I get bad thoughts

Every once in a while, very unpleasant or disturbing thoughts come into my head. Since there are many of them, it begs the question, “Am I one disturbed human whack-o?”

Although some people might think I am, I believe I am relatively normal (“relatively” being the operative word here). What I am referring to are thoughts that we all get but are embarrassed to admit. Here is a short list of thoughts or images that I have either had myself or that have been reported to me by clients. Some of them are funny and embarrassing, others are mortifying. None are unusual:

Less disturbing ones can include things such as imagining an inappropriate sexual act with a person you would normally be attracted to (burying your face in a woman’s cleavage, grabbing a football player’s ass), or doing something illegal (scratching your neighbour’s Porsche, stealing from petty cash, attacking your boss). More disturbing ones can include thoughts such as performing sexual acts of an unwanted nature (animals, children, grandparents, undesired homosexual thoughts, etc.) or of doing something harmful to loved ones (killing your children or parents, driving into oncoming traffic). At times, instead of specific images, you may imagine a disturbing state of mind or situation (imagining your life without your spouse or children and finding pleasure in that thought).

Suffice it to say there is no shortage of these types of thoughts. Occasionally, they pop up simply because of triggers in our environment (films, news stories, etc). Other times, they pop up in response to frustration or anger. We have a right to feel anger. We have a right to feel sexual attraction. We have a right to dream of good and bad things. The fact is that these thoughts and images are manifestations of normal emotional states. Most people don’t question them and simply get on with their lives. They let the emotional states pass. For others however, these thoughts trigger a series of questions and assumptions that can torture them.

A wanted thought can be acted upon. An unwanted thought cannot. 

The definition of “normal” can of course be subject to a great deal of interpretation but if we use the simple definition of normal as referring to things that are common, or not out of the ordinary, then these thoughts are normal. The only reason they are thought to be signs of a disturbed mind is that they are usually too embarrassing to share. This gives us the mistaken impression that we are alone with our freakish thoughts. Not so. As I said, I get them myself (I won’t tell you which thoughts from then above list are mine and which are from clients!)

This was the subject of my January 12, 2010 column posted below.

Of course if I’m wrong about all of this, you might want to keep your distance from me…. 

I get bad thoughts

(Source: J’ai des mauvaises pensées. Journal Métro, January 12, 2010)

Do you ever have a thought so disturbing you could not even bring yourself to share with anyone? Do you ever think of running off the platform in the Métro, or of strangling your baby, or of steering your car into oncoming traffic?

If you are normal, then the answer to the above questions is: Of course you do!

I could come up with a long and very disturbing list of thoughts that people can have but I will spare you the gruesome details. Suffice it to say we all have them and they are not signs that anything is wrong with us.

Horrific thoughts

Horrific thoughts come to all of us. They are the signs of a fertile imagination, fed in part by the many fantasies, dreams, books, and films we all experience. Sometimes they just pop up in response to cues that we are barely aware of. At other times they can come to us when we find ourselves in an emotional state such as anger or depression. When this is the case, it is not at all unusual to imagine what it would be like to act on those feelings. We can even have some pretty vivid images of these acts in our heads.

Why do I have such crazy thoughts?

It is a popular assumption that our thoughts may be a sign of some subconscious conflict and that we might act on such horrible secret desires if we do not resolve the source of the conflict. This is an assumption that freaks people out. It is also completely ridiculous.

Yes, we can act on our negative desires if we actually harbour them, but no, having a bad thought is not a sign of such desires.

Bad thoughts are normally signs of anxiety, not of secret desires. When we fear something, it is normal to imagine that very thing. This is how our brains respond to fear. It is a way of ensuring that we do not act in any dangerous way. The more you fear something, the more careful you are.

A window into the minds of others

There has been some excellent research to show that normal people get the same number of bad or horrific thoughts than people who are highly anxious or obsessive. The difference between these two groups is a simple one. Normal people get these thoughts and think nothing of them. The thoughts then go away. Anxious people get them and question why they have them. They then try to control their thoughts. Failure to do so makes them think that the thoughts are stronger than them, which of course increases anxiety and makes the bad thoughts come more often.

The reality is much simpler. A thought is a thought and a desire is a desire. The two are not at all connected.


Tagged as , , , , , , , .

Posted in Anxiety, Mental health.

Posted on 26 Jan 2010

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40 comments to I get bad thoughts

  1. marion
    On Nov 18th 2013 at 17:23
    Reply

    I get bad thoughts and am pleased by your blog because no one ever says what the bad thoughts are and reading your blog you actually sate what are the bad thought are . I am not going mad x

  2. monica naymik
    On Mar 14th 2014 at 22:13
    Reply

    I just wanted to say these are excellent examples of my present situation. And I feel I have a better understanding of.my thoughts

  3. JJ
    On Apr 30th 2014 at 19:40
    Reply

    Thank goodness I found this website! I thought for a moment I was going crazy. I’m a pretty normal person, single parent with the typical 8-5 office job. For the last couple of weeks I have been experiencing these horrific thoughts, I think they were triggered by the movie The Talented Mr. Ripley. Since then these bad thoughts keep popping into my head randomly!

