Hidden agony

By February 23, 2015 2 Comments

Have you ever come face-to-face with someone suffering from disturbing voices, crazy thoughts that won’t go away?

Odds are you have.

But you wouldn’t notice unless they’re totally crazy…

and speak those thoughts out loud.

My dad would notice.

Because that was his job.

For example, one day a woman walked into my dad’s office waiting room and sat down.

When my dad came out he saw her sitting, looking especially disturbed.

He asked if she had an appointment.

She said “no, but I really need to talk to you.”

He invited her into his office, and offered a chair.

Then he asked how old she was. (a routine question).

She trembled, and became visibly more disturbed.

“I’m 33 years old.”

He could tell she was much older than that.

He asked her how she was feeling. (another routine question).

She began effusively rambling about her struggles to be a good wife and a good mom and how she felt like she was being pursued by people who wanted to kill her, and she was hearing voices, and no one could understand what she was going through, and she needed to find peace, but there was no way find peace with the horrible thoughts that kept running through her mind…

My dad noticed she used the word “crucify” more than once.

He offered her a tissue, and told her he would be able to help her. He told her not to worry.

He waited silently for the few minutes it took for her to regain her composure.

Then he asked her if she believed she was Jesus Christ.

She put down the tissue, and stared back in disbelief.

She was shocked he could read her mind so easily.

Maybe you’re surprised too.

But my dad’s “mind-reading” feat was not as amazing it seems.

As a psychoanalyst, he understood that even “normal people” have lots of strange thoughts.

He dealt with strange thoughts every day. It was totally normal.

My dad’s patients were mostly all people who had good jobs, met their responsibilities, and lived their lives without anyone noticing that they were deeply suffering.

Unless you’re a shrink it’s unlikely you’d appreciate how common it is for people to be plagued by disturbing thoughts.

Most of us suffer disturbing thoughts, although not usually to the point that we think we’re Jesus Christ.

But the problem is the same: disturbing thoughts.

Some are mildly disturbing. And some are seriously disturbing.

But the method for dealing with disturbing thoughts is mostly the same, regardless of the severity.

Most of us have never been taught how to deal with troublesome thoughts.

Growing up with a dad made me starkly aware of the existence of “everyday weird thoughts.”

I learned early on that people don’t like to talk about strange thoughts.

We have trouble understanding them.

So we push them aside and ignore them as best we can.

Sometimes, though, you can’t ignore them.

Sometimes thoughts turn into monsters.

How do shrinks help people with monstrous thoughts?

Listen to NPR’s program called The Secret History of Thoughts to find out

The popular treatment now is different than it was when my dad started practicing.

A lot people think that the solution is to “control their thoughts.”

Unfortunately, that’s not realistic (or even possible).

For the past year, I’ve been using this method—which works great for thoughts that aren’t super-disturbing.


  • Michael Domican says:

    Great post Ernie. And that ‘Secret History of Thoughts’ podcast was one of the best pieces of radio I’ve listened to for a long time.

    • Yeah, I loved that one. And I liked the Batman one, which I just listened to last night. I can see that this whole series is going to be amazing, and mind-bending. Thanks for recommending it to me!