Monday, 13 February 2012

Like a Babe in its Mother's Arms

by Shlachter, Reb Shraga (See all authors)

A newborn baby is completely dependent on his mother, and from her side, the mother is completely devoted to it, fulfilling all its physical and emotional needs. Through the complete lack of control that the baby feels, it learns to trust its mother. And through her, it feels secure and protected.

The ability and desire of the mother to fulfill her baby's every need with complete devotion, day and night, hot or cold, to no end, without ever feeling "used" even for a moment, comes from the complete control that the mother has over her helpless baby child that was just born. It is completely dependent on her; without her, it can't survive even for a moment. This feeling of complete control; as if the baby was literally a part of her; causes the mother to feel secure and protected. Through caring for it, she is like caring for herself.

It is clear from this, that feelings of trust and protection are an existential inborn need that is cultivated in one of the following ways: (1) Either through total trust and complete dependence on someone else (as in the case of the baby) or, (2) where trust is missing, it is possible to feel secure and protected through control (as in the case of the mother).

The honeymoon between the baby and its mother does not last long though, and as time passes, the baby develops and begins to find its own way around. Over time, it finds physical independence and is no longer completely dependent on its mother like it was in the past. Paradoxically, this physical development directly influences its emotional trust, and for the first time in its life, the baby, who has meanwhile turned into a child, is driven to use 'control' to return the same feelings of trust and protection - as fast as possible - that he/she lost. Children do this by looking for recognition from others, and by constantly testing the boundaries of the world around them.

Parents who are aware of the physical and emotional stages of development that their children undergo, and who interpret correctly their attempts to take control - which are in order to fill what's missing in their feeling of security, will allow their children the protected 'space' required for their emotional self-development. By doing this, they are greatly helping their children learn to trust them - and to trust in themselves as well. This will automatically reduce to a minimum, their child's dependence on control in order to feel secure and protected.

In contrast, parents who find it difficult to reduce their control and disconnect their own feelings for the benefit of their children, will find that the more their children develop their own emotional independence, the more they will feel their own feelings of control and security coming into question. This will translate into attempts to control the natural processes that their children are undergoing, through futile attempts to squash the development of their emotional independence. But not only will they not succeed, they will also cause irreversible damage to their children's trust in them - and in their own selves, and this will only strengthen their children's dependence on 'control' to retain/regain feelings of security and protection.

What we see from all this is that trust leads to trust, and control leads to more control. It is impossible to fight control with control. The only way to let go of the need to control is by strengthening trust. And the way to build trust is through letting go of control. Nature abhors a vacuum. When there is a lack of either trust or of control, the other will quickly come and fill its place. This is because a person cannot exist without the feeling of security and protection, not even for a moment.

In the relationship between parents and their children, husbands and wives, friends, or in social interactions of any type, and much more so in people's own relationships with themselves - especially someone with a compulsive nature, or who suffers from anxiety, or who suffers from an addiction (all of which stem from the lack of trust they have in themselves and in the world around them); in order to feel secure and protected, they are driven to frequently use control. However, paradoxically, the very fact that they are completely dependant on control is likely to remove the feeling of security that the control gives them, and this causes them to feel exposed, hurt, and without a feeling of security and protection. Then, in order to return the feeling of security to themselves as fast as they can, they will use the only way that they know and will wage an all-out in a battle of 'control' through futile attempts to regain control over their control, and this will only strengthen the need for more control! Is there any way out of this vicious cycle?

In light of what we have explained on trust and control and on the direct relationship between them, the answer to this question is clear as day. Precisely now, when they feel unprotected and completely powerless, and when they recognize that even control does not help them to feel secure and protected, herein lies the golden opportunity for them to embark on a new path. All they have to do is to stop trying to fight to control their control - which will anyway be futile, and instead, simply admit defeat and completely surrender. The very surrender and powerlessness that they feel will suddenly remove the bonds of control all at once, and in place of the control will naturally enter a strong feeling of 'trust'. This trust will fill them with a feeling of security and protection - as strong as that of a babe in its mother's arms.

