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.

How to Raise Great Kids – Video Blog

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How can couples fight fairly? Video Blog

Warning: The content of this video is not meant to replace actual counseling experience.

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How couples can fight fair

by Nathan Chua

If there is one thing that can be named as something that is certain to happen among couples, it is conflict.  There is a familiar quip among those in the helping business, that people will not hesitate to spend millions for a wedding, but can’t seem to fork out a few thousands for therapy.  Couples are mostly unaware of this absurdity.  They prepare for an elaborate wedding ceremony, that has little to no consequence on the long-term health of their relationship.

Anyway, since it is no longer a question of whether conflicts will arise or not, it is a matter of how such disagreements can draw two people together, rather than drive them apart.

Here are what come to mind:

Be factual, not historical

Yes, it is unfair for anyone in a relationship to keep bringing past hurts to spite the other.  Remember, I added the qualifier, “To spite the other.”  Please note though that it is not always wrong to raise past hurts.  However, airing those concerns at the outset, will mean you don’t have to bring them up in the future.

Mind reading vs. expressing desires

I have seen this play out in the counseling room countless times.  Couples feel uncomfortable asking for what they want.  In their minds, their partners should already know without being told.  On top of this, they are just as uncomfortable when their partners do the very thing they ask for, thinking it is contrived and insincere.

Don’t be afraid to say what you want and what you need.  You will have differences in the ways you express and receive love.  Try to be open, honest and assertive.

Demanding instead of wishing

When you voice out what you want, make sure to express it as a wish, rather than a demand.  Unfortunately, this does not always work when there is so much contempt built up.  I recommend doing this with a counselor, who can help you express your wishes and be heard.

Overgeneralizations vs. specificity

Words like, “always” and “never,” normally arouse anger or defensiveness in your partner.  Be specific.  Try to focus on the act that you wish did not happen, for these acts don’t usually happen, “always.”

Denial vs. ownership

This is one of the most critical skills that couples need to learn.  Without this, couples will be locked in an unending blame game, trying to win a battle to determine who started it all.

Ownership gives your partner a sign that you are mature enough to acknowledge your imperfections.  Denial will drive you further into fierce arguments.  Accept your humanity by knowing you both have a role in your struggles.

For a last word, understand that conflicts are not to be avoided.  In fact, they should be welcomed.  To use a rather crude analogy, boxers are in the end expected to go up the ring and fight.  However, they are also expected to do so under rules that would make it fair.

In relationships, fighting can be healthy, only if it is done fairly.