Every once in a while, very unpleasant or disturbing thoughts come into my head. Since there are many of them, it begs the question, “Am I one disturbed human whack-o?”
Although some people might think I am, I believe I am relatively normal (“relatively” being the operative word here). What I am referring to are thoughts that we all get but are embarrassed to admit. Here is a short list of thoughts or images that I have either had myself or that have been reported to me by clients. Some of them are funny and embarrassing, others are mortifying. None are unusual:
Less disturbing ones can include things such as imagining an inappropriate sexual act with a person you would normally be attracted to (burying your face in a woman’s cleavage, grabbing a football player’s ass), or doing something illegal (scratching your neighbour’s Porsche, stealing from petty cash, attacking your boss). More disturbing ones can include thoughts such as performing sexual acts of an unwanted nature (animals, children, grandparents, undesired homosexual thoughts, etc.) or of doing something harmful to loved ones (killing your children or parents, driving into oncoming traffic). At times, instead of specific images, you may imagine a disturbing state of mind or situation (imagining your life without your spouse or children and finding pleasure in that thought).
Suffice it to say there is no shortage of these types of thoughts. Occasionally, they pop up simply because of triggers in our environment (films, news stories, etc). Other times, they pop up in response to frustration or anger. We have a right to feel anger. We have a right to feel sexual attraction. We have a right to dream of good and bad things. The fact is that these thoughts and images are manifestations of normal emotional states. Most people don’t question them and simply get on with their lives. They let the emotional states pass. For others however, these thoughts trigger a series of questions and assumptions that can torture them.
A wanted thought can be acted upon. An unwanted thought cannot.
The definition of “normal” can of course be subject to a great deal of interpretation but if we use the simple definition of normal as referring to things that are common, or not out of the ordinary, then these thoughts are normal. The only reason they are thought to be signs of a disturbed mind is that they are usually too embarrassing to share. This gives us the mistaken impression that we are alone with our freakish thoughts. Not so. As I said, I get them myself (I won’t tell you which thoughts from then above list are mine and which are from clients!)
This was the subject of my January 12, 2010 column posted below.
Of course if I’m wrong about all of this, you might want to keep your distance from me….
I get bad thoughts
(Source: J’ai des mauvaises pensées. Journal Métro, January 12, 2010)
Do you ever have a thought so disturbing you could not even bring yourself to share with anyone? Do you ever think of running off the platform in the Métro, or of strangling your baby, or of steering your car into oncoming traffic?
If you are normal, then the answer to the above questions is: Of course you do!
I could come up with a long and very disturbing list of thoughts that people can have but I will spare you the gruesome details. Suffice it to say we all have them and they are not signs that anything is wrong with us.
Horrific thoughts come to all of us. They are the signs of a fertile imagination, fed in part by the many fantasies, dreams, books, and films we all experience. Sometimes they just pop up in response to cues that we are barely aware of. At other times they can come to us when we find ourselves in an emotional state such as anger or depression. When this is the case, it is not at all unusual to imagine what it would be like to act on those feelings. We can even have some pretty vivid images of these acts in our heads.
Why do I have such crazy thoughts?
It is a popular assumption that our thoughts may be a sign of some subconscious conflict and that we might act on such horrible secret desires if we do not resolve the source of the conflict. This is an assumption that freaks people out. It is also completely ridiculous.
Yes, we can act on our negative desires if we actually harbour them, but no, having a bad thought is not a sign of such desires.
Bad thoughts are normally signs of anxiety, not of secret desires. When we fear something, it is normal to imagine that very thing. This is how our brains respond to fear. It is a way of ensuring that we do not act in any dangerous way. The more you fear something, the more careful you are.
A window into the minds of others
There has been some excellent research to show that normal people get the same number of bad or horrific thoughts than people who are highly anxious or obsessive. The difference between these two groups is a simple one. Normal people get these thoughts and think nothing of them. The thoughts then go away. Anxious people get them and question why they have them. They then try to control their thoughts. Failure to do so makes them think that the thoughts are stronger than them, which of course increases anxiety and makes the bad thoughts come more often.
The reality is much simpler. A thought is a thought and a desire is a desire. The two are not at all connected.
26 Jan 2010