Before I became frum I didn’t really have a concept of boundaries between private and public information. After I started becoming involved in the Orthodox community, I picked up on the reality that some things were just, well, not discussed.
I found this decrease of TMI in my life very refreshing, actually. Since the frum community tends to be pretty buttoned-up and more reserved about the kind of information which is publicly shared, I was no longer inundated with personal information from people I didn’t know so well, and I adjusted my own behavior accordingly.
But in my typical tendency to give it my all, so to speak, I veered to the other extreme of not even opening up to good friends or mentors about basic parts of my life or, more problematically, about actual difficulties.
When I did open up, it wasn’t so much with intention as it was something spilling out of me because I was keeping it bottled up, and any discussion of difficulties was done with a deep sense of guilt and failure (SUPER healthy).
As much as I do love this more discreet mindset, that’s the obvious downside, the feeling like you have to keep your problems all bottled up because of the feeling that “no one can know” and the ever ominous idea of troubles with shidduchim.
So over the years I’ve found what works for me, which is having a handful of friends and mentors (like a rabbi, rebbetzin, wise person etc.) who I can turn to when I’ve got a question or have a difficult situation.
Also, it’s important to review the laws of speech to make sure I’m not just gossiping, that I’m using my communication for good and not just to rehash any negative feelings. This is a constant challenge for me, to assess and be honest with myself about why I need to talk, about what I’m saying and to whom.
The laws of speech, of not gossiping, of giving people the benefit of the doubt, of treating others as you would like to be treated, those are some of my favorite laws in Judaism, but they can also be some of the most challenging.
I don’t know about you, but when someone is doing something that hurts me (or my children), my tendency is to get angry and to fill up with righteous indignation. And to only look at the negative in the situation, to view myself as the “good guy” and the other party (or parties) as the “bad guy(s).”
But it’s not always that simple, and it’s also not always as simple as giving someone the benefit of the doubt. This is where having a mentor, someone with more life experience, with more Torah knowledge is so important for me.
Because there are nuances that I may not be aware of, there are times when we are not obligated to give the benefit of the doubt, times when we have to be honest with others about negative things.
And sharing difficulties, sharing the challenges we’ve had, that can be incredibly healing not only for the person sharing, but for anyone who can relate. So over the years I’ve come to see that it’s okay to not be all Pollyanna and kumbaya all the time.
Like many things, it’s a balance.