Sarah was at her wit’s end. Each day, after working a full-time job as a teacher’s aide – while her husband studied in kollel – she came home to another full-time job as a wife and mother. Compounding matters, her aging parents needed her assistance, so she tried to help them whenever possible. Sarah was chronically exhausted and pulled in many directions, never feeling like she did anything sufficiently. She felt alone and unable to speak about her feelings for fear of being considered ungrateful or a complainer.
When people talk about what they like about the Jewish Orthodox world, the answer is often something along the lines of “the sense of community.” The community seems to provide an antidote for how isolated life appears to be in the Western world. Families come together every Shabbat and Yom Tov (holidays), people know their neighbors, and the community regularly unites for celebrations.
However, beneath the surface, there are many within the communities, like Sarah, who feel deeply alone. Many believe they have to present themselves as having a perfect life in order to fit in and feel accepted. Behind closed doors, one may be fighting with their spouse, watching helplessly as their kids go wild, and feeling completely exhausted. If anyone asks, though, “Baruch Hashem (blessed be God), everything is fine.”
The Roots of Loneliness
As a therapist who serves clients in the yeshivish and frum (very religious) world, I frequently encounter people who report feeling overwhelmed and disconnected. As if that isn’t tough enough in itself, they often believe that they are the only ones feeling this way. Even if they can accept that there are others who deal with similar struggles, they are terrified to let others become aware of their situation, lest their community comes to view them as imperfect. Either way, the result is immense loneliness.
When we believe we are the only ones struggling with uncomfortable feelings and difficult situations or fear sharing these feelings with others, we inhibit ourselves from connecting with others. Seeking approval, we put on masks that prevent our true selves from being seen.
Yes, you might be mixing well enough socially. But if you cannot open up about how you really feel, you might as well be in an empty room.
If the person your friends know is not the real you, does the real you have true friends?
Chani leads a life many envy (or think they do). Her husband is a successful, young professional, who is known for giving large donations. While they seem to be a perfect couple – outwardly successful and often in the public eye – Chani often feels alone and unimportant in her relationship. She and her husband have grown apart over the course of their relatively brief marriage; their public persona and children are the only things holding them together. Chani fears this will get worse as they age but doesn’t know what to do about it.
Like Chani, countless women have confided in me that the gap between their public persona and their inner character was so large that they felt no one knew their true self.
Feeling Connected Again
In truth, we are all alone together. No one has the perfect life. If those around you seem to be perfect, you can bet that they too are erecting a facade.
For those struggling to escape from loneliness and shame, genuine connection is the refuah (cure). Don’t allow the flawed way in which a community may view you determine your reality. Reaching out and learning you are not alone is paramount to bettering your mental health and overall happiness. For some, this can be achieved through a teacher or mentor. Others may find therapy helpful. Whatever the method, the first step is to know that however alone you may feel, you are not alone. There are so many who feel exactly like you.