For example, Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender (one of the leaders of Breslov Chassidus in the previous generation, who displayed mind-boggling self-sacrifice for Jews of all stripes) discusses a well-known idea from Likutei Moharan 292: "Di velt ker zich farvundering oif di ahavah vus is da tsuvishen meina mentchen - The world will be astonished over the love among my people." [Words of Faith, Vol. I, pgs. 382-383]
(Note: I am not a Breslover or chassidish at all, just a big admirer and beneficiary of Breslov ideology.)
Certainly, among Breslovers who've truly managed to internalize the principles of Breslov, this love is true. Their genuine appreciation of each other and lack of envy or competition is beautiful to see.
But then Rav Bender adds:
"This matter comes to actuality only when one does not know in detail what is happening by another.
He just strengthens and fortifies his friend and not more."
And it's the opposite of what I once would've assumed.
How to Avoid "Killing" Your Friend
Although deeply sympathetic toward the impulse to pour one's heart out to another, Rav Bender opposed this indulgence mostly out of concern for the outpourer.
He felt that hardly anyone today is able to properly hear and respond to such an outpouring, and could even harm the outpourer, who is already in pain and has now made himself even more vulnerable.
He cautions against showing a person any kind of distancing - something which could instinctively occur on the part of listener if they unexpectedly hear something that they aren't sure how to handle.
As Rav Bender stresses on page 384:
"For at times, it is possible to kill someone through a sign of wrath, anger, or insult."
(People usually don't mean to respond badly, but simply don't realize the harm of their response. They mean even think they're giving you what you need, telling you the "truth" about yourself, and simply laying all the cards on the table, etc.)
Don't Dig for Defects
He receives this guidance from several sources (Words of Faith, Vol I, pgs. 371-374):
"The Gemara calls one who publicizes his sins 'brazen': 'I consider brazen the one who declares his sins.' This is learned from the verse: 'Fortunate is one who covers his sin'." (Tehillim 32:1)
"The Tana says in a mishnah in Avos: 'Do not strive to see someone at the time of his downfall.' [Avot 4:23] This is a directive for each individual."
"It is brought in the holy Zohar that one who merits to be judged by Hakadosh Baruch Hu Himself comes out innocent in court." [Zohar Pinchas 231a, 309a]
"One who confesses before Hashem Yisbarach.
One who tells before Him his whole heart and all that passes over him, including his sins.
And - as understood - from amidst deep regret.
Such a person merits to the fortune that his judge is Hakadosh Baruch Hu: the Merciful Father Himself."
[Words of Faith, Vol I, pg. 372]
"Man shall help his comrade and say to his brother: 'Chazak! - Be strong!' "
But not to "dig" for "wounds."
Not to go sniffing around for the defects and sins of others.
And I thought a truly caring person listened to others' outpourings. (Okay, yes, you can listen to others. Rav Bender gives examples of doing so. But without probing deeper, just listening. And even then, the listening/outpouring needs healthy boundaries so that you don't accidentally "kill" the other person.)
Yet even before I read the above, Hashem already started to show me the downside of pouring out one's heart too much to another person. I just didn't realize what I was seeing and experiencing until I read the above. Until I read Rav Bender's explanation, I didn't have a way to frame my experiences.
Having said all that, it's admittedly very difficult at times to pour your heart out to Hashem and not another person. You simply crave the interaction with another person, hoping for the tangible comfort it can bring.
And sometimes you do feel so much better, but sometimes you feel worse.
And even the feeling of being absolved and comforted is deceptive because only Hashem can absolve and cleanse you.
So yes, there is room for confiding in others, but with beneficial boundaries in place.
Do's & Don'ts
- Try not to see another's defects, sins, or bad points.
- Don't "dig" for another's sins and defects. Don't probe.
- Don't pour out your heart to others; don't make another person into your confessor.
- While it's a big mitzvah to prevent another from sinning, if you can't stop them, then at least try to not see them in their moment of downfall.
- Don't show any kind of distancing (rejection).
Note: Keeping your indiscretions & defects private isn't the same as acting like a big fake.
You know you're flawed; you don't pretend you're a big tzaddik.
But you just don't have to flesh it all out for everyone to see, hear, and smell in all its gory detail.
- Tell everything to Hashem. EVERYTHING, no matter how shameful or icky.
- Pour out your flaws, sins, defects, mistakes, bumbles to Hashem because this makes Him into your personal Judge and ensures a verdict of innocence in the spiritual court.
- It's really good to talk to the right kind of person (AKA sichat chaverim), but keep in mind that you're looking for chizuk and cheering-up from that person, and not much more than that.
- Encourage your friend with soul-restoring words.
- Give good chizuk.
- Try to cheer up and uplift your friend.
- Provide encouraging words.
- Engage in words of Torah.
- Help your friend practically, if possible (maybe doing practical favors, like loans or babysitting).
- Seek his or her good points.
- Allow the other person to shine their soul-light on you.
May Hashem help us all do the right thing at all times.
The Honesty Deception
A Tzaddik's Example: Listen, Empathize, Encourage
2 Examples of Unforeseeable Personality Transformation