The War Within: Overcoming Negative Thoughts and Emotions

I held my baby boy tonight.  He’s four years old, but he’s still my baby, the youngest of my two boys.  On some nights, he asks me to “snuggle him” at bedtime.  I try to soak up those moments as much as I can because I know they won’t last forever. 

Tonight, as I lay next to him, I marveled at all the tiny little strands of hair on his head, and I thought about how God knows every strand on mine.  I gazed on his beautiful, long eyelashes and his cute, little freckles, and I again thought about how God knows every single hair, freckle, and molecular cell that makes up our bodies.  (Mathew 10:30; Psalm 139:13-16)

I pulled my child close and held him snuggly against me, stroking his hair and feeling his soft breath against my neck.  I whispered to him how special he is, how proud I am of him, and how much I love him.  I watched him as he slowly drifted off to sleep, and I thought about how much God loves him and how much God loves me too, as His own precious child.  What a comforting thought, to know that God loves us and marvels at us as a proud, loving Father, and to know that He longs to spend time with us and hold us close.

And yet, there are some moments when I forget that truth.  Moments when I don’t feel precious.  Moments when I feel completely inadequate, lost, and alone.  It’s human nature for people to sometimes feel doubt, fear, loneliness, and insecurity.  Those are the moments when we need God’s nature to dwell in us and to help us overcome those negative thoughts and emotions.

Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, I struggled off and on with anxiety, insecurity, and depression.  My mind was constantly at war with itself.  I’m not good enough.  I’m not strong enough.  I’m not pretty enough.  I’m not smart enough.  I’m not [fill in the blank]… and it was filled. 

I kept believing and accepting negative perceptions of myself instead of accepting God’s truths.  Even though my parents and teachers were always very encouraging and praised me often, I wouldn’t believe it for myself.  Instead, I thought and believed the opposite.  My insecurities bound me into silence and fear, forcing me to withdraw and hide, thereby causing me to miss out on different opportunities, friendships, and experiences.

I love the song, You Say by Lauren Daigle

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I’m not enough.
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up.
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know.

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing.
You say I am strong when I think I am weak.
And You say I am held when I am falling short.
And when I don’t belong, oh, You say I am Yours.
And I believe (I), oh, I believe (I).
What You say of me (I).
I believe.

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me.
In You I find my worth, in You I find my identity.

I deeply resonate with this song.  As a young adult, I was finally able to start accepting what God says who I am and who He is.  I was able to start seeing my identity and worth through His eyes instead of through my own.  Nevertheless, I still have to remind myself— sometimes daily— to remember God’s truths and to fight the war within my mind. 

The Bible says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:10-22).  We are at war with society’s perception of worth and beauty.  We are at war with our own thoughts and desires (when they go against God’s).  We are at war with sin.  But when we choose to follow God and let Him dwell in us, by studying His Word and arming ourselves with His truths, He will fight our battles for us and give us victory over our enemies and over our negative thinking patterns.

So, how do we fight this mental and emotional war?

I encourage you to familiarize yourself with God’s truths.  Memorize them.  Store them in your heart.  Have them “at the ready” as a weapon.  “Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:16-17)

When negative thoughts enter your mind, and perhaps they’re accompanied by or trigger negative emotions, it’s important to first recognize and acknowledge them.  Feel the emotion.  Process the thought.  Accept them both for what they are— negative thoughts and feelings. 

Once you’ve recognized and acknowledged them, ask yourself: What does God sayWhat does scripture say?

When you think, I’m not good enough, the Bible says: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

When you think, I’m not pretty [or handsome] enough, the Bible says: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14

When you think, I’m a failure, the Bible says: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  Jeremiah 29:11

When you think, I’m not strong enough, the Bible says: “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

When you feel unloved, the Bible says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16

When you feel scared, the Bible says: “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”  Psalm 91:2

When you feel anxious, the Bible says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

When you feel alone, the Bible says: “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:39

When you feel lost, the Bible says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

When you feel ashamed and unforgivable, the Bible says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

I could go on and on.  The Bible is filled with spiritual armor, page after page.  Study it.  Embrace it.  Let God’s truths dwell in your heart and soul, which will gradually and positively transform your thoughts and feelings. 

