How to handle a strong desire to kill

Emee asks: I have a problem and I don’t know how to deal with it. This is REALLY personal. I have this inexplicable urge to kill living things. I’ve never killed a human, but I want to. I have had this problem for years. When I was 8 I sliced up my old Barbie Dolls. When I was 10 I would catch large bugs to dissect them. Now I’m 11 and I try to catch squirrels and birds. This is a problem that has become so bad I’ve researched it. I know that I have the potential for a future serial killer. That’s not who I want to be ever. I don’t feel other people’s pain and I hardly feel my own. This will be a problem someday. I need real help. Something not comparing to cats and dogs. If you can help that would be nice.

Hi Emee –

Emee, I know there are lots of websites that give advice, and I’m really glad you picked mine for this.  Because I – and all dogs – are exactly like you!  I get it.  I get your excitement, and I get your fear.  And I truly think I can help.

If you’ve ever watched puppies, you probably have noticed that we spend most of our waking hours playing.  And our playing pretty much means two things – play-fighting and play-killing.  With our friends, we tumble and scrap and bite.  And with toys (whether “official” toys like we are given by humans, or pretty much anything we find, like sticks or shoes) we rip them up, tear them, demolish them.  Just like you with the Barbie dolls.  It’s true that we puppies aren’t as aware of the meaning of these acts as you were (hey – that 8-year-old human brain of yours was probably bigger than all of me was at that stage!), but we were doing the same thing.

Emee, it’s instinctual.  We all have base instincts in us that come from our distant ancestors (for us pups that means wolves!), and a major part of all our development involves instinctively building these skills.  So a six-month-old puppy has already learned to fight and to hunt, as well as to love.  Probably the three most important skills a dog needs to live.  Similarly, while you humans develop more slowly and with far more insight and intelligence, your instincts taught you to be interested in fighting and killing at an early age too.

Now, I am about as sweet and kind a being as has ever existed… if you are a human or a dog, and I believe you’re going to be kind to me.  But I’m a terrific fighter if I’m feeling threatened.  And I am a VERY good hunter, of other kinds of animals.  Emee I have killed squirrels, rats, birds, and more.  None of these animals threatened me (I’ve killed an uncountable number of fleas too, but they definitely deserved it!).  I hunt because every bit of my instinct tells me to do so.  The only reason I wouldn’t hunt a small animal is if Handsome, my human friend, tells me not to.  And he has to really yell sometimes to make sure I hear him!  Those instincts are LOUD!

So why am I saying all this about myself, Emee?  It’s because, if you met me, you wouldn’t be in the least afraid that I’d hunt you or kill you.  Nor does any dog.  I don’t think that way, because dogs and people are what I see as beings I play with, or fight with, or run away from, or cuddle up to.  Not as something I want to kill.

Now if you’d written me and said that you had all these desires to kill small animals, and you were now feeling like killing cats or dogs, and thought that in the future you might want to kill people, and you wondered why anyone had a problem with that… THEN I’d worry!  It would tell me that you were actually something called a Sociopath, which is a person who has no conscience or empathy (If you don’t know that last word, Empathy is that quality where you feel what another person’s feeling.  Like if you see someone suck on a lemon, and your mouth purses up.  Or if you see someone have a bad fall and feel a bit of an “Ouch!”  Or if you see a movie or hear a song that makes you cry because its so sad.  All of those are Empathy.  If you’ve experienced those, I think you’re fine.).

But instead, you’re writing me that you are afraid you might want to hurt people someday.  And that makes me feel you never will.

In fact, I’m going to make a guess.  I’m going to guess that, as you develop further into a teenager, you’re going to start to empathize more.  That you’re going to start to feel a little bad about the deaths of those squirrels and birds.  Your passion for killing is actually a passion for experiencing life, and you might find that that turns into a passion for life.  Who knows, you might even find that your fascination with life and death in living things leads you to become a medical doctor or veterinarian, and devote yourself to actually protecting lives.

Of course there are other alternatives.  Maybe you’ll always be excited to go hunting – and that’s of course totally fine.  Or something else.

Now you might have heard of a series of books, that became a popular TV series, about a serial killer with a conscience who becomes an expert for the police, and only seeks to kill other serial killers.  While this concept has proven very popular and entertaining, it’s not real.  No, my friend, your fear of becoming a murderer is exactly the quality that will keep you from becoming one.

Now, though, you also say this thing about not feeling others’ pain. Which leads to another possibility:

Very often this happens because of some sort of trauma (victims of war or abuse get this a lot).  What you need isn’t really about hunting or killing; it’s just that you need to get your ability to feel back.  We all need to be able to feel our own feelings.  Imagine if a baby wasn’t able to feel when it was hungry or in pain – they’d never cry, and so never call their adults’ attention, and they might not even live!  Oh I hate to think what my life would be like without feeling everything.  No anger at cats, no sadness when Handsome leaves in the morning, and worst of all, no overwhelming ecstasy when he comes home, or when I get special treats, or when I get to run along a beach.  Life would be so empty!


And if this is the case, I really urge you to find some way to get some therapy.  I still say you’ll be fine, but you might need a bit of help to get through this worry, and if so, they’re just the right people to ask. Again, not because you have enjoyed killing some small animals (as I’ve told you, I enjoy that too).  But because of this numbness.  I don’t know your history at all, of course, but I can’t imagine that this isn’t happening without some reason, some deep pain or fear that’s keeping you from experiencing your full self and life.  Do you have someone who works at your school who you could talk to?  Or would you feel okay asking your family to take you to talk with someone?


If you can find someone good, I can guarantee you that it will help.  You’ll feel more happiness (as well as more other stuff, but that’s part of life too, and so not a bad thing at all!), and I’m guessing that it will take away some of your desire to kill too.


And I’ll say something else here, a bit scary.  When teens suffer from numbness, they often move to one of three activities, to experience the feelings they need to.  One is dangerous social behaviors (like random sex), one is drugs, but today, the one we keep hearing about is Cutting.  It’s a way of feeling something, as well as putting out a statement asking for help.


Well you’ve done something much better – you haven’t hurt yourself, and you put out your request for help to me.  So let’s get you that help you need.  Let’s get you someone to talk with, who can work with you to get all of yourself back.


The issue I’m seeing now, Emee, isn’t about the deaths of little animals.  It’s about bringing you back to being fully alive!

But for now, I’m suddenly feeling this great urge to sneak out my doggy door and see if any sassy bushy-tailed brats are burying any nuts in my yard…


All my best,


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R.Levine - November 11, 2014 Reply

If you have difficulty feeling your pain and the pain of others and you have a desire to kill, there’s a high chance that you underwent some trauma or abuse when you were younger. Go to therapy. If you’re too young to arrange for it yourself, speak with an adult that you trust (I hope you have such a person) to help you do whatever is needed to see a therapist; it’s preferable to find a therapist who knows about abuse and how it affects people, but the main thing now is to find someone to talk to who won’t judge you. Best of luck, R.

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