Animal breakdown?
March 3, 2012 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I can't shake the feeling that I must hurt my pet, help?

One of my cats always manages to really piss me off. He is a very sweet, loving animal, and I can absolutely not say anything bad about him as he's a little sweetheart (besides being as destructive as an active adult cat can be) however, for some reason well and I keep (say, once every couple weeks or month) getting these purely compulsive thoughts that I must get rid of him, more even: that I want to see him suffer, cry in pain, die, etc... I have a few other cats (some of whom are equally loving, others not so much) towards whom I definitely do not feel the same and am not compelled to hurt any of at all. Just this one, freaking cat.

Obviously, I do not, have never and never plan to act on these violent thoughts, but they sure scare the heck out of me! This is a particularly depressing situation since I really love animals (any and all of them) and cannot understand why I came to... feel these things towards this cat in particular.

Therapy is something that I've been doing on and off for years, for a number of reasons (depression, ADHD) but never really brushed this question as I am somewhat afraid of mentioning this to my therapist and be labelled a nutjob or be forced to do something I do not want (hospitalized, etc.)

Furthermore, I have mentioned to my husband that we should adopt this cat out, but it's one of his favourites and he does not see/nor understand (I do trust him, but this is something I've never talked to anyone about) why we should do it.

Besides this, my life is very good and fairly normal. Help? What to do?
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Unless I'm missing something, it sounds that you are experiencing some psychotic hallucinations. I would tell your shrink about that ASAP. No armchair psychoanalysts on the internet are going to be much help.
posted by deathpanels at 8:07 AM on March 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

Sounds like you're dealing with intrusive thoughts-- this is not a reflection on you, and it isn't about the cat. It's considered a form of OCD and is not uncommon--- I have had them myself with another subject. Tell your therapist. He/she will have encountered this before, and there are both therapeutic and pharmaceutical options to relieve you of these thoughts. You are not at all a bad person, and having these thoughts does not in any way mean you will act on them.
posted by mireille at 8:08 AM on March 3, 2012 [49 favorites]

If you can't tell this to your current therapist, how about getting a second therapist specifically to talk about this issue.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:09 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

You really should take this to your therapist. The term "intrusive thoughts" may be useful to search for -- you'll see that lots of people have them with various psychological issues. Any therapist worth their salt will understand that you are having these thoughts involuntarily and that you do not wish to act on them.

Here's a wiki on intrusive thoughts.

Or, on preview, what mireille said.
posted by katemonster at 8:09 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thirding the 'intrusive thoughts'. Talk to your therapist, it is one of the most common symptoms of OCD, they won't think you're a nutjob or dangerous.
posted by Jairus at 8:19 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I sometimes have intrusive thoughts, which I've learned to deal with, and honestly once you understand what they are, they are not that big of a deal. Mine still disturb me in the moment, but I don't think of myself as a bad person for having them. I really don't think you're delusional or schizophrenic.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:22 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing intrusive thoughts. If your therapist doesn't work with OCD find one who does. These thoughts don't mean you'll hurt your cat or that you want to. They're the mental equivalent of pop-up ads in the brain. You are a totally okay person, honest.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:24 AM on March 3, 2012 [6 favorites]

Talk to your therapist! They are not going to hospitalize you for sharing this. This does sound like intrusive thoughts, and just sharing them should go a long way toward relief. It's understandable that this is scary for you, but enlist your therapist in helping you through it.
posted by sweetkid at 8:29 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

They didn't hospitalize a friend of mine when she was having these thoughts about her baby. (They got her some good treatment with a quickness, mind you, but they didn't 5150 her.) They won't hospitalize you for having these thoughts about your cat, either. Tell your shrink; there are good, effective treatment options available. The problem is not that you might hurt the cat, because obviously you know why that isn't a good idea and shouldn't happen. The problem is that these thoughts are scaring you and negatively affecting your life, and you want them to stop.
posted by KathrynT at 8:35 AM on March 3, 2012 [12 favorites]

Sounds like intrusive thoughts - and I think they are normal - the thoughts themselves are harmless. Just to ease your own worries/fears, the fact that you are bothered by having these thoughts about your cat is probably a good sign. Seems like it would be much different if, say, you had these thoughts and rationalized them away to the point that you would consider actually harming the cat.

I do not think any therapist will conclude that you are having psychotic hallucinations or that you are a "nutjob" or that you need to be hospitalized. Your therapist will probably be familiar with intrusive thoughts and how to help you handle them. If they aren't, find a new therapist.

