OCD focused on racism and anti-semitism

…there is a lot of comfort and support to be gained from knowing that somehow we are all in the same ship.

Dear all,

I want to remain anonymous, because I have a story which is still difficult to tell. (I hope I can make myself clear as I am not a native speaker.) I am a 41 year-old male living in Europe, and have been dealing with OCD symptoms from a very young age (3rd grade). Like many others, I have come to know its different types (contamination, sexual orientation, pedophilia, harm, relationship) and all of them were and still are equally nasty to me. I have been lucky enough to receive professional help (since I was 22) and with medication I function reasonably well. What I want to write about here is an OCD variation I did not read about yet, on the web or in books, but one that has been bothering me since I was 16.  It is an embarrassing type because it is focused on racism and antisemitism. In fact it is so embarrassing, that I almost feel compelled to stress here that I am not a racist or an anti-Semite (as I used to promise and swear to myself when I was younger).

I grew up in a progressive Christian family (I am non-religious now), and my parents always taught us to do the right thing and be there for others. They also showed this in their own behavior: Our family lived in Africa for a couple of years where my father was a tropical doctor, and my parents are still very active in helping refugees. As a kid I learned that racism and prejudice were not acceptable, and in school I learned about the Holocaust as the ultimate evil. And then, as a late adolescent, I started to get these unnerving thoughts. It is very difficult to put them in words, because they were vague and not very outspoken. But somehow they made me doubt the wrongness of antisemitism, and racism more generally, which I found shocking.

I remember a night after these thoughts first appeared. I was lying in bed wide awake, and had this internal discussion with myself. After a long time I fell asleep, and when I awoke I found that the thoughts were still there. Unfortunately, I started to live all by myself soon after this (as I moved to another place to become a university student), and I spent many hours obsessing about these thoughts, about antisemitism, racism and prejudice. One thought that always popped up was: ‘How can people say the Holocaust was so bad, if so many people tolerated or even approved it?’  And to my great dismay, I didn’t have a satisfactory answer to this terrible question. And the distractive impact of the thoughts became larger and larger. Somehow I got the compulsive idea that I should conduct anti-Semite acts myself as well, although I also realized that if I would do so, I would probably be unable to live with myself. If I learned that someone in my environment was Jewish, I became immediately afraid that I would harm him or her. And if I read (what I assumed to be) a Jewish name or saw a picture of a Jewish person I became immediately distracted and had to perform some kind of internal discussion. I once visited a former concentration camp, and watched movies like Schindler’s List hoping somehow that this experience would ‘convince’ and ‘cure’ me. These experiences did have some value for me: ‘Luckily’ I could feel compassion for the victims and see the horror of it all. But of course the thoughts did not go away.

Sometimes, my anti-Semite OCD traded places with a racist (anti-Black) OCD revolving around slavery and the fear of harming Black people. This other type was equally gruesome and unnerving. The only positive thing about this was that I never experienced both obsessions at the same time. When obsessed with racism, I didn’t worry at all about antisemitism, and vice versa. Probably, this is an experience that other people with multiple obsessions have as well, and it is relieving in a strange way. (It is difficult to be a child-molester, racist, contaminator, and anti-Semite at the same time, as psychiatrist once suggested to me).

Despite my obsessions, I have (had) meaningful relations with Jewish people and people of various racial backgrounds, and, as could be expected, these relations have proved my fears wrong. Luckily, I don’t have to convince you (or myself anymore) that I am not an anti-Semite or a racist. But still, the thoughts have never gone away.

I am curious if there are more people with ‘my problems’ out there. It is great that there is a platform to share a story like this. Even if our specific themes differ, there is a lot of comfort and support to be gained from knowing that somehow we are all in the same ship.

Best wishes to all of you.

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