That always means an interesting process because, as we know, Chazal never uses modern terms like "codependence," so one must figure out the terms Chazal uses to describe this dynamic.
And as far as I know (which is admittedly not as much as I'd like), neither the Torah nor Chazal describe this dynamic the way we do.
However, copious sources exist on dealing with difficult people & one's own faulty middot—which are the main cause of codependence.
Furthermore, a prime example of living with a dysfunctional person while retaining personal spiritual & mental health occurs in Parshat Vayetzei with Lavan as the appallingly dysfunctional person and Yaakov as the spiritual victor.
But first, let's backtrack a bit to the modern idea of codependence.
This can be manipulative at worst or an attempt at self-protection at best.
Some signs of co-dependency are:
- Taking responsibility for another person's actions.
- Worrying about or incurring the consequences for the problems of others.
- Covering up to protect others from the results of their poor choices.
- Doing more than is required at your job or at home to earn approval.
- Difficulty making decisions in a relationship.
- Difficulty identifying your feelings.
- Difficulty communicating in a relationship.
- Valuing the approval of others more than valuing yourself.
- Lacking trust in yourself and suffering poor self-esteem.
Psychologists often advise co-dependents to:
- Establish boundaries in relationships.
- Resist the urge to fix, control, or save the other person.
- Prioritize your own inner growth.
Like a lot of other pop psychology, codependency is nothing new for me because it reached mainstream popularity when I was in high school.
Friends in therapy or support groups (like Alateen for the teenage children of alcoholic parents) discussed it frequently.
Girls would "helpfully" tell each other, "That is sooo co-dependent."
But if you come from another culture or generation, codependency might seem like a really cool chiddush to you.
So please just keep in mind while I discuss it, that you & I may come from very different perspectives regarding this.
And just to be upfront, I've always rejected certain aspects of codependency since I first heard about it, never fully accepting those aspects of its philosophy. (Partially? Yes. Wholly? No.)
For example, the idea that your behavior is YOUR problem?
"It ain't mine and I don't need to own it or fix it."
Yes, that works well in many situations.
It's definitely worth trying. It can be a huge help in getting you to take a step back and change your less-than-healthy behaviors.
But I could never accept this completely because it simply is not true in many situations.
For example, if someone frequently yells at you (which causes a very real & measurable physiological effect on the human target of the yelling), yells at your children, lies, omits vital information, sabotages you, or a range of other harmful behaviors...you better believe it DOES become your problem.
Some behaviors are literally intolerable...yet you cannot get away from the person (or at least, not immediately).
A friend of mine married to a mentally ill man once commented that a lot of coping behaviors are labeled as codependent, but really they're not, because the dysfunctional person doesn't leave you with much choice in practical coping.
This is true.
Furthermore, I noticed a fuzzy fine line between making sure the other person's ball stays in the other person's court, and trying to control their behavior.
Where is the line between enforcing your stated boundaries and controlling the other person's behavior?
This can actually make a person feel worse & ironically lower their self-esteem even more as they feel like a failure for constantly falling back into codependent behaviors (which may not be codependent; instead, their response might show good sense, depending on their situation).
Finally, I ran across an article by a psychologist who stated that many people are labeled as codependents, but they're really not.
They're stuck in extraordinarily difficult situations and are coping as best they can with abysmally limited options. Their behaviors actually show good sense within their context.
It all depends.
Basically, the psychologist rejected the idea of codependency as an overall catch-all philosophy. Thank God.
Let's look again at a key idea in codependency treatment: "Your behavior is YOUR problem, not mine."
Again, an excellent attitude in some situations, but confusing in other situations.
For example, when my frum friend's husband decided to buy all sorts of things forbidden by their children's school (AFTER my friend already signed the forms for the school promising not to expose their children to such things—values with which she personally agreed)...is that not her problem?
Is it not her problem that her signature appears on an agreement that is being violated?
And will it not be her problem if classmates' parents or teachers call HER demanding to know why her children are doing/saying certain things clearly forbidden by the school?
