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I Think I Have the Capacity to Kill

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I have been thinking about my morality a lot lately since watching Death Note. I cant’ help but think about what I’d do if one dropped out of the sky; would I use it or not? For months now I’ve been questioning my morality. I’ve always said that no one should get the death penalty, but I find that I often go back on that without realising. I’ve been watching Dexter recently, (don’t think I’m romanticising his life or anything) and I can’t help but think that if I could get away with it, if a bad person was strapped down helpless on a table in front of me, that I would kill him. As well as that, for a long time I think I’ve been developing mild sadistic tendencies. I’ve never felt like hurting someone in real life but I love seeing characters suffer in their respective universes. I have been thinking about how this happened, and it made me think about a time 3-4 years ago when the ISIS beheading video came out. I was scared to watch it because it was real, but I wanted to see what death looked like. In the end I didn’t watch it, but I did watch the Facebook video of the homeless man being shot. The description on the website warned against watching, saying something along the lines of, ‘it’ll ruin your entire day’, but after I watched it I was just disappointed because of how anti-climactic it was. I know a guy died, but even now I just can’t get myself to care or feel sorry for him or his family, even though i know I should.

I’m worried about my mental health because of this. I think I understand morality but then I contradict it, and no matter what I do I can seriously imagine myself killing a bad person if they were just tied up on a table and I could get away with it. I feel remorse so I know I’m not a sociopath, but when I imagine hitting a kid with a car or watching someone die in front of me, I can’t imagine myself panicking at all. I wen through a dark time a few years ago and even considered killing my mother and sister just to know what it felt like. I don’t know what I think anymore. Please help.

You have been thinking about death and morality. You imagine how you would feel if certain events were to take place but the truth is, you don’t know how you would react. Imagination and reality are not the same. You would likely react very differently to witnessing, in-person, the shooting of a homeless man than when viewing it on a computer screen, in the comfort of your own home.

In the case of real life you are physically there, immersed in the situation. It may require you to act. In the latter, it is similar to watching a movie in which you have no role and no connection and thus no action of you is required. That’s probably why you can just as easily watch Dexter as you can a video of a homeless man being shot. Viewed through screens, there is seemingly no meaningful difference.

We have as a culture become desensitized to death and violence. Movies, television shows, video games, and the Internet are filled with gruesome violence. Many people did watch the ISIS beheading video that you mentioned. Without the Internet, very few people would have ever seen that video. These videos and others like it are just a click away.

People have become desensitized to seeing violence in the media. It no longer produces the same types of emotional responses it once did. This desensitization can negatively impact how we treat each other. Studies have shown a correlation between watching violent media and acts of physical aggression. Some studies suggest that people who regularly watch violent media are more likely to be physically violent.

There’s an old adage “you are what you eat.” It means that if you eat well your body is healthy and if you eat poorly your body is unhealthy. The same may be true for media consumption. Perhaps, you are what you watch. The media you consume can take a psychological toll. You might be watching excessive amounts of violence. In some research studies, excessive violent media is defined as more than two hours per day. You should limit the violent content you watch, especially in the context of having thoughts about killing your mother and sister.

Ideally, you should stop watching all violent content. At minimum, you should balance out the violent content with non-violent and uplifting content. Maybe try watching the Netflix series The Kindness Diaries. Another positive source of material can be found on the YouTube channel “Omeleto.” These programs and videos are very different than Dexter.

Finally, you might consider consulting a therapist to explore what attracts you to violent media. These and other issues can be effectively addressed in counseling. Good luck and please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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