The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health

Kabbalah and Psychology – Anxiety Relief – The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health – Part 7

Articulating Anxiety

The final phase of therapy, implied by the third meaning of the verb 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 articulating anxiety.

The Torah identifies the power of speech as the quintessential expression of man's humanity. Even though man's ability to think is superior to that of the other forms of life, what defines him as uniquely human is his ability to articulate his thoughts and feelings to another human being. This is because even more than thought, speech has the power to reveal the hidden depths of the soul.

We have all experienced how talking things out even to ourselves helps us order and crystallize our thoughts. In many cases, articulating our thoughts helps us uncover deeper insights and perception into the matter at hand.

When a person bares his concerns and anxieties to a sensitive and concerned friend or mentor, the latter can help him solve his problem. The dialectic of their dialogue is the tool through which they together reach the resolution of the conflict. As the Torah says (Proverbs 29:13) "G-d enlightens the eyes of both of them." This, too, is what is meant in the second half of the verse quoted above "…and turn it into joy with a good word."

Articulation and dialogue with the friend or mentor contributes to the healing process in three ways.

The first contribution the friend/mentor makes to the solution process is his objectivity. The very fact that he is not suffering the same problem as his confider enables him to envision it from a totally different vantage point. Sometimes the confidant need not even verbalize this perspective; his simple presence is enough to enable the confider to sense it and articulate it himself. If the confider's problem is not overly complex, this objective perspective may well be all that is needed to calm him enough to be able to deal with his problem successfully, either by himself or with the advice of the confidant.

At this phase, the confidant remains in his own world and it is imperative that he do so, in order to provide the vantage point from which the confider can view his anxiety objectively.

In those cases when this is not enough, the next contribution the friend/mentor can make is to show the confider that despite the gravity of the situation, there remains a point deep within him that has not been affected by it. As soon as the sufferer is reminded of the presence of this unsullied point of wholesomeness and optimism within him, he can use it to recast his whole situation in a more positive light. Prior to this awareness the person considered himself problematic, as suffering from a psychological disorder or complex. Now, he can begin to gradually identify with this inner point of health within him, and thus rehabilitate himself in its image.

At this stage, the confidant does enter into the world of the confider. He sees the problem from his friend's perspective, and acknowledges the existence and seriousness of the object of his anxiety. Quashing and ignoring it may lessen its enormity, but it exists nonetheless, and a way must be found to deal with it.

The final help the friend/mentor offers the confider is to enable him to come to view anxiety itself in a positive light. This is made possible by considering the element of Divine providence.

It is axiomatic in Judaism that G-d oversees and guides the affairs of creation. The founder of Chassidut, Rabbi Yisrael Ba'al Shem Tov, went so far as to say that Divine Providence extends even to a falling leaf in a forest, and determines just when and in what direction it should fall. Today, we would say that G-d directs everything down to the smallest subatomic particle or force that exists.

Here, as well, one must avoid falling into the trap of fatalism. Divine Providence is but one side of the coin; the other is free choice. Man is a free agent and thus must assume full responsibility for his actions.

Theologians have noted and tried to resolve the mutual exclusivity of Divine Providence and free will throughout the ages. The ultimate solution is that there is no solution; they constitute a theological paradox. The way we live out the paradox, however, is clear we invoke Divine Providence in explaining the past and free choice in facing the future. G-d, as it were, removes His providence with regard to the choices man makes, but after he has made them, it becomes retroactively revealed that they were predestined parts of the great Divine plan.

Thus, whatever happens to a person is directly attributable to G-d's Providence, and since G-d is axiomatically good and merciful, it follows that even if a person finds himself in a depressing psychological state, it too must be for his greater good. Whether he will ever be fortunate enough to see it or not, this cloud, like all others, contains a silver lining.

Moreover, Chassidut teaches us that the good concealed within an apparently bad situation is actually of a higher order than good that can be readily recognized as such. The reason why G-d sometimes chooses to be good to us in ways that seem bad is that the good He wishes to bestow upon us in these cases is so great and intense that we could not receive or assimilate it under normal circumstances. Like some precious commodity that must be wrapped in coarse material for its protection, the highest forms of good must be concealed within their apparent opposite.

Thus, rather than feeling that G-d is ignoring or has abandoned him, the person suffering from anxiety should learn to consider it a personal gift from G-d, and one that expresses His special consideration, at that. This is indeed a test of faith, and it is the friend/mentor's job at this stage to help the confider bolster and deepen his faith in G-d, His unmitigated goodness, and His Providence over all facets of life. When they succeed, the confider will have uncovered a deeper and more profound dimension of his personality that he would not have had to or been able to otherwise. Furthermore, he will have renewed and refreshed his connection with G-d, and even deepened it, no longer predicating it on and limiting it by the parameters of good and bad as we perceive them.

Once the confider can look with some objectivity at his problem, has identified himself with his inner essence of goodness rather than his phobia or worry, and has deepened his faith to the point where he can experience his anxiety as a loving gift from G-d, he need not be at all inhibited in exposing whatever evil he possesses to his confidant. He can now bare all evil thoughts that plague him during the day or night, that intrude on his prayer, study, or work. Hesitations about confronting the darker aspects of the subconscious no longer apply, since the groundwork has been laid for facing them constructively.

In fact, the very admission of these deep fears and anxieties weakens their ability to overcome the confider in the future. The fact that he is now not afraid to discuss them openly detonates the image of them as omnipotent and unassailable dragons that swim in the dark undercurrents of the subconscious mind.

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