Toxic thoughts are corrosive to our spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational well-being. Learn to identify negative thinking patterns and develop mental and spiritual strategies to overcome negative thinking. Change negative thinking with biblical wisdom and help for breaking the pattern of negative thinking. I hope you enjoy this expanded update to the most visited post on my website.
Are you ready to stop letting your thoughts boss you around?
With nearly every conversation we ask, “How are you?” I answer, “Fine. I am doing well.”
And I am.
And yet at the same time, beneath the fine, I often hold a silent conversation with myself. Negative thoughts invade the peace of my days, breaking in just when I think I’ve put them to rest.
Common Types of Negative Thoughts
Toxic thoughts are corrosive to our spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational well being. For me, negative thinking is a consistent battle. I’m not proud to admit my struggle with negative thoughts, but it is one of the challenges of being human. According to Dr. Rita Schulte, author of Think This, Not That, the most common types of negative thoughts include the following:
- Should, must, ought to be, and have to be statements: These inflexible beliefs are based on misperceptions and can lead to anxiety, depression, self pity, anger, and guilt.
- Jumping to conclusions, mind reading, and fortune telling (thinking we know what will happen): These patterns interpret situations and outcomes based on distortions, fears, and beliefs.
- Overgeneralization: This cognitive distortion happens when we assume that because something happened one way it will always happen that way. We can recognize this thinking pattern by words like never, always, and everyone.
- Personalization: When we see things as our fault without recognizing other contributing factors, we are personalizing. People who personalize see the issue as something wrong with themselves, a character flaw or deficit. It often cycles into personal name calling (I’m an idiot, I’m a loser, I’m unloveable) and self-condemnation.
- Disqualifying the positive: Schulte explains this pattern, “Disqualifying the positive is a way we overestimate a negative outcome and minimize our ability to cope with difficult situations. We reject our positive experiences, or our strengths, and we focus instead on the negative aspects of our situation or our character (p.97).
- Catastrophizing: Imagining the worst and blowing things out of proportion are typical of catastrophizing thoughts. This kind of thinking provokes anxiety, focusing on what if’s and fears.
- Emotional reasoning: Interpreting negative feelings as truth is a destructive pattern of unhealthy thinking. I feel unworthy becomes a belief that I am unworthy. I wrote a lot about this pattern in Holy in the Moment.
- All or nothing thinking. This pattern moves from one extreme to another, not recognizing the middle ground between. For example, feeling inadequate may lead to the belief I must be perfect or I’m a total failure.
- Externalizing: The opposite of personalizing, externalizing blames others or situations without acknowledging any role or responsibility in the issue. We find a biblical example of externalizing when Jesus asks, “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).
- Magnifying/minimizing: Making a mountain out of a molehill is a type of magnifying thoughts. On the opposite extreme is minimizing situations, feelings, pain, problems, offenses. Again, Dr. Schulte helpfully explains the problem with minimizing: “Here you shrink the importance of things, such as your feelings when you’re hurt, saying they don’t really matter, for one reason or the other. This is often known as the martyr complex. Comparing yourself or what you’re going through with what someone else is feeling is another way to open the door for minimizing. It’s healthy to feel your feelings when you have them. Minimizing does your pain a disservice” (p.101).
Learning to identify the kinds of toxic thinking is the first step to overcome the mental trap of negative thinking. Pay attention to your thoughts, and don’t give negative thoughts free reign. Well, try not to. It’s a challenge, for sure.
Strategies to Combat Negative Thinking
Negative thoughts take on a life of their own if we permit the old accusations and toxic patterns to have their say. Self-criticism that comes with personalizing and minimizing are a few of the patterns I’m working on. Kindness to others comes easier than kindness to myself. Do you say things to yourself you would never say to someone else? In fact, healthy and holy choices with our thoughts and emotions is my most popular and impactful speaking topic because we need encouragement and strategies to combat negative thinking.
When we develop the mental and spiritual strategies to overcome negative thinking, we shed ourselves of dead-weight internal words that drag us down and distort our perceptions.
When it is quiet, and its just you and your thoughts, what is your heart saying? Consider the following strategies that have brought a deeper level of wellness and freedom in my thinking.
- Embrace your ability to choose the thoughts you dwell on.
Awareness is the first step to making better choices with our thoughts, words, and actions.Think about what you're thinking about. When negative thoughts bombard your mind, choose to reject toxic thinking. #overcomenegativethinking Click To Tweet
In Holy in the Moment, I shared a helpful illustration that helps me to break the cycle of negative thought patterns.
Your mind is a door to your soul, and you are the doorkeeper. Though there are many things in this life you can’t control, God has gifted you with the ability to open and shut the door to your mind, to choose what you will think about.
You can choose thoughts you will receive and the ones you will reject. I’m not saying you can keep a thought from knocking at the door—but you can choose whether or not you will agree or dwell on the thought. The more attention and confidence we place we place in a thought, the stronger it grows. Isn’t it time to learn to shut the door to unwanted thoughts? -Holy in the Moment
A powerful way to break the cycle of negative thoughts is to recognize that our emotions are responses that indicate what we believe to be true in the moment. Reframing our inner conversation to acknowledge our feelings but focus on truth changes the neural pathway of the thought.
Awareness of the types of negative thinking empowers us to make a different choice when these kinds of thoughts that demand our attention by pounding on the door of our minds.
