Impeached witnesses are not considered guilty until they have impeached themselves.
-Makkos 5a, Rabbeinu Chananel
When someone says something uncomplimentary to us, we are of course displeased. The intensity of our reaction to an unkind remark, however, depends upon ourselves.
A former patient called me one day, sobbing hysterically because her husband had told her that she was a poor wife and a failure as a mother. When she finally calmed down, I asked her to listen carefully to me.
“I think that the scar on your face is very ugly,” I said. There was a moment of silence. “Pardon me?” she said.
“I spoke very distinctly, but I will repeat what I said. `The scar on your face is repulsive.’
“I don’t understand, doctor,” the woman said. “I don’t have a scar on my face.”
“Then what did you think of my remark?” I asked.
“I couldn’t understand what you were talking about,” she said.
“You see,” I pointed out, “when I say something insulting to you, and you know that it is not true, you do not become hysterical. You just wonder what in the world it is that I am talking about. That should also have been your reaction to your husband’s offensive remarks. Instead of losing your composure, you should have told him that he is delusional. The reason you reacted as extremely as you did is because you have doubts about yourself as to your adequacy as a wife and mother.”
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 30
Sorry to start of today’s “morning meditation” with such a long quote, but I think it was worth it. R. Twerski’s therapeutic intervention was absolutely brilliant (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling and formerly was a family therapist and Child Protective Services social worker). It’s so simple and yet so profound, and it speaks not only to this one woman’s situation but I think to all of us in our lives.
I couldn’t help but relate this article to recent events in my online life. After all, I’m human and I have doubts just like any other man. When someone calls me on my issues, real or imagined, I have to pause and consider whether they could be right about me, and if so, to ask if this is a “call to action” for me to make changes.
Many times, especially online, but also in “real life,” we are insulted, accused, harassed, and maligned, often by the people we love and care about, the people we’re most vulnerable to. As we see in R. Twerski’s example above, a woman was insulted by her husband about her poor performance as a wife and mother. Nothing could cut deeper to her heart than those statements and the person making them.
How we react should depend on whether or not the allegations are true, but that’s not how most of us typically respond. It’s like driving down the road and having someone suddenly cut us off in traffic, honk their horn, and then give us “the finger.” They’re not only being aggressive but behaving as if we’ve done something wrong.
How do we react to that? Either we get scared or angry…or both. Incidents of road rage start this way.
But what if, assuming we’ve done nothing wrong, we were to respond with bewilderment? “What the heck set that guy off,” we might ask ourselves.
And if someone blows up at us on the web or in person, again, assuming what they’re saying isn’t true about us (we don’t have a scar on our face), what prevents us from also simply becoming confused but not experiencing anger or pain?
Because we fear that there really is something wrong with us. I think that’s the result of sin and guilt.
Face it. You’re not perfect. Neither am I. Far from it in fact. We have sinned. Chances are we will sin against God and other people today. It is very likely that we will sin again tomorrow…or we fear that we will.
If a person goes around always worried about who they are, their past failures, their fear of future failures, and whether or not their shortcomings are obvious to everyone around them, then it’s easy to respond with anger or pain when insulted. We’ve already primed ourselves to go off half-cocked when someone gives us a reason.
But for most people, most of the time, the issues they worry about are more imagined than real.
It’s like the woman in Rabbi Twerski’s commentary. She didn’t have an ugly scar on her face, and R. Twerski at least implies that she’s not a bad mother and wife either. She only reacted as if she were because she feared that this was the truth of her existence, even when it wasn’t.
All the elaborate proofs, all the philosophical machinations, none of that will ever stand you firmly on your feet. There’s only one thing that can give you that, and that’s your own inherent conviction.
For even as your own mind flounders, you yourself know that this is so, and know that you believe it to be so. It is a conviction all the winds of the earth cannot uproot that has carried us to this point in time, that has rendered us indestructible and timeless.
For it comes from within and from the heritage of your ancestors who believed as well, back to the invincible conviction of our father, Abraham, a man who took on the entire world.
The doubts, the hesitations, the vacillations, all these come to you from the outside. Your challenge is but to allow your inner knowledge to shine through and be your guide.
Inside is boundless power.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Knowing yourself is very helpful for a number of reasons. If you know who you are and what you are about, then whenever someone accuses you of something that is untrue, you cannot be hurt. Even if the person who is upset with you is very dear to you, if they are wrong about you, it may injure you somewhat, but not in the same way as if what they said were the truth. If you are accused of being a failure, if you really aren’t, how does that affect you vs. how you react if you fear being a failure?
Also, knowing yourself helps you recognize when you have sinned and reveals to you your own faults. This is an opportunity to make corrections, to improve yourself, to repent, to return to God, to make right the wrongs you’ve committed against others, to make the person you will be tomorrow better than the person you were yesterday.