Even so, the war within your mind may still rage on throughout your lifetime, whether occasionally or frequently.  It still does for me, some days more than others.  We are human, after all.  But the stronger our armor, the easier it will be to defeat and overcome the enemy, one battle at a time.

God gives us other forms of armor too.

While I strongly believe in the power of scripture and arming ourselves with God’s truths, I also don’t want to discount the importance of other “forms of armor” and coping strategies people can use when they are burdened by negative thoughts and emotions. 

God gave us physical senses and emotional responses for a reason.  Jesus ate and drank; rested and fasted; wept and grieved; spent time alone in prayer; created with his hands; enjoyed nature; sang hymns; physically embraced others and accepted gifts from others; spent time with friends and loved ones; and thus, practiced self-care and promoted positive socio-emotional mental health awareness. 

Here are some brief examples of practical and tangible coping strategies, derived from my own personal experience and from my background as a social worker, but it is certainly not an exhaustive list:

You can

  • Practice deep breathing
  • Practice positive imagery
  • Practice grounding and/or mindfulness activities (using all five senses and focusing on the present)
  • Practice muscle relaxation or other relaxing activities
  • Journal (write down your worries and questions; write down what you are thankful for; write down successes; write down your dreams and goals)
  • Listen to positive music and praise music
  • Socialize with friends (but also know when to spend some quiet time alone to rest, think, and pray)
  • Talk with a friend, family member, licensed counselor, pastor, or medical professional about your thoughts and feelings
  • Engage in enjoyable hobbies
  • Spend time outdoors, enjoying fresh air and sunshine and admiring God’s beautiful creation
  • Laugh as often as you can (#dadjokes for the win!)
  • Cry when you need to
  • Look after your health (proper sleep, nutrition, exercise, etc.)
  • Minister to others with acts of kindness
  • Take prescribed medication if it is recommended by a mental health professional

God has gifted us with an abundance of diverse resources to help us cope with trials— friends and family, our physiological and emotional responses, helping professionals in the medical and mental health field, modern science and medicine, etc.  These God-given resources are all still part of His truths and are portrayed throughout His Word.  (Ezekiel 47:12; Mathew 9:12; Proverbs 27:9; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Please also hear me when I say it’s ok to feel negative emotions.  It’s ok to feel hurt, sad, angry, and to grieve.  These are human, God-given emotions.  But I also believe God doesn’t want those negative emotions to consume us or destroy us.  That is the difference. 

Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”  And 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 says, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”  In other words, we are allowed to grieve, but we can still have hope.  And the only way to have this hope, is to know God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

In closing, I pray the referenced scriptures and other coping resources will help you (or someone you know) when you feel at war with your mind.  I think all people struggle with negative thought patterns, some more often than others, and some more severely than others, but we all still struggle from time to time. 

You are not alone in this war.  Like Chris Tomlin’s song, Whom Shall I Fear, says, the God of angel armies is always by my side.  And I am so very thankful that God is the one who fights our battles when we arm ourselves with His truths. 

Turn to God.  Let Him lead the charge.  The enemy won’t stand a chance.

Amy

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2 comments

  1. Such a wonderful blog post and so needed during this time of chaos in our world! This post came just at the right moment after I was battling negative thoughts yesterday. Although we know God’s truths, sometimes we have to dig deep within to bring them to light and remind ourselves that God is always near to us and gives us all we need to fight our battles. Your resource list and scripture verses are also so helpful. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    Like

  2. You express your thoughts so well, and it is such an inspiration! It is beautiful and all of us need to be made aware of these truths so badly! Thank you for taking your time to share this!

    Like

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