Everyone has “crazy” thoughts at times… things that seem strange … foolish… or frightening. A woman might think of quitting a job that supports her family. A man may fantasize about leaving his wife. If these are brief and passing thoughts we don’t usually worry much about them. But sometimes they are more persistent.
If a person is troubled by these thoughts they may want to talk to someone about them. But some kinds of thoughts are hard to talk about with friends. For example if your friend is the spouse you are thinking of leaving, it may be impossible to get impartial feedback from them. And some subjects, by their very nature often seem to be more difficult to discuss with friends, such as suicide or questions about one’s sexual orientation. Furthermore, a good and caring friend may lack the experience or knowledge to help you untangle confused or troubling thoughts.
This is why psychotherapy exists. Therapy is a place where your can speak half-formed thoughts… ask forbidden questions… say things you are unsure of. A well-trained and experienced therapist will not chide you for saying something that might shock or anger a friend. Because you are not there to “please” the therapist, you don’t have the burden that friendship may impose… to censor what you say… to protect a friend’s feelings; to avoid rejection. Instead the therapist works with you to clarify your own conflicting feelings.
When you can examine the “crazy” thoughts, they usually don’t seem so scary. Often it is because they can’t be viewed, that they seem so powerful. For example, the man who is haunted by fantasies of leaving his wife, might discover in therapy that he feels so dependent on her that he fears getting angry with her, and so avoids dealing with problems in the relationship. Once he can express his thoughts, he may see that the real danger lies in avoiding his own feelings; that resolving conflicts with his wife eliminates the urge he has felt to leave her.
A well-trained therapist can help to make ‘opening up’ more comfortable. While part of this involves an accepting attitude, it is the therapist’s training and experience that can help make sense of and ‘untangle’ conflicts. Often the feeling of ‘hopeless confusion’ is based on false assumptions about oneself and others. For example when a patient pressures himself to be the top salesperson in his company because he believes that anything less would be a failure, the therapist might point out that the patient is being unfair and unreasonable to judge himself in this way. The therapist may explore with the patient how he developed such a severe self-attitude. He might help the patient to see how this belief keeps him trapped by keeping his self-esteem shaky and pushes him endlessly to prove he is not a failure.
Problems can arise from unexamined, secret fears. Dealing with thoughts that seem frightening when you are alone can be the beginning of real emotional growth, when they emerge in a safe place.