Do You Ever Have Violent Thoughts?

Do you ever have violent thoughts? - figure swinging a bat at a vase of flowers

Violent actions are obviously a bad thing, but what about violent thoughts? It’s not exactly socially acceptable to talk about, which makes it hard to get a sense of how common it is. I would guess that it’s fairly common to have the occasional thoughts of violence, even if they’re just fleeting and there’s no intent to act. So let’s talk about it.

Harm OCD and intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and involuntary, jumping into your mind whether you want them there or not. In OCD, the brain treats these kinds of thoughts as if they’re literally dangerous. Harm OCD involves intrusive thoughts of harming others, and worry about acting on these thoughts. In postpartum OCD, the thoughts of doing harm may focus on the infant. These OCD obsessions are typically ego-dystonic, meaning they’re unwanted and not consistent with who the person is.

While OCD thoughts may feel impulsive, an Anxiety & Depression Association of America article describes OCD as being at the opposite end of the control continuum from impulsivity; it’s a disorder of attempts at over-control, while violence involves under-control of urges.

Research on violent thoughts

When researchers conducted validation on a psychometric test called the Violent Ideation Scale, about 40% of study participants denied any violent ideation. While males commit 80% of violent acts, in this study, there were no significant sex differences in terms of overall violent ideation, although males were more likely to report thoughts of violent revenge.

The top three violent thoughts, which were endorsed by ≥30% of participants, were

  • violent payback for harm caused to the self
  • causing serious injury to a disliked person
  • humiliating a despised person

Other violent thoughts that were endorsed by >20% of participants were pay back for harm caused to someone else, beating up someone repulsive, beating someone up out of anger, and inflicting intense pain. Most of these were reported as being experienced rarely. When it came to the most common thought, violent payback, 18% of people said rarely, 13% said sometimes, 5% said often, and 2% said very often.

While the violent thoughts weren’t particularly common, that’s still a lot of people having at least some thoughts of violence floating through their heads every once in a while.

Consequences and no fucks given

I sometimes have violent thoughts when I’m depressed and completely out of resources, especially when I have no fucks left to give about consequences. I’ve sometimes had thoughts of killing the guinea pigs when they’re being noisy and I want them to stop and the feelings of caring about them are switched off. Earlier this year, Brownie was being particularly noisy, and I was having fairly regular violent thoughts. Of course, I would never have acted on them. I recognized at the time that this was an indicator that I wasn’t doing well.

I was also thinking a little while back that hospitalization would probably be the best thing if it wasn’t so damn unappealing (although it ended up being necessary anyway). Someone I quite despise is in a psychiatry leadership role at one of the local hospitals (not the one I chose to go to), and I was thinking about whether it would be better to try to punch her in the head or stab her in the neck with a pen if I ended up coming into contact with her.

Someone I despise even more was recently the manager of the mental health team in my area, and I was thinking about where I could stab him that would be most likely to kill him. These weren’t angry thoughts; more disinhibited thoughts. I’ve been referred to that particular mental health team, so I looked him up on the provincial college of nurses website and he no longer has an active nursing license, which presumably means he’s retired. If not, that could be a problem.

Regular everyday thoughts

Aside from when I’m out of resources, violent thoughts aren’t particularly common in my head, but they do show up occasionally. This happens in relation to people who have harmed me or those I care about, or even sometimes in relation to obnoxious people who’ve annoyed me (although that usually involves wanting to bop them over the head with a rubber chicken, because that amuses me and helps to un-annoy me).

When those thoughts do pop into my head, they don’t really set off alarm bells for me, as the prospect of me acting on them seems pretty unlikely. I don’t think I’ve physically hit anyone since I fought with my brother when I was a kid.

So now it’s your turn. Do you ever have thoughts of violence? What are those thoughts like, and how do you react to them?

And just to keep things from getting too serious, including a rubber chicken seemed appropriate – Coastal Elite from Halifax, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

71 thoughts on “Do You Ever Have Violent Thoughts?”

  1. Yes. When I dissociate, I often create worlds were I get revenge for harms and slights. In those cases, I’m mostly about humiliation.
    When my depression is active, when my PTSD is lit, I can have violent and aggressive thoughts. I’m careful: I’ve lost my temper in quite destructive ways before, though only with inanimate objects. I hate it.