And the fact that she absolutely does not want her children engaging in such activities—is that not her problem? Does it not deeply hurt her to see them doing things she does not want them to do?
And will she not suffer the repercussions of her children living a life against her values & in opposition to how she personally chooses to raise them?
With dysfunctional husbands, one of their favorite pastimes (whether consciously intended or done instinctively) is to disturb their wife's sleep. (I've seen this repeatedly as a common thread with abusive husbands, regardless of the type of abuse & regardless of culture or religious background, etc. It's universal, as far as I can tell. And it's particularly problematic when she has a baby or ill children who also wake her up at night.)
So...if you cannot get the basic sleep you need, is this not your problem?
If you suffer the very real physiological effects of sleep deprivation, is that not YOUR problem?
If you go through the day as a confused slow-response zombie, is that not YOUR problem?
It is certainly not the problem of the person who deprived you of sleep.
Generally, that person simply either leaves the home to avoid dealing with anything or yells at & criticizes his frazzled zombie wife for not functioning properly. Or yells at the kids too, maybe even also yelling about how incompetent he thinks their sleep-deprived mother is.
(He also finds a way to take a nap to remedy his own lack of sleep. And there's heck to pay if his family doesn't accommodate him.)
Such behavior gratifies his ego on some level.
Either way, it's definitely not HIS problem, only hers.
This brings us to the next "cure" for codependency: setting healthy boundaries.
Again, this is a very good idea.
Even just being aware of the need for boundaries can initiate a positive change in one's thought patterns & behaviors.
However, many dysfunctional people do not give a darn about boundaries.
Setting healthy boundaries in a "calm, yet firm" manner can set off unhealthy people, making them behave much worse.
And sticking to your guns throughout their tirades doesn't always work either.
Sometimes it does. But sometimes it doesn't.
Reason #1: Most unhealthy people see themselves as victims.
(A real psychopath generally doesn't, but most other abusive people do.)
One of the most extreme examples of this is Rudolf Höss, yemach shemo, the commandant of Auschwitz.
When he first received orders from the big Nazi fuhrer yemach shemo to create an extermination camp, he considered the orders both "extraordinary" and "monstrous."
Upon being forced to witness the flogging of a prisoner accused of stealing cigarettes, Höss yemach shemo, said that he was indeed forced as he did not want to watch. The flogging and the victim's screaming made the Auschwitz commandant "go hot and cold all over" and also made him "shudder."
He also put a halt to the random tortures & executions carried out by the Nazi security personnel in Auschwitz's early years. ("Purposeful" tortures & executions were okay, but he despised "senseless" brutality.)
Astonishingly, he considered himself more "sensitive" than average—something he tried to disguise with a cool exterior. (I guess that compared to the other Nazi sadists, the fact that he didn't actively enjoy torture & murder made him feel himself more sensitive.)
Furthermore, the horrific suffering & slaughter of Jewish children in the death camps disturbed him greatly. He said the murder of the Jewish children made him "weak-kneed" and he found it all extremely "distasteful."
Yet he felt it a necessary evil because the Jews were a menace to mankind and the Aryan German people in particular were the victims of this "menace."
He justified his actions by explaining how he'd been brought up to believe that the persecution of Jews was a form of "pest control."
So despite his "distaste" of the "monstrous" slaughter committed against children & babies at Auschwitz, he gave his full support to this genocide because of his conviction that he & the German people were victims of "pests."
Overall, Mr. Sensitive commandeered the slaughter of around 2 million people.
(A lot of dysfunctional, abusive people see themselves as sensitive souls who are vulnerable & easily victimized. Again, that's how they permit themselves such abusive behavior: They see it as self-defense or out of their control. Having said that, there are truly sensitive people who are sensitive in a good way.)
Reason #2: Dysfunctional people aren't stupid. They also don't give a darn about your oh-so calmly yet firmly stated boundaries or your heroic display of emotional maturity.
