FreePsychArticles#15 AZAMRA: Seeing The Good
Rebbe Nachman of Breslav taught:
“Know! One must judge every person favorably. Even if someone is a complete sinner, one must seek to discover within him some good point which redeems him from being totally wicked. Through finding some modicum of good in a person and judging him favorably, one actually confers merit upon that person and can bring him to repentance.”
Seeing the good, Azamra, is a central teaching with unlimited applications. This is especially true in the field of psychiatry and mental health. Intrinsic to this is our ability to alter our beliefs about any given situation and see the good in our patients.
In his treatise Azamra that discusses the above quote, Rebbe Nachman made reference to sadness and depression. If we find ourselves depressed, feeling down or self-critical he implores us to ‘do more’ by becoming more active in our outward life. We have power and control over our feelings by consciously applying this principle to ourselves. When dealing with others we are able to turn a negative moment around whenever we take the initiative to alter our own beliefs. The same is true when dealing with our own suffering. In depression the Rebbe implores us to search for the good within while increase our connections with the outside world. He explains the sadness often comes from feeling we’re not good enough or aren’t doing enough. Pick any good act (mitzvah) we’ve performed and search for its motivation. Perhaps we will arrive at something disturbing. We were showing off or trying to prove something and now see it was performed out of arrogance. Keep looking and penetrate deeper. We will inevitably discover a core of decency and goodness. This is a true connection with G-d and His Holy Torah. This can relieve the pangs of suffering and desperation as we discover our connection to the glowing sparks of Goodness.
The field of psychiatry tends to amplify the need and utility of Azamra. In my work I tend to meet with people in the extreme moments of their lives. It should be no surprise those having the most difficulty living and adjusting to the social environment around them find themselves seeking help from psychiatrists. As is often the case mental health patients get marginalized from the average groups in society. When this occurs, with the reduction of social involvement, symptoms or character traits can become more pronounced. Becoming stigmatized can further reinforce patterns of behavior away from social norms. Normal reactions of defense can backfire and further isolate mental health patients. In fact, psychiatrists were called “alienists” prior to the last 100-200 years, since it was their job to separate or isolate many patients.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines “alienation” as in this sense as “mental alienation; withdrawal, loss, or derangement of mental faculties; insanity.” The insane were thought estranged (alienated) from their normal faculties. The root of “alienist” is the Latin “alienare,” to make strange. The word “alienist” came across the Channel to England from France where “aliene” meant insane and an “alieniste” was one who cared for the mentally ill: a psychiatrist.
Many of the people I meet for consultation, especially at the beginning are difficult and challenging. Certainly this is not always the case and may even be a minority, but when I do encounter this I am called to execise Azamra. Also during the course of treatment patients will present painful aspects of themselves requiring balanced and fair attention. I have found one of the most valuable “tools” in treating patients and returning them to function is “Azamra.” To search and discover “chinks of light” in the field of difficult, aggressive or unhappy people serves as the foundation of helping and forming constructive therapeutic relationships. If I am able to find positive traits and respond to them eventually the patient comes to identify them within himself. Often this process brings about a marked change in how one sees himself.
Positive traits and behaviors can be found even in the most disturbed patients. Sometimes it is difficult and requires actively searching since these good qualities are hidden or forgotten. The patient may be unaware of their own goodness or deny it. Some patients excel in expressing negative or bad traits and have developed what Dr. Low calls the “passion of self-distrust.” Yet the discovery or recognition of some innate goodness is like finding a lost object. It can serve as a focus to begin anew, and an organizing principle for rehabilitation.
Azamra operates in all areas of human relations. It is simple but not always easy to apply. This is especially true when one feels attacked or threatened. The natural tendency is to become defensive or to counterattack. It may be necessary to take defensive maneuvers and avoid going head to head with conflicts as they are presented by others, or even oneself. This is particularly difficult the so-called “truth” of one’s position seems so self-evident and indisputable. And yet, often we can win the battle while losing the war. Our own truth or the truth of the patient can be self-destructive in spite of it’s apparent validity.
For this reason the Torah consistently refers to truth, or EMES, in the same breath as kindness or CHESED. Chesed v’Emes points to another level of truth. In fact, in human life and existence you can’t have one without the other. If there is a truth about something, as indisputable as it may be, without lovingkindness it ceases to be truth. If one comes to certain “true” conclusions or opinions based on truth that are used to inflict harm on one, “truth” loses it’s meaning.
This enables us to see through all the “truths” we encounter baring witness to negative, harsh and sometimes cruel qualities to find a spark of goodness in oneself or others. In this sense Goodness equals the Ultimate Truth.
Can we really tap into G-d’s Kindness by simply seeing the good in ourselves or others? Of course. The coarse realities of destructive people will always attempt to take center stage. This is the way of evil. It always tries to trick us into believing its as real as goodness. Without our attention it has no strength or capacity to do anything. We are not convinced. Azamra!
Gershon Freedman, M.D.