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.

What are the goals of psychotherapy? Video Version

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What are the goals of psychotherapy?

by Nathan Chua

If you were a businessperson, you would probably want to go to what is referred to as the bottom line every time you look for results.  In my years of seeing people struggle through life’s intricate problems and difficult puzzles, and all the insights I get from the authors and experts whose works I read, I can say that there are three main goals to therapy.  Here form what I call the bottom lines of counseling based on my experience:


“We have met the enemy and he is us,” so goes the popular saying.  This is probably the most basic of all the bottom lines of counseling.  Without this, it will be hard to make any changes as there is no explanation for our actions.  When we unravel all the unconscious motivations, then we have a chance to fight our demons.  Just like any physical ailment, we need to have a correct diagnosis to treat it.

Authenticity/Courageous Living

This is probably the most difficult to explain when words can limit the truth behind this.  There is unspeakable joy in the counseling room, each time authenticity unfolds right before our eyes.  The tears are there that speak of indescribable joy.

You have probably heard it said that it’s harder to make changes with age.  This is because the hurts that we experience in our dealings with people who mean much (or sometimes even the world) to us, put layers of defenses upon our psyches, that keep us sane at such moments.  However, problems arise when these threats disappear but our defenses remain.

Authentic living means letting go of our outdated and inappropriate defenses.  Through the process of therapy, we become reacquainted with our vulnerabilities, not hiding what we truly feel inside.  The true us cries when we are sad, smiles when we are happy, gets mad when we are offended, and trembles when we are fearful.

Many of us have learned that being courageous is about touting guns, and doggedly following what society dictates.  You are courageous if you have bullied more people than others, or if you have conformed to society’s rules better than others.  In Rollo May’s words, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity.”

Sadly, our timidity in showing the world who we truly are, often ends with what Henry David Thoreau described in these words, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and die with their song still inside them.”

Forgiving One’s Self

Finally, but maybe more importantly, counseling or psychotherapy wants us to forgive ourselves.  Given that all our attempts at the above may fail occasionally, or they may even stay with us for as long as we live, we must learn to say, “Hey, that’s how I am, and have been built.  I am working hard to be more self-aware and authentic, and live courageously, but I still fall back to who I had been for so long.  And guess what?  I still love myself and won’t ever get tired of saying, ‘I forgive myself, and I won’t quit from changing.  For like a butterfly, it takes time for something truly beautiful to emerge.’”





The Power of Positive Psychology Video Version

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