Sure, some dysfunctional people are pretty dumb. But many aren't.
And when you start your whole boundary-making thing, they see exactly what you are doing and...guess what? It makes them ANGRY.
They feel HURT. And RESENTFUL.
They easily decide to take their resentment & hurt out on you, including a lashon hara campaign and other forms of vengeance. If you work for or with them, you may find yourself out of a job or affected in some other extremely unpleasant way.
(But hey, that's not your problem, right?)
Even if they don't feel hurt and angry, they do feel contemptuous.
Or confused: Boundaries? What are those? What's happening? Have I entered the twilight zone?
Or simply apathetic. After all, what can you possibly do to enforce your boundaries? And why should they care?
Practically speaking, what can you really do to stop them?
They can stride right over your boundaries. And they do!
It reminds of a scene in a movie in which a martial arts champion comes at his opponent on the street, displaying fancy footwork and lethal karate moves...and then his opponent whips out a gun and shoots him dead on the spot.
So much for all those fancy moves & years of honing the necessary skills.
Bang! He's dead.
Anyway...in the above example of sleep deprivation, is there any way to stop a husband from depriving his wife of sleep?
No. Only if he chooses to stop.
And the really dysfunctional ones don't. They continue no matter what the consequences.
Another example—a really common example:
Try telling such a person something like, "I will be ready to discuss this with you when you are ready to discuss this without insults or yelling."
Guess what? They don't care.
Try leaving the room to "enforce your boundary."
Guess what? They can follow you...and they do! (Often growing louder & nastier as they go.)
Furthermore, a lot of dysfunctional people ENJOY yelling and insulting. Your resistance (which they see as rebellion or fighting fire with fire) makes them feel like now they have a right to continue with their yells and insults.
Or, they stop that behavior at that moment, but engage in another distressing behavior at another time. (BTW, that sneaky delayed "Gotcha!" ambush response is VERY common with these types. They do it in marriage, friendships, family, work, neighbors—it's very stressful.)
They see it as a power struggle and feel they must win.
They're wrong, but that's how they see it.
So...there you have it with the ol' boundary-setting technique. (For some people, anyway. Again, the above techniques DO work with SOME people.)
And guess what? Even court orders have failed those they were meant to protect.
Sometimes an ignored court order ends in the death of the person the court order meant to protect.
(Is that the victim's problem yet? Or is being murdered in your own home also a codependent behavior?)
So short of punching or shooting these personal boundary-trespassers (which will bring even more unwanted unpleasant consequences), you cannot stop them from behaving however they please—IF they are determined to do so.
I once knew a woman who was unusually awful. Throughout my life, I've very rarely met someone as sociopathic as she. She fully enjoyed hurting others, she KNEW she hurt others, and she MEANT to do so.
She never even used the excuse of being a victim. She also never disguised her heartfelt enjoyment of another's pain.
Full awareness of with no shame whatsoever.
One of her favorite victims was her younger sister, whom she continued to torment into their forties.
(And before anyone starts boo-hooing over the psychopathic woman's childhood, please know that she suffered no abuse. The only factor I ever noted was her weak & easily manipulated mother. Spoiling & indulging children can cause serious dysfunction. In fact, studies on narcissist personality disorder show that excessive praise & overvaluing a child can cause NPD. You don't hear much about the dangers of spoiling children in pop psychology, but I've personally seen it & it's pretty ugly.)
Anyway, her younger sister had been attending therapy and was very committed to avoiding codependent behaviors. She did her best to set boundaries and not make her psychopathic sister's problems her problems.
But, as stated, dysfunctional people don't give a darn about boundaries.
At the wedding of their niece, for example, the psychopathic sister physically leaned her entire body on her younger sister, her arm hugging her shoulders, and her hand cupped over her suffering sister's ear as she whispered derisive comments throughout the ENTIRE ceremony.
Like, an hour.
