Growing Pains: Part One
The word "growing" can mean many things. In the context of this article, growing refers to a person who, after years of living without thinking, most often reacts emotionally, with anger and resentment, about how life treated him, but now chooses to live in a positive manner. Many of the following examples will focus on the Student who has chosen to return to Yeshiva and Yiddishkeit. These examples are intended to also apply to other areas of life.
The first common difficulty experienced by many people beginning to grow, is that they don't sense, or see, their own change. Those around them see the accumulated baby steps they've taken, and how it's changed them. In many cases they'll ask for advice from other people, who'll monitor their growth and offer feedback. Some of them will accept the feedback, while others won't. The people changing may have a lack of self esteem, and/or unrealistic goals, included in their list of things they need to improve. These goals don't allow them to accept the fact that they're changing.
Not appreciating how much they've changed, makes it difficult for them to sustain their growth. Growing takes huge amounts of physical, and emotional, energy, causing them to become "worn down". What gives them the strength to continue growing is the realization that what they're doing really matters. However, without appreciating how much they've changed, it becomes difficult for them to sustain their growth.
I suggest that people who don't believe that they've grown, particularly those who're critical of themselves, must accept the views of others of how well they're doing. People often don't consider asking others to assess their personal growth, but they should. They're willing to ask others for advice, but won't let them decide whether, or not, they're "good" people.
The second common difficulty is that they've lived for such a long time without thinking, that they've become the people they are as a result of the events that have surrounded them. This has caused them to become "numb" and not to care about anything. People become numb to different things. Some have desensitized themselves from wanting to succeed, from having healthy relationships, or from Yiddishkeit.
As they begin to put their life together, they find that they're succeeding on an intellectual level, but that on an emotional level, they still feel numb. Their conclusion is that they're either doing something wrong, or that they've "messed" themselves up to such an extent, that they'll never be able to improve to the point of being successful. They still find themselves having a difficult time continuing to do what's right when their hearts "are not in it".
I've often experienced this pattern with Yeshiva Bochurim who make a serious commitment to learn, once again, after being out of the Yeshiva system for many years. They often find themselves without the good feelings they had associated with doing what's right, and specifically with learning.
Although people that have abused themselves for years don't require an equal amount of time to heal, they will need time. People, who've spent years claiming they hate everyone, may need months to learn to like people. People, who've spent years saying that they hate learning, may need months to appreciate the learning. There's no quick way to create a good feeling for learning.
The reason peoples' appreciation often lags behind their decisions, is because their decisions are intellectual. How these decisions contrast with their present lifestyles, will determine how much time their emotional side will need to become accustomed to their new decisions. When the new decisions contrast with many of their present attitudes, they may need an even longer time to become accustomed to their new lifestyles. For instance, if they've kept their emotions "inside" and told themselves that they don't care about anything, and this was combined with a specific disdain for learning, it may take considerably longer than they would like, to appreciate a Bais Hamedrash environment.
This problem becomes compounded as their commitment, for example, to learn again in a Bais Hamedrash, is usually first made with much uncertainty. People who are just beginning to grow, often have never made decisions that are thought through, and they are unconvinced that they can be successful. When things seem to fall into place they become elated; however, when things seem to fall out of place just as quickly, as they do in real life, they come crashing down.
The third common difficulty is that, as these people grow, they become more aware of who they are, and their strengths and weaknesses. Their lives are now taking shape, whether in Torah or in a job. Many of them may draw conclusions that may not be true, such as their weaknesses are "proof" that they've made the wrong decisions.
For instance, they may have chosen to learn full time in a Yeshiva and find that they're unhappy. A natural conclusion would be that their decision to learn full time is the cause of their unhappiness. This may be true, but it's also possible, and even more likely, that whatever path they chose, they would've been faced with being unhappy. Their lives' are multi-faceted and, after years of living an unhealthy life, they can't be sure that their Torah study is the cause of their present unhappiness. Creating wrong connections may cause them to choose another path, only to find themselves with the same unhappiness. This time their conclusion may be that "I'm hopeless". Instead, they must first consider as many possibilities as they can. Is their issue, their unhappiness, related to their recent decision or not.
The fourth common difficulty is that growth, inherently, has its ups and downs. People who're growing, look at each day and assess how well they're doing. As they experience a bad day, they're certain that they're failing. I tell them that success can't be defined as perfection. Success is defined by becoming better people. If last month they "fell short" in their goals five times each week, and now they're falling short three times each week, then they're successful. I try to highlight to them that they're a "work in progress". As long as progress is happening, they can be confident that they're doing what's expected of them.
When people complain that they're disappointed with the ups and downs that they're experiencing, I remind them that, today's failures would have been considered successes several months back. If that's true, then they're growing, despite their perceived failures.
For instance, a boy who was waking up late in the morning, for months, finally begins to attend Shacharis. After a few weeks he falls short, wakes up at 9:00, and misses Shacharis. Although missing Shacharis doesn't qualify as a success, his waking up at 9:00 also can't be defined as a failure. Had he done this six months ago, he would've been proud of himself.
People, who're growing, must remember that experiencing ups and downs is normal and can't be avoided. Once the Yetzer Horo (bad influence) sees that he can't stop people from growing, he attempts to disillusion them with unrealistic norms. "It's normal to change overnight. Once committed, it's normal to have an easy process. It's normal to never fall short". In reality, people aren't perfect and must experience short term failure within their drive for growth.
To be continued...
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