Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Learning Not to Fear our Own Thoughts

I called my mind a ‘mindfield’ while suffering from depression, since so many unwanted, appalling thoughts would pop without warning into my mind and ‘BOOM’ - the thought, its implications, and my ensuing reaction would tear me apart, just as if I had stepped upon a landmine. These appalling thoughts, which often triggered panic attacks, came to terrorise me to the extent that I tried to ‘tip-toe’ around in my mind, sometimes scared to think anything at all.

From my diary, 1/4/93 –
I think of my mind as a never ending minefield
I walk along inside my mind, forgetting not to yield
to those fearful thoughts and doubts that cling like dust.
I take a mental step and plant my foot right on a mine,
and boom!
There blows another one.
At first I look at the mine and ponder,
Before I realise that it's just another doubt
and send it yonder.
"Just let it go," I tell myself.
"Don't give in to the fear, don't let it influence you."
And I remove it with a mental shear.
It is such a struggle at times.
Most have to watch where they walk,
But I have to watch where I think.

Here is an example of an alarming/appalling thought, also known as an obsessive fearful thought.

A strong Christian told me recently that a thought popped into her mind while she was praying, saying, “Satan is lord.” Her response was to freak out. Where did the thought come from? Did it come from her? If it did come from her, did that mean she really believed it? And if that was the case, there must be something seriously wrong with her!

Although such a thought could pop into anyone’s mind, a person with a healthy mind would dismiss the thought as utter nonsense, and pay it no heed. However, for someone with a sensitive mind or a mind that is over sensitized or exhausted by depression, such a thought can cause a shock the first time it occurs.

When similar alarming/appalling thoughts began to afflict me in my early twenties, (I had already suffered one mild depressive episode,) I reacted in the same way. I was greatly alarmed to find such thoughts flying through my mind and feared some part of me actually believed them. On each occasion I began a fearful, introspective examination of my heart and mind, digging deeper and deeper. “But what if I do believe this thought, what does it mean about me?” The more I examined the thought, the more I feared that I actually believed it or was guilty of what it was accusing. After these frantic sessions of fearful soul searching came repentance as I desperately asked God to forgive me for having the thought or attitude in the first place.

Not only did I fear these alarming/appalling thoughts; I lived in fear that more might come. And of course, more did come. Fearing them made me more sensitive to them, which of course made them occur more frequently. Panic attacks became more and more commonplace as well.

Now let us pop back to the discussion I had with the young woman who encountered one of these thoughts during her prayer time. Understandably, she was bewildered, afraid, feared where the thought came from, and scared that perhaps she did believe part of it.

I said to her, “All sorts of thoughts fly through our minds every day - some of these are whispered into our mind by Satan, while others are simply things we are afraid of. It does not matter where these fearful thoughts come from. All we need to know is that they are not from us and they are not what we believe - they are simply something we are afraid of. Now, answer me this, what do you believe about Satan?”

She answered that she believed he was a fallen angel, the devil, and that Jesus had defeated him through His work on the cross.

I said, “Now compare what you have just told me, which is not only what you believe, but what you know you believe, with the first fearful thought that popped into your mind.”

Her face lit up with comprehension and relief.

The result was black and white. The first thought, “Satan is lord,” was suddenly shown up for what it was - a lie, a deception. It was not something this young woman believed, it was only something she feared she might believe.

Suddenly, the fearful thought had no power as the truth of God’s word revealed it to be a lie. I encouraged her not to fear such thoughts, and if they happened again, to do as below:

1. Do not be afraid if an alarming/appalling thought pops into our mind.
2. Do not worry where the thought came from, whether from the enemy, or something we fear, it is not significant.
3. STOP, and ask our self, what do we believe or know about that topic? (Base our answer upon God’s Word if possible.)
4. COMPARE the original alarming/appalling thought with what we know we believe, and then keep the liberating truth in mind.
5. Then move on and let time pass, leaving the episode behind. (Do not be concerned if the fear lingers for a while, remember the truth of what we believe, and the thought will soon fade away.)