I'm sure that intrusive thoughts are not something most people will talk about or admit to(or at least not to their specific thoughts,) and the nature of them is probably why your post is anonymous...but that does not mean that they are not a normal, human occurrence.
posted by fromageball at 8:36 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do share these thoughts. Sometimes the more you try to suppress them, the more space they take up in your mind. Yes, it's scary, but it sounds like you can trust yourself to not hurt the cat. Sharing these thoughts will really help.

Also, a few years ago, I am sure that there was a post on here where a lot of mifi's listed their odd, uncontrolled thoughts. If I find it I will post it. It made me feel much more normal and o.k.
posted by Vaike at 8:39 AM on March 3, 2012

I use some graphic/violent language in the following post.

I have Tourette Syndrome* and I go through phrases where I picture myself dying-not dead in a casket or falling off a building, but having my throat slit, being drained of blood in a bathtub, being dismembered at the joints. I imagine butcher knives working through my elbow the same way I cut apart chicken wings for hot wings. These thoughts are disturbing as fuck, but I'm definitely able to tell myself there is no way in hell I want to be violently murdered.

I don't have advice on how to stop it, I just wanted to let you know you're not the only person out there.

Something that's recently helped me a lot is, I realized that I was victimizing myself twice over for my disorder. Usually when I tic, it goes like this:

-scream something nearly unintelligible or garbled while walking down the street or riding my bike
-Look around to see if anyone heard, worry that someone did even if I don't see anyone
-hot wave of shame, guilt, and embarrassment

I've been trying to change my thought processes so that it's something more like this:

-scream something in public
-notice there is someone near me who couldn't help but hear
-momentary wave of shame that I interrupt in my internal monologue rudely with:
-"You have a neurological disorder. What you just did was a perfectly normal symptom that has a perfectly valid excuse. You're not crazy and there's nothing wrong with you. That person might not know that, but you know that, and if you had time to sit every stranger down and explain the situation, none of them would think you're crazy. You are not allowed to feel guilty about something you can't help.

Would I loooooove to eliminate loud tics in public, something that unfortunately is not likely to happen? Would it be nice if I truly didn't care if anyone heard, if I never even started feeling guilty? I think I'll get there. But the important first step is acknowledging this is not something you're choosing to do, that it's a symptom of a disorder you just can't help having, and you're not a bad person, and it's ok, and you are not allowed to feel guilty about it. That's something that's helped me; just banning guilt about my tics, so that when I start feeling ashamed I can tell myself to cut it the fuck out as quickly as possible.

I really do believe you can't help this, that it's not your fault, and by beating yourself up over it you're making the pain that it causes you twice as bad.

*TS has a lot of neurological links to OCD, overlapping symptoms in some people, and a high rate of comorbidity-people with TS are much more likely than the population at large to have OCD, and people with TS without a full-blown OCD diagnosis still may have some behaviors consistent with OCD.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:40 AM on March 3, 2012 [20 favorites]

You say he's very destructive, but I'm not clear on whether these thoughts are connected to that. If you're just thinking, "FUCK YOU CAT DIE!!!!!" when he shits in the washing machine, I'd say that's about normal since you don't feel compelled to act.
posted by cmoj at 8:41 AM on March 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Just adding: I, too, have intrusive thoughts. It's really scary and distressing, isn't it? But therapists are used to dealing with them. Therapists understand the difference between having an intrusive thought and having an actual plan or desire.

You're not a bad person. You are not a bad person. But it sounds like you're suffering, and you deserve the help you want and need. Get it.
posted by meese at 8:47 AM on March 3, 2012

Intrusive thoughts, like everyone is saying, are really common. In my opinion (which is that of a layperson who's read some psychology) they are often-but-not-always "unacceptable" unconscious impulses and fears bursting to the surface under stress. So you love your little guy and you're on some level afraid that he'll be hurt, or stressed about accidentally hurting him, or sometimes angry about something he does (or something your cats generally do) and those feelings are too "bad" or too scary to be articulated consciously. So they come out in this intrusive "voice" - those aren't your thoughts of anger or stress! they're from outside!

I love my perfect little cat so much, but I'm also an anxious person who feels really responsible and who lives in an old crumbly house. Occasionally I get intrusive thoughts about bad things happening to the cat, either because I do something wrong or because I fail to protect her. They're just thoughts; they don't mean I want her to be hurt.

