Dear Therapist:

We have a wonderful daughter who is back from seminary, happily working and doing very well BH, but here is the concern...

While my daughter was in high school she started taking on more and more chumras and started becoming more and more frum and shtark. It affected her relationship with her friends, how she dressed, what she ate, (or didn't eat), her sleep, her davening, her ability and confidence in herself when making decisions, what she did in her "spare time," etc. She was also very emotional from the pressure she put on herself to do so much in such a perfect way. Some of her teachers expressed concern, while others praised her, wishing all their students would be like our daughter. At home, also I was confused; to me some things she was doing were of concern, but I kept thinking that I'd rather her be like she was, then going in the other direction, C"V.

When she went to seminary this past year, we were strongly advised that she see a therapist. Nothing major, nothing to be concerned about, probably a few visits to help her...These weekly visits lasted for the whole year, and there was even talk that it may be helpful for her to continue seeing someone back at home. In the end, it was mutually decided by the therapist and our daughter that she could manage back at home without therapy.

Our daughter had an amazing year at seminary. She made a lot of friends and speaks to them regularly. Her eating is normal, she dresses nicely, she's more relaxed and B'Simcha, and knows how to say "no" when asked to do a chessed, or babysitting job that she really can't fit in, etc. She still davens very long and is makpid to learn and to do her mitzvos with the utmost kavana, and to not waste any time, (like we all should be doing), but it's not with the same pressure that it was before she went to seminary.

My question is that if someone made a comment, "What's wrong with...Is she OCD?" How do we know if our daughter should in fact still be seeing a therapist, or if she's just a frum, shtark girl keeping the mitzvos the way HaShem wants them to be done?

Thank you very much for your help and advice.



Although your question is not about your daughter’s high school years and her past, your concern obviously takes this into account. If your daughter had consistently acted the way that she currently acts (through high school, seminary, and until today), I wonder if others’ comments would affect you in the same way. I wonder, as well, whether these people would even be making these comments. It’s difficult to separate past concerns from present ones, but it’s important to view the current circumstances without being clouded by fears better left in the past.

That being said, nothing exists in a vacuum. Though you feel that your daughter is in a good place, it can be difficult to ascertain the effects of her past feelings and apparent compulsions. It’s possible that she has worked through her past problematic feelings, leading to a clear and focused understanding of appropriate feelings, thoughts, and actions. It’s also possible that vestiges of her past feelings remain. Any such vestiges may slowly dissipate over time—or they may be triggered currently or in the future.

Teenage years are often filled with confusion, uncertainty, and angst. These are the years in which we begin to develop a sense of self independent from the expectations and guidance of our parents. This can manifest in many ways, including an overly strong emphasis on one particular perceived aspect of personality. While some teenagers develop a sense of self based on various factors (school, religion, social life, sports, etc.), others identify one particular “quality” on which to focus. This can lead to both obsessiveness and the neglect of other areas. As we move into adulthood, our perspectives and emotional reactions often change, allowing us to develop more sophisticated senses of self.

Your description of your daughter’s high school experience is indicative of her having hyperfocused on religion as her main form of self-definition and self-expression. If I were responding to your question at that time in her life, I would have recommended that she see a therapist to help her to form a more intrinsically-based—or at least broad—sense of self, leading to happiness, better relationships, and a more healthy outlook.

It seems as if these things have largely occurred. Your daughter appears happy, relaxed, social, and generally better balanced. I don’t know what she worked on in therapy and on her own. I certainly don’t know how she feels and what may bother her. If your concerns are solely based on your daughter’s past actions, try to separate the past from the present, focusing on her current, ostensibly more mature expression of self.

You seem to believe that your daughter is happy and well-adjusted. You’re nonetheless allowing comments from people who are likely not nearly as close to her to muddle your thinking, making you second-guess your beliefs. Often, the inability to put your finger on your fears makes them loom larger than reality. Clarity with regard to your fears can help to assuage them. If you feel comfortable discussing your concerns with your daughter—and your relationship is such that she would be comfortable opening up to you—she may be able to put your concerns to rest.

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317


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