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Coping With What's Eating You

May 8, 2009 | by Rebbetzin Feige Twerski

When dealing with pain, there's no time to wait: addressing problems at their inception averts much heartache.

Some years ago, I took my father of blessed memory, to a physician in Milwaukee for a consultation. After the examination, the doctor shared his conclusions with us, and we prepared to leave. Just as my father was about to walk out of the office, he turned to the doctor and said "Doctor, you're the first medical professional who didn't hassle me about my weight. How come?" The doctor's wise response was memorable and I have quoted it often since. He said, "Rabbi, it's not what you eat, it's what eats you that really matters."

I thought about that this morning when a young woman came to see me to discuss her troubled marriage. She unloaded 15 years worth of pain, anguish and emotional deprivation. My heart sank as the picture grew darker and more hopeless. When I could bear it no longer, I erupted, "Why did you wait so long to get help? What have you been doing for the last 15 years, while all of this was eating away at you?"

Prideful Reluctance

Indeed, one of the greatest frustrations I have experienced in more than 30 years of pastoral counseling is the prideful reluctance of individuals and/or couples to seek intervention when a problem first arises, or at the very least, when it becomes clear that the problem is not going away.

Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person will die.

Invariably, by the time the situation comes to our door there is so much accumulated anger, bitterness and resentment that a veritable wall, impenetrable to remedy, has been thrown up; by then an almost superhuman effort is needed to break through.

Negativity of this magnitude ravages not only its object, but its bearer as well. Resentment, someone explained, is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person will die. The fact is that, as my father's doctor observed, "it eats away at us." We become the victims.

Appropriate Assistance

King Solomon in the Book of Proverbs (12:25) exhorts us that if there is worry or concern in one's heart, one should speak about it to those who can be of assistance:

If there is anxiety in a man's mind let him quash it, and turn it into joy with a good word -- a righteous man gives his friend direction ...

In modern day we have many choices available to us -- rabbis, therapists, counselors and other professionals that a particular situation might call for.

Articulating one's problems and issues in the presence of an objective party, gives one access, at the very least, to greater clarity and insight. Dealing with a problem at its inception can avert much heartache and many tragedies –- divorce, alienation, destroyed relationships, etc.

Many hesitate to get help, because they see it as a sign of weakness. Others believe that they deserve to suffer. Still others mistakenly think time will cure everything. All are misguided rationalizations.

A woman at a seminar once asked me how we can teach our children to deal effectively with the stresses and challenges of life. I responded that our children watch us very carefully. Our behavior is the example we set for them to follow. Our message to them needs to be that when life gets tough, we don't crumble or run away, we don't give up the ship. We don't avoid facing our issues such that we become frustrated, bitter, angry and resentful.

All One's Strength

The story is told about a little boy who, while playing in the backyard, tries to move a big rock from its place. He pushes and pushes but to no avail. The rock doesn't budge. Frustrated, he turns to his father who, instead of being sympathetic, admonishes his son, "You are not using all your strength." The boy turns once again to address the stone, huffing and puffing, pushing and pulling, but once again with no success. Much to his surprise, he hears his father, chiding him, "But son you are still not using all your strength." Spent and fatigued, the young lad cries to his father, "How can you say that? I have tried my best!" "No you haven't," responded his father, "you didn't ask me to help you."

Meeting the challenges of life effectively belongs to those who have the foresight and the courage to seek out, in a timely fashion, those who can enable them to use all their strength.

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