Oh, also - the Freudians reported a lot about these kinds of intrusive thoughts in many patients, for whom the intrusive thoughts actually weren't their big problem. (Freud himself in case studies, Melanie Klein, some other folks). You needn't be a Freudian to realize from these case studies that intrusive angry/destructive/violent thoughts are very common and not an awful, shameful thing.

By all means, talk to a therapist for strategies to manage the thoughts, but don't trouble yourself thinking that they are freakish or crazy or wildly out of the ordinary.
posted by Frowner at 8:48 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Re deathpanels ... 1st answer ... are we reading the same post?
Where in it do you see either a) psychosis or b) hallucination?
posted by LonnieK at 8:56 AM on March 3, 2012 [12 favorites]

(I want to add that the unconscious is not the "truth" of the personality. We often talk about unconscious impulses as if they reveal something truer and more meaningful than the conscious ones - "oh, you unconsciously want to [do X], that means that you can never be happy unless you [do X]". Unconscious impulses are...real, so they do reflect something that is there. But they're kind of psychic sludge - the infantile rage of the baby who wants all whims gratified, the childish rage against a parent, selfish jealousies, etc etc. Figuring them out and naming them is important because they can be very powerful. But they don't reveal some kind of underlying 'reality' of you. So don't feel like there's some true/foundational part of you that wants to hurt your little guy.)
posted by Frowner at 8:57 AM on March 3, 2012 [7 favorites]

Every answer in here other than the first one is pretty spot on. You are clearly not hallucinating (you are not seeing or hearing things that are not there) and you are clearly not psychotic (you are not having a break with reality, you are not having delusions). Sorry that was the first answer.

You might want to talk to someone if these thoughts start getting complusive, but don't freak out and don't feel like a bad person.
posted by spaltavian at 9:04 AM on March 3, 2012

When I had them, I used to call these kinds of thoughts "pigeon thoughts". I used to imagine them as a pigeon, landing on my head as I was walking down the street. The pigeon certainly wasn't welcome, and I wasn't doing anything to encourage it, but it would simply land on my head, and sit there cooing.

I never knew what was causing them, or where they were coming from (still don't). But the only lessened when I stopped fighting them. When I would metaphorically run down the street, flapping my arms above my head and keeping an eye out for pigeons, I'd get a massive flock of them chasing me, à la The Birds by Hitchcock. Fighting them just seemed to make my head a more attractive landing place for any passing pigeon.

The only thing I found that worked was to think "there is a pigeon on my head" and then continuing with what I was doing. Thinking of it as "a pigeon" rather than a "horrifying, terrible image" also seemed to help. Doing these things lessened the thoughts of their power. They were still there, but they were more distant and far less graphic.

Eventually, after I dealt with a couple of other mental issues, mine went away. I'm not a neurosurgeon, but I think that perhaps when one part of someone's brain goes a little haywire, such as when they're depressed, other parts can go a little haywire too in seemingly unrelated ways. There's a lot we don't yet understand about the brain and how it works, and I think that the way that it is sometimes thought that the most complex piece of machinery known to man wouldn't go wrong in a certain way is fallacious. We don't yet know enough about it to know how it could go wrong. I have a theory that these thoughts are somehow related to dreams, which also often contain random or weird scenarios, and that these thoughts only stand out to us more because of our visceral emotional reaction to them.

I obviously can't speak for the healthcare system where you are, but I think that only people who are dangerous to themselves or others (which you aren't, any more than I have ever been) are sectioned. This is pure conjecture on my part, of course. Any therapist worthy of the title will have methods and ways of helping you with this. The very fact that you realise that you don't want to act on these thoughts will likely work in your favour. I didn't get help of a professional kind and had to suffer with some thoughts that right now make me shudder to think of for a lot longer than would otherwise have been necessary. This problem is a lot more common than people give it credit for, simply because people don't generally want to admit to having thoughts like these. There's no shame in asking for help.
posted by Solomon at 9:22 AM on March 3, 2012 [33 favorites]

I would talk to your husband a little more about it and get rid of (adopt out) the cat.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:37 AM on March 3, 2012

Just in case the "psychotic thoughts" answer freaked you out (it freaked me out on your behalf, just because I can imagine having a mini-heart attack if I read that first thing on MeFi and then harping on it even though it's the only answer that says that), please do note the whole consensus on the rest of the thread that intrusive thoughts are just intrusive thoughts. I've had them too, and I'm fine (I mean, anxiety and depression, but I had that before). The pigeon imagery is a great image that I'm going to steal, and I suggest you do that too, and talk to your therapist.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 9:44 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

The only thing I found that worked was to think "there is a pigeon on my head" and then continuing with what I was doing.

