Wednesday 21 June 2017

Separating thoughts from feelings

A while back my dad introduced me to the blog of Lynne Baab: a Presbyterian minister who, until recently, has been lecturing in pastoral theology at the University of Otago.  She's recently been running a series that I've found really, really helpful.

In it she shares how she's come to realise that negative thoughts she struggles with are often presentations of strong emotions she wasn't really aware she was feeling.  In the first post she describes what a difference learning to recognise and more appropriately respond to those emotions has made in her life.  She argues that doing so is
a Christian spiritual practice because it helps me bring my feelings into God’s presence, as modeled in the Psalms. It helps me love and serve God more fully because I am less distracted by negative thoughts and feelings.
I realised that I, too, often struggle with negative and disturbing thoughts (most commonly in the form of an emphatic conviction that I'm a bad person who deserves to have bad things happen to me), and that these, too, often arise out of feelings of fear, pain, resentment etc.  Would her discoveries help me, too, to love and serve God more fully?

Her second post, feeling the feelings, described the process she's learned to go through in order to recognise and more appropriately respond to the feelings underlying her thoughts.  Read the post for a full description, but it's summarised in the acronym RAIN:
  • Recognize feelings
  • Acknowledge them
  • Investigate them
  • Non-identify with them
She then did two further posts on coping with feelings that want to dominate and dealing with “demonic” thoughts (defining 'demonic' thoughts as thoughts that drag you away from God.

I found these so helpful.  I struggle to remember the whole process (even though it's only four steps and comes with a handy-dandy acronym - welcome to life with brain fog!) but, when I find myself spiralling down into negativity, I now try to push the thoughts aside and figure out what emotions lie behind them.  If I work out that I'm scared, I can think about whether or not my fears are well-founded, I can remind myself that God has promised to always be with me and I can pray about whatever is making me freak out.  Or if I'm resentful of the restrictive limitations I live with, I can remind myself that one day I'll have a body that works and thank God for that and pray for strength to endure until that day comes.

It's been good, also, to come to understand that sometimes my feelings really 'want' to dominate my existence - recognising that makes it much easier to tell them to 'go away'.  The whole process has made such a difference for me :-)

The series concluded with posts on:
If you, also, struggle sometimes with spiralling negativity I strongly commend the series to you :-)


  1. Heather, better late than never -- I hope. I just found your comment on my blog post where you said you responded to my ideas in a post of your own. Thank you for you careful and respectful engagement with my ideas. I am grateful for the way your post encourages me.