As children, we seek proximity, closeness, to our parents or other caregivers to feel safe, secure, and comfortable in our environment and within ourselves. As adults, we also still need to feel safe, secure, and comfortable within and without. And even as adults, proximity to our loved ones helps us get there. Sometimes, we need to achieve inner comfort without proximity. How do we do that?
Research has shown that throughout our lives we build mental representations within us. These are internal images of comfort, safety, and connection that have been built by continuous experiential interactions with the people we trust who love us. They can be images of our parents, friends, spouse, or any loved one that we felt, “I can count on you to be there for me.” When we are seeking comfort and security, we have the ability to tap into those internal images and open an internal reservoir of comfort and connection. We accomplish a mentalized “proximity” that comforts us, similar to the child seeking the parent’s presence but without the other being physically present.
We know countless stories of people who endured through great challenges, trials, and tribulations beyond human capacity. When asked how they made it through, they acknowledge a superhuman strength they conjured up from the presence or often just the internal memorialized images of the people who loved them which held them up and kept them strong.
A Correlating Torah Insight:
The Torah describes how the Egyptian wife of Potifar was trying to constantly seduce Joseph into sleeping with her. After years away from his family, living in a foreign land, alone and destitute… what stopped him from accepting her offer? Rashi brings a medrash that at perhaps the most climatic moment of her offers, Joseph saw the image of his father. This medrash is often understood that his father’s image represented a morale standard that Joseph strived to adhere to, and that image brought him “back to his senses.”
However, in line with what we described above, perhaps the image of his father played a different role for Joseph. Perhaps Joseph knew all along the path of righteousness, and he knew this choice would lead to the opposite path. Maybe within the depths of his lonely destitute condition, he was losing hope. The strength to carry on a life of kedusha, sanctity, against the cultural norm and his natural drives and desires was becoming too heavy. It was becoming too hard to choose the path of righteousness in the midst of his lonely despairing circumstances. At that climatic moment of pain and struggle, he recalled the image of his father. We know from other medrashic sources that the bond between Joseph and his father, Jacob, was unique and profound. After years of suffering, the experience of that bond was still there deep within Joseph’s heart and soul. The image of his father conjured up all the emotions of love, warmth, and connection that Joseph grew up with. And perhaps it was through the memory of that deep bond which gave him the internal strength to choose righteously in that moment of intense trial and challenge.
All of us have relationships from our past and present that conjure up feelings of comfort and closeness. Those memories are more precious than gold. They are what give us strength through our life challenges, and they support us through our tough moments. Mental representations bring light to the dark spaces in our lives.
We have lots of opportunities to build those bonding experiences within us. And we need them. We’ve all got dark moments when we need to tap into our reservoir of light within. And it’s our experiences of love that shed the most light into those moments.
Take a moment to think about the precious people and the precious moments that you carry around with you. Then take a moment to think about the people who you are precious to and create precious moments for them. Now, start planning your next memorialized moments.
You can’t always plan those moments. Sometimes they just sneak up on you. But you can turn on more awareness, and you can set the stage for more of them. Whether it be setting up a coffee date with a loved one, making a phone call, planning a day trip, or a 2 week vacation, you can make those momentous memorable experiences happen.
Joshua Marder, M.A., Rabbi, LMFT, has studied and trained with some of the leading couples and family therapists of our generation. He offers counseling for couples and families, supervision for couples therapists, runs monthly one-day “retreats” for couples, and leads a monthly consultation group for therapists. To see more articles and videos from Josh, go to his website: www.builttobond.com.