The young woman was no longer worried but comforted and relieved. She also knew how to deal with any such thoughts that came at her in the future. I assured her, “Soon you will be able to dismiss such thoughts by simply thinking at them, ‘Oh, you’re one of those thoughts are you? Bye-bye!’ And eventually, you won’t even need to do that.”

The truth is that these thoughts are not actually something we are afraid we might do or believe - because we would never do or believe such things. The truth is that we are afraid of the thoughts themselves.

I remember the release I received upon learning I had been tricked into being afraid of my own (or the enemy's) thoughts. It was so comforting to know that I no longer needed to dig feverishly through my heart and mind searching for attitudes or beliefs that were not even there in the first place. I am indebted to the Lord for setting me free from that trap.

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32

So let us rely upon the truths of God’s word to set us free from fearful thoughts as we remind ourselves of what we know we believe.

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

(A small postscript, due to very severe depression or mental illness, there are situations where people not only have bad thoughts but actually desire or attempt to carry them out. In these cases, they need to seek professional help immediately, such as from a doctor or Christian therapist.)

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All verses from the NIV.


  1. You handled this situation very,very well. I'm learning some good things from your site.

  2. I am continually amazed at how far you've come over the years, and that's a testament not only to the God that healed you, but to your own desire to be healed.

  3. AMAzing story. Wow, what great advice and counsel. I thank the Lord that He has not only healed you, but that HE has given you care and concern to help others through the process as well.

  4. Thanks Warren, Billy and Laura. It's been a difficult journey, learning how to deal with the battles in my mind, but praise the Lord for being the author and finisher of our faith - the work He began in us, He's going to finish!

  5. Peter,

    Conquering our thought life is indeed a challenge. Your advice is excellent!

    Also, I have listed your blog on my site in my links of note, and on my blog roll. And I just added your button. I've added a Glass House Ministries button to my blog, if you would consider posting it in your sidebar.

    God bless you,

  6. Great advice! It's like being in a "quicksand" thinking that you're going to die. But it actually just hinders your being able to move. I can't imagine how much paralyzing some thoughts are because they seem so real [when at times, it might not be].
    We do house those who have suicidal ideations/attempts in special cells so they are closely monitored 24hrs/day until the Psychiatrist clears them. Sometimes, it is the actions more than the words that tell you something is wrong.
    Your post helps me to discover more and more about depression and I'm glad that you have overcome that and now, you're using that ordeal to educate others in a very powerful way. God bless.

  7. Hey Cheri,
    Lovely to hear from you.
    Thanks so much for including my blog button on your wonderful blog, and, I have included your button on my blog as well.

    Thanks for your feedback RCUBEs. Alarming, fearful thoughts certainly are like quicksand. I really used to be more terrified of the thoughts that went through my mind than of anything that went on around me. During depression I got to the point that I could not distinguish between reality and fears.

  8. Incredible thoughts and lesson for us all, Peter. Wow.

  9. Thank you for continuing to help me understand my struggle. Learning to confront with truth.

  10. Peter, my dear friend,

    I nominated you for the 'Golden Heart Award'. So swing by my site tomorrow when it's posted on my blog and copy/paste it to your site along with the instructions.

    I chose you and others who never ask for a thing, but only try to bless by living for the Lord. So please accept this award!

    You're a great friend that I am so glad I stumbled upon and have changed my life for the better!

    Your and Shoko's Friend,

    ~Sarah Cecilia

  11. Thanks so much for this post. People don't openly talk about this stuff so when you suddenly get hit with it, you don't know what to do with it. I'm still struggling to get out of the wreckage it's caused...

  12. Dear ~R.
    So glad you could find this post, I hope it is able to help you overcome this issue and the effects it has had on your life.

    I struggled with such thoughts, never knowing what they were. I called them the "madness in my mind" for the year or so preceding severe depression. The first person I ever 'heard' address the issue was Dr Claire Weekes in her book, "Self Help for your Nerves." I was so relieved when I learned that these thoughts were simply thoughts I was afraid of, and that they were not from me.

    God bless.

  13. Every time I read your blog, I'm blessed anew. I'm amazed at how accurately you describe what goes on in my head.

  14. I understand that last line, You have to watch where you think! I am constantly battling with my mind. And the question I keep going back to, is how do I turn my brain off? My thoughts can overwhelm me and sometimes rule me, but it is in those times that I have to remember to take every thought captive!
    2 Cor 10:4-6
    For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
    This is what I have learned to stand on when my thoughts seem to rage against me, really it is raging against God's truth.

