The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health

Kabbalah and Psychology: Anxiety Relief – The Kabbalah Approach to Mental Health – Part 12 – Submission, Separation, and Sweetening

Between the two extremes of silence and speech, Kabbalah and Hassidism identify a third, intermediary stage. Referring to the glowing light in Ezekiel's vision, (Ezekiel 14) this stage is also alluded to by the second syllable of the word chashmal, this time in its meaning of severing. We thus have three stages silence, severing, and speech.

As mentioned previously, the second contribution a confidant can offer a person suffering from a psychological malaise is showing him that there is a point deep within him that has not been affected by his problem. Once he is reminded of this truth, the sufferer can use this undefiled point of wholesomeness and optimism to recast his situation and with it, his image of himself in a more positive light. His selfhood is no longer synonymous with his problem; he possesses an identity and a selfhood independent and decontextualized from his problem.

This mental severance of the person's consciousness of himself from his problems is the severing to which we have just referred. Only when a person has been freed of this identification with his problems can he face them objectively and transform them into good. The evil within man is truly evil only when it is enveloped in a stigma of total hopelessness and unassailablity.

The three terms, silence, severing, and speech, describe the acts the individual performs in relation to the phenomenon of his psyche which he is confronting.

The Ba'al Shem Tov introduced a second triplet of terms, which describes the same process in terms of the inner psychological process the individual undergoes as he relates to and reacts to the situation confronting him. This triplet is submission, separation, and sweetening. Submission refers to the humbling of the ego effected by silencing the inner turbulence of thought. Separation is the process through which evil is isolated, severed from the good, and discarded. Sweetening is the reevaluation of reality in the positive light of the liberated kernel of good that had been trapped inside the evil.

This threefold process, the Ba'al Shem Tov teaches, is an integral facet of any spiritual growth-experience, and in fact, the depth-experience of any facet of reality. It is only to be expected, then, that these three terms may be associated in one-to-one correspondence with the three stages of psychological therapy

Quashing anxiety, as described above, is a process of self-humilification. By reducing the magnitude of the ego in general, the magnitude of the person's problems dwindles concomitantly. As above, this may be accomplished in two ways by contemplation of the greatness of G-d and the lowliness of man, or by praying to G-d for salvation from the agitation spawned by one s own ego.

This self-imposed refusal to relate to the ego and the problems it poses with the full respect it presumes to demand is clearly an act of silencing the inner noise with which it tries to monopolize the individual s attention. The abnegation of ego requisite for this process is an act of submission; the person must humble himself before the greater reality of G-d.

Ignoring anxiety, the second phase of therapy we have described, is the ability of a person to sever his emotional and conceptual ties to the evil within him. As we have noted, this is done by forcefully choosing to fill the mind with positive thoughts, ideally of Torah but also of any optimistic nature. This is first aspect of each individual s inner Joseph, as we said. By choosing deliberately not to wallow in his own evil, the person psychologically cuts off his relation to it and ceases to identify himself in its terms. This is clearly an act of separation.

Articulating anxiety is the person s ability to unearth and express the evil hidden within him, and, with the help of an objective yet concerned confidant, to analyze and heal the problems it gives rise to. This process is clearly one of speech and sweetening, for through it the bitter, dark side of the personality becomes part and parcel of its normative, healthy side.


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