3rd Annual Staff Retreat: Fighting Thoughts

On February 22nd, twenty Beacon of Hope staff counselors, interns, and volunteers came together for our Third Annual Staff Retreat. Part of our day was focused on the tension of when we “know” something is true in our minds but become frustrated when it doesn’t seem to penetrate our hearts deeply and become something we gutturally, emotionally, instinctively feel is true.

Some typical examples:

I know “I’m worthy”, but I feel worthless.

I know “I’m good enough no matter what I do”, but I feel like I have to strive and achieve and perform to be good enough.

I know “It’s okay to make mistakes”, but I feel defeated and like a failure when I do.

If you’ve struggled with any of those thoughts or other self-critical thoughts, you can probably recognize there are three phases to the journey:

Phase 1 – Believing the thoughts are true.

Phase 2 – Recognizing that the thoughts are lies, but still feeling the anxiety and stress of living in fear of these thoughts every day.

Phase 3 – Stop fighting.

Phase 3 can seem impossible. How could we possibly stop fighting?

We know we can stop fighting because of promises from God, like Hebrews 10:14 – “Because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” This beautiful verse holds together those two dichotomous truths: We are all works in progress (we make mistakes, we do dumb, embarrassing, imperfect things), but, by the one sacrifice of Jesus, we are totally loved and totally acceptable in the eyes of God exactly as we are today.

That’s why you can stop fighting: because the battle has already been won through grace and Jesus’ sacrifice. You can’t do anything more to improve or clean up your standing before God.

On a practical level, when fighting off negative thoughts has become a habit, how do be break the habit?

It starts by noticing and observing.  I notice and observe a thought or a physical sensation, but I DO NOT fight it, fix it, or flee from it.

The amazing result is the thought or sensation loses all its perceived power.

You realize a thought is just a thought. It’s an electric signal firing in the brain. A sensation is just a sensation, it’s the brain sending out stress hormones, pumping up the heart rate.

A thought or a sensation is not a monster who will eat you if you don’t fight it back.

There are many helpful metaphors to help us realize that we can allow thoughts to float into our mind without fighting, fixing, or fleeing them. Thoughts are like:

-Clouds floating, or birds flying, across the sky.

-Waves arising from the sea, then falling back in. You can watch the waves from the shore, without being swept away.

-A passing parade. You can watch the floats pass by. You don’t have to climb on board.

-Trains coming and going while you stand watching from the platform.

-A waterfall. You’re standing behind it, not under it.

If you are regularly bothered by a thought such as, “you better not make a mistake,” and you’ve already done the work of disproving that critical thought with the truth of God’s word, then you can stop fighting it every time it pops up in your brain. Next time, just nod your head in its direction, and let it keep on passing by.

Krista has been Beacon’s Director of Counseling since 2016. She enjoys working with couples and those struggling with anxiety. When not at the office, Krista enjoys visiting with family, being outside with her kids, going on walks, and camping.

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