The suffering sister did her best to look straight ahead and ignore the psycho sister, to focus on the wedding and completely ignore her psycho sister's behavior. I noticed the suffering sister also did her best to keep her face stoic and not look pained.
Good for her.
Yet her heroic efforts did nothing to stop or even weaken the psycho sister.
The psycho sister KNEW she caused pain to her younger sister, regardless of the lack of response. And that sadistic awareness what gave her all the gratification she needed.
The psycho sister wasn't even embarrassed, despite the fact that the ugly dynamic was so obvious to anyone who glanced at them. (A tall tanned woman, she looked like a giant brunette leech attached to her painfully stoic sister.)
The psycho sister lacked shame, partly because she lacked a conscience. But also partly because she was fabulously wealthy and secular while most of the attendees were frum & not fabulously wealthy, and she disdained frum people & people who made less money than she.
So she did not care what onlookers thought any more than she cared what an audience of grasshoppers would think.
Therefore, I felt so much appreciation when the movement to deal with NPD popped up.
Finally, someone acknowledged that setting boundaries sometimes either incites vengeance—or the dysfunctional person simply disregards the boundaries.
But then they introduced the low-contact or no-contact methods. And like with the codependency methods, these methods can work and work really well. But not always. And sometimes these methods do more harm than good. Or sometimes low-contact or no-contact is impossible (like if you live with them or share custody of children together or work for/with them, etc.).
So in summary:
- Techniques to overcome codependency CAN be VERY helpful.
- If codependency applies to your situation, you should try the techniques.
- Standing up to bullies can work—and even earn you their respect & loyalty.
- Even just the act of thinking about boundaries or whose problem it is can cause a positive mental shift.
- If these anti-codependency methods work, then...great! Hashem revealed them for a reason. If they work, continue to use them!
- However, these techniques fail in many situations, leaving people feeling bad about themselves.
- Many people simply cannot develop the thick enough skin necessary to fully uphold the anti-codependency techniques.
- Many people struggle to switch between detaching in an unhealthy situation & then attaching in a healthy situation, particularly when the situations occur close together. People aren't electrical circuits that can flip themselves on & off at will.
- Some situations leave very little room for choice. Feel good about whatever mental & spiritual health you manage to accomplish.
So this sums up my views on codependency as far as pop psychology goes:
The field of codependency contains a lot of beneficial stuff, but it also suffers from some very real structural weaknesses.
Now, let's continue on to what Judaism says about dealing with dysfunctional people.
What the Torah Says
In fact, many frum psychologists have both written & spoken about Yaakov Avinu's techniques and what we can learn from them.
So first of all, it needs to be clear that we cannot look at Yaakov Avinu's response to Lavan without the uncompromising knowledge that Yaakov Avinu was a man of emunah.
His actions cannot be removed from that spiritual context.
Yaakov Avinu maintained constant awareness that everything was Divinely orchestrated.
And that's the real example to follow.
So, for example, Yaakov Avinu set healthy boundaries with Lavan.
He calmly yet firmly asserted his insistence on marrying Rachel Imeinu.
Yet when he awoke the morning after his first wedding and saw Leah Imeinu instead of Rachel, did he say, "Whoa, wrong wife! Well, that's not MY problem!"?
Did he enforce his personal boundaries? (i.e., "I'm divorcing you, Leah. Lavan, I'm giving Leah a get. I worked 7 years for Rachel and that's that.")
Not in the way we think.
He remained married to Leah & related to her as an ideal husband.
Yet he didn't give up on Rachel and instead agreed to work ANOTHER 7 years—something most of us would consider exploitative.
Regardless of the circumstances, Yaakov always behaved with full integrity. His work ethic alone defies belief.
He took precautions against Lavan, but he also behaved with impeccable moral integrity.
He never took revenge either, nor did he take out his disappointments on his wives or children. He didn't take advantage of any loopholes for lashon hara l'to'elet and complain about Lavan around town.
Yaakov Avinu knew Who was really in charge.
