Friday, April 11, 2014
Toxic Thoughts - Part 1
Toxic thoughts used to be the bane of my existence. Looking back, I can see just how much they affected my life. I wasn't really fully aware of them at the time. I thought my thinking was normal. The toxic thoughts were more like a background noise, subtle at times but almost always there if I payed attention. My thinking definitely leaned toward the negative side. Like a tape being played over and over again. These thoughts were like bloodthirsty leeches, slowly draining my energy, my peace, my joy. When I DID become aware of how problematic my thinking processes were I tried to do something to overcome them.
But kept failing.
Because I placed my focus on overcoming the bad thoughts without understanding that there were underlying issues feeding them. It was like trying to bail out a leaky boat with a straw. How can it work if you don't fix the leak first?
Fix the leak. Then you can bail out the water.
In my case, repressed/suppressed anger was one of the culprits fueling the toxic thoughts. I've spoken about this in numerous posts so I won't go into detail here except to say that you have a much better chance of conquering negative thinking if you deal with the underlying issue first. You can be mild-mannered on the surface and still have a lot of anger simmering deep inside. The surface mildness may just be saying that you have good control. Mine was rigid.
Even now, I have to be diligent in the area of my thought life because negative thoughts still like to creep in on occasion and if I am not careful they wreak havoc in a very short time. Anyone who has struggled with this knows how difficult it can be to overcome poisonous thinking processes. There aren't any "quick fixes", at least there weren't for me. I guess God could certainly cure a person of this in an instant but usually He doesn't work this way. It usually takes time, grace, and effort before we see lasting changes in this area.
In other words, He supplies the grace, you supply the effort. You work in tandem like a tag team.
So, the first way to deal with unwanted thoughts is to ask God to help you with the underlying issues lurking beneath the surface that may be helping to fuel the thoughts. Once these are addressed you can
start actively working on getting rid of the thoughts themselves.
Some people may not even be aware that they struggle with toxic thoughts but it's not difficult to find out if you do. For a few days, pay attention to where your thoughts go. Don't dwell on them, just see if you can notice subtle poisonous thought patterns aimed at yourself or others. Thoughts such as:
"God doesn't really want to help me."
"I'm not good enough."
"I'll never be able to do this!"
"I can't lose weight! I'll always be fat and ugly."
These are just examples. Look for any patterns of cutting yourself or others down. Check for accusatory thoughts aimed at yourself or others. Note any patterns of despair:
"He/she (or I) will never change!"
"This is hopeless!"
"I hate my life!"
Remember, you are not looking for occasional bad thoughts that pop up, you are looking for recurrent patterns or themes. Thoughts that consistently come to mind when you aren't caught up in an activity that holds your attention. The good thing is that the thoughts themselves will give you an idea of the underlying issue.
For instance, some consistent patterns of thinking can point towards a particular Deadly Sin that may need to be worked on, so as frustrating as it may be to deal with such thoughts they can actually help you pinpoint certain areas of your life that may need work. To give you an example, if the thoughts tend toward:
God doesn't want to help me/ I am all alone and God doesn't care/ I'll probably go to hell, God doesn't love me/ God is always silent (thoughts that doubt the goodness of God) - it may be a good idea to look at sloth first.
If the thoughts tend toward:
I never do anything right/ I'm such a loser/ I can't keep up/ I hate myself (etc..) you can look for suppressed/repressed anger issues (and these thoughts may suggest that you have difficulty forgiving yourself so praying for humility may help as well).
If you DO find "negative brain tapes", don't worry.
God already knows about them and wants to open up this area to His grace.
In brief, step one is to come to terms with the underlying issue (or issues) such as anger, envy, unforgiveness, despair, (etc...) by admitting you have trouble in this area and asking for God to help you with it. Once you face the problem, you can tackle the thoughts themselves which I talk about in my next post.
Next post: Do not Feed the Bears