22 Av 5781 / Saturday, July 31, 2021 | Torah Reading: Eikev
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Gently Assertive    

Gently Assertive

When we make our decisions based on what others will think of us, we give away our free will, a G-d given gift. We are supposed to use our free will to make decisions…


Needing the approval of others can cause you to give away your time and abandon your truest desires.


I have a client named Shari who wants to go on a day trip to some holy sites, with friends from her study group. The problem is that her mother-in-law, Nina, is expecting her for a dinner party that same evening. Shari has always been intimidated by Nina, from their very first meeting until today, more than thirty years later.


Shari is a gentle, thoughtful person, interested in learning Torah, cooking, baking and babysitting for her grandchildren. Nina is very dynamic, fund-raising for Hadassa Hospital and organizing public relations events. In comparison, Shari feels unimpressive and dull.


Shari believes that Nina was disappointed that her son chose to marry Shari, and Shari has tried to win her approval and admiration ever since.


The main way that Shari attempts to gain approval from her mother-in-law is to accommodate her as much as possible. Shari continually defers to Nina in all sorts of ways, whether or not Nina's requests are inconvenient or uninteresting to Shari.


Now Shari is at a crossroads. She has been working hard in therapy and has become aware of her excessive need for approval by others, especially from those she feels are “superior” to her in some way.


When we make our decisions based on what others will think of us, we give away our free will, a G-d given gift. We are supposed to use our free will to make decisions based on how we personally can develop and move closer towards Hashem. There is a saying that “If you have no dream of your own, then you will end up helping other people fulfill theirs.”


This is a form of self-abandonment and a big betrayal. I'm not saying that we should never place other people's needs before our own; that is something we often do within our families and at work. But even when we choose to bend to the wishes of someone else, it should be done from a position of strength, not weakness. If Shari forfeits her trip to attend her mother-in-law's dinner party, it has to be done because that is Shari's conscious choice, not because of Shari's compulsive need to find favor in Nina's eyes.


In fact, by Shari never disagreeing or setting limits, she has probably lost Nina's respect, not gained it. No one respects a person who does not respect herself.


Even a child can lose respect for a parent who is easily manipulated. Children want parents with backbone. It's what makes them feel safe and teaches them about boundaries.


For Shari, it would be revolutionary to tell her mother-in-law that she can't make it to the dinner party. It would be completely out of character for Shari to suggest that Nina try to accommodate her.


So together we did a role play to help Shari communicate effectively.


The first one went like this:


Shari - Hi Mom. I'm so sorry, I was just wondering if maybe the night of the dinner party could be changed because I would really like to go on a trip with my study group that day and I won't be back in time for the party. I know it might be too much to ask. Is there any way you could maybe change it to a different night? I'm so sorry to trouble you, I know it's probably too late.


Nina - No way Shari! I have everything all planned and can't possibly change anything now. I need you to be here. You'll have to tell them you can't go.


Shari: Oh, okay.


Notice how timid Shari is, how she is trying to get Nina to let her off the hook so she doesn't have to stand up to her and experience disapproval. She is giving her power to decide over to Nina.


We did it again:


Shari - Hi Mom! Just wanted to let you know that unfortunately I won't be attending the dinner party. I have to go up north with my study group and there is no way I will be back in time for it. I'm sorry to let you know only now but that's just how it worked out. Thank you so much for the invitation! I am sure it will be a lovely dinner even without me! You always have wonderful parties.


Nina - (speechless)


This time Shari is clearly in charge. She has made her own decision and is calling Nina just to give her the information that she won't be coming, offer a sincere apology and end with a nice compliment.


By giving up her need for Nina's approval, Shari is able to take care of her other needs, even at the risk of disappointing Nina. In this case the real mistake would be in disappointing herself.



* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen is a certified Emuna Therapist for Breslev Israel. You can set up an appointment with her by contacting staff@breslev.co.il 

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