And as our Sages have been telling us for millennia, that as important as it is to treat Hashem with great honor and love, our treatment of each other is even more important to Hashem.
And so, we can hear shiurim and read modern-day writings that inspire us to apologize, forgive, and be connected with even very difficult people.
Unfortunately, it’s common for ordinary rabbis and rebbetzins to encourage us to not only forgive such people (which, if done properly, is extremely beneficial), but to give them the benefit of the doubt in a way that pretends they are everything they aren’t, and to keep up a relationship with them.
But many people see this often doesn't work.
For example, what about people who are so cynical, they can’t accept anything you say as sincere, and you can never do enough to prove your sincerity to them?
Of course, you should treat everyone with courtesy, but that doesn’t mean that you need to answer their phone calls, host them, hang out with them, sit with them at a wedding, get caught up in their mind games, engage with them on social media or blogs, or help them in ways that hurt you.
(If possible, you can help them in ways that don’t hurt you.)
But unless you are a great tzaddik—or someone with extremely thick skin—it’s impossible to be around difficult people without suffering for it.
While you’ve probably experienced obvious consequences when dealing with difficult people—like resentment, low self-esteem, self-doubt, feelings of helplessness, confusion, depression, exploding at that person, exhaustion, unintentionally taking out your frustrations on people who are not the cause of them, nausea, headaches, stomachaches, etc.—studies have proven the physiological effect difficult people have on their recipients.
For example, even “mere” anxiety creates a hormone called cortisol.
Actual fear creates an even harder impact.
(You can read here about how anxiety increases cortisol, which lowers physical immunity.)
And what are the physiological effects?
- Cortisol binds with dormant cancer cells, making it easier for those cells to invade and move around the body
- Cortisol weakens the T-cells and white blood cells necessary to fight disease
- The body experiences emotions as electrical currents. Each emotion has its own individual frequency and creates neuropeptides according to that frequency, which in turn create specific biological responses—negative ones in the case of negative emotions
On the negative spectrum, shame (with humiliation as a close second) resonated at the lowest frequency—even lower than hate, anger, betrayal, shock, and envy.
(Here’s an article on the science of it.)
And difficult people often make us feel some sort of shame. We often feel bad about ourselves. In fact, shaming others into bowing to their will—even if it’s subtle—is one of the trademarks of toxic people.
(And even if that shaming is an automatic, unconscious act on the part of the difficult person.)
And even if you know they're wrong, you may still feel bad (as if there's something wrong or immature with you) about "letting" them get to you!
But it only goes so far for people who either intend or don’t care if they hurt you.
In fact, pretending that people are good and well-intentioned when even they themselves know they aren’t will actually make things worse.
Although many do people intuit this on their own (but ignore this because they think that it's sinat chinam), the science of it shows that it's just not realistic to expect the average person to genuinely feel no anxiety (which gets the cortisol going) when dealing with difficult people (and denying or repressing the anxiety doesn't mean it's not there) or to fight the creation of negative neuropeptides and their consequences.
(Please see How to Avoid being a Pathological Pollyanna for more information on how to give the benefit of the doubt in an emotionally healthy manner that conforms to authentic Jewish sources.)
Yes, trying to maintain a compassionate attitude in such situations while reminding yourself that it’s all from Hashem and is for your own good does help, but most people can’t maintain such a lofty state for long or throughout frequent attacks.
Fear and anxiety are perfectly normal reactions to dealing with difficult people.
What many “Keep up the connection and just give the benefit of the doubt!” enthusiasts tend forget is that many people are already dealing with difficult people whom they can’t avoid—like a family member, a boss, a co-worker, a neighbor, etc.—and are already depleted from that.
Furthermore, voluntarily spending time with difficult people only gives them more opportunities to rack up transgressions (because they insist on transgressing numerous prohibitions which forbid treating others poorly—which is NOT doing them any favors) AND only creates unnecessary battles for you, like struggling (again!) to overcome your resentment and the natural dislike you end up feeling for them, in addition to the bad feelings that well up about yourself.
Plus, dysfunctional people (like those with personality disorders) are so convincing and manipulative that they can make you feel very confused about yourself, or about what’s right and wrong (this is actually very dangerous, spiritually speaking), and so on.
Spending Time with People who Hurt You: A Lose-Lose Situation
So many ordinary rabbis and rebbetzins (not Gedolei Hador) mistakenly advise people to deal with difficult people by being well-behaved victims under the false notion that:
- Suffering and catering to bad behavior is a compassionate, merciful response to the victimizer
- Doing so increases the mitzvot & good middot for the victim.
- Assume (often wrongly) that, anyway, the victim will develop a thicker skin over time.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Maltreating others (including covert maltreatment, like well-aimed verbal jabs, insinuations, and mind games) is FORBIDDEN by the Torah.
People who continuously engage in such behavior are SINNING.
Every blow they deal you as you play the part of their punching bag is yet another TRANSGRESSION on their part.
Furthermore, so many studies have shown that unkind behavior also affects the unkind person himself in a negative manner with all sorts of physiological problems.
So who is benefiting here?
Not you, their convenient martyr. And not him or her, the malfunctioning avenger.
Basically, such a dynamic ensures that both you and they fail spiritually again and again and again.
Fortunately, there is a happier and MUCH more effective path!
Davening And Dancing!
She danced, clapped, and shook her head to rejoice at weddings.
When she died, the dogs ate up her entire body...except for her skull, hands, and feet, which because of all her dancing, had become imbued with a type of spiritual protection—despite the fact that she was a sociopath.
This is the power of dance.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is famous for his emphasis on dancing and clapping as one of the most powerful ways to sweeten din.
