In previous articles we considered the distinction between “liberation” and “freedom.” It is true that the Exodus from Egypt marked our physical liberation from the bonds of slavery; yet our journey towards spiritual and emotional “freedom,” continues until this day. In order to gain a deeper perspective on these ideas, we can access the parshiot in our Torah that speak to these concepts. Interestingly, even before the secular world considered the impact of “nature” vs. “nurture” on character development, the Torah demonstrated the degree to which both inherited, internal variables, along with cultural values shape the people we become. The Torah also warns us against the problems or even tragic outcomes that can occur, when we lose sight of Hashem as our source, and fail to appreciate the tailor made endowments He bestows upon us. I believe, that our unique “individuality” is a critical element to the full actuation of our G-d given potential. Because of this we become most vulnerable when this individuality is compromised. Still, Hashem did not create perfect beings; and it is specifically the ability to learn from the mistakes of history, that can also help us in working through these challenges. Most importantly, the strength and power of our “individuality,” makes each one of us an important cog in the wheel of our nation; and losing this uniqueness becomes an ominous threat to the integrity of our nation.
From the beginning, in the story of the “creation,” we learned that a name reflects the essence of a person. That is why when naming our children we focus on the traits of the individual for whom the child is named, as well as the future we envision for the newborn. Yet, at times, we fail to consider that Hashem has a special vision for every soul, and that it is our obligation as parents, grandparents, and educators to help our children identify these tailor made competencies and talents, in order to become all that he or she was meant to be. Too often, however, we, forget these foundational principles, and find ourselves swimming against the tide, in a sea of frustration and failure; this is because the paths we attempt to help or persuade our children to pursue, reflect “communal” and/or “cultural values, rather than Hashem’s plan; and sometimes the results are tragic.
Years ago, I was witness to one such heartbreaking story. In my role as chairperson of a Middle School Child Study Team, news about a former graduate, “John,” came to my attention. John, was an honor student all through High School and College. He earned numerous scholarships, and was admitted to the Medical School of his choice, or so everyone thought. Yet, on the night of his college graduation he attempted suicide and spent the next few years in and out of psychiatric placements. Colleagues share similar stories.
While the identified root causes of such tragedies are different, many seem to reflect the psychological condition known as “False-Self Compliance” or the “As-if” character disorder, identified by the Object Relations school of thought. According to this view, from the moment of birth, humans seek to “connect,” with others. In a very broad sense, the infant, child, and young adult, gradually emerges as a healthy, motivated and fully productive individual, through satisfying experiences visa vie parenting, socialization, and education; in all of these arenas the process of self-development must be consistent with the “true-self,” determined by the “essence” of that child. If, however, earlier experiences are largely negative or frustrating, and fail to consider the child’s individuality, distortions in the emerging developmental psychic process occur; this in turn, can lead to the a false sense of self, with the child or young adult, seeing himself as his parents and significant others do, and is never really in touch with his “authenticity.” When the child/adult continues in this path, pleasing others, relying on their feedback for gratification, living a lie and never experiencing the feeling of “free to be me,” this can be difficult to bear. In my years of analyzing the above mentioned Torah stories, it seems to me that these ideas, are consistent with the critical role the Torah places on expressing one’s individuality.
Recently, in networking with colleagues we considered how the social and psychological issues faced by the secular world appear in our Orthodox community as well. As parents, educators and religious leaders, we tend to blame many of our challenges on the trickle effect of cultural values and mores that have seeped into and contaminated our somewhat protected milieu. Yet, I believe a good part of the problems we face are also due to the “one size fits all” approach we have in parenting, education, and socialization, which can also negatively impact on the psychic development of our children/young adults. In doing so we tend to ignore the importance our Torah places on the “uniqueness” of each Jewish soul. This has also infiltrated into our expectations for “Shidduchim,” marriage, and ideas on supporting one’s family financially. In all of these arenas the precious commodity of individuality is too often denied; and while we as parents, grandparents, educators, therapists, and even religious leaders are aware that these problems exist, too little has been done about it, and when help comes, it is often too late to protect those who are faced with these challenges or tragic consequences.
Interestingly, the first examples of the outcomes associated with this ‘cookie cutter” approach, is first seen in Parshat Bereishit in the segment describing the early education of Yaakov and Eisav; and they continue through our Torah. The good news is that our Torah also provides us with the strategies for avoiding these problems, as well as the remedies for healing. As we believe, the “refuah” comes before the “makeh”-the remedy has already been created before the “illness” appears. Look forward to the psychological strategies found in Sefer Bereishit and Shemos, the ultimate paradigm for attaining the gift of “free to me” the Torah way.”
Renee Nussbaum, is a practicing Psychoanalyst, with special training in Imago Relational Therapy. She can be reached at: [email protected].
By Renee Nussbaum, PhD, PsyA