Chassidic Psychologymain posts

Breaking Addiction with Joy

One of the suggestions for helping people overcome repeated behavioral lapses is to fine themselves. To break an addiction, it is often recommended that the person takes upon himself (without making a vow) to give a significant sum to charity in the case of a lapse. For example, if a person with a pornography addiction enters an immodest website, it will cost him $100 to charity.

Frequently, a person tends to fall into the “cheap option” and the external husks give him their favors for free (until he gets the final bill, God forbid). Making a true change in reality requires effort. It is easier to vent anger on someone close (someone not so close is liable to be insulted). Building a true relationship with one’s spouse is the work of a lifetime. It is so much easier to “enjoy” short-term relationships with no commitment. A true spiritual or physical achievement requires hard work. “Rewarding” ourselves with a slight incursion into sin is easy and highly accessible. From this point of view, placing a high price tag on negative behavior makes it unsustainable.

It is important to emphasize that a financial sanction for negative behavior is not simple “training.” The quest for justice is a basic human characteristic. Just as a person expects praise and reward for his good deeds, he anticipates criticism and penalty for his negative deeds. Hence, when a person is punished for a negative deed, along with his sorrow over the transgression and the penalty, he is also pleased that justice has been done. This is particularly true of just self-inflicted penalties, when there is no one else to blame.

Alongside the sorrow, the penalty should be paid with great joy in the mitzvah of charity, which is the most all-encompassing mitzvah in the Torah, about which it is written: “break your sins with charity”[1]. The blemish of the covenant (sexual misconduct), like many other addictions, stems from sadness and despair, which trigger a desire for short-term comfort and momentary gratification. This sadness is actually an expression of hidden pride, which prevents a person from rejoicing in God with a pure heart. A person who is preoccupied with fortifying his personal status is not truly happy with God’s gifts to him. He is shrouded in tension, in an attempt to justify the false image that he has created for himself and is filled with disappointment and frustration from every personal lapse.

Penalizing oneself is an antidote for the two poles of the vicious cycle of addiction – pride (inflated ego, which becomes stronger when a person is strict with himself) and sadness (frustrated ego). True joy in partaking in a mitzvah, and not in my personal image as a tzaddik (for the background for this charity-giving is my lapse and not my good-hearted generosity) is the antidote for pride. Taking joy in God, Who in His mercy opens the path of repentance and true connection to Him (despite my weaknesses and shortcomings) is the antidote to sadness and despair.

Of course, we don’t have to fall into negative behavior to rejoice in God. Every day that we are saved from lapses, we must thank God profusely for the miracle, recognizing that if it was up to us alone, we would fall. The fact that we have enjoyed a day without lapses is a free gift from God. If we do not recognize the miracle and thank God for it, our success in overcoming the evil inclination strengthens our righteous self-image, inflates our ego and as a result, our level of tension, sadness and frustration (for a person ‘like me’ is not supposed to fall at all and certainly has nothing to be happy about if he didn’t fall). Hence, it is important to thank God with all one’s heart, with great joy and release from the egotistical approach that I have succeeded due to my own personal prowess. This release also frees us of the accompanying sadness.

When we truly rejoice in the mitzvah of charity – even if it is the result of a lapse – and primarily, when we rejoice and thank God for every day in which we did not fall, we slowly but surely break our addictions until we become a living testimony to the verse, “Seven times a tzaddik will fall – and arise.”[2]


[1] Daniel 4:24.

[2] Proverbs 24:16.

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