Lavan played the victim. (i.e., "What, you want me to give you my younger daughter before my older daughter? How could you? Heavens to Betsy, we don't do such things!" Or, "How can you just leave like that, without even letting me kiss good-bye my darling daughters and grandchildren? Sniff! Boo-hoo!" So sensitive! [sarc])
Yaakov also refused to allow any environmental influences to steal in.
Lavan achieved mastery in the occult. Those missing terafim were the shrunken heads of first-borns who spoke when Lavan performed certain formulas. (Did Lavan wait until a first-born happened to die and then take his head? I don't know. But either way, Lavan was a pretty creepy guy.)
So despite the extreme dark occult going on next-door, Yaakov kept himself sterlingly clean, spiritually speaking.
Initially, he went low-contact with Lavan—as much as realistically possible, anyway.
Later, when it became feasible, Yaakov Avinu went no-contact with Lavan.
Everything according to whatever proved best in each given moment—and all with unshakeable yishuv hadaat.
Yaakov Avinu survived & even thrived because he only considered what Hashem wanted from him each time Lavan shot yet another curveball at him.
And that's how Yaakov Avinu dealt with all his difficult situations in life: What does Hashem want from me right now? What is the halachically & morally correct response?
I'm paraphrasing of course. How did he think of halacha with no Shulchan Aruch and not even a Sefer Torah? I'm not sure. But the concept certainly existed—Yeshivat Shem v'Ever and his parents & grandparents.
So the big lesson from this classic example is:
- Maintain yishuv hadaat.
- Respond with integrity and emunah.
Hashem caused the situation for your benefit (even if it feels totally non-beneficial).
Nothing really helps until you internalize that concept (even if only a little).
What the Pele Yoetz Says
He acknowledges the pain, sympathizes (especially with an abused wife; less so with an abused husband, interestingly) and censures the abusive people involved.
At times, he censures the abusers using harsh, uncompromising language (like "snake").
But at the same time, he strongly adjures the victim to respond with complete integrity.
It depends what the situation is, but sometimes all he does is encourage uncompromising integrity combined with copious daily prayer.
Just those 2 things: integrity & prayer.
Sometimes he offers tips & things to say to get what you want out of a relationship.(Actually, he only offers these tips to women, not men.) But in a really hopeless situation, he only focuses on your integrity (how you behave) and prayer. No techniques, tips, methods, lifehacks, nada.
But he makes no promises.
Even with the copious daily prayer, he says, ulai—perhaps—you will be answered.
Maybe. No guarantees.
But if you uphold your integrity & your middot, he reassures you of a good Olam Haba. That's the comfort.
A Little Bit about Impossible Situations
This post isn't it, but nonetheless, let's touch on it here because the vacillating dynamics of codependency have a lot to do with impossible situations.
Pop psychology, being atheist at heart, fails in the face of impossible situations.
Therefore, it's hard to find the help you need in an impossible situation, unless the solutions actually work for your situation (but often don't in truly impossible situations because they are, by definition, impossible).
On the heels of that disappointing fact, therapists, rabbis, and rebbetzins often fail in this area.
Having made that depressing observation, you CAN find frum therapists, rabbis, and rebbetzins who help.
But they must have a spiritual perspective. (The helpful ones, of course. The non-helpful ones lack a spiritual perspective no matter how frum they seem on the outside. It's the inside that counts.)
Because impossible situations are Divine refinement and/or Divine atonements, atheist methods cannot help and certainly cannot remedy an impossible situation.
So most people (including highly touted "experts," no matter how frum they seem on the outside) will not be able to help.
But a minority can.
The Story of the Tikkun of Queen Esther's Little Piece of Soul
People born without legs, for example, will never be able to develop real legs & walk until Mashiach comes. No running or skipping or soccer-playing for them.
A person born without eyes (like Liat Tzachor HERE) will not be able to see until Mashiach comes. It's simply impossible to expect otherwise.
Likewise, Hashem also decrees other disabling situations on people (though they may not immediately know it).
