and we feel and know what is right or what God wants from us. But many times we have conflicts or subconscious issues that prevent us from doing what is right or from making proper choices in life. We may have an addiction of some sort, or have a desire to do something which is even damaging to us or to our family but we feel powerless to give it up or change our behavior. We go against our conscience and what we know is proper. And often we do not know why. We do not consciously understand what is motivating us on a subconscious level. When we are able to come in touch with our subconscious fears, worries, emotions etc. we are able to heal from many things and to change our negative habits or vices.
Believe it or not, we can even be addicted to wrong emotions: we get used to reacting certain ways, perceiving things certain ways and that becomes an addictive way of behaving: a protective mechanism.
Sometimes people feel very confused. Society and social media often increase our confusion making it seem like everything is okay, whatever a person feels should be acted upon and people start questioning basic morality or ideals that they internalized in their youth. It is a confusing world, where darkness is mistaken for light. It is important to mention here that social media and influence of foreign ideals is very damaging to our youth. Children do not have the filters to know what to accept and what to reject. On facebook and other social media, people post all kinds of things that sound good…everyone sounds like an authority. But when you look into who is posting these ideas, they are not anyone to necessarily look up to . Our children need to be taught to accept only what conforms to Torah ideals and values and to reject things that are against Torah or against proper values.
For example, someone posted the following on facebook:
“Signs that you need boundaries with your parents:
Your parents visit you uninvited or without warning.
You say yes to your parents even when you don’t want to because you feel obligated….”
Well, to analyze this post, we can see it is totally nonsense. What on earth is wrong with a parent dropping by uninvited? If a parent needs an invitation, that says a lot about a troubled relationship!
And why on earth should you not feel obligated to say yes to something your parents need, even if you don’t want to do it? Is that wrong? It is part of honoring one’s parents . Of course it depends on what is being asked, but there is nothing wrong, and in fact there is everything right, with doing for one’s parents and feeling an obligation to help them as much as you are able to: feeling appreciation is more the word, and wanting to give back to them for all they did for you your entire life. Whoever wrote that nonsense on facebook is trying to influence people subtly in a negative way. It is very damaging.
These are the dangers hidden within social media on a constant basis. Children often do not know how to discern truth from falsehood; what is right from what is wrong; good from bad….therefore they get influenced wrongly and become rebellious, angry, disrespectful etc.
It is the new idea of society: go on your own, do not do for others if you don’t feel like it, it is all about what you want or what you feel…basically self- centered and lacking family unity.
That is not something to be proud of. Those kind of boundaries create separation, not unity.
So that is not something to promote! And yet it “sounds” good, so people get fooled…
Youtube is full of videos by people who all sound experts…but they are not. They are lies and mislead innocent people. Many of them give psychological advice which can actually be harmful, even if some of it is of use.
We need to teach our children (and ourselves) how to separate what is truth from what is false; what is moral from what is immoral; what is right from what is wrong…basically what God wants versus what society preaches. When we do what is right and our conscience is clear, we will not feel inner conflicts, guilt or sadness.
So how does one handle conflicts, challenges or difficulties in life? First of all, we need to know that no matter how strong a challenge may seem, it is just a challenge. We each have a soul that has the power to direct us in the right direction. And by calling out to God Almighty to help us overcome our challenges, we can overcome anything we want to. It is not always easy but it is possible. We have far more potential and abilities than we imagine. In fact, the fourth Rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch, the Rebbe Maharash, has a famous motto: “L’chatchila arriber” (which means , in the first place to go over). He would always say that when faced with a fence, one can either dig and go under it or if that does not work, go over it…., but the Rebbe Maharash said it is far better to go over it in the first place…in other words, when faced with any obstacle or challenge in life, one should go above it as if it does not exist. One basically needs to assume an attitude of absolute confidence in one’s abilities to overcome any challenge or test confronting him. This attitude secures success.
In Tanya the Alter Rebbe explains that the only way a beinoni (a person who struggles between the conflicting advice of their yetzer tov and their yetzer hara) can overcome the folly of the animal soul is because Hashem irradiates their soul with additional light which then pushes away the darkness and allows the truth to be revealed and to prevail. Remember that the yetzer hara is full of lies: the advice it wants to give, the desires it makes seem so hard to overcome, are all lies. They are just there to test a person . And it is Hashem Who helps us overcome every test and win. But we also need to pray and to beg Hashem to help us. We need to humble ourselves and ask for Divine assistance. The Gemorah says if not for Hashem’s help we could never overcome the yetzer hara.
Here the Alter Rebbe mentions that the yetzer hara is there to test a person. The same with many sufferings or confusion or challenges that come to a person. It is all a test. But what is the purpose of a test? To raise a person to a higher level when they overcome the test and are victorious and remain strong in their faith. It reveals the inner strength and light that a person has. Without that test or challenge, a person may never come to recognize the strengths they have or the abilities.
When a person falls and sins because of their yetzer hara, they may also fall into sadness or depression or feel they are no good. Chassidus explains that every Jew has a grievance against God because it is God Who created evil and created the evil inclination, which incites a person to sin. And God Almighty testifies to this and regrets, so to speak, creating the evil inclination. But why did he do so? Only to bring a person to a higher spiritual level: when someone passes the tests they are given, they are elevated to much higher levels than they could have reached on their own. It all serves a good purpose in the long run.
A person should not view suffering as a punishment for something they did wrong (even if it may be so). Suffering is a cleansing process, a consequence of whatever blemish was caused by their wrong doing, but it is not really a punishment. In Tanya, Igeret hateshuvah, chapter 12, the Alter Rebbe writes: “The reason for joy in the suffering of the body is that it is a great and potent favor for the soul that sins, to cleanse it in this world and to spare it from being scoured in gehinnom (purgatory). This is particulary true in these generations of ours, when one cannot undertake all the fasts prescribed in the penances of the Ari haKodesh……as Nachmanides writes….that even the suffering of Job for seventy years bears no comparison to the suffering of a soul one hour in gehinnom…….this world is built by kindness, for which reason through mild suffering in this world one is saved from severe judgments in the coming world.”
Every challenge, every test, every suffering raises a person to greater spiritual heights and only a person who has the ability to rise to the challenge is given that challenge. It does not mean it is easy. But the rewards are great.
When things we experience or do are difficult, it is good to keep in mind what the Lubavitcher Rebbe told someone who reported to him that a particular mission was not easy for him. The Rebbe said “Since when did you make a contract with the Almighty that your life would be easy?”