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The Need to Destroy


Explanations > Needs > The Need to Destroy

Need | Example | Related to | Discussion |  So what?




While we have many positive impulses, we also have a drive to destroy, to damage and deface. We sometimes even seek to destroy ourselves.

In particular we may seek to destroy that which does not fit in with what we feel is right.


A person feels a failure in life and acts unpleasantly so they destroy relationships and drive away all their friends.

A soldier in the battlefield becomes a 'berserker', going wild and killing all in his path.

A child takes perverse pleasure in breaking toys belonging to their sibling.

Related to


Part of Related to
Control Defend, Create



This is partly what drives children as they break things, daub walls with graffiti and even act in self-destructive ways. As we become adults, most of us learn to suppress our destructive drives, or at least find safe outlets for that energy, such as in physical sports. Yet few of us never act destructively.

Sigmund Freud described Thanatos as a destructive death drive that is the opposite of Eros, the life drive. Destructiveness can also be seen where people are in the grip of negative emotions and project these in damaging words and actions. The need to destroy is also the opposite of the need to create.

From an evolutionary viewpoint this destructive urge can seem odd. Where it does make sense is the destruction of competitors who want the same resource as you, predators who seek to harm you, or even those outside your gene pool (eg. lion males will kill the young of others).

As we seek to understand the world around us, some things may not fit well with our mental models. One way to handle this is to change our models. Sometimes, however, it is easier and quicker to destroy those things that do not fit with our perception of how things work, what should be, and what is right.

Destruction can be a means of gaining power, where the destruction is of other people, their property and power-bases. This is the basis of many of the methods in warfare.

Most of the time we suppress this need, which is socially unacceptable most of the time. The destructive urge comes to the fore when other needs are threatened and we become angry, possibly letting out an excess of emotion that has been previously been repressed.

So what?

Turn the need to destroy on those things that need to be pushed away. Provoke anger to create energy for change. Beware of becoming the target of the destructive urge.

See also

Anger stage, Life and death drives

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