Coming to Terms with the Good, the Bad, and Yes…the Ugly

Coming to Terms with the Good, the Bad, and Yes…the Ugly

Individual Therapy Bethesda, MD

One of the (many) reasons why humans are so endlessly fascinating is because we are uniquely complex and comprised of numerous “parts.” These various pieces are formed on the basis of genetics and our life and relationship histories. Thus, both nature and nurture combine to grant us a hodgepodge of qualities, many of which we can be proud of, others of which…not so much.

As a therapist, I have the great privilege of sitting with, witnessing, and aiding my clients as they progress on their journeys toward self-awareness and self-understanding. Along the way, we identify and explore the most intimate parts of themselves and/or their relationships, taking the time to unpack those characteristics that kept them buoyed in good times and threatened to drown them in others. It is during this process that clients, whether as individuals or partners in a couple unit, come to confront those good, bad, and yes, ugly, qualities and characteristics. In doing so, we create a full picture of the person and/or relationship that affords the dual benefit of providing insight and charting appropriate next steps in the healing process.

So how exactly does one identify the good, the bad, and the ugly, you ask? And how do they each fit into the bigger picture of resolving the problems for which I came into therapy? Well, read on.


Okay, so let’s acknowledge right off the bat that the good parts are typically the easiest to identify and celebrate for both individuals and couples. Perhaps you’re a fantastic listener, maintain a stellar financial record, or have the best public speaking skills of anyone you know. When considering the couple unit, perhaps you two co-parent very well, maintain a healthy and active sex life, or regularly make time to go on dates and outings together. Take a moment to think of the good qualities in yourself and in your relationship—I’m sure there are many!

These good qualities are so important to remember. No matter how many “bad” or “ugly” qualities you think may be present for you, the “good” ones are inevitably part of you, too. Take pride and comfort in that.


Alright, now things get a smidge more difficult. What are the things about yourself or your relationship of which you aren’t so proud?  Maybe you are chronically late to obligations, habitually neglect to lift or lower the toilet seat, or withdraw during tough times instead of leaning in and working to resolve the problem. In the couple relationship, maybe you two regularly bicker over small or petty matters, fail to prioritize couple quality time, or do not initiate communication when tension arises in the relationship.

The bad things can come top-of-mind with just a bit of effort. They are those things that we might chide ourselves about on a regular or semi-regular basis, but do not ruin our self-confidence or self-concept. These bad parts are typically the ones that remind us that we’re human and, therefore, always have things upon which we can improve. They may be annoying to you or your partner, but usually aren’t deeply shameful.

Consider the not-so-great qualities in yourself and/or relationship. Do they feel surmountable with a bit of effort?


Your answer to that last question should have been “yes.” If it was no, the qualities you’re thinking about should probably be recategorized as “ugly.” Ugly characteristics are those that are difficult to consider without some serious chutzpah—in other words, a commitment to sitting through moderate to severe discomfort. Ugly qualities typically take some time to identify since most people spend weeks, months, or years of their lives trying to avoid and/or repress them to the best of their abilities. They may elicit guilt, disgust, or a deep sense of shame. They may incite hopelessness, fury, or fear. And sometimes, they may seem so big that they appear capable of destroying your sense of self and your entire way of life.

Some ugly qualities that might come up for an individual include a tendency to deeply hurt the people closest to you, blatant disregard for others’ well-being, or dangerous anger issues. In the couple relationship, ugly characteristics might be episodes of intimate partner violence, lying and deception, and persistent infidelity.

It is important to note that some may conceptualize the ugly not as some aspect of them, but rather, as something that happened to them. Individuals who were victims of childhood abuse (sexual, physical, or psychological), for example, may recount those experiences with shame and guilt. Those feelings might be internalized and manifest as some other ugly quality, such as risky sexual behavior or a tendency to lash out and hurt others.

In most cases, ugly qualities prevent the impacted individuals or relationships from blossoming and achieving their full potential. Fear of, or reticence toward, confronting the ugly may lead to missed opportunities or a lifetime of loneliness, unhappiness, or dissatisfaction. The fact of the matter is this: it is only by acknowledging and sitting with the ugly that one can actually begin to chart a path forward so that one day, those ugly qualities might finally relinquish their power over your life or relationship.


Identifying and working through your good and bad qualities on your own can be fairly straightforward. You notice them easily and, for those not-so-great qualities, you resolve to correct them with a bit of consistent effort. The trouble is those ugly qualities, which can be extremely difficult to identify and manage. The irony is, they are also the ones that are most critical to work through in order to achieve and cultivate self-compassion, forgiveness, and true and lasting change.

No matter what defines the “ugly” in an individual or couple relationship, keep in mind that these characteristics are almost always too difficult to face alone. It’s in the process of coming to terms with the ugly that the work and skills of a therapist becomes most crucial. It’s my job to guide you through the good, the bad, and the ugly in a way that feels both safe and secure. We unpack your life/relationship history and anything that may have contributed to the development of these qualities, sit with the tough feelings that arise, and map out solutions to work through—and resolve—them in a healthy way. Throughout it all, I support you in the process until you are able to confidently comfort and support yourself.

Coming to terms with those qualities of yourself of which you are least proud or that elicit shame is difficult. Working with a trained professional is one of the best ways to minimize and challenge feelings of self-blame and self-doubt that often arise along the way. In the journey toward happiness and fulfillment, you deserve to have someone standing and cheering in your corner.

Shy Porter, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda office. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or complimentary telephone consultation with Shy.