That sounds like an homespun version of mindfulness practice, and I think that's a useful approach: start by saying "I am not my thoughts"; accept that all sorts of weird stuff passes through; identify those thoughts as pigeons and let them fly off to their roosts.
posted by holgate at 10:47 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

For years I was terrified when I crossed bridges over water on foot that I would fling my purse into the river beneath. Similar thought when driving a car on a bridge over water. My friends knew I was weird about water, but it wasn't until a shrink friend heard me and said, "Thats an intrusive thought, lots of people have them, and there are strategies to cope with them," that I realized I didn't have to live with it. I didn't go full on CBT but my friend showed me a couple of cbt techiniques to interrupt and redirect the thoughts and it worked like a charm. Still don't love crossing bridges, but no longer afraid I'm going to throw all my belongings over the edge! My friends no longer remember I'm weird about bridges.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:13 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Google "harm OCD." Like everyone else is saying, this is extremely common. It's NOT psychosis -- please ignore that comment; that person does not grasp what's going on.

Stopping Obsessive Thoughts is an excellent self-help book for this condition, by the way.

Here's a helpful coping strategy until you are able to get professional help. When these thoughts intrude,
don't argue or engage with them. You can't think your way out of OCD any more than you can get your car out of a ditch by flooring the gas pedal. Instead, get back into your body. Concentrate on your physical surroundings and sensations as much as you can. This is a very powerful technique and it helped me a lot when I was struggling with the same problem.
posted by gentian at 11:29 AM on March 3, 2012

I am yet another person who has intrusive thoughts, and who doesn't especially beat myself up over them, and mine tend to be more aggressive than yours (also, a big part of the reason why I am afraid of heights). Once every couple weeks or month seems to me like a totally normal and non-compulsive frequency for intrusive thoughts, especially given that this cat especially frustrates you.

I use a version of Solomon's pigeon on head approach to deal with them: I get an intrusive thought, think "huh, that is terrible and that sure is an intrusive thought," accept that I had it and that it doesn't reflect on me as a person, and move on. Talk to your therapist, but don't fret about it. If you read the wiki article, you'll see that intrusive thoughts are incredibly common, and not a sign that you're a psycho in need of sectioning.
posted by yasaman at 11:35 AM on March 3, 2012

When I'm in the grip of some particularly gruesome run of intrusive thoughts, sometimes standing up/changing position and shuddering, for lack of a better description, literally shakes me out of it. Something about actually physically acting out the revulsion, shaking my head and arms, helps break the spell.

Agreed with others that this is totally something your therapist can help you with. You won't freak her out and it doesn't make you seem a nutjob.
posted by looli at 12:01 PM on March 3, 2012

Here is why I am sure you are safe telling a therapist about your cat-harming impulses: in my experience, 4 out of 4 therapists react in an utterly blasé manner to being told that an outpatient with depression (and then-undiagnosed ADHD) has recurrent suicidal imagery and impulses but no real wish for actual suicide. (Warning: unless you're more sensible than me, you may be in danger of feeling irrationally miffed by the lack of drama with which your therapist greets your Horrifying Confession.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:27 PM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

The comedian Maria Bamford often talks about intrusive ('unwanted'), dark thoughts in her material, and it's both hilarious and very comforting. She even has an album called Unwanted Thoughts Syndrome.

I just mention her because, as a fellow overthinky OCDish intrusive thought-prone person, her comedy really defuses my fears.
posted by nerdfish at 1:06 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry for repeating what so many others have said, but I wanted to reiterate by saying that intrusive thoughts are a common sign that someone may have OCD. However, this does not mean that you are by any means psychotic. I am by no means a therapist, so you might want to take what I say with a grain of salt. But, at the very least, I hope you find comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

I think it's important to differentiate between someone that has intrusive thoughts and ACTS upon these thoughts versus someone who has intrusive thoughts and is terrified about these thoughts.

You fall into the second category. I think you also have to realize that these thoughts are strange, uncomfortable, and scary because they are intrusive. They are interrupting your life. They are not who you are (you are not some abusive cat person), but rather an indication of what you may have (OCD). Huge difference there.

It would be a very wise decision (although scary), to tell your therapist about your intrusive thoughts. They would be able to help you figure out what's going on and how to effectively deal with this. Talking about these types of feelings, thoughts, or even issues is terrifying which is why I'd recommend printing off your question and sharing with with your therapist.

