Your question demonstrates personal frustration at expectations that are placed upon you by others or even by yourself. You term them ‘obligations and emotional ties.’
Judaism does give clarity to obligations and relationships. This is a great strength of the Torah system. It gives precision where there may be doubt or ambiguity.
A major question one must ask one’s self concerns, what is the real obligation here?
Perhaps we are dealing with a matter of ‘kibud av va-eim’ (honor of parents) set out in the Decalogue (see Exodus, Chapter 20). This mitzvah (commandment) as understood in Rabbinic Judaism requires specific respectful actions or behaviors on a person’s part towards their parent, regardless of the parent’s ostensible worthiness. Nothing specific is required by the parent to merit the child’s gratitude. The very fact of relationship and the Torah commandment requires respectful behavior of the child towards the parent as defined by the Rabbis.
In fact, the seriousness of such a transgression ought to result in one not considering himself/herself to be ‘religious’ even if they observe other mitzvot in an exemplary fashion. It is often surprising to hear of those who in so many other ways are observant of the commandments, yet overlook what I like to call ‘one of the ‘big-gies’.
Of course, many relationships require Torah directed obligations and ‘emotional ties.’ These include parental obligations towards children, as well as husband and wife obligations. These are only the most familiar, but there are many more, e.g. employer and workers.
Regarding others, it is easy to judge them unfavorably, as you term it ‘narcissistic and self-serving.’ There is little doubt that this may be the case, causing great frustration.
This will not free you from obligations towards the person, if there is in fact a relationship of obligation, as I have described.
Jewish source material is replete with how to avoid judging others unfavorably. I should like to share a few major quotations with you. “Do not judge your fellow until you have been in their position.” “Judge all others favorably.” “A person notices the weaknesses of others but not their own.”
There is much more that can be written on this subject. Relationships are difficult. There is no denying it. Relationships can be toxic, requiring professional assistance at times.
Our goal is to approach the subject from the Jewish sources in order to stay rooted as much as possible in our rich tradition.
You may never be able to get through to the other person or change them, but you can do your best to put things into perspective and deal with matters from a Jewish point of view.
How do you fulfill a sense of obligation and emotional ties when a person is narcissistic and self-serving?
I want to first say that I agree with much of what Rabbi Shudnow wrote.It can indeed be hurtful, frustrating and painful to continue to engage in a relationship with someone whom you perceive is narcissistic and does not seem to be sensitive to your feelings.Depending on the relationship, this would clearly be a justification for limiting ties or for changing the way in which you interact with that individual.So while I agree with Rabbi Shudnow that we are obligated to avoid passing ultimate judgment on the character of others – that is for God alone to do -- we cannot dismiss the fact that such a person may hurt us over and over when we continue to put our trust in them.That being the case, it would be cruel to force someone to endure that again and again.Yet, for those closest to us there can be ways to support them and care for them that limits our emotional exposure.In other words, this is not an all or nothing scenario in which one must decide either to be in such a relationship or not.Depending on the specifics there is often an in-between that might allow one to fulfill one’s obligations to another without undue or overmuch suffering.If this question is about a parent/child or child/parent relationship there are certain obligations inherent in these that can rarely be abrogated, as Rabbi Shundow noted.A more focused and specific look at your particular situation in light of Jewish law would be required to help decide what the best path would be.
The questioner has asked an important, difficult and complex question which deserves a serious reply. However, because the questioner has provided very little information about the person and the situation, it is very difficult to provide an adequate response. I do not know if the person about whom we are speaking is a child, parent, sibling, spouse, friend, or business associate. Our obligations are different depending upon the relationship and the circumstances. In general,we have an obligation to treat all people with respect and dignity and we do not have an obligation to comply with unreasonable requests. We do not have an obligation to be in arelationship which is harmful to us. The best way for the questioner to get an appropriate answer is to seek out a local rabbi who can provide pastoral counseling based on knowledge of the facts. I am sure this answer will disappoint the questioner but it is the best I can do based on the information at hand.
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