Do you experience thoughts you don’t want?
Do you ruminate on beliefs about yourself, the world, or God that feel true even though you know they are not? Like many people I meet, do you feel tormented by depressed, anxious, or intrusive thinking? Like everyone, are you uncertain about what to do with some of the thoughts that enter your mind?
For some people, unwanted thoughts feel like a mere annoyance. Other people experience them as problematic daily interruptions, and still others would describe them as a brutal and invisible form of torture. No matter the level of your distress, unwanted thoughts of all kinds often seem better kept inside. Perhaps you have the feeling that if you opened up about what went on in your head, no one would understand. Perhaps people would judge you or even think you are crazy.
No matter how stubborn your thoughts may feel, you are not alone. We all walk around with thoughts we just can’t get out of our heads. Consider some of the most common categories of unwanted thoughts people experience.
Worried and Anxious Thoughts
Everyone experiences worried and anxious thoughts from time to time. Mild worry over life circumstances may briefly appear. Anxious thoughts may cause heart palpitations and stom- ach pain. Full-blown panic attacks may lead to fears of dying. What if I don’t know what to say and look stupid? What if my baby gets sick? How will I pay these bills? Am I having a heart attack? Am I dying?
Self-Deprecating Thoughts That Assign a False Identity
Self-deprecating thoughts arise when we see ourselves differ- ently from how Scripture describes us. I’m not good enough. I have to be perfect. I’m worthless and I hate myself.
Depressed, Hopeless, and Suicidal Thoughts*
Life circumstances, difficult relationships, and dysfunctions in our bodies and souls can lead us to depression and hopelessness. This is too hard. I’m not sure I can forgive myself. Nothing will ever get better. People would be better off without me. I just want to die.
Racing Thoughts and Incessant Mental Chatter
Sometimes it’s hard to turn off our brains. There may or may not be anything upsetting about the content of our racing thoughts. Either way, we wish we could stop the incessant chatter. I should cook lasagna for dinner. I can’t forget to change the oil in the car. What should I be doing with my life? I just want to leave everything and never come back.
Daydreams, Fantasies, and Mental Pictures of Past and Future Events
We may rehearse mental images of past events that we wish had gone differently. Other times, we fantasize about an ideal version of the future or predict every disaster we can imagine. I can’t believe I said something so stupid in that meeting. How much better would life be if I had a different wife? I just know my son will get sick and die.
Irrational Thoughts That Don’t Match Reality
We all experience times when our thinking becomes biased or impaired and we struggle to see certain situations or people clearly. Sometimes this thinking can become obsessive. In other cases, peo- ple experience delusional thinking that breaks from reality. No one likes me. If I touch that doorknob, I will get sick. The FBI is following me.
Our sinful thoughts can be judgmental, envious, and bitter. Other times they are lustful, angry, deceitful, and prideful. I hate him. One lie won’t hurt. I’m better than all of them. This will be the last time . . .
Thoughts That Contradict Professed Theology
Sometimes our thoughts contradict our theology in shameful or anxiety-provoking ways. If I just _______, God will accept me. Does God love me? Is heaven real? Am I even a Christian?
Intrusive Thoughts and Images
Many people experience shocking thoughts and images that seem to spontaneously appear out of nowhere. These thoughts are typically highly distressing and feel shameful to admit. Oftentimes, they revolve around sensitive themes such as violence, sexuality, and faith. I could walk across the room and stab my daughter. I just had a sexual thought about my pastor. I hate God. What if I jumped off this building?
Thoughts Related to Traumatic Experiences
Trauma occurs when distressing events overwhelm our abil- ity to cope. Following a traumatic incident, it’s common for our thinking to become clouded by thoughts that fit into many or all of the categories listed above. Thoughts filled with shame, doubt, fear, anger, and sadness may linger just beneath our conscious awareness. It takes careful examination to realize they are coloring our overall mindset far more than we realize. I am dirty. God doesn’t love me. I’m going crazy. I never feel safe. Will the pain ever stop?
Unwanted Thoughts about Unwanted Thoughts
Sometimes our most distressing thoughts happen when we start to feel bad, guilty, or ashamed that we are experiencing unwanted thoughts. God must be so disappointed in me for being anxious. I’m a bad Christian for being depressed. Why can’t I just stop thinking that?
Which category resonates with you the most? Many of these categories overlap, and you may find yourself struggling with more than one category at the same time. No matter the type of thoughts you tend toward, it’s likely your efforts to find relief haven’t been completely successful. As hard as you try, you can’t stop thinking, feeling, or believing the unwanted thoughts that cross your mind. What should you do next?
A Still and Quiet Mind: Twelve Strategies for Changing Unwanted Thoughts
This is the question that I attempt to answer in A Still and Quiet Mind: Twelve Strategies for Changing Unwanted Thoughts. What should you do next? How can you find help for the thoughts that annoy you, frustrate you, or even torment you?
We get stuck in patterns of unwanted thought for many reasons. Sometimes we are too scared to share or even acknowledge the thoughts that actually cross our minds. Other times we look for quick fix solutions and become frustrated when they don’t work. And quite often, we treat all unwanted thoughts the same. We don’t recognize the complicating factors that need to be addressed.
Not all unwanted thoughts are the same, which means they should not all be treated the same. Strategies that work for mild anxiety likely won’t be sufficient for thoughts connected to a serious trauma. If you treat intrusive thoughts with biblical guidance meant for sinful thoughts, you will get worse, not better. When painful thinking clouds our minds, we need a variety of strategies that address the varying causes and consequences of our thoughts. These strategies should take into account the influence of our bodies, minds, souls, and relationships.
And that is what I hope to offer in this book—a multifaceted approach to changing thoughts that draws on a range of biblically faithful strategies. I hope and pray it is helpful to many people.
Buy it. Read it. Share it today!
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