How do we know what to believe?
An old villager was considered to be wealthy because he owned a horse – Naturally everyone thought it was a Blessing for him to own a horse. So when his horse ran away – the townspeople thought that the man was cursed. Several days later, the man’s horse came back and with it was two beautiful wild stallions – clearly this was a Blessing from Above. The next day the man’s son went to break in the wild horses – but when he mounted the first one, the horse kicked and threw the boy to the ground – breaking his leg. Everyone thought this was, without a doubt, bad - but when the army recruiters came and saw him in bed with a cast – suddenly the same situation appeared unequivocally good.
There are two ways to evaluate whether a situation is “good” or “bad”. The most common way, is a process of scientific deduction - We decide whether the situation is good or not-good based on our memory and experience with that situation in the past. If our past experience has led us to believe that in most situations it is not beneficial to break one’s leg, we conclude that it’s not a good thing.
The second way to evaluate situations is with emuna. When we look at a situation with emuna we see it in a fresh new way that is unencumbered by logic or past experience. With emuna we believe that every cloud has a silver lining – that everything is being orchestrated by Hashem for our ultimate good and that Hashem wants us to find His positive message and intention for us in every situation.
If someone is experiencing a psychological symptom such as anxiety or depression he needs to know that embedded within the very anxiety or depression that Hashem has sent him is its cure. Hashem doesn’t, G-d forbid; send us troubles just to torture us. He sends us difficulties so that we can grow stronger from them by finding a solution to the problem and thereby meriting to come closer to Him – once Hashem sees us searching for his loving kindness in our “problems” and hears us thanking Him for our “problems” he sends us a level of success we never thought was possible.
Take for example a talented young singer who developed stage fright. During a performance his breathing became labored, his muscles tightened up and he began to panic – after that he stopped performing.
The first step to this man’s recovery was his willingness tostop trying to understand the panic attack through logical means. Once he accepted that the panic was sent to him by Hashem for some good reason he became willing to wonder what that reason was. He closed his eyes and wondered what Hashem’s positive purpose was in sending him anxiety; and he saw that Hashem had actually sent him the anxiety to protect him from arrogance.
In actuality this young man had been blessed with a beautiful voice and a charismatic personality – but not having been emotionally prepared for his “over-night” success he became boastful and haughty especially at home with his wife. He became more critical, demanding and exacting towards his wife to the point where she threatened to leave him. Having learned this simple technique, he now realized that Hashem, in his Infinite Mercy had saved his marriage by sending him a panic attack. The panic had humbled him and he spent the next 6 months at home – reconnecting with his wife and showing more appreciation for her caring nature. Once he was able to identify the positive purpose for his problem he was able to find better ways protecting himself from arrogance that didn’t necessitate giving up his promising career.
We can easily apply this procedure to most psychological symptoms or unwanted patterns of behavior. Essentially we want to find the positive purpose in the old dysfunctional behavior or symptom and adopt a new behavioral strategy that fulfills that purpose.
Just remember the word SWAP because we want to swap the old behavior with a new one:
S – Means we STOP ourselves – we interrupt our natural tendency to view the situation as “bad.”
W - Means we WONDER what the positive purpose is that Hashem is sending us.
A - Means we find an ALTERNATIVE way of behaving that also fulfills Hashem’s purpose but without the dysfunctional symptoms.
P - Means that we PRACTICE the new behavior - first mentally and then in actuality.
I wish you great success with this technique!
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Zev Ballen, LCSW has been a practicing psychotherapist for 32 years. He is licensed in Israel and the State of New York. Zev has the endorsements of prominent Gadolei Yisrael such as the Nikolsburger Rebba, Shlita, Reb Yitzchok Fagelstock, Shlita, The Kasaner Rebbe of Forshay, Shlita, Rav Shalom Arush, Shlita, and Rabbi Lazer Brody, Shlita. He resides with his family in Jerusalem where he learns in Rav Arush’s Kollel and maintains a part-time practice. You can write to Zev Ballen at: email@example.com or call him at: 845-362-8600 (US line) or 054-840-9499 (Israeli line).