Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fears about mass murder

By Teda Kokoneshi, LMHC

Sep 9, 20225 minute read

Reviewed byTaylor Newendorp

Within the subtype of Harm OCD, people may experience unwanted thoughts and images of committing a mass murder and other random acts of violence they consider to be abhorrent. These obsessions also often involve fears about “losing one’s mind” and doing something completely out of character and directly opposed to the values of the individual who has these fears. Like any other type or subtype of OCD, these thoughts and fears are “ego-dystonic,” meaning that they oppose the personal values and intentions an individual lives by. Someone who values avoiding harm above all else, if affected by OCD, might be plagued by fears of harming random innocent people through violent acts.

A person suffering from OCD with obsessional fear of mass murder may doubt their own sanity and their capacity for self-control and restraint. Their mind might be intruded upon by violent images of them harming or killing groups of people they come across in daily activities such as at work, school or other public contexts. 

A person struggling with mass murder OCD fears might avoid these daily activities and environments to the point of extreme isolation because the stress feels unbearable. Unfortunately, the more an individual avoids anything out of fear, the urge to avoid other situations grows bigger, and they never learn that they’re able to engage in those situations safely. But avoidance is not the only compulsion common in Harm OCD. An affected individual might have a list of rituals that are meant to prevent the feared event from happening, including “magical thinking” rituals like having “good and bad” numbers. In addition they may attempt to neutralize the intrusive, upsetting images and thoughts by replacing them with “better” thoughts.
  • Intrusive thoughts or images about opening fire in a public space
  • Intrusive thoughts about attacking or harming people of a certain group
  • Thoughts or doubts about losing control in an unexpected situation and killing others
  • Losing control and driving their car into a crowd of people
  • Unwanted thoughts/images of planting explosives or setting fires in buildings/areas with large groups of people

Common triggers

People with obsessions relating to mass murder OCD may be triggered by situations involving news of mass shootings happening. As this phenomenon has received a lot of media attention in recent years, this naturally exacerbates the intrusive fears of people plagued by this manifestation of OCD. 

In addition, hearing related news, such as coverage of legislative efforts to curb mass shootings, might be a trigger to OCD-affected people as they are reminded of their core fear of losing control and hurting groups of people. Other triggers might include being near schools and college campuses, movie theaters, grocery stores, or other public locations with lots of people. 

Objects that can be used to cause harm, such as firearms, explosives, vehicles, knives, or other sharp objects can trigger a person to experience intrusive fears. Watching TV shows or movies that involve scenes of violence and death can be triggering, too, as well as books or articles with similar content.

How can I tell if it’s OCD fear of committing mass murder and not an underlying issue that could result in a hate crime or other mass violence?

As discussed earlier, OCD—no matter what the subtype—is ego-dystonic. These types of obsessional fears are just that: intrusive fears or doubts that go against your identified values, intentions, desires, and morals. With Harm OCD, people are often horrified by such obsessions and experience extreme levels of anxiety and distress when they occur. People who are prone to actually engaging in extreme violence do not tend to experience the same distress or fear related to such ideas and might begin to actively plan how they could follow through with such scenarios. 

In the absence of other factors like extreme hatred or bigotry toward certain groups of people, intrusive thoughts about mass violence, are likely signs of Harm OCD, rather than actual dangerous or violent tendencies.

Common Compulsions

When people with fear of mass murder experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may entirely avoid any objects that they can could conceivably use to perpetrate violence or harm.

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with murder fears in OCD include:

  • The TV is on and news of a mass shooting comes on the screen, and they excuse themselves and leave the room or ask for the TV to be turned off. 
  • They are using a knife at the dinner table with their family, and they stop doing so for fear that they might lose control and hurt the members of their household. 
  • They research stories online about perpetrators of past mass violent crimes and compulsively “compare” themselves to such a person to “check” if they might be capable of doing something similar. 
  • They mentally review their past experiences and their own thoughts and feelings about such obsessions to try and “figure out” if they have ever felt or behaved in a way that would indicate they could act on their intrusive thoughts or urges.
  • They count the steps they take to go from point A to point B in public to ensure that they remain in perfect control. 
  • They replace violent imagery in their mind with peaceful visualizations, whether they are guided or self-generated. 
  • They avoid schools, malls, theaters, and other large public gathering spaces.
  • They compulsively pray when they experience from the mass murder obsessions. 

How to treat fear of mass murder

Harm OCD with fears of mass murder can be debilitating, but it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, a sufferer can learn to tolerate the distress that comes from these intrusive thoughts, while seeing that despite these fears being present, they are safe from acting upon them. In other words, people with OCD learn through ERP that thoughts don’t equal actions, and that they are free to uphold their values despite the presence of intrusive violent thoughts or images. 

This is done by gradually exposing themselves, with the help of a therapist, to triggers they have been avoiding, then gradually learning to tolerate the uncertainty and distress without avoidance and other compulsions. In time, they learn that they can tolerate the discomfort they feel in response to triggers and obsessions, and live with confidence in their values.

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.

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