You're standing on a balcony ten floors up.
"What if I jumped?" you think to yourself...
You're walking down the street and walking towards you is a woman and her young son. He's maybe four years old.
"What if I just ran towards them and kicked that child?" you think yourself...
You're waiting at a packed bus stop on the side of a busy road.
"What if I pushed that guy out in front of a car?" you think to yourself...
You're in a restaurant and you see a waiter approach another table with a tray full of food and drink.
"What if I just smacked that tray out of their hand?" you think to yourself.
What does it all mean?
Have you ever had a horrible thought like the ones above?
You probably have, it's pretty common, is referred to as the 'Imp of the Perverse' and is defined as:
The Imp of the Perverse is a metaphor for the urge to do exactly the wrong thing in a given situation for the sole reason that it is possible for wrong to be done. The impulse is compared to an imp (a small demon) which leads an otherwise decent person into mischief, and occasionally to their death.
The Imp is named after a short story by horror writer Edgar Allen Poe and is an interesting phenomena that some believe to be the result of thought suppression.
What happens if someone tells you not to do something? Do you sit there and forget all about that thing instantly or does it become the sole focus of your attention?
"See that big red button there? Don't push it."
You want to push it don't you?
The same principle applies here. We exist as part of a complex social system and sub-consciously all of our actions exist within this system. We know what we shouldn't do so every now and again the thing we know we shouldn't do takes center stage in our minds.
Having horrible thoughts shouldn’t worry you, in fact being aware of them and considering them horrible is a positive! If you were unaware of them and just followed through on any old thought then you’d likely find yourself in trouble.
Furthermore, it's important to know that you are not your thoughts.
Thoughts just are… and there is a lot of complexity and evolutionary baggage that goes along with them.
Your beliefs and actions however, that's a whole other story.