Race and the Obsessive Personality: Jews and Koreans

Are some ethnic groups more anxious than others? I definitely think so. Imagine for a second that each country is a school student and our world is a big locker room. Some students are assigned lockers that are surrounded by the lockers of bullies while other students are fortunate enough to have lockers that are far away from any danger. Who do you think would go to school every day with a higher level of anxiety?

The obsessive personality is more likely to show up in people groups whose ancestors once shared an overwhelming experience that caused their entire race to lose their sense of security.

Jews and Koreans had a very rough past. Both were once under the rule of big bullies who told them that they are inferior. Both suffered through war, poverty, slavery, ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide, and human experimentation. During these horrific times, they lost much of their sense of security and developed the idea that the world we live in is a very unpredictable, dangerous place.

Sadly, this fear continued on even after all the bullying came to an end. Survivors could not all of a sudden let go of all their defense mechanisms. They continued living in “survival mode,” overreacting to inconsequential mishaps and overemphasizing safety and stability.

To make matters worse, they raised their children to look at the world in the inaccurate way that they do. These anxious parents bred a new generation of smart, but very self-conflicted survivors who would also one day pass their fear down to their own children. The cycle then repeats generation after generation.

What also makes Jews and Koreans similar is their shared method of escape from pain. Although there are many different ways to escape pain (none of which I recommend), both people groups promote work as the most effective method of escape. Workaholism is consequently one of the biggest problems within the Jewish and Korean community.

[ “Work sets you free” slogan on the entrance of Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany ]

Below is a dialogue illustrating how many Jewish and Korean parents teach their children to escape their pain through work:

Jewish and Korean Parents

Perfect Parents

CHILD: Mom/dad, I am experiencing pain and I don’t know what to do.

MOM/DAD: Your pain is nothing compared to what I went through. You have it so easy. You’re just not working hard enough. You need to work harder.

CHILD: Mom/dad, I am experiencing pain and I don’t know what to do.

MOM/DAD: Aww. I’m sorry, child. Come here and let me hug you. *hug* Pain is a normal part of life. Don’t try to avoid it. Just experience it and let it pass. Don’t worry. You’re going to be just fine.

All of this is pure speculation on my part. I have just grown up all my life with Korean people and I happen to notice the anxiety in so many of us. I have also felt oddly so connected to Jewish people by our many similarities. Jewish people also seem to agree that they are an anxious bunch. OCD is so common within their community that it is even jokingly nicknamed “the Jewish disease.”

Anxious ethnic groups have a lot of similarities in the way that they function. Here is a list of some of the things you might find within anxious ethnic groups:

  • parents who worry too much about their children
  • controlling and over-involved parents
  • grandparents that are impossible to impress, like “Yiayia” <- watch this funny 30 second commercial of an unimpressed Greek grandmother 😀
  • high standards for health and education
  • competitiveness
  • strong work-ethic, workaholism
  • inability to relax
  • inability to feel satisfied, perfectionism
  • smart use of resources
  • success in business, but inflexible business partners
  • stress


Fear is contagious. So before you have children, put an end to your fears by facing them. When you finally have children, be calm around them. Be the secure caretaker that you never had as a child. Teach your children that the world is not a dangerous place.

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17 thoughts on “Race and the Obsessive Personality: Jews and Koreans

  1. Steph says:

    Great article! My husbands family is from Eastern Europe and many of the same characteristics you describe which has been passed on through the generations. It is great that you are insightful and being proactive regarding your OCPD. If only my husband do the same. Curious, what made you realize, acknowledge and want to learn and accept it?

    • Daniel Kim says:

      Thank you! One of the things that comes with OCPD is a passion to solve problems. As soon as I discovered my OCPD was a problem in my life, it just made sense to me to solve it 🙂

  2. Chaitanya Sagar says:

    Very Good Article .. You are selecting very good topics .. This topic and the topic about religion. I’ve come across your blog recently and it’s very helpful to people ‘gifted’ with OCPD. The one with Dark knight Rises post .. I selected my seats in the same way and felt happy after reading the post !!! 🙂

    Thank You & Please keep up your good work

  3. SophiaCho says:

    I became interested in your articles,after i read this…Awesom!I just found this and read now…I want to keep following up…I could reflect on my life with this pattern. I became to fear, after I suffered through many harships and still dealing with.. Your article helps…

  4. JasonL says:

    This is a very interesting perspective. I will have to agree with you. So “passion to solve problems” huh this makes so much sense now! Your blog is really helping me better understand myself.