For example, I once read the true story about a Jewish woman who possessed a part of the soul of Queen Esther.
While overall, Queen Esther's soul ascended to where it experiences unfathomable delight for eternity, one part of her soul needed a specific rectification not achieved in her previous lifetime.
The subtle flaws in that soul required the nisayon of poverty to achieve rectification.
So this meant that this soul must come down into the world for the EXPRESS PURPOSE of enduring poverty.
Because that was the entire purpose of this soul-part coming down into the world, this meant that no matter what its owner did, the person encompassing the soul could never escape poverty.
Do you see what this means?
This means that no matter how much that woman (in whom resided Esther Hamalkah's soul-part) davened, performed segulot, received brachot from tzaddikim, worked, consulted with business experts, no matter who she married, and so on, she would NEVER escape her poverty.
Such a thing was simply impossible.
If she would even raise herself to the lower-middle class, her reason for existence would end.
She could never get a lucky break or make a buck.
So as long as she lived, she must remain dirt-poor.
That was the entire tikkun for her soul.
And as long as she remained poor, her soul benefitted & worked its tikkun.
(Now, there's more to say about this, like what if she davened A LOT or got someone on the level of the Baal Shem Tov involved? Theoretically, I guess something like an ibbur could happen, etc. But technically speaking, Hashem could never let her out of her poverty without ruining the soul's rectification.)
I really wish I could remember where I read this story and which tzaddik related it. (If you know, please inform us!)
But it always stuck in my head because it demonstrated so clearly why some situations lack any earthly remedy.
Obviously, the hopelessly impoverished woman's situation contained a lot of misery. She lived in a time when poor people lacked all we take for granted today: electricity, indoor plumbing, wintertime heating, solid walls & roof, proper clothing, medicines, daily meals...impoverished people didn't even have pajamas!
All she could do in such a situation (which lasted her ENTIRE LIFE) was to thank Hashem and try to be happy as best she could, knowing it was all for the best.
I can't remember if she did. Maybe she was miserable & depressed her whole impoverished life, maybe not. (I really wish I could remember!)
It also shows us why we shouldn't blame people who, no matter how hard they try, can't seem to escape a particular nisayon.
(I'm talking about people who actually try, but never succeed.)
Maybe their soul NEEDS to be in that situation—and pounding them over the head with blame, criticism, and disdain is completely misguided & useless.
And there you go.
We don't know what's really happening beneath the surface.
Different Torah Methods
Mishlei, Rav Avigdor Miller's talks, and mussar books consisting of hundreds of pages are all about achieving self-awareness & figuring out how to behave your best at all times in any situation.
More than that, it's about actually achieving your spiritual best.
So it's hard to stuff all that down into a nutshell.
But here it goes anyway:
It's basically about remembering that Hashem is behind the difficult person (difficult dynamic, difficult situation, etc.) and that He placed you in this grueling situation for your own good.
It refines you in ways that you cannot even perceive.
And even as it's excruciatingly painful & breaking you to bits, it is also paradoxically rectifying your soul in a way that nothing else can.
Thanking Hashem for your ordeals often sweetens them...but not always.
Nonetheless, thanking Hashem is the correct response (even if you don't feel it).
With the above example of Esther Hamalkah's soul-part, thanking Hashem would not alleviate her situation, but it would be the correct response and also earn her extra pleasure & reward in the Next World.
Being happy with her lot would also do her eternity and her soul a world of good.
It would be the correct response, even as, again, it would not alleviate her destitution.
How to Feed Your Enemy & Why You Should Try It (Maybe)
Different interpretations exist (most popularly, defining "your enemy" as your yetzer hara, to whom you feed the "bread" of Torah), but one Breslov interpretation considers your enemy as the person who torments you.
Because the pain caused by your tormentor cleanses your soul of sin.
If you merit to skip Gehinnom altogether, it's likely in the merit of your "enemy"—a person who abused you.