  4. Melissa
    On Jul 20th 2014 at 00:39
    Reply

    I have come to find great comfort reading this article. Honestly, I am a VERY kind hearted person. But I find myself obsessing over very negative things, especially murders involving children. Once I hear or see a story about a young child getting killed, especially on purpose. I obsess over it, I picture the child’s face, I picture the child’s cry and it Literally makes me sick to my stomach. I have a two year old son, and sometimes I get thoughts of harming him, to the point where I will cry and think to myself “why am I thinking such things?” Does it make me a bad mother? I would NEVER hurt him in any way, but just the thought that every human is capable of doing disgusting acts scares the hell out of me. I would very much so like to see a therapist to try and cope with these intrusive thoughts but I am scared they will report me as a bad mother or that they will think I am evil and have me put away in some mental hospital. I know I am never capable of hurting anyone, but when I get those thoughts especially about my adorable son I feel shameful.

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Jul 21st 2014 at 16:52
      Reply

      You have no reason to feel any shame. Your fears are a reflection of your love. Period. They are not a sign of anything except anxiety. Just let them come and go naturally. You do not need to control thoughts. They are not reflections of any secret evil desires.

      No reputable psychologist would ever report you for intrusive thoughts. Just make sure he or she understands anxious and obsessional thoughts. Anyone who thinks they are a sign of something else is a quack.

      Thanks for your comment. Take care.

    • Kat
      On May 20th 2017 at 00:30
      Reply

      So scary, just read your post from 2014, going thru the same thing after hysterectomy so frustrated. Hope your doing better.

  5. Jodie
    On Jul 24th 2014 at 21:29
    Reply

    But what if the bad thoughts are indications of unwanted desires? What do you do then? I worry that I am really a bad person because of bad thoughts I have. I try to convince myself that a bad person acts upon these bad thoughts/desires, whereas I do not. What if the reason I am quite lonely is because people see something in me that I am trying to hide? What do I do about all of this ‘stuff’?

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Jul 25th 2014 at 13:08
      Reply

      They are not. In fact they are the opposite of secret desires. They are the ‘fear’ of them. When you fear something, you imagine it. I don’t know if I can convince you but believe me, this is a very common fear and not something you need to control in any way.

      • Irina
        On Jan 11th 2016 at 15:14
        Reply

        Dear Camillo, what do you mean by “they are the fear of them”?

        • Camillo Zacchia
          On Jan 11th 2016 at 18:31
          Reply

          I mean that the “fear” of a desire is not the actual “desire.”
          A thought of something is not the thing itself. For example, the fear of cancer is not cancer. It is a fear.

          There is a painting by René Magritte of a pipe. The caption says, “This is not a pipe.” It sounds obvious but it true. A picture of a pipe is not a pipe. You can’t put tobacco in the picture and smoke it!

          • Irina
            On Jan 12th 2016 at 16:01


            So that ‘desire’ is not even a desire, but just bad thought representing fear of something like that happening?

  6. Julian
    On Aug 15th 2014 at 02:51
    Reply

    I always get bad thought running through my head very bad thought about every thing need help

  7. Julian
    On Aug 15th 2014 at 02:56
    Reply

    Getting worse every day

  8. L
    On Dec 20th 2014 at 06:07
    Reply

    First, thanks for the blog post. I have to ask, is it normal to have the severely bad thoughts for a prolonged amount of time? You use the phrase “every once in a while”, but what if these thoughts are daily? Should that person seek help?

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Dec 22nd 2014 at 14:45
      Reply

      A thought that comes “every once in a while” will normally pass. However, if you worry about them, they stay and stay and stay! In other words, when you question your thoughts you end up focussing on them and they stay. If you don’t care what comes into your head, it will run its course and go away. It’s just like a song that you don’t like. It eventually passes even when you do nothing to it.

  9. Annie
    On Jan 24th 2015 at 03:16
    Reply

    I often have horrific thoughts about bad things happening to me or the people I love that can be overwhelming and intrusive, sometimes causing insomnia. These thoughts have plagued me since I was a child. They are often triggered by things I have seen or read about. Over the years I have developed strategies to talk myself down and distract my mind. I noticed that it’s worse when I am very tired and stressed. What bothers me now, is that my 5 year old son has now started exhibiting this behavior. I have great sympathy for him and I also feel guilty because I must have passed this anxiety trait to him. My husband doesn’t understand and thinks we’re both a bit silly. What can I do to help him cope?

