As a counselor, in my first session with a new patient, I ask about the reasons why they have sought counseling. Most of the time they describe their struggles as emotional distress. Anxiety, fears, anger, depression, and shame seem to be the most common. Today’s research shows that up to 80% of physical, emotional, and mental health issues can be a direct result of our thought life. The key is to understand the science that connects our thoughts and emotions.
I came across a story in Timothy Jennings' book, The God-Shaped Brain, which reinforces the research. In the 1970’s, a man named Sam Shoeman was diagnosed with liver cancer and told he only had a few months to live. Shortly after his death, the autopsy revealed that the doctors were wrong. He had only one small tumor contained within the liver--not a life-threatening stage of cancer. The book claims he did not die from liver cancer; he died from believing he was dying from liver cancer. Incredibly, our thoughts and the emotions they invoke can change our physical brain structure, ultimately changing who we are and who we are becoming.
The aspect of our brain with which we are most familiar is the thinking one. Consider how much time you spend in your head, focused on directing your thoughts. We are far less acquainted with directing the feeling part of the brain, the prime influencer behind most of our behaviors. That part of the brain feels, reacts, creates, and remembers, but not in words. Instead, it focuses on sensations and feelings, many occurring outside of our conscious awareness. Virtually all our core feelings--anger, joy, love, grief--directly influence our behaviors. Although feelings are not always based on facts, they can override our ability to remain logical, affecting the choices we make and our ability to cope and deal with stress.
Here’s how that happens--two things are always going on inside of our brain: Thoughts and Emotions. Picture your thoughts as a boat racing across water, and picture your emotions as the wake behind the boat rippling across the water. When we think we're in a particular situation, our brain reacts emotionally in part to help us cope. If you think, perhaps, "There's a bear!" your emotions of surprise and fear flood your body with chemicals to help you find safety. But it's also true for more every day experiences. Each time you find yourself thinking negative thoughts instead of positive ones, for example, your body reacts with different emotions that pattern your mind. Getting a B on a test might mean thinking "hey, pretty good!" or "I'm a failure," and the corresponding emotions will follow.
Repeating the same old thoughts begin to have permanent effect. Thinking over and over “I’m a failure” (thought), and then feeling sad (emotion) because you believe that thought, your body repeatedly secretes chemicals to react to the situation, changing your brain to expect to be sad. You are essentially creating a neurological pathway linking your thoughts easily to sad emotions and storing them.
“I’m not worthy”
“God can’t use me unless I’m spiritually strong”
“I’m a failure”
“I’ve been rejected so there must be something wrong with me and that’s why I’m alone”
“God can’t love me because I’m a sinner”
I see many clients with unhealthy thoughts. In my work as a Christian therapist, I help my clients expose and change thoughts that are actually false. Unhealthy false thoughts do, in time, change our brain chemistry. The chemical changes can result in anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Proverbs 23:7 states, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” Our thoughts about ourselves play a big role in who we are and our ability to deal with life’s challenges and expectations.
Allow Jesus to renew your mind through the washing of the Word. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you take your thoughts captive to Christ, to think new thoughts about yourself, replacing those old thoughts that made you feel unloved, unworthy, and empty. Let Jesus replace them with his love, his truth, his comfort, trusting in the healing process and begin to live by the power of His love!
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Rev. Jason Ruis
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Deb Koster