Is it wrong to be thinking bad thoughts?

By Nathan Chua

I can’t remember the last time I was going to write an article, that I felt will be too long for a single blog post. This is a topic that many of my clients find to be surprising and liberating.

I often meet people who have trouble with their thoughts. Many of us imbibe what we had been taught to fear in childhood. This is what psychoanalyst Erich Fromm referred to as our authoritarian conscience, as opposed to our humanistic conscience. We may think it is our own conscience dictating what is right and wrong to us, but it is actually the voices of people in our past still ringing in our minds.

Here’s an example from another psychoanalyst, Nancy McWilliams:

“When one of my daughters was a preschooler, a nursery-school teacher promulgated the idea that virtue involved “thinking good thoughts and doing good deeds.”  This troubled her.  She was much relieved when I commented that I disagreed with her teacher and felt that thinking bad thoughts was a lot of fun, especially when one could do good deeds in spite of those thoughts.”

I often self-disclose to my clients about what this quote means to me. I tell them how many jeepney, bus and taxi drivers I have assaulted in my mind. What we confuse most of the time is that we do three things every moment. We think, we feel and we do. Most of the time we do as we think or feel. We become our thoughts and feelings. It is important that we separate the three activities. What we feel or think does not make up who we are. It is what we do that matters in the end.

Emotions are not bad. They spur us into action. Our anger helps us defend ourselves against predators and abusers. Our fear and shame tell us to stay away from harmful situations. Our guilt stirs us towards doing better in the future. Our sadness helps us say goodbye to people or things, that were not meant to be forever.

Let me end this post with a quote from the champion of unconditional positive regard, Carl Rogers:

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change. I believe that I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience – that we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.

Stress Management: The One Life Only Approach

by Nathan Chua

If my guess is right, I think one of the most common topics that people may have looked up online is self-help articles about stress management.  It’s rather amazing that even as we come up with so many new technologies today to make life easier, stress seems to be here to stay.  In fact, some may argue that it has become worse, because we can’t seem to stay away from stress.

In the Philippines, we are no exception.  We have stress both at home and at work.  Now, being one of the countries that is hooked on social media, we even experience stress online!  And of course, we here in Manila have the added burden of the all-too-familiar traffic situation.

As I started this blog post stating how plentiful stress management articles are, I must admit this one will be part of the statistics.  It is I am afraid, another one among a million other stress management articles that are out there.  I hope I can justify it by saying that this is the one and only, One Life Only approach to stress management.  I have added a mnemonic, “S.T.O.P.P.” to make it easier for you.

Here are my tips:

Self-talk

This is something most of us take for granted.  Before something stresses us out, we need to be critical of the language that lingers in our minds.  I often use the example of road rage.  We can’t remove the possibility of someone being an undisciplined driver, but we also may consider that the driver who cut us off on the road, was just making a human mistake.  So before we blow our top, try to think that the sudden swerve was merely a mental lapse.  That person behind the wheel might really be a nice person who just got distracted, and not the monster we imagine him or her to be.

Turn down (Say No)

Be willing to be the bad guy or gal occasionally.  Learn to accept that we cannot please everyone every time.  I remember something I read, if we can’t say no, then our yes means nothing.  We can’t possibly be at every party, and we can’t be at everyone’s side when there is trouble.  Be human, not superhuman.

Openness (Acceptance)

We all need to accept the fact that life can be stressful at times.  The more we deny this fact, the more unbearable life can be.  Here’s one of my life quotes from Edith Weisskopf-Joelson,

“Our current mental-hygiene philosophy stresses the idea that people ought to be happy, that unhappiness is a symptom of maladjustment.  Such a value system might be responsible for the fact that the burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by the unhappiness about being unhappy.”

Paint (Your Story)

This is probably the most One Life Only type of advice here.  If we look back on our past, notice the stories we tell people.  The stories that we are most proud to tell, are those of suffering and pain; moments of stressful coping with life’s unexpected turns.  In the end, these are the anecdotes that great books are made of, and we can be their proud authors.

Pair

Find a friend.  I will borrow a memorable analogy from an author I admire.  Life can at times be like us in a small boat, with our light bobbing alone in the pitch darkness of a vast ocean at night.  It helps to know, and see that there is that other small boat, with its light bobbing at a distance.

Hope this helps.

 

The Choices We Lose (Video Version)

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The Choices We Lose

by Nathan Chua

It is sometimes easy for us  to dismiss such a tired old phrase, “We all have a choice about what we want to do with our lives.” What we don’t easily realize is that much of the decisions we make in life can at times be dictated by expectations from the outside. These expectations are not as evident as one would think they are. They can be subtle. However, being subtle does not make them unimportant. Sometimes our life’s decisions turn out to be life-changing. Who do you marry? Or, do you get married at all? What job or college course do you take? Should you leave an unhappy marriage? Should you let everyone know what your true gender preference is?

As a Chinese Filipino, I know the expectations that come with my ethnicity. One is supposed to be married, settled down and seeing kids start their own careers at the age I am in. I am reminded of a man in history, a philosopher named Jean-Paul Sartre, who lived a lifestyle that many would, in his time, find to be a sad and futile one at best, and a crazy one at worst. He lived purposefully different from how others in his time did, and showed that meaningfulness can be found in his choices too.

Although there is no crime for people to be different, there are pressures that come from the voices that stay with us, even when those whose voices we still hear are no longer around. Many of us choose to live lives that have been chosen for us by others, whether they be around or not. Don’t get me wrong though. I am not saying that those that do follow expectations are always or often unhappy. I can certainly find a lot of reasons to be content with following the norms of society.

Even as this is a given, I would hasten to add that much of the problems that relate to depression and anxiety, are rooted in living lives that have lost the capacity to choose. “What choice do I have?” is often the refrain. Much of this is caused by shame and guilt. Not living the life that is expected of one,  is associated with abnormality, or being a misfit.

Mr. Sartre lived a life that many of his time would consider immoral and abnormal. That label though did not stop him from becoming one of the greatest thinkers of his time, and even to this day. His books and words still ring true to our lives in the 21st century. And all these ideas have come from someone who was born more than a hundred years ago.

Don’t get me wrong though, I am not advocating here for you to live an immoral lifestyle. However, I am encouraging you that even though Your life doesn’t match what most people expect, You should not see yourself as any less than others. Take heart! You can still choose not to lose who you are and find meaning and substance to your existence. You can still opt to live your choices, and live them courageously as some of those who have done so in the past. You are not alone.