  10. jomon joy
    On Feb 28th 2016 at 05:49
    Reply

    i can’t able to stop thinking bad thought.it’s really rule me.please help me other wise I lost my future

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Feb 29th 2016 at 19:33
      Reply

      A thought is only bad if you give it meaning. When we are anxious it is normal to have intrusive images and thoughts. Anxiety is a very treatable condition so you can have a completely normal future.

  11. Alex-Rose
    On Mar 15th 2016 at 03:50
    Reply

    I thought I was going insane. Because of a video I clicked on thinking that something cool was going to happen but it was a trick and it was a baby being…. Hurt… In a way that was so mortifying and disgusting that I was traumatized for the whole year and still am. Of course I clicked off literally 2 secs after I noticed what was happening. But its haunted me ever since and I cant go a day without thinking about it. It makes my head hurt and makes me feel weird and have a weird feeling in my stomach and body and makes me feel sick. And I in no way ever want to do that to anybody or any young child, but it pops in my head everyday, every night and everything I do because that video scared me and made me really worry about the world and want to save every child out there from that happening to them. But every kid I see the baby turns into them and I cry. But I feel if I talked to people about it I thought people would think I’m weird and twisted. But it really has me shaken and question my life because what I saw was horrible and I want it out of my head I cry every night. I seriously thought of commit suicide over this… It really messed me up. I want these erased from my mind because I’ve seriously lost sleep cause of the constant over playing it in my head. I seriously need it to stop because I seriously think I’m crazy but I know for a fact it’s not me.

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Mar 15th 2016 at 12:31
      Reply

      As I wrote, these are not reflections of real desires. They are unpleasant thoughts that come into all of our heads (sometimes provoked by a film, or by an event in the news, or just a spontaneous thought). The problem is that when we try not to get them we inadvertently give them more focus and they happen more often. But thoughts don’t go away when we force them to. They go away on their own when we don’t care about them and don’t give them any meaning.

      • Irma
        On Mar 25th 2016 at 16:35
        Reply

        Please help me

        I don’t know why but this has been my problem ever since.

        They say that you attract whatever you think about. So I do creative visualization. I try to think about the things that I want to happen in my life. I try to imagine it and picture it in my head. But after a few seconds a random disturbing thought pops into my head. Usually about my fears. I don’t want to attract these bad thoughts I don’t want to think about them but it seems like my brain is automatically or trying to force me to think of these things. Pls help me control them. I tried everything o replace them with a positive thought but it’s still pops randomly.

  12. Bryson
    On Apr 10th 2016 at 20:57
    Reply

    I have had bad thoughts like these for about a year now and I have been very scared of them and always questioned and worried about why I have had them in my head, it scares me so much and I didn’t know what to do but reading this helps me out a lot knowing other people get these thoughts also, because I’m a very nice person and these thoughts I get are horrific and I know I would never do them but it feels like my mind is controlling me as crazy as that sounds, day in and day out it feels like I’m in a constant war with my mind and it scares me sometimes I’ll just break down and cry cause I don’t know what to do, and I keep telling myself that over time these thoughts will go away, but it has been over a year now and it is really taking a toll on my mind and body.

  13. L
    On May 16th 2016 at 04:07
    Reply

    These thoughts are extremely damaging and horrific. Isn’t there some pill or medicine to make them go away permanently? I don’t feel like myself anymore, and the worst part is, I can never say what is going on, and they are the main factor of why I am severely depressed. And there doesn’t seem to be a cure for it. One day, I just woke up and there those thoughts were, like a plague. If somebody could whip up some magic pill to erase them from my mind, that’d be just swell, but I can’t find anything online.

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Jun 17th 2016 at 03:18
      Reply

      Antidepressants can reduce the frequency and, more importantly, help you feel less scared of them but the best remedy is to let them be. They are fears, not desires. If you don’t fight them (and thereby give them significance) they will dissipate naturally.

  14. Bhoomika
    On Oct 11th 2016 at 08:53
    Reply

    Does it mean that one is suffering from multiple disorder as he is getting bad thoughts again n again?

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Dec 22nd 2016 at 13:36
      Reply

      Absolutely not.

  15. Courtney
    On Nov 20th 2016 at 07:19
    Reply

    Sometimes I have thoughts in my head of a loved one dying. In the past my dad has had a heart attack and could have died that day I still think about what if he did. Sometimes I think about car accidents happening with loved ones and I just feel sad and depressed. I don’t want these images in my head but they happen and make me sad I don’t know what to do..