    Funny story:

    I have been having social problems at jobs and with relationships for many years and decided literally 4 days ago to research a possible self-diagnosis. (i.e. I have been fired from many jobs for simply having an opinion, which was almost always misjudged as disobedience…my controlling nature) OCPD entered the computer screen. As I read the symptoms I knew immediately this was my personality! I am jewish, and a student of Actuarial Science. My major mostly consisted of what…….you said it….Korean’s and Jew’s. My family raised me just as you said! Work hard & suffer. My grandmother was extremely paranoid and pessimistic; always thinking the world was going to spite her with a personal vendetta.

    By the way:

    I love your blog, and as a former amateur DJ the “pop danthology 2012” is perfection. Must be the best mash-up I have ever heard! My ears can literally hear the melodic correlation throughout the entire piece. That is a great compliment coming from another OCPD who points out criticism like its my job.

  5. JasonL says:

    …After researching the disorder…or shall we call it “order”, i discovered that to “solve the problem” we must let go of our ego. Easier said than done. The question remains: “why should time be inefficient?”, is efficiency a man made concept or does efficiency measure the progress of man kind to fully understanding our universe. If we let go of efficiency will this defeat some higher purpose of evolution? My girlfriend says “perfection doesn’t exist” and this is most likely true however, should the goal not be to attempt to reach perfection? isn’t that what all religions strive to attain through meaning or through afterlife?

    • Daniel Kim says:

      I believe our goal is to enjoy life while doing our best to deliver excellence. If our focus on excellence is too consuming that we start enjoying life less, I believe we are falling away from that goal. I also believe that one of the biggest things we need to learn and be ok with is the fact that the rest of the world may not have the same standards that we have. Rather than getting upset and disappointed at others, we should just focus on doing our best. http://giftofocpd.com/2012/07/17/the-paradoxical-commandments/

  6. hikaribelle says:

    Very insightful, thanks 🙂

  7. LeticiaP says:

    This is a really good article, my family is Korean, and they’ve been raised like that, my grandfather was in the war and fled with my family over to Argentina, it was complicated to deal with this as I grew up with my Argentinean friends, who had more liberty or their parents weren’t so strict to them.

    Luckily, they managed to understand that I wasn’t going to stand being treated like that, that I can’t be super smart and be good at maths, graduate with super nice notes or get in a really good law school or be a doctor. They still don’t know how to be supportive, but they let me do what I like to do, which is drawing.

    They are still kind of workaholics and still wished for me to be a doctor or something, but I like to think they gave up with that idea and settled up with a daughter who likes to draw and wants to make a living out of it. My grandfather still thinks the world is after his tail, and can not be satisfied easily, but that’s him.

    I guess, that being raised in another country, so different to their origins, and living in a place where there are no other Korean families, actually changed their views a bit. In other places near the capital, there are more conglomerated places, filled with Korean families, and I think at least 3/4s of them are like this, controlling worried parents who want their kids to be the best of the best by making them work to forget their problems. I think another fact for this type of things to happen is THAT. Korean families living all together, mothers competing to see who has the best kid, who had the best scores, and brag about it. I’ve been there and luckily, my family is not with that type any more.

    Thank you for this article!

  8. Neil says:

    Umm, Mr. Daniel, I’m sorry If I have too many questions but I’m just curious about your life. You said that your OCPD helped you to live your life in a way that you want it to be. I just wanna ask if your OCPD has also something to do with your interaction between people? Does your OCPD help you to cope with people surrounding you? Does it help you to control your feelings and behavior within those people? I’m so sorry if I have too many questions, but I hope you’ll answer it. You know, I just wanna satisfy my curiosity. Thank you!

    • Daniel Kim says:

      OCPD has definitely affected the way I interact with people, in both good ways and bad. It does help me control my feelings and behaviour, but I actually wish I had more freedom like the rest of the world. Sometimes it feels unfair in relationships/friendships. I sometimes think to myself, “Why am I the only one who makes the effort to contain sensitive matters from exploding?” I often let others who I care about release their negative emotions on me in their offensive way (language, body language, tone of voice, etc.) while I resist the urge to reciprocate their offensive communication style. What does a mature parent do when his/her child screams in anger, “I hate you! You are the worst mom/dad ever!” The mature parent does not scream back “I hate you too! You are the worst child!” The parent recognizes the pain of the child and lets him/her vent it out in whatever way he/she knows how to communicate, right? I do that for others.

