The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health

The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health: Part 5 – Quashing Anxiety

The first and most basic instruction expressed in the verse in Proverbs (12:25):

If there be anxiety in a man’s heart let him quash it,
And turn it into joy with a good word

is to quash the anxiety that troubles the heart, which means to deflate it or cut it down to size.

This may be done in two ways:

The first is through self-abnegation. When a person is troubled by something, his natural tendency is to focus on it until his anxiety over it begins to dominate his entire being. His worry bothers him day and night, it nags him incessantly, and he eventually starts to define himself in terms of his fear. In his imagination, the fear begins to assume ominous proportions; he is convinced that no one can fathom the depth of his troubles. His anxiety thus serves to inflate his ego, which has become based and identified with his fear.

If, however, he stops for a moment to contemplate the infinite greatness of G-d and the insignificance of man in comparison, his ego will be immediately deflated. When a person thus abnegates his ego, his worries suffer a similar loss of magnitude if he is nothing, his problems are surely nothing, as well.

We are not suggesting that a person deflate his ego by negatively lowering his self-image. Dwelling on faults and shortcomings will lead to depression or gloom. The lowliness a person should seek to cultivate is an existential one, a natural conclusion drawn from his awareness of the nature of his existence which, of course, is just the way things are, not any fault of his own. G-d is infinite and man is finite, and even the largest finite number imaginable is nothing compared to infinity.

The second way to quash anxiety is through heartfelt prayer. When someone is beset with a problem and surely with an anxiety of some sort he should beseech G-d to solve it for him. Belief in the omnipotence and mercy of G-d implies that He alone can and will provide the surest solution to any problem. Whether through the inspiring words of the liturgy or the book of Psalms, or through spontaneous, informal verbalization of the heart's desires, a person should always avail himself of G-d's benevolent interest in his life.

A person should not fall into the trap of thinking that since G-d is compassionate by nature there is no need for him to pray, or that if G-d is making him suffer despite His compassion it must mean that it is for his own good. Although this is certainly true, it is only part of the picture. G-d wants us to acknowledge our powerlessness before Him and to be aware that we can and must turn to Him for everything. Therefore, even if a person's suffering is an atonement for his sins or a rectification of a previous incarnation, the sentence can always be commuted through prayer.

The act of praying serves to deflate the ego, for by invoking G-d's mercy a person is admitting that certain things in life are just too big for him, that he does not necessarily hold all the keys to his own salvation. And as above, as soon as the ego is deflated its anxieties are deflated together with it. The wind knocked out of them, they no longer pose the ominous threat they did before.

Whether it is accomplished through contemplation or prayer, the result of quashing anxiety is the liberating feeling that all is not lost. The problem may still be there, but it has been cut down to size and does not threaten to crush the person under its weight as it did before. Now that he has been freed from this burden, he may proceed to the next phase of his therapy.


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