These symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) involve the fear of harming or killing other people. In other cases, aggressive obsessions are directed at the self, such as when individuals experience unwanted, intrusive, and recurrent thoughts about hurting or killing themselves (suicide obsessions).
This post will focus on aggressive obsessions that involve the fear of harming or killing other people. Aggressive obsessions involving suicide and self-harm will be addressed in a subsequent post.
Aggressive obsessions often focus on violent, murderous (stabbing, shooting, choking, poisoning), or criminal (arson, bank robberies) acts and involve graphic mental images of blood, injury, and death. Individuals with violent obsessions may fear becoming serial killers or deliberately hurting someone they love. Aggressive obsessions affect individuals of all ages, including adults, adolescents, and children.
Common examples include:
Similar to what occurs in the case of sexual obsessions, individuals with aggressive obsessions are often afraid of acting on unwanted impulses. However, sometimes violent obsessions are not associated with urges to act. In such cases, symptoms may consist of unwanted thoughts or vivid, disturbing mental images of violent behaviors. Individuals with these types of symptoms will often wonder why these unwanted thoughts keep occurring and may feel extreme guilt and horror over not being able to control their thoughts.
Some individuals have a very confusing form of OCD that causes them to be unsure about whether or not a thought actually represents a memory. These individuals may mistakenly believe that they have acted on their thoughts because their obsessions are vivid, detailed images that “feel” more like memories than thoughts. They may engage in a variety of checking compulsions to make sure that these “false memories” haven’t actually occurred.
As with all forms of OCD, violent/harm obsessions are reinforced through compulsive behaviors (rituals) and avoidance. Compulsions involving the fear of harming others include:
Avoidance behaviors involve limiting exposure to places, situations, people, or objects that might trigger your unwanted thoughts. Here are some avoidance behaviors that are common for individuals who are afraid of killing or harming other people.
Many individuals with aggressive obsessions worry about losing control and acting on their unwanted thoughts. Many interpret their thoughts as proof that they are, in fact, secretly murderers or serial killers. However, in actuality, these thoughts are simply a consequence of OCD, a neurobiological condition. The occurrence of these thoughts is a stressful symptom of OCD, but it doesn’t reflect a defect of character or a predisposition to violence. In fact, as I discussed in my previous post, it more likely reflects the opposite.
The following questions can be a helpful litmus test for individuals with violent obsessions.
Do you enjoy the thoughts you’re experiencing? Are your violent thoughts pleasurable?
Many individuals with aggressive obsessions are extremely distressed when they have thoughts about harming or killing others. However, this “test” won’t work for everyone. Because OCD involves debilitating doubt and uncertainty, there are many of you out there who are now probably saying, “Well, then I definitely don’t have OCD. I’m worried that I actually like my thoughts and want to act on them.”
If that sounds like you, you might ask yourself a different question:
If you could, would you choose to have your violent thoughts occur MORE OFTEN?
Treatment of violent obsessions is based around developing a new relationship with these unwanted, intrusive thoughts and learning that these thoughts are not dangerous or predictive of the future.
Questions? Comments? Struggling with aggressive obsessions? Sound off below.