Furthermore, Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender exhorts against revealing your sins to another person. As Rav Bender says:
“A regular person—even a great person—is certainly not able to hear in detail what passes over the teller. This includes a trainer or a teacher because it can hurt the teller. It can also cause distance between the teller and the listener due to shame and the like.”
(Words of Faith, Vol. I, page 371)
But over time, I saw that Rav Bender is absolutely right.
I realized that rather than helping, I was hurting people who turned to me and that I was also getting hurt when I turned to others.
But because of some inner resistance, I didn’t pick up on it right away.
Scenario #1: The "Triggered" Listener
For instance, let’s say your psyche was profoundly wounded by your parents constant yelling throughout your childhood AND you haven’t really worked on your emuna regarding this.
Now let’s say that your good friend (whom you know to be a fine person who earnestly works on her middot) confides in you that she yells at her kids sometimes, and needs chizuk to overcome this bad middah.
What does your sincere and good-hearted friend need? Chizuk! She needs reassurance that occasional yelling doesn’t make her a horrible mother, and she needs to hear validation that her recognizing it as a problem that demands a solution says a lot of good about her. Then she might want to discuss what she can do instead of yelling (and here, you should let her do most of the talking to work it out according to her own soul needs).
But if you’re traumatized by the parental yelling you endured as a child, then what do you do?
First of all, you’re going to feel like your friend is doing a truly horrible thing to her children. Even though maybe she isn’t. Maybe she’s got rowdy, thick-skinned boys who aren’t traumatized by yelling because your friend hardly yells at them. Maybe they even find it entertaining when she yells at them.
But you won’t be able to even imagine this because your reality was so different.
And it's even good that you are so firm about not repeating this terrible behavior.
So you will project all your trauma and disgust onto your earnest friend. Not only will you not help her, but you’ll end up demonizing and discouraging a good and sincere person, and making her feel worse (when she already feels bad about herself) and possibly incite her to behave even worse because mothers who despise themselves don’t parent well.
So does that make you a bad person?
You have such bad memories of parental yelling that you can’t think objectively about it. You can’t even imagine that her kids aren’t somehow traumatized by it. Maybe you even think you’re saving her children by telling her how horrific yelling is and shaming (whether subtly or overtly) her about it, even if she only does it occasionally.
But please note that from now on, you’ll think more poorly of her, whether you mean to or not. And your trauma-based response to her hurts her rather than helps her, even though you only mean help and not to hurt.
It could even be that you’re doing worse things to your kids than occasional yelling. (Rather than yelling occasionally, some parents engage in patching, frequent sarcasm, constantly comparing their children unfavorably with their siblings or other children, or they engage in neglect.) It could be that you’re overall a worse mother than her, but you will still feel superior and have a hard time liking her as much as you did before.
So who benefits here? No one.
Scenario #2: The Pollyanna Listener
I know someone who expressed frustration regarding this kind of dynamic.Why?
- She assumed that people felt bad about the problematic behavior in which they frequently indulged.
- She assumed that they wanted to heal themselves just like she wanted to heal herself.
- She assumed that their lack of any expressed remorse was simply a defensive reaction or because they were too ashamed or pained to express remorse.
Therefore, it sometimes took her months or even years to wake up to the fact that the people actually felt entitled to behave this way and weren’t looking for a way to fix their problematic conduct!
Some people honestly think that even behavior clearly forbidden by halacha is justifiable or “cute” or “not such a big deal” or simply unavoidable.
Furthermore, under the influence of modern psychology, many people believe that if problematic people feel good about themselves (healthy self-esteem! positive self-image!), then positive change will come.
Based on modern pop psychology, many people believe that if you validate feelings and tell problematic people positive truths about themselves (not ego-stroking, but truly good character traits), then these people will eventually come around on their own and improve.
But they don’t! In the experience of the frustrated person mentioned above, it never happened!
So how do you think she felt about them once she realized their true perceptions and values?
Very uncomfortable. she lost some respect for them, quite frankly.
Of course she recognized that they still have wonderful potential and that she still has a mitzvah to love them. And of course it's easy to see how the trauma in their lives had desensitized them. In fact, you can also realize that had you been through what they’d been through, you wouldn’t have behaved any better.
(In fact, I've definitely dealt with people where I know that, had I endured what they did, I could easily have turned out much worse than them!)
But tachlis? Most people are not on a high enough level for this intellectual knowledge to influence their emotions.
So it's natural to feel lost regarding how to deal with people that you can no longer relate to and have lost sympathy for.
In that case, do you think such a person still be a good confidant for these people?
(And this same dynamic can occur with therapists too, BTW.)
The Truly Beneficial Listener
It’s really to talk to Hashem. Then you’re free of other people’s prejudices, triggers, and blindspots.
For example, a regular person might lose affection for you once you reveal your lack of remorse and unwillingness to work on your middot.
But Hashem won’t! He always loves you, no matter what. You can even tell Hashem, “Listen, I don’t feel remorse when I verbally abuse others. I actually feel kind of good. Intellectually, I know this is wrong, but it feels so right! Can you help me do teshuvah on this anyway?”
He’ll be thrilled you decided to stop by and discuss it with Him. Seriously.
If you do need to talk to someone in the spirit of Breslov’s sichat chaverim (conversation of friends), then Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender recommends just confiding your general issue to a person who knows how to give chizuk.
This doesn’t have to mean a tzaddik. Just someone who is also sincerely working on his or her own emuna and can relate to these down times.
He recommends the listener do the following:
- 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.)
- Engage in happy talk (I think this means to cheer up the other person.)
- Provide encouraging words
- Speak words of Torah
- Do good (I think if the person needs a loan or a meal or babysitting, etc.)
- Seek good points in each other
Needless to say, the listener should also know how to keep a secret.