  15. I can relate to this so well. When I was going through the worst of my depression, thoughts would assail me that had me terrified that there was no way I could be a Christian if I even thought of thinking them. But the Holy Spirit kept whispering, and reminding me that I would not be seeking after God and wanting to draw nearer to Him if I wasn't already HIs. Satan isn't called the deceiver for nothing. Thank you Peter, a wonderful reminder of the truth.

  16. Wonderful, advice here based on the Word...

    I especially liked this...

    "the fearful thought had no power as the truth of God’s word revealed it to be a lie. "

  17. Yeah, we have to learn to pull those strongs holds and bring every thought into captivity only by the truth of the scriptures!

  18. Thanks, Peter...this is cornerstone truth for people who suffer from anxiety too. Seems like depression and anxiety are pretty close cousins in that respect. Often, I'll feel creeping dread come over me and just become "disasterized" over it. lol Often, taking an honest look at the situation and God's provision for the situation will strengthen us.

  19. Carrie @ comfortedbygod.blogspot.com
    I truly appreciate your vulnerability and honesty in writing about depression. just the number of comments here reflect how many of us struggle with this. Thanks for being a voice of truth!

  20. Peter and everyone,
    I have had this experience as well. As I was walking out of the bathroom one day, I glanced at the tub and had a thought (more like a picture) pop into my mind out of nowhere of me lying in the tub, under the water, dead. On another occasion, I was in church and they had these sculptures during Good Friday that, well, the best way I can describe them is that they looked like large deer antlers with about 10 points on them. Out of nowhere, I had a picture pop into my mind of me being impaled in the torso, face down, on one of these sculptures.

    (sorry if I am offending anyone, but I want people to know that these thoughts, which are so horrifying, don't have to be if you know other people with depression have them, too.)

    That one was so disturbing that it did turn into a panic attack and we had to leave church immediately. Later, I found out that part of having a chemical imbalance in my brain means that thoughts occur that I have no control over at times - it is part of the disease/mental illness, NOT a part of my soul or who I am or what I believe as you guys said.

    And now after reading this post, I can see that those thoughts I had, of course, were very much fears of mine at the time. Not that I would have drown myself in the tub or impaled myself on a sculpture, but suicide was still an option for me during this time, and I definitely feared that I would go through with it even though, deep down, I didn't want to die. I just wanted the pain to stop.

    I am so grateful for the people God has put in my life to help me. I know God got me through yet another horrible episode of major depression, but not through a flash of instantaneous healing overnight. The God of my understanding healed me through the minds and actions of competent doctors and counselors and loving friends and family. The credit goes to them for being willing to use the talents and gifts God gave them to help people with mental illness. But, the ultimate credit goes to God for creating them and giving them those talents in the first place.

    God is good...all of the time. Many blessings to everyone.

  21. Thank-you for sharing this. I have experienced similar things, I am only 21 but the battle of the mind has been a struggle for me. It is encouraging to hear stories of people who have overcome this through God's grace.

  22. Peter, I've been working very hard to apply the techniques Dr. Weeke's teaches and you discuss here on your blog, but it's as if I can't apply them correctly. I not only have fearful thoughts of death that send surging panic through me-like seeing older people and wishing I was old and close to dying-but also "normal" thoughts such as "my kids are having fun playing together today!" send panic through me. Yesterday I was dropping one of my daughters off at a class and she turned to me and said, "Bye, Daddy. I love you." and blew me a kiss. This sent panic raging through me. It is more than I can take. The things I love most about my life (family and God) are things that also send me into panic. The more I try to dwell on the things God says to dwell on, the more the negative thoughts seem to overpower my mind. I work very hard to just let all of this come and go without adding "second fear" to it but it seems to be impossible for me to do. The anxiety is constant. And, of course, the more I don't like the thoughts that come, the more they come.

  23. Dear Anonymous,
    Depression/anxiety touches every part of us, and I suspect that by its very nature it will hit us hardest on the things we care about the most. eg, God and our family.

