How our Psychological Makeup Influences our Relationship with Hashem | Chaim Moshe Steinmetz, LISW

It takes real work to develop and grow in our relationship with Hashem. While there are many factors involved, our individual psychological makeup plays a large role.

On an intellectual level, we may have it all worked out. We may understand the nuances of שכר ועונש. We may believe that Hashem loves us and even when theres an עונש it’s for our good. We have אמונה that Hashem runs the world and that there’s a reason for everything that happens, and that it is for our good. We like to think that we have it all worked out, and on an intellectual level, we do.Yet the warmth, comfort and sense of connection to Hashem that would be expected as a result is often absent from our hearts.

Our hearts may be closed, turned away, cold, cynical, sarcastic, angry, bitter, guilt ridden, afraid, sad, ashamed or indifferent. Why is that?

As young children our parents play a larger than life role. Parents act as a mirror to the child. A child defines himself, his value and identity through the interactions he has with his parents. Those interactions form his internal map of reality, how he perceives himself, the world and the way he relates to others in future relationships.

No parent is perfect. For example, if a parent constantly says I love you, but then is always furious at the kid for making a mistake and also gives dire consequences, what does the kid deduce about love? What does he deduce about the role and meaning of consequences?

1. I love you only if you do everything right.

2. If I misbehave, I’m not loved

3. I’m only lovable if I’m perfect.

4. If I mess up there will be dire consequences.

5. A consequence means I’m bad and and rejected.

The kid doesn’t think these things, he feels them and these feelings form his self image. Of course, this doesn’t represent the truth of how the parent feels, the parent loves the child regardless, but the child’s black and white thinking can’t comprehend it any differently.

This is just an example. The point is that the details of our relationship with our parents as children is our inner map to how we define ourselves, our worth and how we expect to be treated in future relationships.

When that kid grows older and learns about Hashem and how much Hashem loves him, that even when there’s an עונש it comes from love, he may believe it. However, everything he learns about Hashem and Yiddishkeit is understood and filtered through the lense of his own experiences. What does love mean? What does עונש mean? It means the love and the עונש of his experiences, the only definition that he can relate to.

That love means, if I behave, he loves me, if I misbehave, I’m rejected and bad! With 613 mitzvos, that definition of love leaves little hope. You’re bad and rejected. Its no wonder we don’t feel the way we believe.Yes, we believe in Hashem’s love, the problem is that we don’t know what love means. We see Hashem, Torah and mitzvos through the lense of our childhood wounds and perceptions.

To develop an intimate relationship with Hashem (or another human) we need to learn and experience a new type of love. A perfect love for imperfect people.

The path to finding and strengthening that love is different for every person. However, the first and most important step is to recognize and identify the 2 completely different perceptions of Hashem that we have inside of us. We have the lense of our childhood, the black and white perceptions and then we have our adult, more nuanced and real idea of Hashem. When we are unaware of these 2 perceptions, they get blended together and the result is we profess to believe one thing, but that belief never makes it to our hearts. The childhood perceptions and fears are what resides in our hearts.

A simple but effective way to begin separating the conflicting perceptions is as follows. Write down all the beliefs that you have about Hashem on a conscious, intellectual level (examples may be Loving, Forgiving, Powerful etc..). On the other side of the paper, write how you feel if you don’t conform to your standards in Ruchnius (examples may be afraid, angry, guilty, hated etc…). Do those 2 sides of your paper match up? Does it make sense to feel that way if you believe the things written on the first side of the paper? If not, the first side is your adult, developed beliefs, the second side is your childhood perceptions based on your experiences. Recognizing, differentiating, and then challenging the childhood perceptions has a very powerful healing effect, freeing you to nourish both your mind and heart with a real relationship with Hashem.


Chaim Moshe Steinmetz, LISW

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