Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD
What is OCDOCD SubtypesFears about impulsive violent acts

Fears about impulsive violent acts

5 min read
April Kitchens, LCSW

By April Kitchens, LCSW

Reviewed by Taylor Newendorp

Sep 7, 2022

Possibly related to:

For people who experience harm-related themes within their OCD, it is common to have intrusive, unwanted thoughts and images of committing an impulsive and violent act. Someone might also have the obsessional fear of someone else acting on an impulsive violent act towards you or someone you love. 

An example of this is fear that you may “lose control” and harm or even kill someone. Fear of Impulsive violence OCD also involve obsessions related to impulsive, violent, and destructive acts towards things in one’s environment. For example, someone may have a fear of smashing windshields out of cars, breaking windows in homes or businesses, or setting something on fire. 

OCD attacks parts of your life that are important to you and creates incessant doubt about your own values and intentions. The fear of acting on an impulsive or violent thought can threaten one’s sense of identity and tends to cause distress in people who are kind, considerate, and compassionate, and do not intend to do any harm. The idea that you could act impulsively and cause harm to others or that harm could befall you or someone you love as a result of someone else’s act of violence is anxiety-provoking and causes the person with OCD to engage in compulsions to try and get rid of or resolve such unwanted thoughts and the discomfort associated with them.
  • Losing control” or “going crazy
  • Causing direct harm or death to another person
  • Destroying property in a violent and aggressive manner
  • Causing direct harm or death to an animal
  • Others engaging in impulsive, violent acts that cause harm/death to you and/or loved ones
  • What if I lose control one day?
  • How can I be sure that I won’t lose my mind and harm someone?
  • I could use that knife to stab someone.
  • Do these thoughts mean I actually want to commit violent acts?
  • What would happen if I punched that person on the street?

Common triggers

People with obsessions regarding impulsive violence may be triggered by many different things.

If you have fears about hurting someone or something with an impulsive violent act, being around people generally might be a trigger. Other very common triggers are television programs, movies, social media, or news stories dealing with harmful or violent acts. 

Sometimes the experience of feeling impatient, frustrated, or angry with other people or pets/animals can be triggering. Such triggers can set off a process in which the brain of someone with OCD starts to imagine or picture ways they might “lose it” and do something violent, even if they have absolutely no intention of doing so.

How can I tell if it’s an intrusive thought about an impulsive violent act and not a sign of actual intention or likelihood that I’ll commit it?

People who have intent to commit impulsive violence do not seek out help to thwart the plan, nor do they regularly experience anxiety, fear, guilt, or shame about having such ideas and plans. If you have OCD, these types of thoughts are terrifying to you, and make you want to avoid acting on them. 

That intense fear and anxiety response to such obsessions usually indicates there is no actual intent of harming anyone. Similarly, the fear that comes along with thoughts about others potentially harming you is extreme and debilitating. Many times, people with Harm OCD isolate themselves from people and places they love to avoid the potential of harm.

Common Compulsions

When people with impulsive, violent themes in Harm OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may begin to engage in compulsive behaviors in an attempt to avoid feared outcomes or reduce their anxiety and doubt.

They may avoid people and places that they love. They may begin to isolate themselves. They may lose relationships due to avoidance. People often compulsively research stories about violent people to “compare” their thoughts and feelings to them. They may “mentally review” past interactions with people to try and check and see if they have ever done anything that could be considered impulsive and/or violent. They could also seek reassurance from other people that they would never do anything impulsively violent and ask if others think they are a good person.

Here are some examples of compulsions performed by people with fear of impulsive violent acts in Harm OCD:

  • Avoidance of items like knives that could be used to do harm
  • Isolation from people, areas, and animals they value
  • Avoidance of activities that could lead to anger or frustration
  • Seeking reassurance from others
  • Researching symptoms
  • Mentally reviewing past actions/interactions with others
  • Analyzing their thoughts and mental images to try to “figure out” what they mean 

How to treat fear of impulsive violence

Harm OCD with impulsive violent thoughts can be debilitating for people who struggle it, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with NOCD you can begin to get your life back. 

The goal of ERP is to help people with OCD manage their obsessions and anxiety while learning not to engage in compulsive behaviors. Through ERP, people may gain greater comfort when faced with triggers, and a reduced urge to engage in compulsions as a response to them. ERP is not easy—you will face things that can be scary. But if you make a commitment to yourself to participate in treatment and do the assigned exposures with resistance of compulsions you will succeed.

If you’re struggling with OCD, you can schedule a free 15-minute call today with the NOCD care team to learn how a licensed therapist can help. At NOCD, all therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training. ERP is most effective when the therapist conducting the treatment has experience with OCD and training in ERP.

We look forward to working with you.

Taylor Newendorp

Taylor Newendorp, M.A., LCPC, has specialized in the treatment of OCD since 2011. He is a former clinical supervisor for The Center for Anxiety and OCD at AMITA Behavioral Health Hospital in Illinois, and is currently the Regional Clinical Director for NOCD.