What is Toxic Thinking? [Clarification Series, Part 2]
Updated: Feb 20, 2021
[This is part two in a series of four. If you haven't already I highly encourage you to go back and read part one. I feel like this will make much more sense if you read the first one, well first.😄 You can do that here: Part 1]
Toxic thinking is another term that gets thrown around a LOT these days. For as much as it gets thrown around I was sure there was a definition for it. But I couldn't find one. I could find a lot of sites talking about what thoughts in particular were considered 'toxic'. But no one would just give me a definition. Which I find frustrating. Definitions help us be on the same page when we talk about something. If there is no definition. . . how can we even know if we're talking about the same thing?? So I had to get creative when coming up with a definition for you to understand what I mean. It was kinda fun because, I'm a nerd and I love words and dictionaries and things like that. But I digress. So what exactly is toxic thinking? Well I will show you the my 'faultless and perfect' (uhhh, ok, so not) process of coming up with a definition for the term. I started out by examining the definitions of each word.
2. very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.
1. an idea or opinion produced by thinking, or occurring suddenly in the mind.
2. the action or process of thinking.
Using that information, I came up with a definition for a toxic thought or thinking and that is this:
1. a poisonous idea or opinion produced by thinking, or occurring suddenly in the mind.
2. a very harmful or unpleasant process of thinking, pervasive and insidious.
I like this for several reasons, 1, now you know what I mean when I say toxic thoughts, 2, it shows you it can be a single thought and become a way of thinking,
I do want to say that I don't think you're responsible for the thoughts that pop into your mind. You are responsible for what you do with those thoughts. So if you're just innocently sitting there and a toxic thought pops into your head, that isn't necessarily the problem but if you ruminate on a poisonous thought, that is the problem and incidentally that's yourresponsibility. Some of you are familiar with this at least a little because of purity culture. But what purity culture didn't teach us is that it's much bigger than lust. Toxic thinking can happen in pretty much every area of our life. As a Christian I see any kind of thought or pattern of thought that is disobedient to Christ as poisonous. I believe as Christians we are to demolish every argument and imagination of our minds that does not line up with the Word of God. To know what the Word of God says we need to be in it. Often. That is the best way to build an awareness of what is toxic and untrue, exposing yourself to the truth over and over and over. So my first bit of encouragement is just that. Get in the Word of God.
I will be honest. This knowledge was not come by easily. God took me through some incredibly hard and dark times to get to a place where I was even open to this idea. When I finally came to the point of accepting that the Word of God is truth and I can absolutely trust and believe what it says. My life began to change. Because it's a journey and we don't automatically know 'everything' the Word says, I wanted to share a bit of my process when thoughts pop up. So Here are some practical ways to tell if a thought is toxic or not.
Pray and ask God to give you wisdom. He ready and waiting for your cry for help and He will give you wisdom to figure this out.
Step out of your brain and begin to investigate like an outsider. Does it line up with the Word of God and the character of God? Does it affirm His love? Does it fit in with the commands He has left for us? The Bible actually has a 'thought checklist' for you. You can find it in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." This is one of the first places I send people struggling to decipher their thoughts.
Sometimes things come up that don't seem to fit into those qualifications-- like theories or events random 'facts' that you see on the internet. Things that you can't point to a verse and be like 'ok this says this therefore that is not true'. These require digging deeper and taking a look at the emotions that arise with the thought. So I start with what the thought makes me feel. If it's fear, I dig deeper into that fear. 'Ok so what am I afraid of in this thought? Why?' I dig and dig until I figure out exactly what I am afraid of. It can require many many why's to get to the bottom of it. You will want to be as specific as possible here. When I dig into what the thought is making me feel it is usually there that I find the poison. An example after a series of why's would be, 'I am afraid that I will be left alone and abandoned having to figure out how to do life on my own.' So instead of the initial thought being the bad guy it was merely a trigger that revealed a toxic pattern of thought with a lie at its root. You want to deal with the lie. Sure triggers are important but the lie is the 'heart' of the matter.
So that's part of the way you go about deciphering if a thought is healthy or toxic and whether it can be ruminated on or thrown out. I do want to note that because of our era of information overload there are times when you actually have to research into the event, idea, or 'fact', even further, to figure out if that claim is even true. That requires a lot of critical thinking and I am not ready to go into that. For now we're going to keep it simple and go with the above 3 steps.
So now what? Well there is a very important step that has to be taken for you to truly find victory. But. . . You're going to have to wait and find out what that is next week.😄 In the mean time I encourage you to start investigating your thoughts. It's very good to get an idea of how much of your thinking is toxic and how much is healthy. I will say if you are new to this journey the first little while will feel difficult and you'll even wonder if you ever have a good, healthy thought. Just hang in there, there is hope. Please remember that you are never expected to go this journey alone. First and foremost you have the Holy Spirit to help you in every situation, He reveals things that we cannot even begin to seek out. I strongly suggest that you find a few friends that you trust to pray with you as you begin this journey. I also know from experience that a therapist or counselor is incredibly helpful in these situations. So don't be afraid to reach out for help if you need it.
I am super excited about part 3. It's hard to break this series in pieces because each piece is so important. But it's a bit too much to take in in one sitting.
note: I want you to know that I love discussions. A discussion is where you share your different view points, think deeply, and the goal is to understand each other better, if someone changes their mind, fine, but it's not the end goal. I HATE fights. Fights are where you call each other names and assume you know what the other is thinking, it is manipulative and ugly. A fights end goal is to prove how right you are and how wrong the other person is. The reason I am saying all that is this, if I detect any kind of 'fighting' going on in the comments or coming into my emails, I will simply hit delete. I WILL NOT TOLERATE FIGHTS. But please know, I do welcome any kind of discussion.
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