The 90-Days vs. Rav Shlachter's Approach

A number of members from our forum go to Rav Shalchter for therapy, and his approach seems to sometimes conflict with various GYE approaches that we promote, such as the 90-Day journey. Rav Shlachter feels that trying to "beat" the addiction and "break the 90 day barrier" misses the point. For some people, this may simply be another attempt at control! Instead, he doesn't try to get his clients to go "cold-turkey" all at once, but rather to build trust and reconnect to life. This, he believes, automatically helps them cut down on the addictive behaviors over time, understanding that it won't help them anyway. (The 12-Step approach also follows similar principles by focusing on surrendering our "control" and learning to live with complete trust in Hashem, rather than on "not acting-out").

To clarify our position for everyone, I discussed this issue recently on the phone with Rav Shlachter and we exchanged ideas. Here is what I would like to share/clarify about the seeming conflicts in approach.

If you notice in the GYE handbook, the 90 Day approach (tool #8) is far before "Therapy" (tool #13). The handbook goes in progressive order. For many people, the 90-Day approach works very well. It puts distance between people and their addiction, and forces them to reconnect to life and fill the void of withdrawal with real living. It breaks the addictive pattern, and has been shown to work in many cases in our "virtual community" and on our forum. It is based on a scientific study that showed it takes 90 days to break an addictive pattern. This study was introduced to us by a renowned sex-addiction therapist, Michelle Rappaport, last year on Elya's conference call. See also this article for a similar scientific article that shows that the more distance we put between us and the addictive behavior, the less hold it has over the neuron pathways that the addiction carved into our minds.

However, what Rav Shlachter holds is true too. There is some element of "control" in trying to achieve 90 days. We may be replacing the need for control in our addiction with the control of achieving 90 days. And normally, as we saw in yesterday's article, you can't fight control with control. But, for those who are not as strongly addicted, the issue of 'control' is not as poisonous for them. Many people can do fine with the 90 day approach, even though it doesn't address the core issues very deeply. It helps because it breaks the addictive pattern and forces us into a new way of living - since we have no choice but to fill the void we feel with something else. And this is often enough.

Rav Shlachter's approach, however, goes under "Therapy" - which is tool #13 in the handbook. His approach is indeed easier and healthier for an addict in the long-term,BUT - it requires a whole new way of thinking. That is why it requires therapy (which the 90 day approach doesn't). Everyone can understand the 90 day approach, while Rav Shlachter's approach requires the internalization of some very deep truths about control and trust... To get there often requires real therapy sessions, and this is appropriate for those who have tried tools #1-12 and haven't made the progress that they had hoped.

Those in our community who have gone to Rav Shlachter for help, are those who weren't succeeding with the more standard approaches (tools #1-12). And I believe that their lack of progress was really a blessing in disguise.. Ultimately, those who internalize the secrets that Rav Shlachter explains - and the secrets of the 12-Steps - which can only happen through hard work, time, meetings, sponsors, sessions, money, etc... will indeed come out with more growth over the long term than the guys for whom the 90 Day journey worked right off-the-bat.

However, if you are currently trying the 90-Day-Journey, don't despair! If it works for you, then it means your addiction was less deeply engrained in your subconscious. It means that your soul didn't need to travel as long and as painful a journey as others may have needed. (And there's no reason to play sicker than we really are just so that we get the stronger treatment).

I would just like to point out for those who are indeed on the 90-Day journey: Don't make the 90-Days the goal in itself. Rather, it is a time-frame where we take a break from the addictive pattern in order to LEARN how to reconnect with our real feelings - and with life, and where we are forced to learn to fill the void (that the addiction used to fill) with real living. However, if we simply white-knuckle it for 90 days but don't learn these things, we may find the 90-Days a lot less affective than we had hoped.

Some people on the forum wrote that they didn't fully understand the article, so I would like to see if I can try to sum up Rav Shlachter's approach in just a few short paragraphs to make it easier for everyone to understand. This approach holds some very basic truths that can help us all find freedom from the powerful hold of addiction, so it's important to explain it as well as we can. Here goes:

'Feeling secure & protected' is an existential need of every human being. We can get these feelings in only one of two ways: either through CONTROL or through TRUST. There are no other ways for a human being to feel secure. Basically all the evils of mankind boil down to the 'Control' side of the coin. Addictions are only one example of this. An addiction is a form of retaking control of ourselves and our environment when we feel insecure about the world around us. The addiction tells us, "Here is a place that I feel warm and safe, and where I can make myself feel good when I want".

