And yes, there are still times when I wish I could pour out my heart to another person. Yet Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender exhorts against doing this.
Yes, very good; this is the point of Breslov's sichat chaverim (conversation of friends)
Pouring out your heart and revealing all the not-so-great aspects of yourself?
No, Rav Bender warns strongly against doing so.
What's Wrong with a Geshmak Heart-to-Heart Talk?
Okay, it was actually impossible for me.
Ever since my pre-teen years, I’ve loved a good heart-to-heart talk with a trustworthy and empathetic friend (charmingly referred to as sichat nefesh in Hebrew: soul conversation). I especially loved all the deep-into-the-night sichot nefesh of my youth...
The sharing, bonding, and validation were truly blissful.
But as I got older, it became less gratifying. Increasingly, such conversations started backfiring. Rather than feeling validated with renewed hope, I often felt punched in the stomach.
Or I felt reassured and validated in some ways, yet punched in the stomach in other ways.
Conversely, I also found it increasingly difficult to respond properly when I was on the listening end. Did the person need validation? Reassurance? Help seeing the truly good aspects of her character? Yet did she also need to be shown gently where she was going wrong (because sometimes, it was very obvious that she was doing something wrong)? Did she need some re-orientation? Just one of the above or a combination?
Whatever it was, I increasingly started to get it wrong. I felt like however I responded, it was all wrong. And I saw that I was no longer helping.
So I've pulled back a lot, both from talking and from listening.
In Words of Faith, Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender exhorts against "confessing" your negative attributes and deeds to others.
By "confessing," he doesn’t mean the same confession as Catholics perform with priests. If I understand him correctly, he means what many of us do at least occasionally, whether with friends, family, or with therapists: We feel bad about something, so we confide in someone else hoping for reassurance and support.
The problem is when we hit someone’s sensitive spot (called “a trigger” in today’s lingo).
Ideally, the listener should reassure you that whatever you did or whatever you're struggling with happens to everyone sometimes (i.e. you aren’t some innately defective loser) and reassure you that Hashem still loves you and is with you, and also the listener should point out at least one positive attribute you truly possess to encourage you.
For example, when Rav Bender confided his pain at the persecution he felt from people who opposed his emuna ways, a fellow Breslov rabbi admitted that he too found the verbal abuse and slander very difficult. Then they gave each other chizuk about it.
Note: Both men were on very high spiritual levels. Yet the other rav did not say, "Why, Rav Bender, what the heck is wrong with you? Are you an apikorus? Don't you know that everything is from Hashem? Anyway, you kneeeeew that people would react this way, so what are you complaining about? Just be happy!" This is because despite knowing it's all from Hashem and for your own good, you could still find verbal abuse and slander very painful. So these two great men validated each other's feelings.
To give an analogy: Physical pain (regardless of how high a level you are on) is also, well, painful. Even if you know without a doubt that it is good for you and atones for all your sins and prevents you from seeing the face of Gehinnom, you will still feel the actual pain of the blow. And that is normal.
But sometimes, even the most well-intentioned person simply cannot respond properly. Maybe you've revealed something too disturbing or too far out of their reality, so they can no longer relate to you.
It's not your fault at all, but it's also not the other person's fault that they cannot respond properly.
No one should be demonized or feel ashamed for wanting to pour out their heart to others. It's only natural.
But it often either doesn't help (or stops helping after awhile) or it hurts as much as it helps.
Even therapists sometimes end up breaking with a client when they feel that they cannot help the client.
A Tzaddik's Guide to Giving Chizuk
- Give chizuk (Say something along the lines of: “Chazak—be strong! My brother, be strong! Hold on and do not be discouraged by anything!” This should be said encouragingly and not irritably, of course.)
- Happy talk (I think this means to cheer up the other person.)
- Encouraging words
- Words of Torah
- Good (I think this means that the listener can offer a favor, if he or she is in the position to do so, like a loan or a meal or babysitting, etc.)
- Seeking the good points in each other
For more on this subject, please see How to Listen & How to Speak.
May we all merit to both give and receive the chizuk each person needs!