Indecisive and Self-Doubting Teenager

Q: The oldest daughter in a family is often assumed to be very responsible and concerned about her younger siblings. This is not the case in our family; our 14-year-old is too self-absorbed to worry about her younger sisters and brothers.

She is very careful in making brachos and is sincere in her beliefs. She is concerned about “maris ayin” and often questions if she is doing the right thing.

Initially, she was very proud of her desire to improve her Torah and mitzvos, and my husband and I were impressed with her ehrlichkeit. Now we see that it has become more of an issue of self-doubt. It’s not a particularly positive trait. She is filled with anxiety and questions about whether her motives are l’shem Shamayim.

She also worries about her classmates’ opinions of her, and what the “Schwartzes next door” might think about all of us.

It’s as if she no longer feels comfortable in her own skin.

She helps much less around the house because she always needs to talk to my husband and me about her social or religious issues. Instead of folding laundry or helping out with the little ones, she daydreams and waits until I have time to talk to her. The mitzvos she is concerned with are mostly in the category of “bein adam laMakom.” With people, she is pleasant, but she doesn’t go out of her way to help.

She realizes that her thought pattern lately is not a constructive one, and is consumed with worry. When I suggest that she go for professional help, she says that such an idea just makes her depressed. It reminds her that she has problems, and she feels like a bigger rachmanus.

How can we help our daughter?

A: The fact that your daughter acknowledges that her thought process has become destructive is an important step in the right direction. It takes honest self-appraisal to see that a perhaps positive initial direction has gone off course.

There is a slippery road between the desire for self-improvement and the destructive thoughts of “I’ll never be good enough.”

Self-growth occurs with joy. The Arizal said that all he acquired spiritually in his life was through simchah shel mitzvah.

As we say in davening: “Oz v’chedvah bimkomo — spiritual strength and joy are found in Hashem’s Presence.” Hashem is referred to as “HaMakom — the Place” as there is no place devoid of His Presence. (We say “HaMakom Yenachem” when going to be menachem aveilim.) Only through ways of simchah can an individual achieve spiritual greatness.

Your daughter needs to realize that if her present thought processes are leading her to depression and anxiety, this is not the path of kedushah. It is helpful to find a Rav who has patience and expertise in dealing with such issues. There are Rabbanim who make themselves available to help individuals with self-doubt, by clarifying their gnawing questions and providing black-and-white answers to their continual “grey” uncertainties.

There are various ways to respond to the difficulty of obsessive thoughts. It’s a tenuous balance, because your daughter’s sincerity and enthusiasm about improvement in her Torah observance cannot just be pushed away due to her present psychological stress.

Suggest to her that you two go together to consult with a professional on how one can achieve a better balance in one’s sincere desire for self-improvement. By turning it into a joint process, the stigma will be decreased in her mind.