Is it alright to mention the past?

by Nathan Chua

This part is tricky.  Yes, bringing up past hurts can really provide a spark to your relationship.  Maybe most of the time, it is the kind of spark that commences the whole chicken and egg argument, that you carry on through the unholy hours in your bedroom.  It’s one of those rare moments when something so unwanted, makes you lose track of how much time has gone by.  Oh!  It’s already three o’clock in the morning.  Well, as the adage goes, time flies when you’re having fun, as well as a major fracas!

Yes, there is wisdom in letting sleeping dogs lie.  The situation is bad enough as it is.  Bringing up past deeds will only make the argument broaden its scope.  If we use a logical fallacy to describe such reasoning, it is ad hominem.  For there are no exceptions to the rule that we all, make mistakes.  Getting into a humongous fight with your partner, just because he or she has made mistakes in the past, is simply unfair.  It’s almost like demanding your dog to meow or purr, because that way you no longer have to care for a cat.  Most of us are not two in one, let alone all in one.  Sadly, that is what most of us grew up thinking.  There’s a perfect romantic relationship out there waiting for us to just discover.

On the other hand, we might ask, then what about airing our grievances or complaints to our partner?  Isn’t it just right that we assert our hopes and dreams in our relationship to avoid the build-up of resentments?  Absolutely!  I think it is a now well-known marital counselor, who told her story of having parents who seemed to have the perfect relationship, only to see them divorce towards the twilight years of their lives.  She never saw her parents have any major fights, and they seemed to have had everything worked out, until one day, they had them in a family meeting, to tell them about the grim news.

It is rather tricky.  Here are some tips to make complaints work to making your relationship closer and better:

  • Don’t wait too long or until you have suffered many hurtful instances, before bringing up the past. It is always better to be more current.
  • Use the proper tone and language. Use the, “When you…I feel…I wish that you could…,” statement.
  • Make time to talk. It is always better to talk about this stuff when you’re both in a fine mood and ready to chat.
  • When you find that your partner is in a nasty mood, deescalate. Do not throw fuel to the fire by going on the cycle of determining who did what first, or who’s right and who’s wrong.

Remember, neither should you be conflict avoidant, nor too fussy with little nagging injuries to your heart.  Choose your battles well, but also make sure to assert your wishes at the right time.

How Herd Mentality or Groupthink can lead to Depression

by Nathan Chua

I have to admit that the title of this article is just about a dead giveaway. Experience has taught me how life can be even more difficult than it already is, when people are driven or indoctrinated to think that there is only one way to live the “good” life. It can drive one nuts when seemingly or outwardly successful people, most of the time unintentionally doom others into thinking they are less capable individuals, simply by describing one way of living that is similar to their own. If you don’t match how a self-described leader lives, you are flawed and outside the inner circle of those considered to be exceptional, or at least worthy of acceptance and love.

In my years of searching for the “good” life, I have come to understand that each one of us is special beyond what others think. The plain truth is we are all different. We should never think we are less than anyone else just because the other is smarter, has better looks, or is more financially well-off.

As Kierkegaard wrote:

The crowd is untruth.  There is therefore no one who has more contempt for what it is to be a human being than those who make it their profession to lead the crowd.

I find this prevalent in our country where people are motivated by fear to offer so much deference to religious personalities, almost to the point of fawning behavior. Whether these are fundamentalists or liberal Catholics, they would bow in obeisance to the “sole possessors” of wisdom. There’s very little wiggle room for variety. The result is we become more of a homogenous group that play roles, having to live up to these expectations, even if our DNA doesn’t conform to such made-up standards.

I have seen how so much suffering is inflicted by those who stand behind rostrums, proclaiming they know what it takes to be considered worthy of respect. People come to me not knowing where they stand in this world. The constant bombardment of religious sermons and motivational talks, can be overwhelming. They feel left out and are constantly grappling for that key that can open doors for them to become what they were not meant to be.

So for you who may think that swimming against the tide of social conventions is a curse, I admit, it will not be easy, when you are surrounded by people who have sacrificed their individuality for conformity. You will experience isolation and ostracism. But take heart, for there is no reason for you to feel down on yourselves, for you can otherwise be proud that you have chosen to take the road less traveled. You have chosen to be brave and to live according to your DNA; according to your wishes for what you believe will make you one whom you envisioned to be, someday.

