How to Suppress Bad Thoughts

First of all, I have to ask, how bad are these thoughts? Personally, I find it very difficult to completely suppress any thoughts, much less “bad” ones. I’d say there’s little we can do about what we think. What we can control (suppress, if you will) is our actions in response to our thoughts. The only reason I can think of to suppress thoughts would be if one has a fear that one will act on these thoughts. And, if a person has that little control of his own actions, then I’d say he’s got more to worry about than suppressing bad thoughts.

In answer to my very first question, how bad are these bad thoughts? Are we talking about mass murder? Are we talking about pedophilia? More importantly, are these thoughts all that hard to turn away from? For instance, I almost never think about committing mass murder (except when I’m in traffic). But, even if we do have these fleeting fantasies, don’t we all just realize that that’s what they are? Fantasies. I won’t really ever turn a gun on all the idiots who share the road with me-no matter how much they may deserve it. I understand that, even as I’m thinking it. As long as we realize they’re just ridiculous fantasies, do we really need to suppress them?

The answer, of course, lies in the question. Obviously, there are some who don’t realize that these are just ridiculous thoughts. Some people (most notably, postal workers) actually act on these fantasies-and that’s what leads to trouble. I reckon these are the people who need to suppress these kinds of thoughts. The problem is two-fold. One, does a person who has these thoughts and might actually act on them understand the need to suppress these thoughts? Two, if he does understand this, will he act on it and actually do something about it-that is, actually suppress the thoughts.

There lies the big rub with the whole problem. All of us have fantastical thoughts which, if carried out, would be considered evil. 98% of us realize these are only fantasies and quickly lay them to rest. For the two per cent who don’t understand this, the thoughts continue and, sometimes, are followed by actions. Could these thoughts have been suppressed? Possibly. Should they have been suppressed? Almost certainly. The problem is, if the person having these thoughts doesn’t even think they need suppressing, he’s not likely to try to do so. It’s a sort of catch 22.

How do we suppress bad thoughts? Well, here’s the catch. If you have fleeting bad thoughts and you realize they’re mere fantasies and you know you’ll never act on them, you’re actually pretty normal and pretty mentally stable. So, they don’t need suppressing. On the other hand, if you have these thoughts continually and have a desire to act on them, you have some serious problems. But, is a person like this likely to try to suppress the thoughts? Probably not. In the abstract, it’s an interesting conundrum. Unfortunately, in the real world, not acting to suppress these thoughts can have tragic results.