Why am I Cruel to Animals?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Hello, my parents divorced before I could remember anything, and when I was around five years old I found a duckling wondering on its own near the place I lived so I took it home, I looked after it for a while, and one day I took it to a pond and let it swim in the pond. I can’t remember why I did it but I took out a stick and started poking the duck as it swam, and eventually I started poking it under the water, I just kept poking it so it couldn’t come back up to breath, eventually I took it back home and just watched it as it slowly died, I don’t remember feeling bad at all. I was physically beat by my father for 2 years from when I was around 10 to 12, (I later ran away from my father to live with mother and stepfather and have no contact with him since). My stepfather’s family owned a cat which I sometimes tortured when I was around 15-16. For example, I’d purposely put it in a high ledge where the cat was trapped and couldn’t get down unless it was to jump (which it eventually did and I was dissapointed that it managed to escape), I’d find a long object and start poking the cat, it ran for cover under the bed, trapped there and I’d keep poking the living hell out of it and it would start hissing at me, but I wouldn’t stop. Eventually I will stop when I get bored, I am not sure why I was doing it, I thought I might’ve just been bored and I get a perverted thrill from torturing it. Sometimes I’d treat the cat nicely and pet it, but sometimes I just felt like torturing it. I was wondering if this is normal, I thought I might be sociopathic.

Thanks!

A: Cruelty to animals by young kids, especially if it happens only once, is sometimes a reflection of developmental immaturity. A pattern like you report is more serious and is sometimes the first indication of conduct disorder. In your case, it may have been a way to channel anger that felt overwhelming. In most kids, the pattern drops off after adolescence. But some kids who torture animals as children develop into adults who are violent with other people.

You are now 20. You didn’t mention if the pattern continues or if you are now re-evaluating things you did as a child and teen. If you still feel the urge to treat living beings (animals and people) cruelly, violently, or disrespectfully, you have a problem that needs to be addressed. Treatment now can help you manage anger constructively and develop more empathy for others. This is the key to living successfully in the social world and having satisfying, and safe, relationships. If you now feel terrible for behaving as you did and would never do such a thing again, then you somehow grew out of it on your own to be a more moral and decent person.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Mar 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Why am I Cruel to Animals?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/03/21/why-am-i-cruel-to-animals/