Stop Your Thoughts from Hijacking Your Emotional Health

thoughts

I want to start this post by pointing out that nowhere in the Bible does it say that we need to take our emotions captive. And yet, the scripture that tells us to take our thoughts captive is often misinterpreted to mean just that. The reason why lies in the fact that we are rarely taught to differentiate our emotional life from our thought life. Though they are two sides to our soulish coin, the difference between thoughts and feelings is profound.

You see, we don’t choose our emotions. We can choose what we do with them, but emotions arise from bodily reactions to events. In fact, I am not sure we can control our emotions, though we can surely control what we do with them, at least most of the time. We often avoid them because we cannot control them easily. But our emotions, though they feel quite terrible sometimes, are not broken. We don’t have to fix emotions. We just have to feel them.

Our thoughts are a different matter. The problem stems from the fact that we typically have emotions and automatically attach thoughts to it. We commonly mistake how we feel for how we think. Once we attach a thought to a feeling, our minds and bodies run with the misinterpretation and a downward spiraling pattern will emerge.

thoughtsBefore I give you a specific example, I want to call attention to how the Old Testament characterizes the mind. The Bible refers to the mind as both reins and kidney. The metaphor of reins is an easy one to parse. After all, where you point the reins, the horse will go. The directions your thoughts take is the direction your life will follow.

Kidneys are a little less obvious until you realize that they filter the bloodstream. Our minds filter our experiences in the same way.  Kidneys are supposed to filter out the waste, and so are our minds. But when the kidneys don’t work, we get toxic. When our thought filters don’t work, we get toxic, both to ourselves and others.

An emotion that many struggle with today is fear. Fear is a basic human emotion that I think is clearly universal. Notice I don’t say the word ‘anxiety’. Anxiety is what happens when this primal emotion of fear is connected to a thought pattern. Typical thoughts that arise when people feel afraid run something like this: Something bad is going to happen. If I fail, no one will love me. I am all alone. I’m not safe.

Now if you ask a person suffering from anxiety how they feel, these kinds of statements often surface. But here is the misinterpretation. Those are not feelings. None of those are emotions. Those are thoughts.

Our minds want to make connections. In fact, part of the important job our brains must accomplish is to connect experience with meaning. We thoughtsexperience an emotion and our brain roots around until it unearths a statement that matches the experience. In the case of anxiety, the thoughts usually project some dire consequence in the future. The problem is that rarely are those thoughts true, which is why they need to be taken captive.

If our misinterpreting thoughts are not taken captive, then a loop between our minds and bodies becomes established over time. The longer the loop makes its circuit, the harder it is to interrupt the false internal narrative.

So let’s take the first fear thought that usually surfaces. The idea that something bad is going to happen reinforces the original emotion of fear. It actually adds to it the added emotion of dread. If something bad is going to happen and you don’t know exactly what that is, then you are in a dire predicament indeed. Obsessive thought patterns begin as a result of this loop as your brain tries to find solutions to prepare for the unknown future catastrophic event.

So we try to take our thoughts captive. But here is the kicker. Unless you understand the underlying emotion and separate it from the thought, you are going to find it a rough haul. I used to try to memorize scripture to combat my emotions, not realizing that I was not making the best use of the power of God within me. I was fighting the wrong battle!

The key is to understand how emotion works.  Emotion is a visceral reaction to stimuli that is sometimes conscious and sometimes completely unconscious. Some days I feel sad. Now I have a lot to feel sad about. Instead of jumping to a conclusion about why I feel sad, I accept the emotion without judgment. I don’t have to afraid because emotions come and go like the tides. Sometimes my sadness arc is short. Thirty minutes of allowing myself to be grieved and it is done for the day.

Other days sadness sticks around for a while. I know that for me, hormones influence my emotions as does physical health, lack of sleep, or too much sugar. I can accept the fact that sadness is a normal experience for humans in a fallen world.

But sadness turns into a lengthier depression if I connect a negative thought to it. My life is a wreck. Everything is a mess. I’m not worthy of love. I’m being punished for my mistakes. Those thoughts can seem true in a blue moment. And the spiral starts.

Taking each thought captive requires the ability to dispute those thoughts. If you can separate your emotions from your thoughts, then you can weed out the negative thoughts with any number of techniques. For me, prayer works. I submit each thought to God and He pretty much points out the lie in each one. My life isn’t a wreck. He sees me as justified and whole. I am not only worthy of love as His daughter, I am deeply loved by Him and any number of people. I am forgiven, and God has taken my punishment on Himself.

For my husband, disputation works well. He uses his logical mind to weed out the lies because the lies that pollute our minds are pretty thoughtsobvious. When anxiety hits him, he thinks about the fact that nobody knows if something bad is going to happen or not. He doesn’t know the future and therefore, can’t really predict it. He isn’t alone. He is safe at the moment.

And once you begin to dismantle the thought structures threatening to send you down the river of endless fear and regret, then your emotions become less frightening. I feel sad becomes an observation. If you treat yourself with some compassion and simply express the truth of your feeling, then you will find that it dissipates pretty easily. But if you take that fear or that grief and turn it into a self-denigrating idea or a threatening statement, you have just made an agreement with the enemy of your soul.

Our fallen minds naturally gravitate towards the negative. But the power of the Holy Spirit in us comes with the promise of a sound mind. We no longer have to go on the neurological merry-go-round. Emotional health does not mean that we only feel good things. Emotional health means that we can be compassionate towards ourselves at the same time we discern the truth from a lie.

 

Not sure if it is a thought or an emotion? Look it up on this list of emotions!

