There’s a difference between our thoughts and our emotions. They are not one and the same. Emotions are the result of our thinking. Most of us have a difficult time separating these two things, and even then, we get it backwards. We allow our thoughts to run wild, and then we try to control the inevitable emotions that result from untamed thinking.
I used to have a real problem with unconscious negative self-talk. That voice in my head would just go on and on in a really unpleasant way, telling me bad things about myself, or that bad things were going to happen to me. The thoughts were allowed to go on unchecked for most of my life because I was not aware of them. As a result, I would often get depressed, but I would try to suppress that feeling and just go on with life as usual.
Because of societal pressures, it is easy to get the idea that if I can just tuck away or ignore my negative emotions of sorrow, anger, depression, and boredom, not expressing them, eventually I will magically become a happier person. Friends, after decades of futile attempts, I can assure you this just does not work.
Emotions do not go away simply because you’ve ignored them or locked them away deep inside. They live on in your body, causing all kinds of mental and physical problems as they cry out to be recognized. For me, my suppressed emotions resulted in compulsive eating and physical symptoms like heartburn, stomach pain, joint pain, headaches, sleeplessness, and other issues.
Emotions need to be expressed and allowed to leave the body. Even though some emotions are called “negative”, emotions are really neither good nor bad. Allow them to come up, feel them, and let them go. Don’t be ashamed of your emotions, they are important signals of something that is going on in your head.
Most people do not regulate their thoughts in any way. We are guilty of rampant over thinking, and most of our thoughts are completely bogus. That negative self-talk I mentioned is a form of over thinking. If you quiet yourself down long enough to examine the thoughts running through your mind on a continuous basis, you might be appalled.
A wise man named Paul gave us an example of how to handle the head voices. He says that we do not wage physical war, but a spiritual and mental one. We fight against the lie of inaccurate thinking, which sets itself up against the truth of God. Inaccurate thinking: those thoughts we have that seem like truth but really are very crafty deceptions meant to depress us, anger us, and literally make us sick because we keep stuffing the emotions down, down and away. The truth is always healing. It can hurt at first, like the resetting of a broken bone, but it always brings healing because God is Truth and God is Love.
Paul says he takes “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
This is something you need to imitate. You need to set up a gatekeeper in your head that watches the thoughts as they cross the threshold into your mind. Good thoughts: wave them in and welcome them. Inaccurate thoughts, lies, perversions of the truth: no entry.
If you have never done this, at first you will struggle. It seems to take so much energy. But it will get easier as you establish the practice – and your emotions will help you.
If you start to feel a negative emotion, let it come up and out of your body. The emotion can be a clue that some inappropriate thinking is going on. I know that when I start to feel depressed, it’s a pretty good sign that I have been berating myself in my thoughts. Or, if I feel anxious, I need to examine my thoughts to weed out any “future tripping” that doesn’t belong. If your thoughts are telling you bad things that are going to happen in the future, whether that’s in five minutes or five years, that’s crazy made-up stuff that you don’t need to be thinking. Throw these thoughts out on their behinds.
Making your thought life obedient to Christ means filtering your thoughts and discarding those that don’t line up with God’s truth about you or the world.
Paul says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Remember, regulate your thoughts, express your emotions.