  16. Anon
    On Dec 7th 2016 at 17:31
    Reply

    I’m a kid and I saw a video on YouTube about top ten things you should not search up. I didn’t search them up or watch them, but the thought of these videos makes me feel sick, and sometimes I get disturbing thoughts about how much power one has. This article gave me great comfort

  17. Anonymous
    On Dec 10th 2016 at 04:58
    Reply

    This post gave me so much comfort. These past few days I have been in a terrible anxious state because I keep having horrible recurring thoughts, such as wanting people I love to die, and saying I never loved people in my life who have already passed on. I know that this is 100% NOT TRUE, I love with my whole heart and family is my number one priority. These “thoughts” come into my head when I’m alone with myself and I get myself into a panic attack, thinking to myself “why would I say that in my head I don’t think that AT ALL. and then I start thinking that I’m insane and I’m a horrible person for even having the thought in my mind for a split second. I would do anything to rid my mind of these thoughts. It’s getting worse every day because every morning I remember the horrible things I thought to myself the day before and it starts all over again. I don’t have ocd because I don’t have any ticks or obsessions with cleaning and perfectionism, but I seriously think something is wrong with me. But reading this post gave me comfort in knowing I’m not alone, and that just because these thoughts come into my head it doesn’t mean that’s how I feel. And that’s a huge thing for me, because I’ve been beating myself up about this.

  18. Vyakti
    On Jan 5th 2017 at 18:11
    Reply

    Great. Very good article. I am inspired to handle-well not handle :) -fearful thoughts now.

  19. Marie hardy
    On Feb 4th 2017 at 08:31
    Reply

    I have bad thoughts that run through my head of wonting to kill myself why out of the blues and it repeat s it in my mind over and over again and i get really scared .this been going on for years . And i wont it to stop i have kids that need me . as well as i wont it to stop
    Thanks marie

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Mar 1st 2017 at 14:52
      Reply

      You clearly do not want to kill yourself so you CANNOT. Quite simply, you cannot do something against your will. It is just the fear making you imagine it. It is the OPPOSITE of a desire.

  20. clyde owens
    On Feb 14th 2017 at 19:14
    Reply

    i am so glad that i found this website. Because I didn:t understand what was going on in my head. My thought was so confusing. Little did I know that I am not the only one with these thoughts

  21. Bailey
    On Feb 28th 2017 at 15:58
    Reply

    How long do these thoughts usually last? I have been thinking awful things for about a week now and every time I think of it I am driving in my car. It slipped in my head one time when I thought about going to hell and now it has just created a big black hole in my head. I feel like it is consuming me but I just want to scream or die every time I think of it. What if it never goes away?

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Mar 1st 2017 at 14:49
      Reply

      The thoughts stay as long as you pay attention to them. When you do, you just keep focus on them. They are like a bad song that comes into your head. If you don’t care that they are there you will evtually get distracted and they will be gone. They don’t mean anything. Don’t fight them.

  22. Marche
    On Mar 13th 2017 at 07:28
    Reply

    As I read your post I immediately related but reading the other comments I truly empathize and became emotional. Im so thankful for your blog and the brave comments of others. I was feeling alone in this “disgusting place” my mind. Knowing in my heart these were not desires and reading that they are fears lifted a weight. These things that i see are so horrific even my deceased love ones are involved at times causing me to apologize to them, feeling shame and confusion. You have helped me in a way undesirable to words and i can’t truly determine if this will help them go away because the more you try not to think or as you said give attention to the thoughts the more the thought circulates. Regardless I have truly found a tiny bite of peace on your page.

  23. Billie Brown
    On Mar 17th 2017 at 01:46
    Reply

    A family member of mine kept having thoughts of being in love and attracted sexually to his mother and sister and felt like he had to talk about it to make it go away but when he told it the people it involved got really upset and thought he had something really horribly wrong with him mentally . Is this something to be worried about ?

    • Camillo Zacchia
      On Mar 17th 2017 at 18:14
      Reply

      No. It is just another example of an unwanted bad or intrusive thought. It is an example of the fear of being perverted. As I said in the article and in other comments, it is not a desire. It is the FEAR of a desire. It is another form of anxiety. He is not “crazy” or “deranged.” He does suffer from anxiety which is a form of mental illness but he is not mentally ill in the sense that that your question implied.

  24. britney
    On Mar 18th 2017 at 23:13
    Reply

    I’m scared I might be going crazy. I have bad thoughts that I don’t wanna think and I’m starting to have anxiety. like, sometimes ill feel this pit or sinking feeling in my heart for a brief second. I have disturbing dreams. last night I dreamt I had to escape a woman who burned children alive. I’m just scared I might have psychosis and I really, really, really, wanna be normal. I wasn’t raised right or even at all. there are a lot of memories I have to literally shout out of my head sometimes I find myself hitting my head to get these thoughts or memories out. I’m scared my mental state might be slipping. how can I lower anxiety?

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