When I read your post, I don't think of someone that needs hospitalization by any means. I see someone that's struggling because of intrusive thoughts, someone that could use professional help and possibly medication to help control certain things.

Your tone makes you come across as someone who is terrified, but caring and concerned. Someone who wishes things were different. Your therapist's job is to help you out. You have been seeking therapy on and off because you need a professional's help and that is okay.

Get the help that you need from your therapist, but talk to your husband too. Having supportive people in your life will help out tremendously. Your husband knows a large part of who you are and although this may seem scary to you, he should be able to support you. This is something that you need right now.

I find that practicing the breathing technique (which most mental health professionals recommend) helps me out tremendously when I am experiencing a sense of overwhelming and uncomfortable feelings because of the state of my mind. It should help bring clarity and will help you focus on something else too.
posted by livinglearning at 1:44 PM on March 3, 2012

Quite a few really excellent answers here, in my opinion, and I am in the OCD-Tourette camp, but I think it's worth asking-- as you do-- why your intrusive thoughts have the specific content you are experiencing:
I have a few other cats (some of whom are equally loving, others not so much) towards whom I definitely do not feel the same and am not compelled to hurt any of at all. Just this one, freaking cat.

Obviously, I do not, have never and never plan to act on these violent thoughts, but they sure scare the heck out of me! This is a particularly depressing situation since I really love animals (any and all of them) and cannot understand why I came to... feel these things towards this cat in particular.
As Juliet Banana alludes to in her excellent comment in comparing the images of her own joints being cut to the chicken she carves, the Touretteian mind is highly metaphorical, and as Eyebrows McGee's comment demonstrates when she says she feels a compulsion to throw her purse into the water when crossing a bridge (most people I've talked to or read about have an impulse to jump in themselves-- I sometimes have to cross footbridges on my hands and knees to cope with this) this metaphorical character offers opportunities for unconscious disguise and displacement (I would say Eyebrows' purse is a standin for herself) somewhat of the sort we see in dreams.

In your case I think you do point to the reason it's "Just this one, freaking cat":
I have mentioned to my husband that we should adopt this cat out, but it's one of his favourites...
I think it's this cat because it is one of your husband's favorites, and that these thoughts focus on this cat because you have some issues about your husband that are too threatening to allow to surface, and that your impulses toward this cat stand in for these repressed feelings.

Perhaps you could explore this possibility with your therapist.

As far as reducing the level of these intrusive thoughts regardless of their specific content is concerned, Solomon said something very intriguing:
Eventually, after I dealt with a couple of other mental issues, mine went away. I'm not a neurosurgeon, but I think that perhaps when one part of someone's brain goes a little haywire, such as when they're depressed, other parts can go a little haywire too in seemingly unrelated ways.
I believe that there is something to the brain-inflammation theory of depression, and that this phenomenon extends to things like Tourette's and OCD, too.

Accordingly, I think you might be able to reduce the incidence of intrusive thoughts in general with anti-inflammatories like low dose time-release aspirin or fish-oil supplements.
posted by jamjam at 4:18 PM on March 3, 2012

The post Vaike was thinking about was probably one of the previous AskMe discussions about the imp of the perverse.
posted by MsMolly at 7:33 PM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

> Unless I'm missing something, it sounds that you are experiencing some psychotic hallucinations.

Ack! I'm really sorry this was the first the answer to this question, because I don't think deathpanels has a clue about the definitions of "psychotic" or "hallucinations" and I really hope you were able to forge ahead and read all the other excellent answers about intrusive thoughts, and how others have dealt with their own intrusive thoughts.

If you feel up to it I'd love to get an update through a moderator about how you're doing. I think it's a great sign that you can formulate this question and want help.
posted by OsoMeaty at 3:49 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

2ing OsoMeaty. Update would be great.

My reaction to the first answerer, as you saw, was to challenge the answerer. I should have addressed you too, and with the same empathy as others here have. I have experience with the thing, though not worrisome enough to raise with a therapist. I believe the trait may not be uncommon in great writers. It's a basic imaginative ability -- the ability to imagine "what ifs," including grim ones. That doesn't make it less terrifying.

There's a wealth of wisdom here, IMO. You can get thru this.
posted by LonnieK at 3:19 PM on March 5, 2012

Read it wrong, and my last comment could sound terribly pompous. But I didn't mean I'm a great writer, for goodness sake. Just that I think the tendency to overthink, overempathize, overimagine a horrific act, is present in great writers.
posted by LonnieK at 6:50 PM on March 8, 2012

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