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 payback 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?

Dog biting the head of a rubber chicken
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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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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