Know: whatever efforts or strategies you employ to respond to that feeling inside, let truth be your starting point. Know what must be true about that feeling and all psychological experience. Know what cannot be true about it. All effort goes better when built on truth.
So what’s true? To start with, the feeling inside of you isn’t coming from some situation, person, or event in your past.
If a wife tells her husband angrily that she feels like an employee in the home (as a husband recently shared with me), and he feels resentful and discouraged about the marriage, he can go a variety of ways:
- Feel attacked and defend himself by reviewing the ways he’s acted warmly, blame her for filtering EVERYTHING through some kind of victim lens, and tell her so
- Call someone to talk some sense into his spouse
- Stew in upset memories and entertain possibilities of divorce
- Remind himself – on whatever remote level of understanding he grasps it – our emotional experience cannot come from her; it can only come from God through the gift of thought in this moment. He is not experiencing his wife, her words, her track record, et al. He is simply experiencing Divine thought through which all is filtered. Even as he feels crummy, he can know that. Remembering this even a smidgeon allows the possibility of stopping to work at odds with his own innate wisdom compass.
Personally, I recommend option D.
Our Sages point to this truth by saying, “All who become angry are likened to idolaters.” Idolatry at its simplest level is synonymous with falsehood. More subtly, it’s ascribing power to that which does not have power. One who angers can know with certainty: my anger results from the wholly unreliable premise that “things and circumstances” can and do have power, including over my emotional state.
This doesn’t mean the “I feel like an employee” comment was appropriate. Nor does it mean it’s bad to feel yanked around by memories, others’ comments, or circumstances. Being alive involves making the mistakes of inappropriate comments and believing in false powers.
Valuing what’s true, being suspicious of what cannot be true – these form the bedrock of emunah, understanding of God. These form the bedrock of all wise and productive effort. And this is what we explore every Thursday in the Weekly Emunah Teleforum, live at 10am EST and archived here.
As Maimonides introduced his 14 volume summary of all Jewish wisdom, “The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is to know that there is a Preeminent Power.”