Stealing is abhorrent to most people. They would never think of taking something which does not belong to them. Still, they may not be bothered in the least by making an appointment and keeping the other person waiting for a few minutes. Rabbi Luzzato points out that this double standard is a fallacy, because stealing others’ time is no less a crime than stealing their possessions.
Moreover, stealing time is worse in one aspect: stolen objects can be returned, but stolen time can never be repaid.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
from “Growing Each Day” for Sivan 29
Worry, guilt, and self-recrimination are thieves. They steal your time and your peace of mind. If someone steals your money, that can always be returned, but once a moment in time has elapsed, you can never get it back. Also, even if you achieve peace of mind in the future, you have wasted time worrying in the past (and in the present) needlessly, when you could have been devoting that time to improving yourself, to helping others, to serving God.
Which is more important: five minutes or five cents? Everyone will say that “time” is more important. But still we throw it away more often than money. And in Jewish consciousness, killing time is suicide… on the installment plan.
from the “Ask the Rabbi” column
Rabbi Twerski also writes:
If someone has wrongfully infringed on our time, it is proper that we should call it to his or her attention. As with other offenses, we should try to sincerely forgive if the offender changes his or her ways. If we have infringed on someone else’s time, we must be sure to ask forgiveness and to remember that teshuvah consists of a sincere resolution not to repeat the same act again.
If someone points something out to you that needs correction, something you may have been unaware of or something you’ve been avoiding dealing with, they’re doing you a favor. Assuming their intent isn’t malicious and their attitude isn’t hostile or condescending, they are acting as an agent of change and providing you with the opportunity to improve.
If, however, a person’s intent is hostile or vindictive, and their desire is to injure you, perhaps because they feel you’ve injured them…if their allegations are wholly untrue, then you should ask yourself, “Why are they acting this way? What could have prompted this outburst?”
That’s certainly better than responding by feeling guilt or shame or by lashing out at the other person, perpetuating the cycle of “You hurt me, now I’ll hurt you.” Every time you give in to that temptation, you are stealing time from that other person and wasting your own. You’re also destroying your peace of mind and their’s and stealing our time and service from God.
“Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”
2 thoughts on “The Non-existent Scar”
On Wednesday or Thursday I thought I’d write about this general topic – and then the next morning in my FB newsfeed were several gems (of which you’ve quoted a few here) and my thoughts began to whirl. But I never got around to sitting down to write. I’m glad you did!
While I appreciated the “scar on your face” response of the counselor, I wondered what happened next. While she may indeed be a good wife and mother, if her husband feels she’s a failure then that certainly does impact her. Maybe he’s impossible to please, maybe he had a rotten day and took out his frustrations on her with words he regretted, etc. But even as with the scar, one hears things often enough and they begin to believe them. After all, why would people say regularly say you have a scar on your face if you really don’t? And no matter how often one checks the mirror and washes their face (introspection and asking trusted friends for their input) one still begins to question their own observations – maybe there truly IS a scar on their face.
I think the story above also can be used as a wonderful illustration for what happens when we do not speak encouragingly to others. If one only hears negative things that may not be true, and “average” things that are neither positive or negative, then it becomes difficult for the person to discern between the lies and the truth – even when looking in the mirror and seeing that there is no scar. After a time the volume of words outweighs the observable fact that there is no scar.
Self introspection is critical. We must “judge” ourselves and see how we stand, regularly. However, we can get caught in the perpetual diagnosis of self and that can become a negative place to be. Many of us need to learn to balance such introspection by recognizing both the positive traits that we’ve developed and the negative ones that we must continue to refine is necessary. Recognizing our positive traits is easier when your loved ones help to point them out to you once in a while. So we really need to speak to one another in a way that builds one another up, encourages them, and when the need arises that we would help them carry their burdens.
While I appreciated the “scar on your face” response of the counselor, I wondered what happened next. While she may indeed be a good wife and mother, if her husband feels she’s a failure then that certainly does impact her.
That was probably a small excerpt from a longer set of transactions between R. Pliskin and this woman, who was his patient. I suspect he continued to meet with her to help her work through the larger issues in her marital relationship and merely quoted this small section of his conversation as a way to illustrate a principle. I know this is a lot more complex than it appears on the surface. If you have to live with someone day in and day out who does nothing but tear you down, no matter how untrue the accusations, eventually you’ll wear out. Marital counseling having failed, the final option would be divorce, but I don’t want to be accused of jumping from A to Z.
The first issue though, is when someone does try to tear you down, not to immediately react as if everything they say about you is automatically true. If I did that as a blogger, I’d never be able to write another thing as the Internet is full of self-styled critics and experts. We can’t depend on the world (online or otherwise) to always be affirming of us and besides God, the buck stops with us as far as who we are and in what areas we need to improve. I think people are the most hurt when insulted because they’re afraid that they really are no good in a particular area or in all areas of their life. I commented today in Sunday school that I was glad God was so much more forgiving than people are. If God were like people, He’d have wiped out the human race a long time ago.