By: Edwin Schild, B.A., M.Sc.
“Do you love me?” How many times have we heard this question? As a young child asking his parent, as a teen asking that special friend, as a wife or husband looking for confirmation and validity or as the senior looking for that special moment of support and validation? Whichever the case or whenever the moment, the question begs a special response.
Love is such a difficult word to understand, a difficult emotion to be dealt with, with a feeling of lust and a feeling of longing. A feeling of desire, a feeling of confusion. Nonetheless, a feeling we cannot (nor wish to) escape from. It’s a word with so many meanings yet so much good surrounds it. Based in the wrong setting or situation it can be devastating, hurtful or even lead to fatal situations.
We rely on love in the physical as well as emotional sense. In Judaism we are actually commanded to love Hashem. It has been asked, “how can you command love”, a feeling? We are commanded to show love and respect to our parents. Nevertheless, sometimes commandments are not enough. A famous psychiatrist from the 60’s by the name of Bruno Bettleheim wrote a book entitled, “Love Is Not Enough.” Since that time the phrase has been used in many other books, lyrics and poems. Sometimes love is masked behind so many conflicts, so much hurt. The parent who is so angry with the child or the child so angry with the parent… are they in touch with their love? Do they realize the love underneath the painful words that cut through the fragments of their relationship? Does love conquer all? Not always!
Anger…. It’s another one of those feelings that can become all empowering. Is anger threatening your relationships with people you love? Is your job at risk, or is anger limiting your advancement? Are you experiencing legal problems because of anger? Do you have a negative or pessimistic attitude towards life? So many times the feeling of anger hides the feeling of love.
I meet with so many parents who are so angry with their youth because of what they did, what they “should have” done, what they didn’t do, or sometimes, just who they are. Anger is a terrible response to so many conflicted situations. Yet, we constantly have an innate need for love. We need to feel love and experience love. There are times when love is rejected. Have you heard the teen who says, “I don’t need friends?” Of course they do, but their self-confidence and experiences have left them with rejection for fear of loss of love.
The Rambam writes (da’at 2:3) ‘Anger is a bad character trait and must be avoided. A person should teach himself to avoid anger even in a situation that calls for it.‘ The Midrash says that anyone who has anger is as one worshipping idolatry. Rambam says that anger is an especially evil trait [Dayos]. Rabbi Chayim Mi’Velozhin says that harsh words are not heard [Kesser Rosh]. King Solomon says that only a soft reply will work against fury [Proverbs]. The Gemora [Taanis 4a] says that one must spend a lifetime turning anger out of his heart and working, instead, on becoming gentle. Another Gemora [Eruvin 65b] says that a person is recognized for whom he really is by how he behaves when angry. The Gemora says that there is nothing left for the angry person except his anger [Kidushin 40b-41a]. He loses his wisdom, health and relationships. The Torah commands us not to get into arguments, using the fight between Korach and Moshe as the model for the prohibition.
At Regesh Family and Child Services, we are getting more and more referrals regarding stress and anger and the need to manage and control emotions. We are continuously developing new anger and stress management courses for youth, adults and professionals in the workplace. We are working with individuals whose anger is destroying their relationships and work or school environment. We have parents calling about their children’s and youth’s anger, spouses calling about angry relationships, teachers calling about angry students and employers calling about angry employees. Where does all this anger stem from? Is there more anger in our lives than before? As we develop new courses and therapeutic interventions, we are also seeking evidence-based research to this phenomenon. We are realizing that sustainability is a major issue in helping people overcome their anger and maintain personal control.
Psychologists are learning more about the etiology of emotions. We are learning that anger can be physiologically based in people with low tolerance to frustration, genetic causes, as well as socio-cultural causes. Another significant cause is the family component. People who come from angry homes develop more anger with less tolerance for others. These people are often coming from families that have been disruptive, chaotic, and not skilled at emotional communications.
Practically, how does this love/anger phenomenon show itself? Just as I’m writing this article I had a call from a single mother of a 17-year-old son. She has seen me on several occasions about her oppositional son who misses most school classes and uses many illicit drugs. I have seen her son once and he adamantly denies everything his mother says. He denies he doesn’t go to school (even with school records showing days and classes missed), he claims he no longer takes drugs, he says he is trying to abide by the rules and she should just leave him alone. Nevertheless, when given the condition in order to stay at home he must be involved in counseling; he refuses everything from her. She loves her son so much that she cannot continue to see him self-destruct. With anguish, anger and love she cries out for help. In this recent call she told me that she met a friend of her son’s who worries about his friend. He told this mother, who is already in so much pain, how her son is addicted to cocaine. She is so angry with him that she feels that she is having a “mental breakdown”. She wants him out of the house right away. She has had enough and cannot handle the pain and emotional overwhelming feelings any longer. So, how does one counsel this mother?
Of course, when confronted with such heartache and emotions, the first thing to offer her is comfort, validity of her own hurt and love for her son and a recognition that what she does must be out of love, not anger. In order for the youth to control his anger, the parent must control hers when confronting him.
However, this mother needed more than validation — she needed resources for herself and her son. (Note that I mentioned the mother first because all too often when the identified patient is in crisis, the parents, caregivers or other significant people get forgotten. Their support is critical though lags behind the crisis). I reassured the mother that the crisis can be dealt with but she will have to present as caring yet strong. It’s hard to be strong and caring when anger is overtaking your emotions. This mother wanted to kick her son out of the home as a final act of desperation. After calming her down, we developed a script of what to tell her son. The first message was one of love and caring for his welfare. She loves him too much to watch him self-destruct. By allowing the situation to remain status quo she was participating in his dysfunction. Therefore, in order to ask him to leave she had to be reassured that this was an act of love and caring about his best interest, not punitive nor out of anger. Next, she would need to tell her son that no matter what, she loves him and will be there for him. Even while out of the house (temporarily), should he wish, she will offer to go to appointments with him, help him find resources and continue the message that she loves him and cares about his well being. Even in his anger, she will not desert him but care for him. She will chastise his behavior while loving her son.