Rollo May wrote, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.”

Take courage for you are indeed courageous for choosing who you truly are, and more than what you are expected to be. Free yourselves from the dictates of others who have chosen to stop listening to their true selves, and sold their souls to blind allegiance, and their fears of being different.

 

Should you always tell the truth?

by Nathan Chua

Before I even begin talking about this touchy issue, I would like you, my readers to know, that I fully respect all opinions to the contrary of what I will share with you here. Like many other things, there are simply no easy answers to the problems we face negotiating through life’s vicissitudes.

Truth-telling can be tricky when we talk about it within certain contexts. More common among these situations where people struggle between being transparent or not, are instances of infidelity, or giving the dire news about someone’s imminent death. There are those, especially from some religious groups, that advocate for total transparency, that the old saying, “What they don’t know, won’t hurt them,” is unconscionable or unfair.

However, like most things in life that do not have easy answers, many also believe that telling the truth about a terminal disease or an affair may prove to be detrimental. In the case of an affair, there are studies cited that it is more likely for male partners to leave a relationship when they are the offended party. The revelation of a terminal disease may prove life-enhancing to one, but despairing to another.

I guess, the stand here is no different from what I have believed to be the best practice in therapy, which is to let the suffering individual, make his or her own decisions based on the prevailing circumstances. For it is the client who knows more about the people involved and the surrounding circumstances, than the therapist.

Frederick Humphrey, Professor Emeritus of Family Studies at the University of Connecticut refers to therapists who, by their influence or stature, encourage or even push their patients to truth-telling, as “Verbal exhibitionists.”

I often meet clients who treat me as some sort of expert in their lives, like I knew something about them that they didn’t already. These types of questions put tremendous pressure on a therapist. I often recuse myself from answering such questions, for it is in my opinion, the clients who are most equipped to provide such answers for themselves.

As in other things in life, there is always an option to keep a secret, a secret. There may also be instances when truth-telling can be liberating and useful to a relationship. But one thing I can guarantee for people who see me to seek advice on what to do, I will allow you to make decisions of your own liking, based on what is best for you, and the people around you.

What makes counseling different from other ways of learning?

Let me start this post with two points.

Point One:

If there was one thing that cuts across all forms of helping activities in the realm of mental health, it should relate to learning. Counseling is no exception for me, as it involves learning, the same way we learn from lectures, talks, workshops and even church sermons. In that case, why then is there a need for personal therapy?

Point Two:

People frequently mistake counseling for seeking advice. It is seen as sort of a lecture or public forum, only that it is done in private, and advice would come as personal to the client as no other medium can provide. This means they don’t have to worry about guessing if the advice they heard from a lecture or a talk, is personal or applicable to them or not. This in part answers our question about the need for personal therapy from point number one. However, the reasons are much more complicated than this.

I have always contended that counseling is a process of discovery. It is a journey through life with someone who’s dedicated to helping clients find a way to themselves, or their real selves. This is what makes it special and different from all the other approaches to learning.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is experiential. How many times have we heard it said that the longest we keep information from a long-drawn-out lecture or sermon, can only be retained in our memories for the next 20 minutes.

Counseling is an avenue in which the lessons are long-remembered after the experience. It is analogous to experiences in life that we find unforgettable. That awesome trip you had in a place that you just ticked off from your bucket list…That brush with a life-and-death situation that you will always remember to tell in intimate gatherings…These are but a few examples of how experiential learning can be remembered so much more vividly, that a lecture or a talk can find hard to duplicate.

In my experience, I have at times been tempted to offer advice to people who see me. Clients would often come after numerous people have given them advice that made sense, but somehow they could not believe will work for them. This only goes to show that decisions that are offered from the outside, will be difficult to apply, until those same decisions come from the very person who asks for it. It is at times only in experiencing the learning process through counseling, that decisions can be made with courage, and new wisdom can be proudly owned, by the one who seeks it, and eventually lives it.