I don’t know why, but I have the urge to hurt or kill certain things. I was at a friend’s house this weekend and I was playing with their cat. I felt the sudden need to hurt the cat. I don’t know why, I love cats and would never want to hurt one, but my mind just kept telling me to harm it. I never did hurt the cat, I stopped playing with it because of this. Also, when someone gets me annoyed or mad I want to harm them even though there’s really no reason to. I have never hurt or killed anything in my life, but this feeling has been going on for a while now. I don’t know why this is happening, please help!

A. It’s difficult to know what might be wrong. These thoughts could be the result of something you read or heard about on television or in a movie. Something in your environment could be serving as a trigger.

You said that “when someone gets me annoyed or mad I want to harm them even though there’s really no reason to” but isn’t that the reason? That you are annoyed or mad. Those feelings seemed to have arisen from your being upset.

It is important to mention that your violent thoughts may not be indicative of a deeper problem. It is a mistake to assume they say something about you as a person. It is normal to think and feel all sorts of things, both positive and negative.

Psychoanalytic theory and treatment is founded upon the notion of an unconscious mind. Both Jung and Freud were psychoanalysts. They recognized that there were several parts to the human mind. You are the conscious mind and you wake up every morning from an unconscious state and you return every evening, when you fall asleep, to the unconscious state or unconscious mind. The difference is not binary. One mind is never free of the other. It is not conscious or unconscious but instead is a blend of the two. In the daytime, when you are awake, the conscious mind predominates. When you are asleep the unconscious mind predominates.

There are times when the mixture of the two minds is more nearly equal. These times are called altered states of consciousness. Hypnosis is an altered state, as is meditation. In the daytime when you are awake, believing yourself to be fully conscious, there is still input from the unconscious.

The best example of this, is when you have a song or a fragment of the song, playing in the back of your mind while you are awake. Oftentimes, you find the song to be annoying and wish it to be over, to stop playing, but it plays on. Eventually it goes away by itself but it is an example of a thought entering your mind, that you cannot simply banish with conscious determination.

Jung talked about a shadow personality. This personality lives deep in the unconscious mind. It is not another you but a “shadow” of you, a more primitive you. It is not the id and is far more complex than the id (forgive me for mixing Jungian and Freudian psychology.) The shadow will send out the very negative possibilities that are possible. The shadow is reminding you, that you have the power to kill the cat or cause a great pain. However, you have not chosen to do so. You are showing the cat love and affection but the shadow reminds you that you have the power to kill the cat. Consciously, you find this to be repulsive and goes against your intentions but the shadow reminds you nonetheless.

You may also see, little movies or fantasies of sorts generated by the shadow. Right brain dominant people, are more likely to experience this. For instance, they are thinking about someone they love driving home from work or perhaps they are talking to them on the cell phone while they are actually driving home from work. Suddenly they see a little movie or fantasy of a tractor-trailer truck attempting to pass the loved ones vehicle and suddenly it turns over, crushing the loved one. They may see blood and gore and then it all ends leaving them with a very negative feeling.

This unwanted, upsetting fantasy came free of charge from the shadow personality. This topic, as is much of psychoanalytic psychology, is very complicated. You can read more about it if you so choose or talk it over with a knowledgeable therapist. I just wanted to let you know that what you are experiencing may be no more than the “shadow personality.”

You recognize that harming others is wrong. You have never harmed another being and you have taken the time to write to an online website because the mere thought of harming another is very distressing to you and is neither desired nor acceptable.

You seem to know right from wrong. If these thoughts are causing you distress, then the solution is to consult a mental health professional. Counseling will help you to identify their importance. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly effective for targeting these types of thoughts. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle