Is there a word for the following fear: being afraid of doing something you don't want to do and you know you shouldn't.

For example: if you're on a high place, you don't want to jump, but you're afraid that you'll randomly do it anyway. I have this feeling sometimes and I wonder if there's a name for this fear/phobia.

  • Such fears are generally treated as self-harm obsessions rather than a specific kind of phobia (e.g. fear that one will jump off a building, walk into traffic, put one's hand in a fire or garbage disposal and turn it on, etc).
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 15:24
  • I don't have a self-harm obsession, I'm sure of that. I don't want to execute these thoughts, they just come up.
    – caelin
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 15:34

10 Answers 10


Those are called "intrusive thoughts" and are typical, but not exclusive, of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

  • Intrusive thoughts, in the spectrum of OCD, are where a person generally suffers with obsessional thoughts that are repetitive, disturbing and often horrific and repugnant in nature. For example, thoughts of causing violent or sexual harm to loved ones. Because the intrusive thoughts are repetitive and not voluntarily produced, they cause the sufferer extreme distress - the very idea that they are capable of having such thoughts in the first place can be horrifying. However, what we do know is that people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are the least likely people to actually act on the thoughts, partly because they find them so repugnant and go to great lengths to avoid them and prevent them from happening. Intrusive thoughts can cover absolutely any subject: sexual, religious, relationships, violence, etc. OCD

Edit: As I said before, intrusive thoughts are not exclusive of OCD. Many people do have them occasionally. The difference is that in OCD they are repetitive.

Examples of common intrusive thoughts (from Wikipedia)

  • causing harm to elderly people
  • imagining or wishing harm upon someone close to oneself
  • impulses to violently attack, hit, harm or kill a person, small child, or animal
  • impulses to shout at or abuse someone, or attack and violently punish someone, or say something rude, inappropriate, nasty, or violent to someone.

For a complete text on the subject, Wikipedia

  • 1
    Please cite the source of this block-quote, Centaurus.
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 17:30
  • Well ... you're an experienced user, Centaurus. So you know what is what. But, for what it's worth, OCD isn't actually an adequate source attribution. Should that link becomes obsolete, leaving a user only the letters OCD, a Google search is unlikely to bring anyone to the source of that block-quote.
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 23:48
  • @LittleEva Added some more information and a link to wikipedia. Would I get an A+ from you? :-)
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 0:00
  • Certainly ... I've been waiting on you, Centaurus. :-)
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 0:02
  • @LittleEva I appreciate that.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 0:04

I've known this described as The Imp of the Perverse rather than being a phobia. The term comes from the short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe.

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

I've had similar myself. Sometimes I think about driving my car into a tree when I'm rolling along. It's like thinking about defacing the Mona Lisa when you're right in front of it. If you're holding a friend's phone, you might think about throwing it off a bridge...

It's not that you're likely to do these things but it's certainly a very bizarre feeling.

  • 3
    Thank you! Your examples are exactly what I mean! And the feeling I get while thinking of things like this is weird indeed.
    – caelin
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 15:33
  • If not for the typically sexual connotation, I'd make this answer even simpler and just call it perversion. Using Poe's story name just makes the word easier to swallow in a non-sexual context.
    – talrnu
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 13:17
  • 4
    Also, this kind of thinking is perfectly normal! The power of our imaginations affords us the ability to predict quite accurately what would happen in such perverse scenarios, so imagining them satisfies our curiosity without affecting reality. It's only when you're fighting the urge to realize these thoughts that you should begin to worry.
    – talrnu
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 13:20

I don't think that there is a medical or layman term for that kind of situation. However, I must say that that example is under the category of specific phobia- an irrational fear of an object or a situation.

But according from the example you gave, there is a French word that best describes the eerie feeling to jump.

L'appel du vide well known as "the call of the void" specifically refers to that feeling you get when you're at the top of a tall cliff and consider jumping off. It can be considered a form of self destructive ideation. It's actually fairly anxiety provoking for most people to be in that kind of a situation, one in which you are quite literally a step away from death.

Medically speaking, it is not a phobia because it does not fall in numerous types of phobia. However, according to a book entitled Videbeck Psychiatric Mental health Nursing 2nd edition it states that,

"A phobia is an illogical, intense, persistent fear of a specific object or a social situation that causes extreme distress and interferes with normal functioning. People with phobias understand that their fear is unusual and irrational..."

Therefore, it may fall as another example of specific phobia. Furthermore, l'appel du vide is actually an untranslatable word so it has no equal English translation.

I might as well add that the given examples above resembles of a phobia and not of a symptom of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

"Obsessions are recurrent, persistent, intrusive, and unwanted impulses that cause marked anxiety. Compulsions are ritualistic or repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person carries out continuously in an attempt to neutralize anxiety." Videbeck (2nd edition)

The definition itself tells that a person will be diagnosed with OCD if there are persistent and unwanted thoughts. And to neutralize the anxiety there must be a repetitive action or behavior like washing of hands every minute to prevent any microbial contamination. The situation given by the user who posted this question has no repetitive behavior. It just only shows that there is an irrational fear or unexplained urge to jump in high places.

Book source: Videbeck, S. (2003). Psychiatric mental health nursing (2nd ed.). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins: PA.

  • caelin, is the OP focused more on the fear of jumping from a high place, or the transient, and seemingly inexplicable, urge to jump?
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 17:20
  • 1
    @LittleEva Sorry , my bad. I am new here. Never know the uses of block quotes.
    – Jaeger Jay
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 17:23
  • No apologies required, your use of the block-quotes is appropriate here, they just require citations to sources, which I see you have added, so +1, good answer.
    – user98990
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 17:26
  • If the OP was focused on the fear of jumping from high places, there is no other term for that. Literally, it is only fear. Not even a phobia. It is unquestionable. And by that means, the OP should not have exist in the first place.
    – Jaeger Jay
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 17:28
  • 2
    "l'appel du vide is actually an untranslatable word" - literally translated, it's "the call of the void", more or less, which is a fairly good description of the phenomenon. One can imagine the empty space whispering "go on, jump!". Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 8:59

People often refer to this as L’appel du vide or " The call of the void": that sudden, strong, but usually very quickly dismissed, urge to do something incredibly stupid, and is usually associated with jumping off a high place. Little research has been conducted regarding this phenomenon.

  • This answer has already been given by Jaeger Jay
    – caelin
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 7:49

For anyone still reading and looking for other possible answers, here is what I (and my psychologists) have found out. I forgot to mention my other mental disorder: ADD. Since ADD mainly affects my attention, it also affects my impulsivity. My impulsivity's "break" doesn't work like it should, so this could result and does result (for me) in intrusive thoughts. I have been told that about 8 out of 10 people have these unwanted thoughts, but most of them will just wave it away, thinking it is some irrelevant, nothing to worry about-thought. But due to my ADD I do think this is some serious issue that needs attention. So this is no obvious sign of OCD, what most people stated in the other answers. It is because of my ADD and intrusive thoughts can be part of ADD.

An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate.[1] When such thoughts are associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), and sometimes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the thoughts may become paralyzing, anxiety-provoking, or persistent.


This is a well-known fear and, in its extreme, a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I am unaware of a specific name for it.

Fear of harming others or one’s self http://ocdintensive.com/2011/10/15/violent-and-sexual-themes/

  • If I understand it right, I might have OCD
    – caelin
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 16:32
  • @chasly, I politely disagree you on that. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Phobic Disorder falls in the category of Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders , however, they have different definition.
    – Jaeger Jay
    Commented Jul 4, 2015 at 16:44

I know this feeling!

Consider looking into the term:

Target Fixation

"...an attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object that their awareness of hazards or obstacles diminishes"


Thinking out loud, but maybe when you snap back into relatively full awareness you're then compelled to feel confused as to why/how you got so close to the edge...

  • That is not really what I feel. It is close though, but it is not that I lose my awareness. I still know exactly what is going on around me
    – caelin
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 7:49

For that feeling in particular I think the word would be vertigo.

There is a great quote from Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being that describes it.

What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.

Though from the other responses I think you may be looking for something more general.



a feeling that one's surroundings are not real, especially as a symptom of mental disturbance.


Not politically correct speech albeit precise, technically correct and universally understood. Word for that certain fear, worrying you might involuntarily jump from a cliff?

Why do this: Herd-following behavior.

I think everyone was drunk, they were all jumping off the cliff into the river, I was scared shitless to jump.

The colloquial expression: I was scared shitless to jump.

You could make this more confusing and politically correct. I was so overcome with fear of jumping off the cliff into the river that I had an unscheduled pooping event.

  • I am not really sure what you're trying to say. If you mean my title is spelled incorrectly, it has been edited by someone else and I think the title is fine right now
    – caelin
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 15:26

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