    1. Luckily I haven’t had too many instances of inanimate object destruction. The most notable one was throwing a large rock through an ex’s window just before my first hospitalization. Definitely not something I’m proud of.

  2. I was surprised to realise while reading your post that I don’t have any violent thoughts even regarding the person who was bullying me at work, I however wish she face consequences, but I mean some natural consequence like getting fired.

    I however have random thoughts sometimes about doing something to strangers, like for example pulling a handbag from somebody hand just to see how they would react. Obviously I know that at the end I could be prosecuted for that so I am not going to do that. This is not about violence though, only about testing people.

  3. Not violent, exactly, toward a person – my thoughts are more rage-y, as in smashing things (non-living) with a bat or some other tool. 🙄

    I talk myself into thinking I could just smash it all to bits then get a bin and have it removed. That would make me feel better.

    But it doesn’t work that way and the feeling (smug, relief etc) is temporary.

    Instead I have to put all this energy into redirecting my thoughts away from the perceived culprit which takes a lot of energy which I would much rather expend on something I love, so the entire thing leaves me mentally exhausted and ends up moot. 🤷‍♀️

    1. Something I’ve never tried, although it seems like it could be a little bit helpful, is taking raginess out on bubble wrap. But raginess is definitely not a comfortable emotion to sit with.

      1. I once threw all the shoes, coats, jackets, backpacks, baseball caps and assorted clutter from the hall closets out on the front lawn while I rage-cleaned the two closets. Then I made them purge and put everything back. We got rid of half of it, all outgrown stuff.

        I had dreamed this rage and did it in life. Not my proudest parenting moment, but the end result left me calm(er) (and exhausted).

        Might have been better not to put on a show for the neighbourhood but I had zero fucks left to give, so… 🤷‍♀️😀

  4. I have certain disturbing thoughts, but they seem to be accompanied with alarm bells.

    Maybe you still need a reset?

    Maybe more time in a hospital that is safe and secure, and free of people who trigger you, would be helpful?

    If you’re not wanting/needing to hear this, just disregard.

    Because, for me, it’s a balancing of act of people telling me things.

    Especially if my illness issues are acute.

    Again, disregard if I’m off base.

    Have a nice day!

    1. Oh, I guess I wasn’t clear. I haven’t been having any violent thoughts recently. It’s when I’m well that the odd violent thought doesn’t see off alarm bells because they’re just fleeting and insignificant.

      1. I get it. And, I hope I didn’t come off too strong.

        This is a very interesting discussion!

        Now, I am thinking about the obtuse thoughts that I have lol.

        What sets us apart from people who are not battling mental illness?

        Surely it has a lot to do with our thinking.

        It’s sad—And, I’ll advocate for myself a bit—severe mental illness is the worst.

        And, I wish the illnesses weren’t so. 🙁

        1. For me, there was one occasion when I was psychotic and had thought insertion that I needed to kill Casper the guinea pig, but I think that’s the only time illness has directly made me think about violence. Other times, illness has compromised my ability to suppress thoughts that would otherwise come and go very quickly.

          1. Good information!

            There is a lot of overlap between this mental illness and that mental illness.

            And, I personally am just trying to better my life while also helping others. When and where I can.

  5. I’ve always had violent thoughts. I don’t believe in “thought crime” though, so I’m not worried. I bet Stephen King has loads of violent thoughts! Sometimes they pass quickly, while other times I let myself drift into fantasy realm with the thoughts, conjuring up a whole story around them. That’s a form of catharsis for me, whether the violence is directed at myself or another person. I kinda think it’s “normal” and would tend to disbelieve someone who says they never think of violence…

      1. But do thoughts necessarily represent who we are? I have a variety of thoughts that aren’t consistent with my values or how I would actually behave, and I feel like those thoughts can come and go without shaping who I am.

        1. They can. I agree. As I’m reading the comments here, I’m gaining a better understanding of what, not only I personally experience, but of the parallels between many of the people in this thread.

          And again, I agree, random, obtuse thinking, does not shape us… and doesn’t in my view…

          Which goes along with the fact that mentally ill people are more violent than the general population.

