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Life and Death are in the Power of the Tongue

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Anat Gopstein’s new article in the women’s magazine Eshet:
Life and Death are in the Power of the Tongue
sychological Violence – The Manifestation of it, and Ways to Cope with it
“I’m to blame – Why did I make him mad?” she asked. “Why did I talk back to him? That’s what causes him to blow up on me. I’m always making him mad”, she accused herself of doing.
This was a fixed ritual: He would blame her, and she would automatically take upon herself the responsibility for his eruptions of rage. He was not physically violent with her, but the psychological violence was always there. This broke her into pieces; she felt like he was stabbing her with a knife in her heart. She just can’t with him, and she can’t without him, either. She so wants to go into therapy, but he refuses and she ends up frustrated, looking for a solution. She feels like she just can’t go on anymore. Thoughts of separating from him flood her. “If he were just willing to make a change”, she says in her heart. In the meantime, she takes care of herself so that she can cope better with the situation.
“Words are like the signature stamp of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, which he uses to seal the verdict for a person on Yom Kippur” (Chafetz Chaim). The power of speech is a powerful force. This constitutes the unique ability a person has to re-define reality. Thoughts and emotions exist side-by-side within the person; when they take on verbal form, they are no longer in the private domain, but in the public one; they draw a response of agreement or opposition, proof or rebuttal.
Language reflects thoughts and feelings, whatever is hidden in a person – and brings them above the surface. Language is a way of communicating with the other. Communication can be positive and accepting, and it can be alienating. It’s in our hands.
“Life and death are in the power of the tongue”, said our Sages. We are unaware of the power of a word and its destructive influence on the mind. It is liable to cause psychological scars.
Psychological violence can be found between two people who are close, between each member of a couple, and between parents and children. It comes to expression in destructive and degrading treatment that includes ridicule and derogatory expressions that burn the soul. It sabotages respect and self-worth and upsets self-confidence. It creates a situation where a person loses trust in himself and in his surroundings.
Psychological violence does not always come out of awareness and evil. We are not always aware of the damage caused to the other party.
So how do we deal with it? One of the most fundamental and basic things is the sincere sharing of our feelings and the implications for the home, the children and the psyche. When anger takes over – people lose the natural compassion inherent in us.
The question can be asked: What disconnects us from our natural state of compassion, leading us to act violently and exploitatively. Clearly, a person is known through his pocket, his cup and his anger. Sometimes we’re allowed to get angry; in anger, we express a natural reaction to injustice. Sometimes it’s important, but we should know how to express it correctly and proactively.
In the book “Orchot Tzadik” it is written: “And for the educated person it is proper for him to have the quality of mercy and forgiveness in him all the time.” The measure of mercy is one of the thirteen measures of G-d. Just as a person wants mercy when he needs it – so it is fitting for him to be merciful to others. “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Communication that brings people closer is the tool to properly cope with challenging situations. When we use communication that brings people together, we anchor in our psyche the feeling of compassion. This is an important muscle that needs to be trained.
We’ll close with a small tip: For a decade, I have a magical chavruta with my righteous son Amichai, on the book “Shmirat HaLashon (Guard Your Tongue)” by the Chafetz Chaim. We study a page a day, we never miss out. When he lived at home, then we were really together, and after he got married – we studied by phone. Beyond the fact that this is strengthening and uplifting, it also builds and grows the special bond with the children and contributes to close communication, which I have expounded upon in this column on its many virtues. I therefore recommend to you, too, dear readers, to adopt our custom. You will only benefit.