'Control' plays a big role in basically every other evil as well, whether it's bad 'deeds', such as murder, theft, abuse, etc... or whether we are discussing bad emotions, such as pride, envy, anger, honor-seeking, etc... or even many emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression, fear, etc... If you think carefully into the mechanics of these three categories (deeds, emotions, disorders) you will discover that they basically all stem from the human need to "control" as a way to feel secure.

But what is there to do? After all, we are human and we need to feel secure! The answer lies on the other side of the coin. There is another way to feel secure and protected that does not require control at all, and that: TRUST. When we trust completely in Hashem - like a newborn baby trusts in its mother, we relinquish the need for control, and automatically all these bad personality traits and evils fall away. However, the only way to build trust, is by letting GO of control. Relinquishing control causes Trust to rush in and fill the vacuum, since a human cannot live without feelings of security and protection.

Perhaps that is why Chavakuk came and put the entire Torah on one Mitzva: "Tzadik be'Emunaso Yichyeh - A Righteous man will LIVE in his TRUST".

This theory is also the underlying secret of the 12-Step approach. When we admit powerlessness in step 1, we are essentially surrendering our control and admitting that our addiction was unable to give us the security and protection that we were trying to achieve. We relinquish the control completely to our 'Higher-power" (in steps 2 and 3) at which point, "Trust" is able to rush in and replace the control. This leads to the 'spiritual awakening' and freedom that the 12-Steps promises.


I posted these ideas (above) on the forum, but some of the members continued to claim that not "all" addicts today suffer from 'control' issues. Many addicts simply became addicted because they were unaware of the dangers of internet pornography, and they became hooked on it without necessarily having "control" issues.

Our response:

You are correct. Not every addict has serious "control" issues. As we discussed in Friday's e-mail, the 90-Day approach is Tool #8 of the GYE Handbook, and the therapy/control/trust approach is tool #13, for those who really have deeper issues. However, it is important to realize that all addicts still have some problem with 'control' at some level. After all, like we explained above, it is the need for 'control' that is the underlying cause of almost all evil in humanity, both in deed and on an emotional level too. If people could learn complete trust and have no need to feel in control at all - literally like new born babies, they would feel no envy, rage, anxiety, need for honor, etc...

I was being Mavir Sedra and tears came to my eyes when I read what Hashem told Yaakov after all of his suffering from Lavan (who many mefarshim say represents the Yetzer Hara): "I am the G-d of your fathers... I have seen all that Lavan has done to you... return to the land of your birth". And I thought to myself how Hashem sees the terrible destruction that the Yetzer Hara does to us, and He feels our pain. So what's His advice/solution for us? Return to the land of your birth. Go back to the complete dependence of a young child... "Zacharti Lach Chesed Ne'urayiach - I remember the kindness of your youth".

As the Zohar discusses the faces of the Keruvim being the faces of children and quotes the Pasuk "Hu Yinageihu Al Mus". The Zohar puts the words "Al Mus" together as "Almus - youth". Just as a person can't get angry at an innocent child who is dependant on him, so too, Kaviyachol, Hashem can't get angry at the Yidden (when they trust in Him completely with the innocence of a child).


A beautiful quote from Dov once about "youth":

I imagine that Hashem looks at us like I sometimes look at my three-year-old. I think, boy, I'll miss the pitter-patter slapping of her feet in a year Iy"h when she starts walking more "normally" instead of excitedly rushing everywhere! The way her mop of hair flops up and down as she runs down the hall. The way she doesn't really know (or care) what the heck is "really going on" because she is all wrapped up in whatever's right in front of her; it's the most important thing in the world, of course! Usually it is a doll with lots of hopelessly tangled hair, or something. Then she'll drop it on the floor and go on to the next thing... She trusts her parents implicitly and totally - there is no room for any other provider of her needs. No room for fear of the future nor for regret about the past. As most kids do, she quickly accepts things exactly as they are and figures out how to have fun with it because, guess what? There's nothing else to have fun with but reality, is there? I look at her her and think, "My, how cute and sweet!" I feel certain that Hashem sees us that way, especially in early recovery when just getting through the day often requires simple, single-minded focus on the next right step.

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