In a March 2011 issue of Hamodia Magazine, a writer who described himself as a “Yeshiva high school teacher and life coach” wrote an article titled “The Self-Esteem Mirage.” In this article, the author states: “The self-esteem movement is exactly the opposite of everything the mussar masters teach.”
As a psychologist practicing in the frum community for over two decades, I have frequently encountered the following serious dilemma. A major focus of psychotherapy is exploring the events in the person’s past and in his current environment which brought about and continues to maintain his current difficulties. However, many frum patients are uncomfortable with this very process. The psychologist’s attempts to understand behaviors, thoughts and feelings as resulting from various life experiences is seen as conflicting with a basic tenet of Yiddishkeit , that of bechira (free will). Since a person has free will, how can we “excuse” his behavior with psychological explanations?
Read More: Bechira – How free is free-will?
Therapists who work in the frum community often report a dramatic increase in patients’ anxiety symptoms during the month of Elul. Patients who are, in general, prone to anxiety will often experience a sense of impending doom especially after failed attempts at dramatically improving their level of learning, davening etc., and similar failed attempts at abruptly eliminating bad habits. These suffering patients usually justify their extreme anxiety reactions by quoting from seforim that strongly emphasize the negative consequences of aveiros and the admiring comments in seforim regarding those who exhibit high levels of אימת הדין (fear of divine justice) during Elul . At the same time, they are aware that many of the people whom they look up to as role models in avodas Hashem – and who approach Elul with all the seriousness it demands – do not react with this type of emotionally paralyzing anxiety. They are at a loss to explain their own paralyzing, panic – stricken mode of fear.
Read More: Elul anxiety