  6. I don’t have thoughts of hurting people who annoy or upset me. I do sometimes have OCD violent thoughts, thoughts of random violence to strangers or loved ones, really more a vivid fear than a fantasy I enjoy thinking about. I used to worry about these, but when I began to read about OCD, I became more aware that these thoughts didn’t reflect who I am and weren’t thoughts I was likely to act on and were more from fear and the effort to avoid thinking violent thoughts.

  7. Yup, I have violent thoughts – so satisfying. Would I act on them? No because – !consequences! Prison? No, no, no. If I knew I wouldn’t get caught? No consequences except the personal satisfaction of eliminating someone from face of the planet? Hell, yeah, I’m in. I’ve got a list…Have I been violent in RL? Yes – there is one button that cannot be pushed without a violent reaction from me. Thankfully it hasn’t happened often and no one pressed charges.

  8. Like you I have twice hit close relatives. It seems to be a first concern of people when I tell them my diagnosis. I seethe inside.Rage screaming at the Universe. I’ve been most violent towards myself. Trying to drive my car off a bridge at 100mph but there wasn’t much planning involved.

  9. Yes, I get violent thoughts. I don’t necessarily need to be at peak anger to have them either. I’ve spoken to my psychologist about these thoughts- we discussed they’re not good for me- they simply fuel my toxic anger. I’m working on trying not to have them and I haven’t really had them in the past couple months- which for me is good. I also spoke to a friend about them a couple years ago- they had them too.

  10. Yes to Violent thoughts. Revenge for trauma. Sometimes if we’re in victim mode, the dissociation can be self-defense. Definitely gets higher when fucks to give runneth low. Intrusive thoughts sometimes when ocd is off the charts. Self-violent thoughts when shame is high and fucks to give are low.

  11. I feel rage, which is the same thing as violence, I suppose. I don’t feel like inflicting it on someone as much as something. I sometimes feel the urge to scream. I find such rages more frequent now – perhaps it’s menopause. I may need to seek help.

  12. Oh this is a good post Ashley… 🤔

    I’m thinking how truthful do you want me to be here.

    So I’ll be truthful. YES I have violent thoughts. How often? Quite often.
    Sometimes they are intrusive… sometimes they come up with my rage and BPD anger.

    Sometimes I’ve had thoughts about killing my cats, and even yes my husband. Or other people.

    But mainly the thoughts turn inward against myself.

    Sometimes due to high stress I have had times where I cannot even look at certain weapons for fear I might use them, but it’s not even because I want to. It is like almost a psychotic type break coming… and I know if I’ve ever had these thoughts coming then I need to sort the stress out in me and my life.

    Mostly violent thoughts are when I’m getting hormonal. There is a lot to be said for lacking estrogen, going into the menopause, peri-menopause that not many talk about. But hormones affect the brain quite significantly.
    So at times I feel like killing my husband when I get in these hormonal rages, and he hasn’t even done anything….that’s why I know its hormonal because everything and I mean EVERYTHING feels wrong and off and angers you. Everything feels very bad.

    And this is what I’m dealing with right now… and it’s absolutely horrific. Yet the NHS over here are overwhelmed and do not do anything except give you a blood test. It is absolutely crazy…

    The thing here is knowing yourself I feel.

    1. BPD micro-psychotic episodes are something that dosn’t get talked about enough. You’ve given me an idea for a blog post.

      I’m sorry you’re having to deal with the hormonal stuff. I suspect I’ll be facing the same thing sometime in the next few years. It shouldn’t have to be so hard to get it dealt with. I think the health care system here is as messed up as the NHS.

  13. And I would like to add that I’ve never killed anything except plants ….but that wasn’t deliberately I just somehow seem to kill off indoor plants.

    Having a somewhat psychopathic husband does also help because I know my violence or even threats at times does not in any way scare him.

    The really interesting thing is I have asked him and others I know to be dangerous to kill me too.

    And we all know that it’s the really charming, really super nice people out there that seem to end up being the serial killers …. 😂

  14. I would like to also add that because of the principles that I live by and that guide me… this acts as a significant deterrent also to acting on these wrong and harmful thoughts.

    In my heart I don’t wish to harm anyone or anything, I love people and I love nature…

    Yet there is a massive difference I feel to having these thoughts and actually acting on them. If the thoughts are continuous and then you “keep” thinking on them, and they go toward planning, then this is a problem. In other words they have taken root.

