Is it wrong to think bad thoughts? Video Version (Music Only)

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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.

The Power of Positive Psychology

By Nathan Chua

You have probably met people in your lifetime who have said that psychotherapy is for defective people only.  This is part of the reason that many people are afraid of the stigma attached to coming for much needed help.  It’s a shame that many who would have benefited from therapy miss out on opportunities to better themselves, just because some in society do not believe in the process.

Happily, proponents of a recent school of thought aren’t too happy with the status quo.  They are tired of the people avoiding shrinks like a plague.  Although there is no doubt that there are people who come for serious illnesses, the proponents of positive psychology are quick to point out that psychotherapy or talk therapy, is, and should not be limited to the mentally ill alone.

Talk therapy is useful even for high-functioning individuals who wish to go from good, to better, to great.  Although we can say that most of the world’s population can be considered in the range of good to better, we are flawed one way or another.  We all harbor our own neuroticisms in varying degrees.  These human limitations can stunt our progress in the roles that we play in our families, jobs and the larger communities that we inhabit.  Some of our potentials can be lost only because we didn’t know any better.

Of course, part of the blame can also be pinned on the zeitgeist of psychological thought among certain circles in the Philippines.  The approach to complaints about psychological difficulties is usually framed from a disease model.  There is a tendency towards determinism, or a prediction that once attuned to being or doing things a certain way, we are wont to make the same dysfunctional decisions in the future.  Although I am not saying here that there is no grain of truth in this, I have seen in my practice how this has driven many into unnecessary paranoia.  It’s almost like people start an internal treasure hunt for what is wrong with them.  This can drive people nuts, thinking that they are nuts.

Here’s an encouraging word for those who are seeking help to better themselves: The next time someone mocks you for going to therapy, tell them that the really sick ones are usually in denial.  I liken them to people who have bad odor.  Everyone notices it except himself.  For those who believe in talk therapy, you can take pride in yourself as part of the chosen few, who are functioning so well, that you can even afford to get therapy.  Cheers!