Pious Actions or OCD?
With Pesach quickly approaching, everyone is getting ready in their own way. Some cook the food, some make creative representations of the plagues and some prepare Divrei Torah. Pesach can be a time that coincides with many challenges and developing “Me Time” may be necessary. Pesach can also be particularly challenging for those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Sometimes, practices that appear pious, may in fact, be a result of obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. It is important to be aware of our challenges and to be mindful of what others may be going through.
What is OCD?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) includes OCD in the section of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders along with hoarding, hair-pulling, and similar disorders. In OCD, one has a repetitive thought that becomes continuously intrusive until an act is carried out to suppress that thought. For example, one may be obsessed with the idea that they are contaminated and this thought will not resolve until they meticulously wash their hands. These obsessions and compulsions occur repetitively throughout the day.
What does Pesach have to do with this?
Well, Pesach (along with most other Jewish events) comes with many religious requirements. It can be a particularly challenging time for people with OCD and sometimes the religious practices can become scrupulosity, a form of religious OCD. Some examples that come to mind are:
- Eating: How much Mazta should you eat? What about Marror? Did she eat the amount of a Kezayit? Did I drink a Reviyit?
- Timing: Did you eat the Marror within the required time-frame? Did he eat the Afikomin before midnight?
- Cleaning: Did you clean the house well? Is it perfectly clean? Is Chametz in the corner behind the couch? Maybe you should check.
When is it Dayeinu?
One key thing about OCD is that the obsessions and compulsions must significantly impact your daily life. What’s considered significant? According to the DSM-5, the compulsive, repetitive or ritualistic behavior must take up at least one hour of your day. Cultural context must be taken into consideration. If you spend more than an hour a day cleaning before Pesach, that is likely not an indication of OCD. However, if you are spending excessively more time cleaning than the norm for your community or are making multiple attempts at fulfilling the obligations of the seder, you likely have a problem. You should speak with your Rabbi and a mental health professional to preemptively get help before your symptoms worsen.
Wishing you all a Pesach of religious fulfillment, spiritual rejuvenation, and well-being. Let us be mindful of the challenges we and others may face and continue to bring awareness to our communities.
Some references and further reading:
- A Scrupulosity fact sheet
- Sefer Eiztot V’hadrachot (Advice and guidance based on letters with the “Kehillat Yaacov”) by J.M. Grinwald, 1991.
- Understanding Religious OCD
- Find similar articles on RefuatHanefesh.com
What do you think? Can you describe other examples that can lead to or be a result of obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors?