Dear Dr. Yael,
I was wondering if you could help me resolve a certain issue.
I am a frum teenage girl who grew up in a Bais Yaakov setting, but certain things in my life are confusing and, I feel, unsettled, and this disturbs me to no end. You see, my teachers are constantly trying to inspire us, and raise us, and make us find value in life and all that. My teachers, however, are in the clouds. They – most of them at least – are not down to earth and cannot relate to confused kids like myself, who don’t show their confusion on the outside, but keep it pent up. Which is why, every time I feel myself being inspired, it all just plummets back down because I can’t apply anything. I know this column is not for rabbinical consultation, but what I want to ask is this – is there such a thing as OCD in Judaism? Because I feel like I might have it.
For instance, I daven Mincha every day. My shemoneh esrei, sadly, takes about three minutes – if I’m lucky. I have no concentration. But, I daven. Why? I don’t know. I have to. I can’t just not. It’s as if I don’t daven, something bad will happen. Now I don’t think G-d appreciates my davening, which I am ashamed of. But my teachers always say, “mitoch shelo lishma, bah lishma” – From doing something, even with no kavanah, eventually it will turn into something deeper. So many of the things I do in life, I feel that I have to do them, as if some inner force is forcing me to. If I don’t complete the task, I feel like something’s missing, and I can’t go on. Is there a way to control this feeling, so that it will become more of a natural thing, and not a forced, oppressing thing? If you can help me, I’d appreciate it.
Just another one of those teens
I think that what you are going through is normal for the teenage years. Although not all teenagers go through this, this is part of the stage of being a confused teenager. OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder] does exist within the Jewish population, but it does not sound like you have OCD. People who have OCD may manifest their illness as being extra “frum,” but really they have obsessive thoughts and they try to get rid of them by carrying out compulsive acts. For example, one may have OCD with kashrus and check eggs over and over and be obsessed that there may be a blood spot in the eggs. Or one may be obsessive in their davening by repeating words over numerous times since they feel that they did not say them properly. If this is carried to an extreme as I described, this can be OCD.
What you are describing sounds more like a confused feeling, but I will ask you some questions to help you ascertain if you need professional help. Do you have anxiety around any of your religious practices? If you forget to daven, do you berate yourself unhealthily? Do you feel compelled to daven daily or is it more of an inner connection pushing you to daven even though you don’t feel the connection emotionally? If you’re having a lot of anxiety that is interfering with your ability to function or you berate yourself in an unhealthy manner, it would be prudent to seek professional help. In the meantime, try to fight the anxious and/or negative thoughts by replacing them with positive thoughts (i.e., instead of berating yourself about frumkeit issues, try your best and then celebrate that you did your best in any given situation and that you can always work on improving yourself for the next time).
On the other hand, if you don’t feel anxious and you’re not being negative with yourself to an extreme, it is possible that these feelings are just an inner struggle. Perhaps you really want to be frum, but it is hard for you right now because you don’t feel it as much as you want to, or as much as you feel that you have to. You may be feeling confused because your “heart isn’t in it.” If this is the case, I will try and answer you to the best of my ability. I believe that everyone has to have their own special connection to Hashem and in this way they will learn to love to do the mitzvos because that is your connection to Hashem. If one has not found that connection yet, then it may be harder to fulfill the mitzvos because he/she is doing them by rote. Thus, it may be helpful for you to find a rabbi or a teacher that you respect and you think can help you. The rabbi or teacher may be able to help you find a way to make your connection with Hashem, so that it will be more natural for you to do the mitzvos.
I wish you hatzlocha in your desire to establish a more personal connection with Hashem and hope that this answer clarifies for you what is happening for you emotionally.