In my last column on finding meaning in life, I ended on the idea that “everything matters.” Well, one of those things is resilience. Resilience may be the key to a meaningful life. Of course, being resilient in the face of destructive emotions doesn’t just happen. It requires certain basic spiritual psychological skills. Here is one of those skills that can change your life.
Think of the person trying to figure out how to live life well is you, your “A” self. Every now and then, some other voice pops up, takes over the conversation, creates havoc and mayhem, and then recedes. When some counselee tells me the woeful narrative of the last conversation gone wrong, and I think they are ready, I say, “Who was that talking?”
“I was talking,” they mistakenly inform me. “No, you are talking to me now. Who was talking to your wife then?” They think hard. I offer guidance. “You said things that you know aren’t right and that you don’t really believe, yes?”
Said person starts to remember the litany of the four C’s — criticizing, complaining, condemning (including insults) and the escalating conflict. Maybe they now try to rationalize, make excuses, blame others for their words, but inevitably, if I am working with a person without a disorder, they take responsibility. Then they remember that they promised me to fulfill the duty of not expressing anger (you can have it, just don’t hose down other people with it) and not engaging in the four C’s mentioned above. They are bewildered.
Here it is: Right alongside your “A” self (the one reading these words) is a “B” self, waiting for the right time to assert himself (or herself). I ask my person to fully sink into the voice of the B self. Don’t edit, don’t censor, don’t defend him — just let him talk. What happens next is astonishing. After my person gets the hang of it, the B self spews.
“My wife is a phony. Stingy, obsessed with appearances. No real person in there. Never loved me because she doesn’t know how to love.” On and on.
The fellow in front of me is stricken. I ask him to ask the B self what he wants. (The B self loves to talk when given the chance.) “I don’t want to be married. I am sick of carrying around the load. No one is grateful. He (referring to the person front me) is too much of a coward to admit any of this, so now and then, I have to take over and defend him.” “What does the B self ultimately want?” I ask. “I just want to go and lie on the beach somewhere and not be bothered.” “Nihilism with a suntan,” I call it. I have heard virtually those same words more than once.
My good man in front of me says, “But I don’t really believe those things! What am I, schizophrenic?” First, he doesn’t mean “schizophrenic,” he means “multiple personality disorder” and second, “No.” You don’t have a disorder. You have what every honest and insightful human admits to having: a B self. The B self is an organized intelligence, with a past, present and future. Your B self lives with purpose. Your B self doesn’t like you. You think your B self is getting in your way? That’s exactly what the B self wants to do.
Your B self might be addicted to fear, envy or destructive desire. You, the A self, are busy keeping the B self tied down. Sometimes he gets out and actually begins to run things. The A self is shunted aside as your life comes apart. I’ve seen it.
Here is what you do: Talk to your B self, hear his story, what he wants and why. Get a sense of the ego states that he produces — every B self has favorite phrases and postures.
And now you say, “You can talk to me, not to them. You can never, ever speak to the wife or kids or anyone that way. I’ll try to get you some version of what you want, but from this moment on, you talk only to me.”
And then you make a practice of talking to him, and even take him to the beach now and then. Once you start owning your B self, that is the beginning of resilience.
Rabbi Mordecai Finley is the spiritual leader of Ohr HaTorah and professor of Jewish thought at the Academy for Jewish Religion California.