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?