Dr. Greg: The Trap of "Good" vs. "Bad"
Dr. Greg tries to separate people from their actions.
In this episode, as a part of my storyline, things are starting to bend in a "good people vs. bad people" direction. I encounter a man who is in therapy because he hates "fat people." I also have dinner with my sisters where I tell them I am getting married and that I have invited my father. In reaction, we hear my sister call my father a derogatory name and you also hear me tell a story where my father called some men he assumed were gay a derogatory name and the family joined in with laughter.
The viewer is lead to start to believe some people on the show are "good" and some are "bad."
This concept of "good people vs. bad people" makes good TV (think cops and robbers) and is something most embrace without question. If you see some people as "bad," you will feel either threatened or better than the other person and choose to stay away from them. If you see other people as "good," you will feel safe and usually group yourself together with them.
Nearly everyone I have ever met in therapy or on the street sees himself or herself as a "good person." For them, the "bad people" are the other guy. Even Jessica Rabbit in the animated classic, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? famously proclaimed, "I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."
This "good people vs. bad people" sorting probably goes back to ancient times when one tribe threatened another. And today, you the viewer may be seduced into thinking of my client and my father as bad people (or even me for inviting my father to the wedding!). But it's a trap.When you label someone as a “bad person” for having a negative judgment against another, you are doing the exact same thing as the person you are labeling -- you're negatively judging another person (who is also negatively judging another person). Essentially you’re saying, "They're bad because they think someone else is bad."
Now I am not saying that calling someone a bad name is acceptable. Far from it! I think that calling names is harmful and unhealthy. But it's the behavior of name-calling that is "bad," not the people who do it.
When we think of someone as all "bad," then they can't be anything else. But what if they work and support their family, would they still be "bad?" What if they care for their ailing grandmother? What if they give time to a charity? Does that suddenly now make them a "good person"?
In psychotherapy, we do not see our clients as “good people” or “bad people.” We see our clients (and our families, for that matter) as complex human beings who do both good and bad things. Then we go about helping them make changes in those things to help them achieve their goals, improve their relationships, and live happier and healthier lives. I encourage you to do the same.