I have a fundamental question about anger. What if someone has deep issues, scars, feelings of abandonment, anger, sadness, anxiety, etc., that are festering inside? What is the Torah perspective on how to deal with those psychological issues?

Using myself as an example: I have issues with my parents and the way they treated me, that affect the way I see the world. I have buttons that get pushed; I get really upset and angry sometimes. I know it’s not desirable and unhealthy. I’m trying so hard to change. I think about G‑d, trusting G‑d, believing every moment in life is an opportunity to grow, change, and transcend. I am trying to develop my faith that He has set up this life for me, difficult and easy things, exactly for me for the best, and that all my trials and tribulations are for growth and positive change.

But yet, my buttons still get pushed, and I have unresolved frustration, anger, resentment . . .

Any words of wisdom?


Took me some time to think about this one. The issue of repression vs. expression is not an easy one.

On issues such as this, I always go back to a classic work, the Tanya, by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. He wrote this over a hundred years before Freud has his epiphany, yet he precipitated many of Freud’s most original ideas. Freud was interested in helping people live productively within society, whereas R’ Schneur Zalman had more lofty goals—that a person should have a sense of the spiritual and the divine. Nevertheless, his advice concerning repression stands firmly with two feet on the ground.

In chapter 28 of Tanya you’ll find a loaded line about dealing with disturbing thoughts: “Don’t be a fool to try to find the root of these thoughts and elevate them. This is only for tzaddikim (enlightened souls). But for the regular person, how can he raise these thoughts upward when he himself is tied below?”

In modern parlance, this is called “pulling yourself up by your own hairs.” Doesn’t get you too far.

Then there’s denial. Denial doesn’t mean you deny that you are having these thoughts. Denial is when you are angered that such a thought has the audacity to appear on your conscious radar screen. Or paralyzed with shame and guilt. Such a reaction, writes R’ Schneur Zalman, is a symptom of an overblown ego. “Such a person,” he writes, “does not recognize his place.” He believes that he should be pure and righteous—and to such people, thoughts such as these would never arise. So why are they falling into his brain?

Rather, he writes, a balanced person recognizes that these thoughts are natural for a human being living on planet Earth. So he ignores the thought and gets on with life. At the appropriate time, he’ll find a way to improve himself. But he won’t fall into the trap of fighting with the shadows of his own thoughts.

We all have within us our share of hungry animals: wild beasts that tear and devour their prey, donkeys that refuse to budge from their place, mad dogs who bark at any passerby, and monkeys just acting silly. Yes, we need to tame them. But don’t try to train your dog while he’s barking. At that point, you just want to shut him up and sit him still.

When and how do you deal with those little nasties? As you go through life, the opportunities arise.

When you live with others, you learn how to make space and share. You may discover a nasty rhinoceros inside who isn’t so thrilled about sharing space. You recognize him and shoo him away.

When you raise your own children, you recognize in your own behaviors and reactions the patterns that were fostered by painful experiences as a child. Now it’s time to change—and now you have the power to change. You catch those reactions, acknowledge, “Yes, this is who I am. But I don’t have to stay that way.” And you do things right.

Similarly with the other challenges of life: career, friendships, marriage, health—when an issue becomes a real obstacle to progress, that’s when you know it’s time to tackle it.

How do you tackle it? Simply by doing things right. Forget the searching into your past. Forget the self-analysis. That’s more of that futile “picking yourself up by your hairs.” Just do things right, and all of it will be fixed—whether you got to the bottom of the problem or not.

The question still remains: At the end of the day, we are still telling you to bootstrap your own life. How can a person be expected to climb upward on the slippery surface of life without a helping hand extending from someone who has already made it?

The answer is that he can’t. That’s why each one of us needs a teacher and guide. That’s why chassidim have a Rebbe—they bond with a tzaddik who stands firmly at the top of the precipice of life with a strong rope to pull others up. And even then, they need also a more immediate teacher, someone closer to their personal situation to guide them step by step. And even then, we all rely on good friends with whom we can confide and who we can trust to let us know when we are messing up—with love and with real concern.

Find a single path. Find a Rebbe, a true tzaddik who teaches this path. Find a teacher. And find good friends.

Then just move ahead, step by step, up the hill. Don’t look down, back to the depths from which you came—except to know that “yes, it’s a great challenge, and look what I have accomplished to move this far ahead.”