Hello. I need help. I don't know why, but I imagine killing people I know. Not just straight up killing, but torturing. It hurts. It really does. I want to do it, but I would hate hurting the people I love. I don't do this when I'm mad, but pretty much half the time I'm awake. When I think like this, my body feels hollow and my mind feels blank except for these thoughts. I have absentmindedly almost done it. I was hugging my dog and suddenly wrapped my hands around his neck, but didn't squeeze. Another time I was in the ocean with my sister and pulled slightly down on her floating device. She almost drowned.
I don't want to hurt anyone. I need help, but I am scared that my mother and father will disown me. I am also very religious, and scared that I will be expelled.
My dear, you are not a monster. If you were, you would go and do these things. Instead, the thoughts horrify you. So, you are a good person who has developed a terrible habit. You don't need to change your nature, but get rid of a particular way of thinking. That is perfectly possible.
You would be surprised at how many boys and girls experience very similar problems. I have answered dozens of cries for help like yours. Some of these were years ago, and these people have built good lives for themselves. You can, too.
Let me tell you a true story. Here is word for word what I wrote to a young woman who had urges to kill people. It was even worse in her case, since from childhood she had tortured and killed animals:
I was once supervising a young psychologist who had a placement at a Christian mental health service. A policeman came in. They had 4 sessions over some small problem before he trusted the therapist enough to say what the real issue was. All his life, ever since puberty, he had a strong urge to sexually molest little children. Every time he was near a little boy or girl, he wanted to do things to the child. This horrified him. He felt about his sexual urges the way you feel about your killing urges. He'd actually joined the police to stop other men from molesting children. He never had a girlfriend because he wanted to avoid being a father, frightened of the risk of molesting his own children. He felt himself to be evil, damaged, and disgusting, and sometimes it was so bad that he wanted to kill himself.
My colleague asked my advice on how to help this man, and we came up with something that worked for him, and will work for you. This policeman happened to be a strong Christian, so we put the idea in terms of his faith, but if he had been an atheist, the same idea would still have worked.
In the Bible, it says that Satan came to Jesus and said, "Bow down before me, and all this shall be yours," and showed Him great rewards. Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, then rejected the offer. Why didn't Jesus say "no" to Satan straight away? Why did it take him so long to make up His mind? It had to be because the temptation was real. Jesus felt about Satan's offer the way you feel about killing. He wanted to do it but knew it was wrong, and knew he'd hate himself if he accepted. Otherwise, why agonize over it for 40 days and 40 nights? But when He rejected Satan's offer, that proved to Himself that He was strong enough to carry out His Father's mission for Him, which was to allow Himself to be tortured to death. That took a lot of courage, and maybe if He hadn't had training through rejecting Satan's offer, He wouldn't have been able to go through with it.
My colleague said to the policeman, "If it was OK for Jesus to face a challenge like that, then it is OK for you. Maybe, before you were born, you and God designed this special challenge for you. You needed it for the training of your spirit, so you could become a stronger, better person. It's a trial you have been given, and you have passed. You have benefited from it. Rather than being evil, and damaged, and disgusting, you've proved yourself to be a highly moral, good person. Despite having these terrible urges, you have managed to avoid hurting any small children, and even chose work where you can protect children from harm. You are what you DO, not what you feel. What you have done is good, so you are good. Those urges are your cross, and even if they are with you for the rest of your life, you can continue to be a good person by resisting them."
As I said, this was right for him because he was a Christian. I don't know your religious beliefs, but that doesn't matter. You can use your killing urges in the same way. Until now, you have bought into them and perhaps even enjoyed the inner feeling of power you get when imagining how you will kill someone. But from now on, you can say to yourself, "Good. Here is my opportunity to become a stronger, better, more decent person by DOING the right thing. You are what you do, not what you feel. I will do some act of kindness for this person instead of killing him."
You see, feelings, thoughts and urges are like a muscle: they get stronger with exercise. When you keep thinking about killing, and believe these thoughts, they get stronger and more frequent. When you practice kindness and decency and doing the right thing, then those thoughts become stronger and more frequent.
I also have a second idea for you, one that I often use. When I get an urge I disapprove of, I have a three-way choice: 1. Go along with it and do it. 2. Exert my willpower to resist it. 3. Use a trick I will now describe for you.
Resisting through willpower is hard work. And it can often fail - we slip up. Instead, I realize that this urge is not a command, but an invitation. I can gently say, "No, thank you." I don't need to resist the urge, just disown it. I am not the urge, and it is not me. And I am not responsible for it. I didn't decide to have this urge, it just came. It's as if there was a little monster whispering in my ear, using the same voice as my own thoughts, "Go on, Bob, no one will ever find out. You can get away with it. What does it matter?"
These thoughts are not my thoughts, they just are. So, I don't have to fight them. I don't have to believe them. I can't make them go away, but I don't need to listen either. It's like, suppose you're in a room where the TV is on. Someone comes in and asks, "Hi, what's the show?" and you have to say, "I don't know, I haven't been paying it any attention." You can have a killing urge, and deal with it in the same way. "It's there, so what. I didn't ask for it, I am not responsible for it. I don't need to make it go away, I just need to treat it as background noise."
Again, this new habit is a muscle. It gets stronger with exercise. Please feel free to email me so we can continue to work on this issue together.
Your new grandfather,
This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit: http://anxietyanddepression-help.com