      • Neil says:

        Oww, but it’s okay, Mr. Daniel! That’s the real concept of life and we should stick with it. I guess having OCPD is really a very difficult challenge for you.

  9. Anne says:

    Hi Daniel,
    although I like your website I do disagree with this post first of all you takk about jews and koreans as having had a very rough past. Both were once under the rule of big bullies who told them that they are inferior. Both suffered through war, poverty, slavery, ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide, and human experimentation.

    This happened to many including native americans in lating and northern america and also rings trough for the people of african decent in those counrties. You dont touch or write about the effects on their culture. Also is this a theory “generational fear something you came up with or is it actually backed up scholars and one more thing you talk about the jewish and korean parent vs the PERFECT parent as we all know there is no perfect. However someones method may yield better results in most cases. What Im trying to say is different parent styles help with different children therefore there is no perfect answer all the time its like math the right answer depends on a whole bunch of different factors. I still like your blog though. please excuse my spelling because Englush is my second languae als I tried to coherently right what was my initial reaction to your post.

    • Daniel Kim says:

      Thank you for liking my website Anne 🙂 Yes that happened to many people groups. But I am no historian who can write about the history of all the many different people groups of the world. So I simply chose two to write about.

      Most of what I write on this blog are my own personal theories. Sometimes I include ideas backed up by scholars… but most of the time I am actually disagreeing with them and their theories.

      Sure there is no such thing as perfect parents. But can we not imagine what they might say if they existed? I am talking about a specific situation here (when a child experiences a difficult emotion and asks for help). In this specific situation, I do believe that the best thing to do (the “right answer”) is helping a child handle his or her own difficult emotions rather than encouraging him or her to escape from them. Why else in therapy would the therapist have to reteach what the patient’s parents failed to teach? Sure, some other lesson may yield better results. But it is exactly the focus on results and outcomes that many OCPDers are imprisoned by.

      • Anne says:

        Hi, it took me a while to find the time to come back to the site for saying thank you for replying. I also wanted to know what you think about Dr jonice webb book: running on empty and how it might corretate to the subject of ocpd.

        Also what I noticed is that you do have the displine to write each blog post I was recently told I had ocpd but I didnt believe it because I have a very hard time doing anything consistently and can be quite chaotic I always thought of people with ocpd to be the opposite to be extremly consistent with things in their life.

        And also what I like about your blog is the fact that your write: Now what after every post I thinks its very good you first analyze the problem and then actually try to offer a solution which strangely doesnt really seem to happen ( at least in my experience) its all talk/think/talk but it should be about implementing new ideas and solutions.

        But anyways I would like to know more on the subject of parental neglect and how it correlates to ocpd do you have any thoughts about it?

  10. Yebin won says:

    Hi Daniel!

    I’m Yebin, a Korean girl living in Singapore. I have two great loving, caring parents, yet that ‘unstable Korean perfectionism/stoic impulse’ pops up in them (almost involuntarily) when they are under stress or when I am. It’s weird; it’s not like they’re going through a TOEFL or SSAT exams, but they’re more psyched than I am. My mother is OCPD and I think that’s where the empathy part comes in, but I’m not too sure. Anyway, as a very carefree, have-fun-don’t-stress kind of bohemian I am, it’s very difficult to deal with and understand my obsessive parents. I am very strict about the grades I receive at school, but when my parents start to nose through, I get nervous and…stuff happens. Through your posts, I learned how my mom’s brain works compared to mine, why she acts a certain way, and it definitely helped our relationship heal within the divine intervention of God.

    I want to take this time to thank you, you are my hero that I discovered from Pop Danthology. (It’s absolutely amazing, I never get sick of it.) You turned OCPD into a gift, and that’s very admirable. I also agree with you on this post, because I see this occurring in all of my Jewish and Korean friends. We Koreans have a painful history for never truly being able to be free from a foreign power. (topographically and geographically the worst place to build a kingdom in my opinion, although the climate’s awesome) The constant fear must’ve stuck on in our blueprint from one generation to another, which is most unfortunate. Please pray that for generations to come, where the sorrows of our ancestors doesn’t weigh down on the children. 이 블로그를 운형해주셔서 정말 감사합니다! 아무리 힘들어도 꼭 힘내세요!

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