    Behind most anger there is pain, and so it’s getting to that pain and managing to either grieve or talk about that pain that needs to be done. And with this there is often shame involved, and so with many they don’t want to talk about it, but if you don’t, it just builds up over time. We build what are called shame screens over that pain and shame over time.

    I try my hardest to root out whatever poisonous thinking I have toward others.
    I try and make peace with people quickly, forgive and forget…and all that stuff so as not to let those harmful thoughts grow in the first place, because I simply don’t want them to.

    But if you are going to act on them… I suggest Norway as they have the best prison and rehabilitation services there.

    1. I completely agree, there’s a big difference between thinking and acting, and also between transient thoughts and planning. Faith, values, and insight can make good anchors to keep from getting pulled towards planning and acting.

      1. Yes true and as you know faith is a big help and anchor for me. The bible and prayer help me with my thoughts too. It doesn’t mean they don’t come up, they do but there are many bible verses that help with this type of thing and are good to meditate on and think about.

  15. So now it’s your turn. Do you ever have thoughts of violence? What are those thoughts like, and how do you react to them?

    I tend to avoid overt thoughts of violence. Because it triggers me and my depression takes a big dive. There’s only been once I acted on my violent thoughts, and as I remember, that was an action WITHOUT THOUGHT. Just the red rage mist thing people often speak of. Scared me badly and I’ve had a thing about control ever since too. I think everyone has passing thoughts about violence though. Those wastes of skin in the industrial park to the west and south of me? I’ve often thought of vandalizing their equipment so severely that it might put them out of business. The boss of the south yard is an asshole and I’ve wished bad things to happen to him quite often. As I mentioned, it’s really really bad if I lose control of my temper to the extent I lost it that one time. People could get seriously hurt I believe and destruction of property is a given. Having that tendency horrifies me. That’s NOT who I am, or at least who I see myself as.

  16. I would not say I’m a particularly violent person or that I have violent thoughts often. When I do, they fall into one of two categories: the OCD thought police game of the fear of randomly killing someone, and the urge to pull someone’s hair or throw something when I get really mad. I have thrown a couple of things in my life. I often say violent things, especially when complaining about politics, but it’s more just hot air rather than a real urge.

  17. I really don’t have aggressive thoughts too often. I’m so passive in a lot of areas of life (for worse more so than better). I occasionally think about violence as a form of self-defense if I were ever attacked. Otherwise those thoughts aren’t too prominent. Great post Ashley!

  18. The children of my generation, in Spain at least, learned a sentence that said “Because I have sinned a lot of “THOUGHTS”, word, deed and omission”. Some time ago I wrote a reflection on my blog about these “thoughts” {post in Spanish} and how to handle them and free ourselves from guilt.
    It is a very interesting topic that causes a lot of discomfort to many people, especially those suffering from certain disorders.
    All the best!

  19. Sometimes I have violent thoughts that I am going to hit a loved one or do something awful like drive off the road and kill everyone in my car. I think it is more of an OCD fear thing than a fantasy of any sort. I remember starting to have these thoughts as a teenager and it was very upsetting. The more I tried to push the thoughts down, the more they tormented me. I finally got to the point of…so what? I never acted on the thoughts. But the strange thing is that my brother did. When he heard voices in his head telling him to hurt someone, he did. I was always afraid as a kid that I would be like him. That was utterly terrifying until I was old enough to understand maybe it was ‘normal’ to be afraid of hurting someone. I had in overdrive what he didn’t have enough of.

  20. Sometimes I imagine pushing my son down the stairs when he is being annoying, but I would never act on it. I acknowledge it as my brain coping with me being annoyed at someone I love to relieve the annoyance. Sometimes when I’m angry at my husband, I imagine slapping him, though I would never do that. Often when I’m ironing, I imagine bringing the iron to my cheek and burning my cheek or burning a hole in one of my husband’s shirts. I recognize these thoughts as intrusive and as a way to cope with the fact that my husband and son, though I love them dearly, cause me a lot of stress because they are difficult to deal with, but I would never leave them, though sometimes I imagine I could. These thoughts don’t happen often or with a strong urge to execute. They are just fleeting thoughts, nothing more.

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