Here’s a true story of its astounding potential that I heard from the daughter of one of the following group:
A large group of Jews waited for their turn in the gas chamber at Auschwitz.
Among them stood an entire family: cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and children.
The Nazi sadists had already filled the gas chamber up with as many holy Jews as they could, forcing this family and the many other Jews there into an agonizing wait for their death.
At that moment, a couple of Chassidim decided that if a Jew should do every mitzvah b’simcha (with joy), then that included the mitzvah of being murdered for Kiddush Hashem.
So they started dancing and clapping and singing.
And my friend’s family and many others thought this was the way to go, so they started dancing, too.
In short, the kapos and Nazi guards couldn’t stop them, so Mengele was called in.
Fascinated, he decided that all the dancing and singing was a bizarre stress reaction that he wanted to study further. So he had the whole group sent away from the gas chambers.
Fortunately, it was toward the end of the War and he just sort of forgot about them, enabling them to be absorbed into the rest of the camp and survive until Liberation.
After Liberation, that entire family immigrated together to America, one of the only families to survive mostly intact.
And while I have no personal story as incredible as the above to share with you, my personal experience with this has still been pretty powerful.
So think about it:
Sitting with the dysfunctional person as you clench your teeth in an effort to hold your tongue and then struggle with the lingering lousy feelings dragging you down as you go about the rest of your day, trying to be a good Jew, a good spouse, and a good parent and possibly making you sick?
Or avoid them as you prance (or waltz, if physical limitations don’t allow you to prance) around your living room, clapping your hands, and singing:
“Hashem, You’re so Great and You can do anything! Please make Aidel Faigel bas Taibel do complete teshuvah out of love! And please don’t punish her for all the garbage she’s done, but just wake her up gently to the error of her ways so that she can fulfill her true potential and rectify everything so that she can merit a fabulous place in the World to Come!”
And so on.
Of course, this is light years more effective than hanging out with them while grinding your teeth and fighting the bad middot that threaten to overwhelm you!
THIS is what Hashem wants us to do.
Furthermore, you don’t have to do this for a long time (though you can if you wish).
But even dancing while davening for the other person for, say, only a minute is very powerful.
Seeing as everything is from Hashem (including Aidel Faigel bas Taibel’s toxicity), it’s a great act of emuna to turn to HASHEM about fixing the behavior.
It is also a very powerful act of ahavat Yisrael to beg Hashem NOT to punish a fellow Jew who has harmed you.
When "Sinat Chinam" is Not Actually Sinat Chinam
A famous story accompanies this idea:
The story of Bar Kamtza (in which Bar Kamtza mistakenly receives an invitation from someone who hated him, is rejected in a manner Bar Kamtza finds humiliating while prominent rabbis sit by silently, and then goes on to slander the Jewish people to the Roman government, leading to genocide and Exile).
Now, like everything else in the Talmud, the story can’t be taken at face value alone and there are disagreements as to the actual virtue of Bar Kamtza and the main rabbi involved, what the names imply, and so on.
But putting all that aside for a moment, what if Bar Kamtza had decided to accept the humiliation as a kaparah instead and daven, either for himself or the Jewish people?
What if he had gone home and started dancing and davening for his resentful host and the rabbi?
He would have brought blessing upon Am Yisrael instead of destruction.
And this works regardless of your personal level.
For example, I am just as flawed as anyone else, and yet I still saw very good results from dancing and davening for people, rather than just trying to “make nicey-nice” until it killed me.
In fact, I’ve consistently seen better and faster results from davening for people than I have when trying to “help” them in other ways, including being “patient” (i.e. forcing myself to be on a level that is actually very far from me) and giving wildly inaccurate benefits of the doubt.
And yes, getting up to dance can sometimes be very difficult.
If you’re feeling very heavy, lethargic, or bitter, the initial attempt often feels like climbing a mountain.
And while this post focuses mostly on dealing with difficult people, dancing and davening is also a very powerful effort for:
- Freeing unjustly imprisoned people
- Enabling/Speeding up healing
- Preventing anything horrible, like terror attacks and wars
- Overcoming a negative middah or an addiction
- Bettering your financial state
- Dealing with challenging offspring
- Getting your baby to sleep through the night
- Anything else
The spiritual and physiological benefits of dancing and davening are very real:
- Expressions of joy—ESPECIALLY dancing and clapping—sweeten even the harshest Heavenly Judgments (this is the most important).
- The exercise creates endorphins in your brain, which increases joy and lessens depression.
- Dancing can propel you to a state of joy, causing your electromagnetic spectrum to resonate at the highest and healthiest frequency.
- Dancing while davening about the issue alleviates the obsessive pondering many people find themselves trapped in after dealing with a dysfunctional person.
- It breaks through lethargy, including the lethargy of chronic depression.
- It burns off the excess energy that was making you jittery and restless.
- It releases some of that cortisol, a release which boots your immune system.
- If you have a very young child around, they’ll find it amusing and join you.
So to sum up, in dealing halachically correct manner with difficult people:
- If you can’t avoid them, then healthy compassion, accepting insults with love (and an opportunity to daven for something you really want), plus intelligent favorable judgement is the halachically ideal way of dealing with them.
- However, voluntarily spending time with them is HARMFUL to BOTH of you, both spiritual and physiologically.
- Dancing while davening for them, even for a very short while, is one of the most powerful things you can to do help both them and yourself, both spiritually and physiologically.
As stated above, this can be much easier to say than to actually do.
But if you must make an effort on behalf of sweeten din and building the Final Beit Hamikdash, then this is definitely the way to go.
May we all succeed in reaching our full potential & sweeten the din for all time.