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Are Homicidal Thoughts a Sign of OCD?

4 min read
Keara Valentine
By Keara Valentine

If you are highly distressed by intrusive thoughts about killing someone, you know how scary the experience can be. However, if you have experienced this kind of unwanted thoughts, you’re not alone, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to act on them. You may be dealing with a mental health challenge like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which is extremely common and highly treatable. 

are homicidal thoughts a sign of OCD?

Homicidal thoughts are a common symptom in harm OCD, a subset of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Harm OCD, is statistically the most commonly experienced type of OCD. It’s 66% more common than the contamination worries that you’ve probably seen portrayed in the media.

Harm OCD causes a person to fixate on thoughts of harming themselves or someone else. These thoughts can range from violent, sexual, relationship-based and religious, amongst other things. In truth, everyone has these kinds of passing thoughts from time to time.

With harm OCD, these thoughts don’t pass as they do for people without OCD. You become extremely distressed and threatened by the fact that you have these thoughts. You may ask yourself repeatedly if you could act on your thoughts, maybe starting to worry about whether you’re a violent person at the core. Soon, the distress becomes so intense that you believe your only choice is to dispel it with compulsive behaviors and mental acts.

You depend on certain rituals

One of the key signs of harm OCD is the need to perform certain self-imposed rituals to prevent something bad from happening. Examples include:

  • Reciting a list of evidence that someone is a safe or violent person
  • Methodically replacing each violent thought with a gentle one
  • Doing repeated actions with your body that “prevent” you from becoming violent

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You avoid triggering situations

Many people with harm OCD try to make their homicidal thoughts go away by avoiding certain situations, including those that trigger thoughts of killing and those that would make it easier to act on violent urges.

For example, you might feel like you have to remove all the knives, scissors and other sharp objects from your house in case you might use them to kill your partner. You might not be able to go near heavy traffic or subway trains for fear of pushing someone in the path of a vehicle. 

You seek reassurance

Reassurance-seeking is a common compulsion among people with OCD. It’s not enough just to tell yourself, I won’t kill my wife; I love her. You have to get confirmation over and over again that you won’t act on your thoughts of killing. That confirmation might come from others, yourself or external sources like the internet.

You might:

  • Repeatedly ask others to confirm that you’re not a violent person
  • Spend hours researching the backgrounds of serial killers to convince yourself that you’re not like them
  • Make lengthy mental lists of all the reasons why you don’t have it in you to kill

When you have OCD, you seek reassurance in ways like these all the time, but it never seems to be enough.

What if it’s not OCD?

It’s worth noting that many people with Harm OCD experience doubt that their thoughts are the workings of OCD. Many will look for alternative diagnoses or reject the diagnosis outright as their belief is that they are only having these homicidal thoughts because there is something more sinister at work. Of course OCD isn’t the only explanation for someone who has these thoughts but this is why it’s important to be honest with your therapist about all your symptoms to help them assess properly why you may be having these thoughts. 

However, your homicidal thoughts might stem from a different mental illness. Research has shown that thoughts of homicide are more common in people with certain diagnoses. OCD is one of them. Others include:

  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia

People with these or other mental illnesses usually have other symptoms besides homicidal thoughts. If you have other mental health concerns, it’s important to talk with a professional about a diagnosis and potential treatment.

Seeking treatment for OCD

If you suspect that OCD might be causing your homicidal thoughts, exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy might help. ERP therapy is the gold standard for OCD treatment because it teaches you to tolerate your involuntary thoughts without feeling like you need to erase them using compulsions.

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In ERP therapy, a trained therapist will lead you through a series of distress-inducing scenarios. You’ll start with the least scary situation, like being in the same room as a drawer with a knife in it, and learn to tolerate the fear without compulsive behaviors. In time, you’ll work your way up to more triggering encounters.

ERP therapy has helped many people with harm OCD to face and manage their homicidal thoughts. If you’re ready to take control, schedule a call with one of NOCD’s licensed and experienced therapists. 

Keara Valentine

Keara E. Valentine, Psy.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine in the OCD and Related Disorders Track, where she specializes in the assessment and treatment of OCD and related disorders. Dr. Valentine utilizes behavioral-based therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) with children, adolescents, and adults experiencing anxiety-related disorders.

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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
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Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp

Licensed Therapist, MA

I started as a therapist over 14 years ago, working in different mental health environments. Many people with OCD that weren't being treated for it crossed my path and weren't getting better. I decided that I wanted to help people with OCD, so I became an OCD therapist, and eventually, a clinical supervisor. I treated people using Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and saw people get better day in and day out. I continue to use ERP because nothing is more effective in treating OCD.

Madina Alam

Madina Alam

Licensed Therapist, LCMHC

When I started treating OCD, I quickly realized how much this type of work means to me because I had to learn how to be okay with discomfort and uncertainty myself. I’ve been practicing as a licensed therapist since 2016. My graduate work is in mental health counseling, and I use Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy because it’s the gold standard of OCD treatment.

Tamara Harrison

Tamara Harrison

Licensed Therapist, MA

I have personally struggled with OCD and know what it's like to feel controlled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions, and to also overcome it using the proper therapy. I’ve been a licensed therapist since 2017. I have an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and practice Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. I know by experience how effective ERP is in treating OCD symptoms.

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