And this is very individual and fluid.
Someone who is a good influence on one person is an ineffective or even a lousy influence on another person.
Someone who was good for you at one stage of life becomes irrelevant or even detrimental in a different stage of life.
We like a lot of people.
But there are also people we struggle to like.
And it doesn’t mean that the other person is really the problem. Sometimes we see that someone who irritates us within 1 minute of interaction is also the best friend or favorite mentor/teacher/confidant of someone else.
And it’s interesting to see how different people and their failings affect us. For example, you can really like a person and maintain closeness despite some glaring flaws. You can also realize that you need to put some healthy distance between you and someone else while still instinctively retaining a certain fondness and appreciation for that person.
But other people make you want to run in the opposite direction.
And still others plant words or ideas that you struggle to evict from your head. For some reason, a particular person’s voice tunnels into your brain—and it’s not a healthy voice. Their sneering or smirking facial expressions and tone of voice also sometimes pop into your head.
Yet another person might also convey nonsense and wrong ideas, but you’re able to shrug that off.
Maybe you think it’s because of the person’s role of influence or authority. Is the unhealthy voice coming from an older sibling? A parent or parent-in-law? A rabbi? A rebbetzin? A teacher?
That might have something to do with it. But think of how many voices of authority or influence you automatically ignore or dismiss.
No, there’s something about THIS person’s voice that’s sticking in your brain.
Why is that? What’s going on?
Do a Q&A with your dominant writing hand asking the questions and your non-dominant hand writing the answers. (The answer of the non-dominant hand—the left hand if you’re right-handed—will appear in childish scrawl.)
And what came up is this:
It’s as if the person whose unhealthy voice sticks in your head has a virus.
Sometimes, these people also have powerfully positive qualities. They work on themselves & they show a lot of dedication toward Torah and mitzvot.
They also speak from the heart—and their heart isn’t always in the right place.
Sometimes it is. But not always.
With their heart in the wrong place, they can impose the wrong values or ideas on you.
Because words coming from the heart do indeed enter the heart.
To make things worse: When you tentatively try to question their wrongness or defend your own (and in this case, correct) attitude, they stomp you.
They often do so subtlety, like with a smile, a laugh, a good-natured punch-down, an oh-so innocently baffled approach designed to make you feel like your view has no validity whatsoever, “proof” from their own experience (even though we’re not clones and their experience doesn’t nullify yours), a misunderstood source from Chazal or Tanach, etc.
This is because in their heart, they are convinced that you are flawed in THIS particular way.
You might even feel like they’re hooking their claws into you and not letting you go.
But in addition to heart-to-heart criticism, there's another reason why some viral messages just won't let you go.
Coupling with the Klippah
“When someone receives advice from another, it is like coupling with him. But the advice that Adam and Chava received from the Snake was like the marriage of klippah.”
Rav Bender uses this to emphasize the importance of only consulting with tzaddikim (which you can also do through their books and with the Greatest Tzaddik of all: Hakadosh Baruch Hu).
Perhaps this is why criticism can be so devastating. It’s a form of advice that, if given improperly (either too harshly or confusing or it’s just plain wrong), harms the other person.
And it's like creating a zivug with that person -- based on criticism and negativity.
It's all wrong.
Finally, it's worth noting that ya'atznu ra or ya'atznu aitzot ra'ot (we advised evil or we have given bad advice) is one of the transgressions listed in Judaism's official Vidui/Confession. Of all the sins that begin with the 10th letter yud, ya'atznu ra/ya'atznu aitzot ra'ot was chosen.
That's pretty significant, eh?
But getting back to the virus analogy: How does a viral infection work in the world of microbiology?
Dealing with a Virus
But what if he or she has a virus?
And what if you possess a susceptibility to that virus?
You’re going to benefit from certain aspects of your relationship with that person—but you’ll also get infected by that person.
So you come away from the encounter, maybe even feeling good—but you’re also carrying a new bug (and its accompanying symptoms) that you just can’t shake. So you end up feeling bad too.
Interestingly, this doesn’t occur with ALL people.
Some people infect you with their wonkiness, and some people don’t.
We all have flaws, but we clearly don’t experience everyone else’s flaws as a virus—like a parasite that gets into our brain and doesn’t leave easily.
It's important to realize that the viral voice does not necessarily indicate an awful person. Maybe it does. Or maybe the voice actually belongs to a very good person, but is simply not the right shaliach for you in the place you're holding now.
So this is a pretty individual issue.
And what can you do?
Here are some ideas:
Acknowledge Their Wonderfulness
Avoid demonizing them (unless they really are demonic).
Tell Hashem what’s good about this person.
(Noting a person’s good points can secretly bring them to teshuvah.)
Until you either develop immunity or their "virus" disappears.
This includes contact that is only oral or written.
Does the person give shiurim? Call you on the phone or leave messages? Does he or she write articles or poems? Emails? Facebook posts? Tweets?
Needless to say, it’s not always possible to do this. Maybe the person lives or works with you. That’s also from Hashem, a nisayon you need to face in order to refine your soul. So you do what you can, knowing that Hashem is in control and guiding you along this particular path.
Digging Down to the Roots
Maybe you’ve done/do it to others. (No, this doesn’t mean you’re horrible, For example, maybe you’re really wonderful and generally a great influence on others, but there is one person or maybe a certain type of person that you’ve impacted in a less-than-ideal manner.)
Or maybe you secretly think this way about yourself.
(This is a VERY big reason why the message stays in your head. Rationally, you might know that person’s message for you is all wrong. But subconsciously? What’s really going on? So this should really be explored more deeply.)
It’s definitely worth mulling it over with Hashem.
You can talk it out, do a freewrite or a mind-map.
But there’s a reason why davka this person’s voice and messages are stuck in your brain.
And it’s helpful to figure that out.
Ask Hashem for Help
You want His Truth and nothing less.
This is a beautiful thing to ask for and gives Hashem a lot of nachas.
Putting It All Together
Viral voices develop from:
- Unknowable soul-tikkun issues
- Criticism or condemnation given from the heart
- The effect of zivug that naturally forms upon receiving advice
How to deal with viral voices:
- Treat them like a virus.
- Acknowledge the adviser’s good points.
- Don’t demonize the adviser (unless he or she really is mostly bad—and some people are).
- Maintain your distance (if possible) until the “virus” clears up. (This includes written & oral contact.)
- Via writing and/or talking it out, figure out the deep-seated reason why davka THIS person’s voice has infected your brain.
- Ask Hashem for help.