An old Chinese proverb says, “You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.”
Bad News: Your mind can make you miserable.
Good News: Your mouth can help your mind.
Are you stressing yourself out emotionally, wasting your time, and missing opportunities, because you cannot stop thinking about your offender or the offenses against you? The bitterness and anger of unforgiveness remain alive in your memory as long as you keep exercising your memory. Like a muscle, the more you exercise the stronger it gets. For this reason, the longer you have been obsessing on the offense and your offender, the stronger you must make a commitment to the healing process. Let’s discuss how you can use your mind and mouth during the forgiving process to build mental safe places for yourself.
He who has a crooked mind finds no good,
And he who is perverted in his language falls into evil.
(Proverbs 17:20 NASB95)
Detoxify your mind of the cathexis (large emotional investment) of cognitive rehearsals (replaying the injury in your head). You might not be able to stop intrusive thoughts (involuntary, toxic thoughts), but you can stop investing time and energy into them. Your thought life matters. Toxic thoughts can cause more harm than the actual offense against you. Your imagination can easily get carried away. The next thing you know, your upset again, even though the offense against you has ended.
Dealing with intrusive thoughts that lead to frequent cognitive rehearsals is one my biggest challenges in the forgiving process. These thoughts sneak up on me like uninvited guests. When someone hurts me deeply, my mind replays the offense over and over and over. Playing the offense repeatedly in your mind is not healthy. This bad habit produces mental and emotional distress. The resultant physical chemicals of emotional distress can also lower your immune system and zap energy from your body. So what should you do? Change the way you think.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
What are you dwelling on? What topics occupy your thought life? Whenever you find yourself trapped in frequent cognitive rehearsal, fill your mind with positive thoughts. Speak. That’s right! Say something out loud. It is hard for the mind to continue down one track, when the mouth is going down another. Quote a Bible verse, a poem, a song, anything positive. Even tell yourself to “stop it!” You must find a mental safe place, because toxic thoughts contribute to most, if not all, of the ongoing spiritual and emotional damage.
When you forgive, you regain freedom to live your life without the constant mental and emotional interruptions of your offender. James 1:20 says, “The anger of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” Your anger works against God’s goals. There is a time and place for anger, but continuous anger over the offense is not going to produce Christian character or actions in you or anyone who your anger contaminates. It is so easy to talk about forgiving our trespassers, but often difficult to do. Human anger makes forgiving more difficult than it needs to be. Thinking about the offender and offense feeds your anger, unconstructive thoughts and other negative emotions.
What you think matters. Rewire yourself before you cheat yourself, ignore your family, or hurt someone, and so that you do not miss the opportunities right before your eyes. You would be surprised the blessings people miss simply because their minds were preoccupied with useless thoughts.
Think about what you think about. What thoughts reign in your brain? Invited thoughts or intrusive thoughts? Never – yes, I said never – never allow any unwelcome, unhealthy thoughts to take over your mind. It will be hard to break this habit at first, but with practice you will feel the emotional relief of freeing your mind. This is also a necessary step to grow toward the freedom of forgiving.
This exercise sounds simple, but it works.
First, identify unhealthy, intrusive thoughts as unwelcome visitors as soon as they arrive in your thinking pattern. Think about what you think about.
Second, verbally command yourself to stop thinking toxic thoughts. Literally speak with your mouth to yourself. Exercise the power of words. Here are some simple commands that have helped me detoxify my mind:
- “Stop!” “Stop it!” – This simple command works best for me. It immediate alerts me that I am entertaining toxic thoughts. A problem clearly understood is a problem half solved.
- “Kevin!” – Calling your name is reminiscent of a child being corrected for misbehavior at home, church or school. Just call your name sternly as if you are saying “Kevin, snap out of it!”. Speak as if you are correcting a mischievous child. (After all, it is often the child in us that prevents us from growing into the spiritual and emotional maturity we need to live in the freedom forgiving provides.)
- “Sorry, Lord!” – When I say this, it reminds me that my mind has drifted away from God. Immediately I am able to regain my focus and move into healthier and holier thoughts.
Practice this exercise every time an unhealthy thought shows up at the doorstep of your mind. Remember, it takes time to dismantle bad habits and build healthy ones. Start immediately. (That means now. No excuses!)
What can you do when you are surrounded by people? Whisper. Speak softly but sternly underneath your breath to yourself. You will be surprised how well you can coach yourself, even with a whisper, into breaking the bad habit of allowing destructive thoughts to invade and control your mind.
Part of learning to forgive is creating mental safe space where healthy, productive thoughts can flourish without being poisoned by toxic thoughts. Please let me know how this exercise works for you. Also, please share your phrases and techniques that help you create mental safe places. We can all learn from one another.
To healthy thoughts!