Rabbi Azriel Hauptman
“Whatever circumstances one may be in, whether poor or rich, healthy or sick, there is no person who cannot see wonders and numerous benefits in his situation. For the rich and healthy man is already indebted to Hashem for his wealth and health. The poor man is indebted to Him that even in his poverty, He provides sustenance through miracles and wonders, not leaving him to die of hunger. The sick man is indebted to Hashem for He strengthens him in the weight of his illness or injuries, and does not leave him to descend to the grave. Likewise, for all similar conditions, there is not a single person who will not find himself indebted to his Creator.”
These are the words of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto, the Ramchal, in his famous work, the Mesilas Yesharim (Chapter 8). The Ramchal is definitely one who can speak from experience, as his life was full of setbacks and tragedies. He was falsely accused of being a follower of Shabesai Tzvi, most of his manuscripts were burned by his enemies, and was chased out of many communities. In spite of all of this, he clearly maintained a cheerful disposition to the degree that in his magnum opus he declared that every person’s heart should be filled with gratitude for all of the goodness showered on him from Hashem, no matter the circumstances that life has put in his way.
If psychotherapy had the ability to reframe your outlook on life to match that of the Ramchal’s, then you will have solved the vast majority of emotional suffering. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Nevertheless, one of the goals of therapy is to move you along in that direction as much as possible, although the methods used to get there vary greatly in the various modalities.
Many people enter therapy with the goal of learning how to create change in their family, friends, or even their boss. The only person you can really change is yourself. When you change your beliefs, behaviors, and reactions, you might ultimately find that those around you change as well, but that is the icing on the cake and is not always achievable. Hence, the word “psychotherapy” means healing of the soul, as this is the ultimate change that therapy aims to achieve.
There is one specific therapeutic modality that deals directly with one’s negative thoughts, and that is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The process of correcting those thoughts is known as cognitive restructuring. CBT focuses on cognitive distortions such as all-or-nothing thinking (“If I cheated on my diet even once, then I have zero self-control”), overgeneralizations (“All people are selfish”), filtering (such as only remembering the negative feedback and not the positive), emotional reasoning (“I feel unloved, so I must be unlovable”), and the list goes on. The goal of cognitive restructuring is to identify these thoughts and to learn how to question them and to ultimately correct them. The result being that these depressing thoughts will no longer be so tormenting.
Other therapeutic modalities question the wisdom of going directly to the maladaptive thoughts and ignoring the psychological underpinnings of those thoughts and feelings. For example, if one’s parents were neglectful and abusive, one may very well feel unlovable even if he or she fully recognizes the illogical nature of those thoughts. Deeper work would be needed to heal those early wounds.
The bottom line is that our reality is viewed through the lens of our minds and souls. A therapist who can help you make changes in your mind and soul is in essence helping you create for yourself a new reality without changing any of the objective facts that you face on a daily basis.
The age-old question if the glass is half empty or half full might not really apply to a situation where your glass is mostly empty. However, the Ramchal might tell you that you just need a smaller glass.