How the Erev Rav and personality disorders are connected
A little while back, I got a tweet from someone (who knew people actually read those things…) criticizing me for linking ‘mental illness’ to the Erev Rav.
As it was a one line tweet, there wasn’t a lot of detail, but I still wanted to devote a post to responding to the criticism, because like it not, mental illness and the Erev Rav ARE inextricably linked.
This is probably not going to be an easy post to read for many people, and I apologise in advance for that.
In order to explain how mental illness and the Erev Rav are linked, I have to explain how I got onto this whole subject in the first place.
HOW I GOT INTO THE SUBJECT OF RESEARCHING THE EREV RAV
Around five years’ ago, I suddenly realized that so many of the very puzzling, difficult, upsetting and frankly bizarre behaviors, relationships and situations I was experiencing at that time were because many of the people I knew had undiagnosed and unacknowledged personality disorders, and in particular, Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
NPD manifests itself in two key (and superficially opposite) fashions:
- Smothering, bullying and controlling
- Uninterested, ‘absent’ and neglectful
There’s SO much stuff out there in the secular world about NPD. Here’s a rough round-up of most of the main points:
PEOPLE WITH NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER:
- Can’t accept that they are anything except 100% perfect
- Can’t empathise with other people, or see another person’s point of view – which enables them to mistreat others in a very cruel fashion, which they feel is completely justified ‘from their point of view’.
- Project their own bad character traits on to other people, which means they mercilessly criticize others for the same things they themselves are doing (and denying).
- Have a superiority complex and are obsessed with keeping up appearances at all costs.
- Have very disturbing gossiping habits, manipulate others and make serious trouble between people wherever they go.
- Are in a barely-contained state of permanent rage and anger – but will deny they are angry.
- Act very vindictively, spitefully. They are unable to forgive anyone they feel has slighted them, particularly by suggesting they are anything less than perfect.
- Are incredibly selfish and self-absorbed.
- Relate to the world in a very superficial, materialistic way. They can’t ‘relate’ to others (or themselves) in an authentic way. They aren’t interested in more spiritual ideas and concepts.
I could go on, but you get the idea. The descriptions of NPD and the other ‘Cluster B’ personality disorders fit what I was experiencing to a tee. But I knew even back then that the only truth is Torah.
So then I started researching, did the Torah describe any phenomenon that would dove-tail with the secular descriptions of how people behave and treat other people when they have a ‘Cluster B’ personality disorder?
THE EREV RAV CONNECTION
Very quickly, Hashem sent me a whole bunch of information about the Erev Rav – and that’s when things got really intense, because the typical Erev Traits as set out by our Sages, and the typical traits you find in Cluster B personality disorders fit like a hand in a glove.
God appeared to be using personality disorders, and particularly narcissism, to hide the reality of the Erev Rav people in our lives, right under our noses.
But the question haunted me for three years: Can Erev Rav / personality disordered people change? Can they make teshuva? Can they be fixed?
Most of the Jewish sources on the subject said no.
The most current secular thinking (as expressed in the DSM) also said ‘no’ – when people have a Cluster B personality disorder, and especially narcissism, there is nothing you can do to help them to change that.
The main problem is that when someone refuses to acknowledge they are a flawed human being, and strives to maintain the illusion of their own perfection and infallibility, they won’t acknowledge any of the things they are doing wrong, or make any effort to try to fix them.
To put it another way: as long as someone clings to the notion they are only ever perfect and never make any mistakes, they stay a mentally-ill narcissist.
And that’s where I got stuck for three long years, until I read a discourse that Rav Berland gave in 2000, that completely transformed the whole picture and gave me hope for the first time that the Erev Rav / personality disordered people in our midst can change and can make teshuva, if they really want to.
I explain what Rav Berland said, and a whole bunch of other stuff about how to actually go about fixing these Erev Rav traits, in much more detail in the book, ‘Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav’. But I want to end this post on an ‘up’ note, and tie everything back together with my Tweeter’s original criticism of the book.
PERSONALITY DISORDERS ARE CAUSED BY TRAUMA, AND CAN BE REVERSED
Over the last two years, I’ve learned a great deal about psychiatric thought, trauma and the true causes of serious mental illnesses including personality disorders and narcissism. (Yes, I do plan on writing it all up into yet another book, and I even have a working title for it: Animal or angel? The real roots of mental illness and how to cure it.)
The upshot is this: personality disorders are a false, pseudo-scientific construct created by a ‘materialistic’ psychiatric industry that fails to put people’s soul into the picture. The main problems underpinning mental illnesses like personality disorders come down to the same main problems underpinning Erev Rav character traits, namely:
- People are completely disconnected from God, their souls and the more spiritual aspects of life.
- Without a strong connection to God, they are consumed by animalistic impulses and governed by bad middot that cause them to act in a personality disordered / Erev Rav type way.
- Physiologically, personality disorders are caused by trauma, and particularly the types of trauma that come from being emotionally abused and / or neglected in childhood.
- The single best way to strengthen the ‘good’, mature part of the brain so that it can stand up to the traumatized, primitive, ‘animalistic’ part of the brain is via regular prayer and hitbodedut.
- It’s about TRAITS not about LABELS. Each bad character trait we eliminate brings us closer to true emotional and spiritual health, and takes us further away from acting like a mentally ill, personality-disordered Erev Rav.
- Everybody occasionally acts like an Erev Rav. But with enough prayer, honesty and emuna, every single negative character trait can be permanently uprooted and rectified.
To sum up, personality disorders are a secular description of Erev Rav behaviors and traits.
The two are fundamentally linked, because they are describing the same phenomena, albeit one in ‘materialistic’ secular terms, and the other in Torah terms.
But the Torah’s truth, as expounded by Rav Berland, is that the Erev Rav people in our midst CAN be fixed, and sooner or later most of them will be (barring the ones who cause terrible strife and machloket amongst Jews).
But in the meantime, we still need to recognize what we’re dealing with when we come up against those difficult, arrogant, brazen and abusive characters we all unfortunately know, and to stop making excuses for what’s going on around us.
There are lots of personality disordered people in our midst. There are lots of Jewish narcissists. That’s the reality, and the Torah also told us that before Moshiach comes, the Erev Rav would return in force in order to finally be rectified. The Jewish people have been through so much trauma, I guess it couldn’t really be any other way at this stage of the game.
Calling a spade a spade and correctly identifying the emotional and spiritual problems in our midst is the first step towards really rectifying them.
Moshiach will help us to finish this job when he finally shows up, but in the meantime, we have to start that process and recognize that a lot of mental illnesses, especially personality disorders, and Erev Rav traits are essentially just two sides of the same coin.
But the key point to remember is that these mentally-ill / Erev Rav type behaviors CAN BE FIXED, and are primarily cured by working on our emuna, and making God a real and regular force in our lives.
As soon as a person says sorry, as soon as they admit they aren’t perfect, they start the long, difficult journey of fixing their souls and returning to God.