List of Emotions

If you have not read this Christian classic, you are missing a weapon in your arsenal!

Have a kid who struggles with their thought life? Joyce Meyer has one for children too!

Want something more specific? This book is a primer for detaching those thoughts and emotions.

In Defense of the Gift of Emotion

19 Replies to “Stop Your Thoughts from Hijacking Your Emotional Health”

  1. Wow a lot of good information to process! I love your analogies ie the kidneys and thoughts being toxic. TY for an awesome post! Blessings to you! ❤

  2. I. Love. This. Thoughts and emotions ARE different. I’m going to be thinking about this all day. So much good stuff here.

  3. “When our thought filters don’t work, we get toxic, both to ourselves and others.”
    This is such an important topic, and it’s so well written. I love the emphasis on emotions being reactions to our thoughts. It’s an interesting way to think of it!

  4. Thank you for sharing this!

  5. I love the kidney and thoughts analogy. Most of our natural and spiritual battles are won or lost in the mind before we ever actually face them. The thoughts we accept determines the outcome we get.

  6. Lately I’ve been dwelling on the fact that my emotions drive my thoughts, but I’ve never thought about the opposite. Thanks for sharing this!

    Sydney Meek | meeklyloving.wordpress.com

  7. hisdearlyloveddaughter says: Reply

    Wonderful as always, Alice. My first reaction was to completely agree with everything you said… but a verse kept sticking in my head and I’m not sure what to do with it. So, I’ll just ask.
    While there’s no doubt that thought and emotion are different, and that we are, without question called to keep our thoughts in check, (I especially loved the example of the kidney) I’m not so sure our emotions are in fact out of our control and should go unchecked. The only reason being, verses like Deuteronomy 31:8 in which Joshua is commanded to not be “afraid” or “discouraged” which would both be emotions. Which, of course, brings to mind countless verses in which we’re told to not fear. I feel certain I’m missing some “aha” truth here that makes this all fit together. So, what do you think?

    1. Sorry it took me so long to respond. I really believe that all 365 times in the Bible that God tells us to not be afraid, God is encouraging us. This isn’t a judgmental command. Like a father who is teaching his child to ride a bike, God is saying,”You can do this! Don’t be scared! I have your back!” God comforts a lot of anxious people in the Bible like Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, and even Hagar. As for Joshua, God rewarded Joshua and Caleb for their faith-filled return from scouting out the land. Then as Joshua is posed to go into Canaan, God is encouraging him because there really are giants in the land. He is telling us to go ahead and do the things He has for us, despite our emotions. Do it afraid, as the saying goes.
      The more we face our fears, the less power fear has and the less we feel afraid. But even Jesus dreaded the cross and asked that the cup be taken away. Jesus did it afraid and so must we.

      1. hisdearlyloveddaughter says: Reply

        Wonderful answer! Thank-you!

  8. “Taking each thought captive requires the ability to dispute those thoughts. If you can separate your emotions from your thoughts, then you can weed out the negative thoughts with any number of techniques.” – This is such an important process. In addition, the better we are at taking our thoughts captive and remaining rooted in truth, the more stable our emotions become. So through this process we can come to “control” our emotions because we won’t experience the same level of emotional distress as when our thoughts are distorted.

  9. As someone who suffers from anxiety, your insight into the fact that thoughts and emotions are separate was real good for thought! Thank you for sharing x

  10. keisharussell84 says: Reply

    Yet again you have written a wonderful informative post. GREAT JOB! It seems that all of your post always have me thinking on such a deeper level throughout the day. Now I will go ponder about how to keep my emotions and thoughts in order 🙂

  11. Thank you for these insights! It is so easy to confuse the two. God has created us with emotions, they are okay to feel. I’ve noticed that when I don’t deal with my emotions, and stop to take a look at them, then they become negative thoughts without me even realizing it! We need to pay attention to our feelings, give them to the Lord, and not let our thoughts tell us lies!

  12. It is so important to realize that emotions are different than our thoughts. We can and should take our thoughts captives.

  13. This post is one of my favorite of yours, Alice!
    I’ve put so much worth on my emotions and trusting they were truth. ” If you can separate your emotions from your thoughts, then you can weed out the negative thoughts with any number of techniques.”

    This is what I’ve learned and it’s transforming!

  14. This is extremely helpful to me. Growing up, I was told to control my emotion. And, yes, a lot of times I needed to separate the emotion from the lie, or thought process, but I wasn’t taught that. I was taught they were the same. (I still hear this “lesson” as an adult) I’ve definitely had to combat this programming as I’ve aged and entered different stages of life. Suppressing emotion only intensifies it. The longer it goes unaccepted, the higher the risk for lies to break in. Which makes me extremely irrational. I really needed to read this truth. This will be something I will be working on.

  15. This post! I think everyone needs to read this post. I was always allowed to express myself through emotions growing up and was never told to hold them in. My parents actually taught me how to express and handle emotions properly. Then, as an adult, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard other adults say things like “Get over it” or “stop being emotional” etc to other adults who are hurting. It is one of the worst things for a person to hear.

  16. What a great message! Such an important distinction. And our thoughts have carried us into dark places before we realize we’ve been on the way. Thanks for such a great post! God bless!

  17. Alice, for much of my life, I believed my emotions were me, not just a part of me. Rather than riding those emotions and believing every lie that I attached to them, I had to learn that controlling my thoughts and choosing to believe the truth was actually do-able and possible. My life was truly transformed. You explain this better than anyone I’ve ever read. I love this quote of yours: “We don’t have to fix emotions. We just have to feel them.” This topic is so very much needed, even and especially in the body of Christ. Thank you!!!

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