Mental-Cognitive Symptoms

Violent Thoughts: An Anxiety Symptom

  • Anxiety can cause uncharacteristically violent thoughts.
  • “Unexplained” violent thoughts are also a symptom of some types of anxiety.
  • How you react to those thoughts can increase how frequently they occur.
  • We identify 3 strategies to control anxiety-related violent thoughts.
  • Treating anxiety remains the most important step for preventing future unwanted thoughts.
Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated March 1, 2021

Violent Thoughts: An Anxiety Symptom

Anxiety can be a confusing condition for those who experience it and can be even more puzzling for those who have not personally experienced it. Many people without a history of anxiety mistake anxiety for fear but anxiety isn't always fear. Anxiety is simply a feared response but may not necessarily be in response to fear-related trigger. Anxiety itself also has dozens of other symptoms that can be confusing, upsetting, and stressful.

Violent thoughts are an example of a stressful symptom, those who experience this symptom may find it comforting to know that this is not an uncommon symptom. Violent thoughts themselves may not sound like anxiety, but they can be directly related to specific anxiety issues.

Violent Thoughts Are Normal Thoughts Gone Wild

The first thing to realize is that violent thoughts don't start as an anxiety symptom, nor do they mean anything about your personality. They're simply thoughts - the same types of thoughts that most people have and forget. Anxiety simply causes issues that bring them out more. 

Violent thoughts are most common in those with obsessive compulsive disorder, although they may affect any type of anxiety. 

Understanding the Cause of Violent Thoughts

When we talk about these thoughts, we're talking about any thought that one might consider violent. Every person is different, so for some people the thoughts might be:

  • Doing violence against someone else.
  • Violent sexual acts.
  • Imagining brutality or gore, like a car accident.

These may not seem like they're caused by anxiety, because in a way they're not. But they're also not abnormal for those experiencing anxiety. In fact, many people have random flashes of these types of thoughts that they forget so quickly they don't even realize they have them. Imaginations are just that - imaginations. Sometimes a person daydreams and pictures something violent. It happens, and most people forget it.

The problem is that those with anxiety never seem to forget it. In fact, those with anxiety tend to think about them over and over and over. What's interesting is that the main reason this occurs _is because you're trying to forget it_.

Anxiety and Thought Suppression

There is a phenomenon in psychology known as "thought suppression." Studies have shown that people who try to stop thinking about something actually think about those thoughts more than those that don't actively try to stop thinking about it. It's not clear why this occurs, but the brain has a way of reminding you of the things you don't want to think about.

For many this is a big part of the reason that they have recurring violent thoughts - because they're trying not to have these thoughts. The more you try not to have these thoughts, the more you have them, as if your brain wants to remind you of what you're trying to avoid.

Learning and Thoughts

Another issue is simply a type of behavioral learning. Your brain can actually be trained to think things that it associated with other events. For example, when you hear a sad song and start to feel sad, you may miss an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, or think about someone you've lost. You associate the emotion with the person.

This happens with anxiety as well. If these thoughts start to cause you anxiety, then any time you may experience a small amount of anxiety it may trigger these thoughts again. This may become a serious problem for those that are trying to keep their anxiety and their violent thoughts under control.

How to Stop the Violent Thoughts From Anxiety

The first thing to realize is that these thoughts don't make you a violent or otherwise deviant person. It can certainly feel that way, especially when you have them often, but they're just thoughts, and anxiety is known to trigger them more for various reasons as described above.

If you want to stop these thoughts, you need to combat your anxiety. Try the following:

  • Think On Purpose Think these violent thoughts on purpose for a long period of time. Don't worry if they cause anxiety. Just sit there and think about it more while reminding yourself that they are just thoughts and do not have to become action. This will help you get used to the thoughts and become okay with them, rather than try to force them away all the time.
  • Write Them Down Similarly, when you have these thoughts, write them down somewhere. Writing thoughts down takes them out of your mind and into a permanent place. Many people find that when they write out thoughts their mind accepts the idea of forgetting them more, and becomes less likely to bring them up.
  • Distract Your Senses For at least a while, try not to be alone with your own thoughts. Unfortunately, when you're alone your thoughts are often your enemy, so you need to make sure that you actively keep yourself from spending too much time in quiet with your thoughts. Try to listen to podcasts, go out with friends, listen to the bird singing, etc. The busier you are, the more of a break you often get from these thoughts (even though they may occur in public).

Still, in the end the most important thing you can do is address your anxiety.  


Violent thoughts do not necessarily mean someone is violent. Instead, if the thoughts cause anxiety, the recurrence of these thoughts may be an anxiety symptom – especially of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Pushing the thoughts away does not work, but there are strategies that can reduce their impact. An anxiety treatment is especially important for this type of symptom. 

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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