You have been thinking about death and morality. You imagine how you would feel if certain events were to take place but the truth is, you don’t know how you would react. Imagination and reality are not the same. You would likely react very differently to witnessing, in-person, the shooting of a homeless man than when viewing it on a computer screen, in the comfort of your own home.
In the case of real life you are physically there, immersed in the situation. It may require you to act. In the latter, it is similar to watching a movie in which you have no role and no connection and thus no action of you is required. That’s probably why you can just as easily watch Dexter as you can a video of a homeless man being shot. Viewed through screens, there is seemingly no meaningful difference.
We have as a culture become desensitized to death and violence. Movies, television shows, video games, and the Internet are filled with gruesome violence. Many people did watch the ISIS beheading video that you mentioned. Without the Internet, very few people would have ever seen that video. These videos and others like it are just a click away.
People have become desensitized to seeing violence in the media. It no longer produces the same types of emotional responses it once did. This desensitization can negatively impact how we treat each other. Studies have shown a correlation between watching violent media and acts of physical aggression. Some studies suggest that people who regularly watch violent media are more likely to be physically violent.
There’s an old adage “you are what you eat.” It means that if you eat well your body is healthy and if you eat poorly your body is unhealthy. The same may be true for media consumption. Perhaps, you are what you watch. The media you consume can take a psychological toll. You might be watching excessive amounts of violence. In some research studies, excessive violent media is defined as more than two hours per day. You should limit the violent content you watch, especially in the context of having thoughts about killing your mother and sister.
Ideally, you should stop watching all violent content. At minimum, you should balance out the violent content with non-violent and uplifting content. Maybe try watching the Netflix series The Kindness Diaries. Another positive source of material can be found on the YouTube channel “Omeleto.” These programs and videos are very different than Dexter.
Finally, you might consider consulting a therapist to explore what attracts you to violent media. These and other issues can be effectively addressed in counseling. Good luck and please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle