Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Fear of becoming a serial killer

Sep 30, 20227 minute read

Harm OCD can include obsessions related to becoming a serial killer. This may include thoughts that one’s personality matches that of a serial killer or that certain characteristics that are linked to serial killers are present in one’s life, which may lead them to commit the act of serial murder. It may also include unwanted violent images of harming others or having harmed others.

Individuals who experience this subtype of OCD do not want to hurt or kill others. Rather, they fear they could hurt or kill others, and find it difficult to tolerate even the slightest uncertainty about what they could be capable of. They are no more likely than the general population to commit these acts. These individuals may actually be less likely to commit murder due to their hyper-awareness of their thoughts and behaviors, and due to the great distress and anxiety that these thoughts bring to them. People with OCD experience thoughts that are “ego-dystonic” which means that the thoughts are directly opposed to what they value and want to do. 

Someone who is experiencing serial killer themes in Harm OCD experiences unwanted intrusive thoughts, images, doubts, or urges that cause them significant distress and anxiety, called obsessions. In an effort to rid themselves of these uncomfortable feelings, people with OCD will often perform compulsions. Compulsions are actions, either mental or physical, that serve to neutralize uncertainty or worry, or prevent a feared outcome. 

People who experience this form of OCD may engage in avoidance behaviors: they may avoid watching television or news stories about serial killers, or crime shows, and they may engage in excessive reassurance-seeking when they do come across these types of stories. They may avoid other people and crowded spaces in general. They may ask loved ones whether they think that they are capable of this type of crime. Someone experiencing these fears may check or review their personality characteristics to see if they “match” those of known serial killers. They may spend excessive amounts of time researching this to feel certain that they could never commit serial murder. Individuals may avoid sharp objects, weapons, or anything they think may be dangerous.
  • What if I “snap”?
  • What if I am capable of hurting others?
  • What if I secretly want to kill people?
  • What if my personality characteristics are similar to known serial killers?
  • What if I lose control during sex and kill someone?
  • Images of killing people or hurting them

Do these thoughts sound familiar? Learn how you can overcome them.

As an OCD specialist, I know how overwhelming OCD symptoms can be—and how hard it is to open up about your experience. You’re not on your own, and you can talk to a specialist like me who has experience treating OCD.

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Common Triggers

Common triggers that are experienced by people with OCD themes and fears that involve becoming a serial killer may include seeing news stories or television shows depicting serial killers, situations where they are alone with another individual, being around weapons of any kind, and being in crowded places. People with OCD tend to avoid situations in which they feel intrusive thoughts are triggered or may be triggered.

Triggers that are experienced by people OCD fears of becoming a serial killer may include:

  • Seeing weapons
  • Hearing about crimes
  • Watching the news or crime documentaries
  • Scary or horror movies
  • Being alone with someone
  • Becoming angry or upset (fear of losing control/”snapping”)
  • Being around crowds or people you consider “vulnerable”

This is an excellent question. To know if you may be suffering from OCD, you need to learn to recognize the OCD cycle.

The OCD cycle is composed of: 1) intrusive thoughts, feelings, images, or urges; 2) anxiety or distress that comes as a result; 3) compulsions performed to relieve the distress and anxiety brought on by the intrusive thoughts, images or urges, or to prevent a feared outcome. Understanding this cycle can help you distinguish OCD from other conditions. Something to keep in mind is that if you are feeling an intense urgency to know something immediately and with certainty, that is a red flag that OCD may be at work.

Intrusive thoughts can and do happen to everyone. Most people who do not have OCD are able to brush these thoughts off rather easily. However, people with OCD struggle to do this. They often believe that if they think something, it must mean something. This is where OCD holds its power. The ability to make a person question who they are and what they are capable of. Intrusive thoughts that occur with OCD are ego-dystonic, meaning that they go against the values, intents, or beliefs of the person with OCD, and as such, it can be difficult to accept uncertainty about them. People who suffer from OCD do not enjoy having these thoughts, they do not want more of these thoughts; they are disturbed by these thoughts and tormented.

Common compulsions

When people with OCD experience intrusive themes, fears, images, or urges that involve becoming a serial killer, they might engage in compulsions. Compulsions are behaviors or mental acts that one does to alleviate the distress and discomfort caused by intrusive thoughts, and they can look different in every person. Compulsions may provide temporary relief, but do nothing to keep obsessions from returning again and again. Performing compulsions often inadvertently strengthens obsessions and fears, reinforcing the idea that obsessions posed an actual threat or danger that compulsions dealt with. 

Compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with OCD serial killer fears include but are not limited to:

  • Analyzing, mental review, or rumination on whether the thoughts line up with who you are as a person
  • Monitoring or limiting news articles, shows, etc.
  • Reviewing your past to see if you are “capable” of committing murder
  • Revisiting locations you have been where the thoughts, images, urges may have occurred, to ensure no one is harmed
  • Seeking reassurance from people that you are indeed a “good” person
  • Researching what the signs are of a serial killer or personality traits common in murderers
  • Replacing “bad” thoughts or images with “good” ones
  • Saying certain phrases in one’s head to neutralize or undo the scary and distressing thoughts or images
  • Tapping or holding things in a certain matter in order to feel secure
  • Avoiding weapons or being around anything that could possibly cause harm
  • Avoidance of being around people, particularly people whom you see as “vulnerable”

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How to treat fear of becoming a serial killer

Harm themes in OCD, including fears of becoming a serial killer, can be debilitating, but they are highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with an OCD specialist, you can find freedom from the OCD cycle. 

ERP is the gold standard treatment for OCD and many other anxiety disorders. It is backed by decades of clinical research proving its effectiveness, and shows promising results within 12-25 sessions on average. With ERP, you will be able to teach your brain that your intrusive thoughts don’t have any real meaning; they’re just thoughts. 

In ERP, you’re gradually and safely exposed to the thoughts and situations that are likely to trigger intrusive thoughts and anxiety. With your therapist’s guidance and support, you will learn how to resist the urge to respond to feelings of discomfort and anxiety with compulsions. By doing this over time, you learn that you are able to tolerate anxiety and you will feel more confident in your ability to sit with uncertainty and discomfort.

Examples of possible exposures done to treat Harm OCD with fears of becoming a serial killer include:

  • Reading about or watching stories about serial killers
  • Watching scary or horror movies about killers
  • Being alone with people with weapons around
  • Sitting close to someone 
  • Writing and reading out loud a worst-case scenario script, in which you imagine yourself acting on the thoughts, images and urges
  • Volunteering around “vulnerable” populations, such as the elderly or young children

If you’re struggling with OCD, As an OCD specialist, I’ve used ERP to help many people regain their lives from OCD. I encourage you to learn about NOCD’s accessible, evidence-based approach to treatment 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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