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The Psychology Of Teshuvah

By Doni Joszef

There’s a preexisting religious formula for every existing psychological phenomenon.

—Carl Jung

While we tend to associate teshuvah with dreadful self-deprivation and depressing self-deprecation, nothing could be more personally enriching and experientially uplifting than the pragmatic process we call teshuvah.

The therapeutic value of teshuvah is obvious to anyone who tastes the sweetness of its fruit, but the particular seeds which serve to produce this sweetness tend to remain undetected by their particular taster. Let’s examine some of the various nutrients which serve to make teshuvah so psychologically nourishing.

Hope For The Hopeless

Hopelessness is a crippling state of mind, sapping the energy and life force from those in its grasp. What makes hopelessness so deeply debilitating is that it feeds on itself—like a thickening pit of quicksand—making it harder and harder for us to free ourselves from its trenches. Apathy starts to seem strangely alluring, like the cunning comfort of alcohol to an alcoholic. We binge on it, letting ourselves brood, until we feel utterly trapped in its seductive trance. Five more minutes under the covers of melancholy gradually extends into hours, days, weeks, and months.

But beneath the layers of dejection and despair, each human heart contains an inextinguishable flame of hope.

Hope heals. It heals the body, it heals the heart, and it most certainly heals the soul.

No matter how hopeless our predicament may seem, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel—so long as we’re willing to walk through the darkness which precedes it.

In the always encouraging words of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov: “If you believe that you can ruin, believe that you can repair!”

For some reason, we tend to place a lot more faith in the former than we do the latter. Teshuvah comes to shift the gears of this tendency in reverse.

Curative Confession

We are only as sick as our secrets. Some secrets are sicker than others, but the compulsive need to cover up our shadows and deny our demons is often more toxic to our well-being than the actual secrets themselves. To borrow a term from the psychoanalysts, we “split” our psyches, and in doing so, we repress all relics to a hidden crawl space of our existence, concealed from everyone—especially our own selves.

But these secrets are never entirely banished, they’re merely buried alive. They simmer and fester, granting us no sense of inner peace until we expose them to the light of awareness. Confession is curative because it clears our conscience of these pent-up psychic blind spots.

An infection can be cured only if we acknowledge its existence. The same holds true for infections of the soul. We must verbally expose them if we seek to overcome them.

Personal Ownership

Once we expose the truth of our soiled souls, an immediate sense of personal ownership and moral imperative seeps into our consciousness. If I don’t clean up this mess, who will? No housekeepers or cleaning ladies can pick up the pieces of my shattered moments or heal my scattered scars!

When we quit the blame game and take responsibility for the wreckage of our past, a new sense of vigor seems to manifest in rejuvenated hopes for a brighter future. Resentment and self-pity no longer hold us hostage.

When we see ourselves as victims, we retreat and wallow in bitter animosity. When we take ownership of our lives, we become the makers of our own destiny.

My fate is mine for the making—for better, or worse.

G‑d Consciousness

Perhaps the most inspiring element of the teshuvah trek is its transformative shift from self-consciousness to G‑d-consciousness. The Rambam poetically describes the powerful impact of G‑d-consciousness on the minds and hearts of those blessed to achieve it. G‑d graciously joins those willing and open enough to let Him in.

It’s not He, but we who insist so stubbornly on locking Him out of our lives. We cut ourselves off from the root of our own existence. Teshuvah reunites the fruit with its root. Nothing could be more heartwarming.

Life was dry; now it’s fresh.

Life was bitter; now it’s sweet.


Distressing? Depressing?

Try soothing. Try refreshing. v

Doni Joszef, LMSW, is in private practice working with individuals, families, and groups in Lawrence. Available by appointment. Call 516-316-2247 or e‑mail to schedule a consultation.

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Posted by on September 12, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.