Greg Tepper
Greg Tepper

Removing psychiatric shame by looking to tradition

There is an idea in Judaism that when we learn the teachings of a Tzaddik, a righteous teacher, who has died, his lips move in the grave.

Speaking about the issues of our soul with moving lips and bringing them to the world in search for relief and help without shame is an idea that is supported by Jewish tradition.

People with various psychiatric diagnoses, from depression and suicidal thought to mania and hypersexualization and all that may lay between often feel a deep sense of shame regarding our thoughts, feelings and actions and do not speak with others regarding their challenges.

We are taught by society to feel shame about our psychiatric conditions. But we cannot change society. We can, however, learn to see verbalizing our experiences and doing so without shame as healthy and an idea sourced in Judaism.

If we look to Jewish faith we can find ideas that ease the burden of shame and even destroy it, so that we can be more open with our challenges, receive more support and not feel isolated.

The removal of shame is a two way street, requiring love on the part of the listener and a sense of security on the part of the person speaking. We say in our daily prayers that we must love our neighbors as ourselves. Nowhere are we told to judge our neighbor as ourselves.

If people know that they are secure in speaking with someone and that they can do so safely and without judgment then they will be more willing to speak.

The person suffering suicidal ideation or depression or shame after a hypersexual episode won’t fear judgment when reaching out to a friend or loved one, rabbi or doctor, and hopefully, with tradition in mind, the person listening won’t judge when the person suffering opens up.

But sometimes we feel verbalizing our deepest feelings with someone, from a friend to a rabbi to a mental health professional, does not feel natural.

Here we can look to tradition and see that Judaism encourages us to verbalize our deepest thoughts and prayers to God in prayer and intimate conversation, and if we can be secure in doing so with the Almighty, surely we can apply that feeling of security in speaking with someone with whom we feel close and safe.

Verbalization of our thoughts and feelings is an idea that repeats itself in different ways in Judaism.

Although there is a time and place for silent reflection and discourse with God, there is an emphasis on the verbalization of feelings and desires with moving lips in prayer. There is good in the vocalization of that which is in our hearts and minds.

We see this idea in the Chasidut of Rebbie Nachman and his practice of Hitbodedut, a one-on-one time with the Creator of the universe.

Whether out in the forest, in a desert or alone on one’s porch, Rebbie Nachman puts incredible value in speaking vocally with God, crying to Him, screaming out for help, truly connecting with him.

Again, if we can be secure in doing so with God, all the more so with one who we know truly loves or cares for us and is trusted, and will not judge us.

Bringing our most inner selves to vocalization has value. This we can learn from tradition.

For if the lips of the Tzaddik move in the grave, then verbalization must truly be good.

We simply need to know that the person listening is there for our good, not to judge, and we must never feel shame in being open about who we are.

About the Author
Greg Tepper made aliyah in 1997. He was a lone soldier in a combat unit and completed 12 years of reserve duty. In his 30s he suffered from PTSD resulting from terror attacks in the Second Intifada and Bituach Leumi refused assistance claiming he was trying to scam the state for money. After a year of flashbacks, he became schizoaffective. He has been described as a "rich schizophrenic" meaning he might have tens of thousands of visions and voices daily and has been through several hospitalizations. Greg struggles to survive without family and just-below-poverty-level state disability benefits. Despite the numerous ways he has seen the state fail him and other wounded like him he remains a Zionist. He hopes to one day return to live in Jerusalem, which he was forced to leave due to cost.
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