So Breslov says you can go ahead and give your tormentors gifts. Or kind words. Or favors. Or prayers. (Based on Likutei Moharan 277:1: HERE is a short vort on an aspect of it by Chaya Rivka Zwolinski. Also, please read THIS.)
After all, your enemy is your ticket to Heaven!
So show a little "gratitude."
But that sounds crazy.
Or even risky.
So let's take a deeper look into it.
When a person responds with politeness or even kindness to an abusive person, most people consider that codependent or weak or groveling & encouraging of abuse.
Yet it all depends on your intentions.
If you say, "Hashem, I am going to do a favor for my husband or my parents for YOU, because you've commanded me in honoring or loving this person, and so I will do this favor"—then that transforms the entire dynamic.
Remember, Hashem runs things.
He adjusts dynamics & consequences according to our kavanot—our intentions and our hearts.
If you do something nice, acquiesce to the demand of your jerk boss or co-worker (without harming yourself or doing something illegal), offer them a gift or offer sincere praise, etc. WHILE thinking to yourself, "I'm feeding my enemy. Thank You, Hashem, because this person is saving me from Gehinnom"—that changes everything.
And if you manage to do this, you'll notice a change in the dynamic. Maybe the person treats you better, etc.
And other people will tell you that it's because you're behaving without any self-interest and the other person senses that, so they respond in kind, blah, blah, blah.
Now, that's sometimes true that the other person senses your selfless, l'shem Shamayim attitude, and now that they no longer feel you're trying to get something out of them, they relax and respond better.
But people who enjoy hurting others don't give a darn about your selflessness & altruism.
If they soften up, it's most likely because you've sweetened your own dinim by facing the situation with such solid emunah.
Also, you'll notice that the minute you drop the emunah-ball, they revert to their old abusive self.
So, if you do this, you must really do this for yourself, for Hashem, to nurture your relationship with Hashem and not do it for the other person or the relationship at all.
If the person is genuinely dysfunctional, you can hurt yourself by doing this.
You can also cause yourself burnout and so on.
So only do it for Hashem and for your own ruchniut.
It takes some courage and some inner fortification, but it's well worth it because it makes you shine in the Heavenly realms.
It's a huge act of mesirut nefesh—all for your recognition of Hashem's Mastery.
Also, let's say that because it is so awkward & unfamiliar, your fumble it in some way. Maybe, when push comes to shove, you couldn't manage to work yourself up to that level. Or you did it in a bumbling way. And now your "enemy" is laughing at you (maybe other people are). Maybe he or she is denigrating you for your efforts.
It feels worse.
But really, you didn't fail.
In Shamayim, you are considered wildly successful.
Because it's your heart, your kavanah, that counts.
You shine in the Heavenly realms because hardly anyone else ever tries to do what you did.
So even if you failed practically speaking, you can still be considered a brilliant success in the Upper Realms.
Most people don't even know to do it.
Heck, I never would've guessed unless I read it. My mind doesn't work that way.
And even if they know, it feels too hard & too risky.
And maybe it is too hard & too risky.
After all, some people are so crushed & empty that they cannot risk this. (It depends with whom you're dealing.)
Another way to "feed your enemy" is to daven for them.
Daven for them to do teshuvah, to merit a healing of their soul & bad middot...but also to enjoy good fortune in life. May they not feel too hot or too cold. May people be nice to them. May they encounter only green traffic lights, not red or yellow ones.
It depends who it is and the circumstances. But for some people, the heartbreaking truth is that their parents or their spouse or their sibling is their enemy.
And the above can really help if that's the case. (But no promises.)
It can still be very, very painful, no matter what you do.
But all these are just different methods within Judaism of dealing with difficult situations: gratitude, being happy with your lot, feeding the enemy, prayer, taking the moral high road, and so on.
Everyone's on a different level facing different challenges with different capabilities.
And each person needs to work with what they have.
And may we all merit to complete our soul rectification in this lifetime—without nisayon or bizayon.