What is racism related OCD?
|People with obsessive-compulsive disorder can develop unwanted thoughts, images, or urges dealing with race, or fears of being a racist or being perceived as racist by others. These obsessions lead people to experience intense distress and uncertainty about what these thoughts mean about them. Racism OCD can involve fears of having an offensive thought about someone of another race, of doing or saying something racist without being aware of it, or of fear of being perceived racist.
These obsessions often lead to anxiety, guilt, and shame. OCD tends to attack a person’s core values and identity; these types of obsessions are particularly distressing to someone who cares a lot about fighting against racism, treating people fairly, and being respectful of others. OCD often convinces people that their thoughts are tied to their true beliefs and self-worth, causing doubt and distress.
Individuals suffering with OCD also engage in various compulsions to relieve the distress caused by obsessions or to prevent a feared outcome. However, compulsions provide only temporary relief, and in the long term fuel obsessions, increase anxiety, and become burdensome.
Racism OCD – Common obsessions
- Fear of losing control and using a racial slur or making an offensive comment
- Obsessive concerns about not being able to tell if one’s own behavior might be racist
- Worries about accidentally or purposefully causing emotional harm to someone of another race
- Doubts about whether or not something one did or said was racist
- Concerns that one may only be pretending not to be a hateful person
|People with fear of being racist may be triggered by situations involving interactions with BIPOC or minority friends or coworkers. Hearing about other people’s experiences with racism can lead to questions about one’s own behavior and intentions.
Even habitual daily interactions can lead to doubts about whether or not one’s actions were racist. For example, passing a black woman on the street could trigger intrusive thoughts about racial slurs or questions like “Am I racist because I didn’t smile at the person I passed on the street? Could my eye contact have been seen as intrusive or racially motivated? What about my lack of eye contact?” Reading about systemic or institutionalized racism, talks about diversity and inclusion, and seeing racial protests in the news could all be potential triggers.
How can I tell if it’s racism OCD, and not racism?
Everyone likely has implicit racial biases about groups of people that exist at an unconscious level. While these biases impact the way that we interact with people, they are not the same thing as racism. Racism involves conscious prejudice and discrimination against members of a particular racial group, or a lack of concern about inadvertent prejudice. Individuals who choose to participate in racist actions will falsely deny, reflexively defend, or be prideful about their actions.
Someone who is dealing with Racist OCD, on the other hand, will worry extensively about whether or not they are racist, may reflexively blame themselves, or be intensely concerned about inadvertent offense or prejudice. OCD causes repetitive thoughts and doubts in your mind and attempts to convince you that you are morally wrong for having these thoughts and doubts. While it is important for people to examine their implicit racial biases, it is unproductive to experience unrelenting fear and anxiety about whether or not you are racist—there is a key difference.
Common compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with OCD fear of being racist include:
- Asking loved ones for reassurance that one isn’t racist
- Repetitively conducting research about racism or how to be anti-racist
- Mentally reviewing past actions or conversations to make sure they aren’t racist
- Researching news stories about racially motivated crimes
- Speculating and comparing one’s actions with other people’s actions
- Being overly gentle, speaking more, or interacting more with members of a racial group in an attempt to convince oneself that they aren’t racist
- Avoiding members of a racial group to avoid intrusive thoughts and doubts, or in an attempt to avoid causing them offense or discomfort
How to treat fear of being racist
|Racism OCD can be debilitating for people who struggle with it, but it is highly treatable. Doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an ERP trained therapist can bring relief from the unending doubt and anxiety that OCD causes.
Individuals in need of treatment for Racism OCD can face several obstacles. It is important to be able to work with a therapist who understands obsessive-compulsive disorder, is trained to treat it using ERP, and is comfortable talking about race.
ERP involves facing obsessive fears with exposures that will allow for the experience of anxiety without doing a compulsion to relieve it. Compulsions reinforce the OCD cycle. By choosing not to engage in compulsions, individuals are able to learn to respond to triggers in a new way and will likely experience a gradual reduction of anxiety over time.
An ERP therapist will be able to assist you with working through challenging feelings and barriers to treatment. They can assist with developing exposures that feel manageable and help to establish a new and healthier response to obsessive thoughts.
If you’re struggling with OCD, I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.
We look forward to working with you.