    I have experienced something similar to what you are describing with my family. I would watch my children playing together, or playing happily by themselves, or even sleeping peacefully, and my heart would break time and again. The problem comes, I believe, from viewing our family through our depression coloured world view. The way I got out of this trap, was when Jesus reminded me that HE is with my children all the time, appreciating, and treasuring them, as the perfect loving Father. When I saw this, all my inner pain evaporated and did not come back.

    At any rate, you need to remind yourself that the first fears, and the second ones, are just thoughts. You are merely afraid of your own thoughts - they have no power.

    Are you taking any medication? Are you getting counseling and prayer support? You can overcome this, but don't do it alone.
    Ask Jesus to take your hand and lead you through each day, and to help you keep your eyes fixed on Him.

    God bless

  24. Thanks for the reply, Peter! Yes, I am taking a med. Did you ever need to change meds or change the dose you were taking? I am not currently in any counseling or prayer support. I have had some Christian counseling but the person I was working with offered to set me up with a different person after seeing how severe this was for me...(he had not been through anything like this). At that time though, I had just found your blog and had not read Dr. Weeke's book yet so I chose to strictly use your blog and Dr. Weeke's techniques. My wife and I have 6 kids (some biological and some adopted) and I too experience heart break at the sight of one of them playing by themself or when seeing siblings laughing together etc... It seems like all the joys I experienced before anxiety are now what drive anxiety the most. I do believe I am getting better at accepting my thoughts as "just thoughts" however, the habit of "this thought=panic" or "seeing this=panic" for so many thoughts and sights is so hard to break!

    Thank you so much for your encouragement and support, Peter!! You are incredible!

  25. I should add that my Dad, who suffered from severe depression when I was very young and overcame it, prays with me often. He and my Mother are both very strong in their faith and pray for me many times daily. My Dad is a big encourager to me and reminds me daily of who God is and who I am to Him! He has told me since my first day of anxiety that I can have victory over this and reassures me of this often.

  26. Dear Anonymous,
    For this bout of depression, I had to try three meds before we found one that did not cause complications, and had to increase the dosage three times to get the best result from the one that worked.

    Your counselor was wise in referring you to see someone with more experience, and I would like to encourage you to do so. With the right counselor, I believe you can receive great help and wisdom/guidance.

    And praise the Lord for your Dad, what a wonderful encourager.

    God bless

  27. Peter-

    It's the last day of 3012 and I laid here on the floor most of the night pleading with God over insomnia and depression. I found one of your blogger entries, then your book. I am voraciously reading it now. What a blessing to know people like you who are well written are our there to encourage others who are going through the same things. I pray that God continually gives you strength in your struggles as just reading 14 pages of your book has given me enough peace if mind to attempt sleep. Please forgive the spelling and rambling as I typed this out on a tiny iPhone screen. :)

    1. Hi Joshua,

      Thank you for sharing, and I'm so glad my writings have been of encouragement and help to you. And thank you for your prayers too, very much appreciated. May I also encourage you to get a copy of "Self Help for your Nerves" by Dr Claire Weekes. You can get it from many libraries, or otherwise from Amazon UK. Lastly, have you seen a doctor about your insomnia and depression?

      God bless, and I pray that the Lord Jesus will take you by the hand and lead you through 2013.

  28. I was so encouraged to run across yourblog. It has been very encouraging. I started out with hte low down and out feelings and started meds recently. Seems at night when wake up those intrusive just downright crazy off the wall thoughts that you know are not real or true pop in my mind and start that cycle of fear . I think it be best just to get and do something instead of lay there and it may not happen. Did you ever hv those thoughts where you just knew you were going crazy that otherwise you normally would not hv let bother you? Thanks be to God tho forbeing our present help. Hope you are feeling better soon. Keep up good work.

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Thanks, I have actually been seeing some good signs of improvement these past few weeks, praise the Lord :) And I so glad that this blog has been encouraging you as well.

      And yes, I have had (and do still have) those crazy thoughts which I would have simply dismissed out of hand when I was not depressed. I have noticed that they are worse on the 'bad' days of depression, when from waking my mind seems more sluggish. On the other hand, such crazy fearful thoughts can trigger the sluggish of mind as well.