2. Pray for God’s help for breaking ingrained thought patterns.
Prayer is a powerful practice for overcoming our tendency to dwell on the negative. Many negative thought patterns run under the radar of our awareness and are often habitual patterns that can be hard to harness. God is the one who does the heavy lifting in transforming our thoughts. A simple strategy is to ask Christ to empower you to recognize negative thoughts and to make a better choice. In the moment, rely on Christ to help you to choose to break the cycle of toxic thinking:
- Faith in the place of doubt.
- Rely on the Spirit rather than default to old patterns of the flesh.
- Good instead of evil.
- Love rather than animosity.
- Trust instead of anxiety.
- Forgiveness rather than bitterness and resentment.
- Right instead of wrong.
- Purity over immorality.
3. Bring your thoughts under the control of the Holy Spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 10:5, we find a powerful and practical strategy for making holy choices with our thoughts: “We are destroying sophisticated arguments and every exalted and proud thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought and purpose captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 AMP, emphasis added).
To capture our thoughts is to recognize and notice them, and it is also refusing to let toxic thoughts run wild, build walls, define identities, or drive decisions. Capturing is surrendering thoughts to Christ rather than letting them fester or entrench themselves in our minds.
We bring Christ into the negative when we entrust our thoughts to Him. Dr. Caroline Leaf explains that when we do this, something amazing happens both spiritually and physically. Harnessing negative thought, changing it through awareness, repentance, and forgiveness, and replacing it with truth helps rewire healthy new circuits in our brains, part of God’s transforming work in our minds. (Switch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, p. 71).
4. Renew your mind by meditating on God’s Word.
On a quiet morning I prayed about my negative thoughts. God drew my attention to these words in Psalm 104:33-34. As I wrote them in my journal the Holy Spirit shared new insights with me. If you want to change your negative thinking patterns, praise and meditation are powerful ways God can transform our minds and renew our thoughts. Here is a sample of what I learned as I listened to God as I reflected on His Word.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live
- Praising God is a life style.
- It’s a choice for every day.
- Praising God makes our heart sing (rather than strive within us).
I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
- Music can reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and pain as well as improve sleep quality, mood, mental alertness, creativity, and memory.
- A worshipful mind becomes part of who we are and how we live.
Let my meditation be pleasing to Him;
- Meditation in this case refers to our thoughts.
- This is a prayer, a goal, and an intention: to have thoughts that are pleasing to God.
- There is a partnership between our intention/action and God’s provision.
As for me, I shall be glad in the Lord.
- This is a commitment and a decision to make.
- I shall indicates both choosing and believing; it relates to both process and outcome.
- Gladness is the both an intention and the by-product of focusing on God rather than our complaints or troubles.
- When gladness is my state of being, I will not be held captive by negative self-talk.
5. Memorize key verses to replace negative thoughts with God’s truth.
One of the weapons of spiritual warfare is the sword of the Spirit. The Word of God is living, active, and powerful for fighting the battlefield in our minds. Try memorizing a few of the scriptures below to break the pattern of negative thinking in your life.
I have hidden your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.–Psalm. 119:11 NLT
Win the Battle in Your Mind
Friends, negative thinking is not going to go away on its own. Those toxic thoughts will not straighten up and decide to play nice. Let unattended, our thoughts run rampant with complaints, fears, criticisms, envy, bitterness… Take your pick–there’s plenty to choose from.
Rely on Christ as you practice these strategies to stop negative thinking. Just a warning: this is NOT a one-time thing. Fight the battle as many times as it takes. Remember that you have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit to help you. When negative thoughts bombard your mind, entrust the Holy Spirit to do what you cannot do on your own.
Only when we let go of our toxic thinking will we have empty hands and ready hearts to receive God’s blessings. This is an intentional choice we make to obey God and honor others, as well as ourselves. Free from our toxic thinking, we can thrive in the confidence we are loved, valued, and filled in Christ.
5 Powerful Scriptures to Combat Negative Thinking
Win the battle for your mind with these powerful verses. Speak, write, pray, sing, or memorize God’s word to replace toxic thoughts.
Let God’s truth change the way you think.
1. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ… 2 Corinthians 10:5
3. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14
4. The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in You. Isaiah 26:3
5. For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
Going Deeper Begins With Our Thoughts
Are you ready to stop allowing your thoughts to boss you around? Yes, me too! Together, let’s stop allowing toxic thoughts to sabotage our spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational well-being. Go deeper than the surface of your thoughts to identify negative thinking patterns as you practice these mental and spiritual strategies to combat negative thinking. Apply biblical wisdom as you trust Christ to break the pattern of negative thinking.
Friend, a deeper life starts now as we combat negative thinking. What helps you to break free from negative thoughts?
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I’m asking God to help you overcome negative thinking today!
Looking for more verses to add to your arsenal in the battle for your thoughts?
Get this practical, free e-book Overcome Negative Thinking for a Deeper Life: 50 Scriptures to Combat Negative Thinking in my Subscriber Library. If you’re already a subscriber, head to our free gift page and download your copy. Use this little book of encouragement, scriptures and images to encourage your heart and empower you to win the battle in your mind! (Updated contents!) Sign up here to get my emails and access to the library.
The older cover is below.
If this post resonates with you, please check out my book, Holy in the Moment Simple Ways to Love God and Enjoy Your Life, particularly the chapters on thoughts and emotions.
Don’t miss these related posts:
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- Are Your Feelings Defining Your Faith
- 10 Free Resources for an Emotionally Health You
- 20 Toxic Ways of Thinking That Will Poison Your Life
- 3 Reasons Why You Should Let Go of Negative Thinking