      Apart from the advice given in the article above, these three articles may help:

      How depression causes its symptoms
      Facing distressing symptoms
      Breaking depression's fear cycle

      And spot on, doing something is always better than lying down and ruminating over the fearful thoughts.

      God bless

  29. This blog truly saved me November 2012. I was experiencing thoughts just as the woman you mentioned had. I felt I was losing my mind and my salvation. Panic attacks have been apart of my life for 6 years, but only until recently had they had any reflection on my faith and the enemy's attempt to weaken it. When I am having bad days (which are not many anymore :)) I come to your blog and am reassured that not only am I not alone in my suffering, but am reminded that God is always with me and will protect me. As a writer myself I have always known the power of words, and I want to thank you for your ability to share it so eloquently to others. I feel as God as given you and all of us for that matter these struggles so that we may learn strength to help ourselves and others who may suffer through it as well.

    1. Dear Charlene
      That's great news about you not having many bad days now. Thank you for letting me know how this blog has been of help, I'm honored and blessed to see the Lord using my writings in this way. For it is just as you said, that we are able to comfort each other, with the comfort that God Himself gave to us during our struggles.
      May the Lord bless you richly,

    2. You are so right!

  30. Thank you so much Peter for giving inspiration and hope to christians going through this! God bless you!

  31. downloaded the pdf of all your articles. I am a Hindu but i love all religions. i was trying to meditate but these thoughts never faded after reading your article , I m finding peace but as you said it will take time and i m sure will be normal soon. Thank you sooooooo much . You are like a god to me .

    1. Dear Sudharson
      Thank you for letting me know that the articles have been helpful to you,
      May the Lord Jesus bless you,

  32. This has spoken volumes to my life! I remember having thoughts in the past that I would just laugh and dismiss them because they where so odd and not something I would ponder upon. Now, my depressed and anxious mind has taken ever single last thought that pops into my head and blown it so out of proportion. These thoughts are so obsessive that even before I get a chance to wake up fully, my mind has already taken off. It's so crippling and down right debilitating when you become afraid of your own thoughts. Sometimes I can't watch TV, read or find comfort in anything I used to because of this. But it's good to know I'm not the only one. I thank God because even though I feel alone, he shows me that I am not.

  33. Thank you. I've struggled with this for 10 years (been saved for 3) and after starting well my faith was beginning to shake because of it, as I became angry and bitter at God for the seeming abandonment. Just knowing that I'm not the only Christian who knows about this type of struggle is a real help. Thank you for your transparency.

    1. Hi Ben,

      Thanks for the comment. You are not alone in what you are going through, many Christians have struggled with this issue.

      May I encourage you to press in to Jesus throughout this time, reading the Bible and seeking to come closer to Him not only through this, but because of this. Ask Him to take you by the hand each morning, and lead you through the day.

      God bless

  34. Thank you Peter. I have revisited your blog many times over the last 18 months of dealing with severe depression/anxiety. After 9 months that led to, for all intents and purposes, a breakdown, I started an AD, got some counseling, read Claire Weeks book, and your blog, and started to get better. Was feeling pretty good, and decided to taper off the meds...only to find a return of all symptoms within about 3 weeks of fully stopping. So here I am again.

    Of particular struggle for me in the area of fearful thoughts, is that I have a very hard time giving myself permission to think about other things when I feel like my fear is not resolved or assured. My fearful thoughts center on something bad happening to my children (and sometimes my husband), usually health related, and until I can "assure" myself that my fears are irrational, its like I cannot give myself permission to give up my vigilance and occupy my mind with other things. It is paralyzing.

    I know I just need to do it, but I feel so stuck. The minute I awake in the morning, my mind immediately goes to my fears for my children, and I can't let it go. On the worst days, by an hour or two after waking, I'm so sad, distraught, tense, and stressed that I'm reduced to tears and can't function. Strangely, by evening (and sometimes by early afternoon), its like something lifts from my brain and I can actually think rationally and calmly again. I can think "even if something terrible happened to my kids....they got cancer, or were in an accident....God loves them, He loves me, He is good, He is in control, He holds the future, I don't need to fear any of that, He'll be with me, His promises are sure, there is nothing to fear in this life, even death...." Why is it that I can't hold this perspective all the time? I am so stuck and tortured and paralyzed one minute, and then relatively free the next. It is crazy making, and so exhausting. I just want to lay down and sleep forever.

    1. Dear Shawna,

      Thank you for leaving the comment, sorry to hear you've been having a rough time. The first thing I would like to ask is, have you gone back onto your medication? If not, please get back on them asap, and this time do not be in a hurry to get off them. Even after I pretty much recovered from depression in 1994, I remained on the meds for another six years. It takes a while for our nervous system and brain to return to normal.

      What you are going through is quite common for depression/anxiety sufferers. Here are some practical things that may help:

      * I recommend that you talk to your wisest Christian friend, tell them each major fear that is continually worrying you, and write down their perspective on that fear on a card, and read that card each morning. Each time one of these obsessive fearful topics triggers, remember what is written on the card, and stand on that. However, don't try to stop the fearful thoughts, and don't fight them, just let them fade into the back of your mind like background music.

      * When these fearful thoughts trigger, they beg and demand your attention, as you mentioned, wanting you to 'resolve' them before you can let them go. So firstly, remember what is written on your cards, as above, and remind yourself you have already resolved the fears, and if you examine them again now, you will reach the conclusion on the card. Also, please note that the best thing you can do when these fears trigger is to keep yourself productively busy. When you do, the intensity of the fears will fade.

      * As you mentioned above, with fears like this, it is good to say, "what if it did happen, even to a degree, all things are in Jesus' hands and under His control. There is nothing to worry about."

      Don't worry about trying to hold the perspective all the time, let the cards carry it for you.

      Hope this helps,
      God bless

  35. Hi Peter. This website has been a great help to me. I went through an awful period of depression/anxiety in my mid-teens as a baby Christian, due to exactly the kinds of distressing thoughts you describe. Specifically I thought I had committed the unforgivable sin. I am now 39 and having a resurgence of these problems and fears, I suspect triggered at least in part by a steroid injection (my doctor was not aware of my history of mental health problems and unfortunately did not warn me that steroids often cause mood disturbances which can be severe in some patients)
    I am on antidepressants which have helped but obviously can't solve everything. It is very hard to think of myself as a true child of God when such terrible thoughts afflict me. It is a classic vicious circle: the more I fear these thoughts the harder they hit. I wish I could obliterate them forever.
    I believe the fact that I had such a traumatic time as a spiritual newborn has in some ways affected the development of my faith as I have always tended to have a negative and fearful perception of God Himself, seeing him as stern and cold, and of the Bible which often seems to me to be full of judgment, condemnation and impossible standards.
    I would welcome any advice or encouragement you could offer. I'm starting to think I would benefit from proper pastoral counselling with a view to divine healing from all this spiritual pain. It troubles me still and I wish to be permanently set free as Jesus did for sick people in the Bible.

    1. Hi Alison,

      It is good to hear that you are taking anti-depressants. I think getting pastoral counselling is also necessary, though not just to seek divine healing, but just as importantly, so the pastor can help you to face and correct your negative perspective of God. Please read this post regarding how we need to ask others to help us find the correct perspective on the things that we fear, so that we can rely on their healthy perspective, instead of our perspective, which has been blackened by depression.

      Can you also read the Gospel of John several times, and ask Jesus to reveal Himself and His love for you, as you read it. John was the closest to Jesus, so if we want to see what God is like, reading the Gospel of John is one of the best ways. You will see how kind, loving, forgiving and wonderful Jesus is.

      Regarding the terrible thoughts, you can be rid of them, or at least, reduce them to a powerless memory at the back of your mind. The most important thing is not to fear them, but to accept that they will be there for now, learn to live with them there, like background music, and then keep yourself constructively busy and let time pass. When you don't fear or fight the thoughts, their strength breaks and they start to fade.

      If you haven't read the below two posts, can you read them please, as they address in more detail how to do that:

      Facing depressions symptoms instead of fearing them

      Breaking depression's fear cycle.

      God bless,