February 19, 2015

One "Bad" Thought Does Not Define Who You Are

"Thinking Woman" by George Hodan
Sometimes we have "bad" thoughts and we feel shame over them. That thought gets stuck in our minds as we obsess that we might act out on that terrible thought. We become debilitated in this obsessive thought pattern. We may act on this thought or not. (By the way, this may be a symptom of OCD.)

Note: some of these examples address my religious beliefs of chaste thoughts and same-sex attraction.  You may or may not agree with my beliefs. That said, I admire those who serve others whatever lifestyle they choose. I am also not confessing, just illustrating a universal struggle.

I felt like such a horrible person as a teenager because of unchaste thoughts and actions (nothing horrible). I denied forgiveness to myself because the thoughts just kept resurfacing. The excessive guilt debilitated me. I confessed to a bishopric councilor about my inappropriate thoughts and actions even though I had confessed and repented before. The councilor then explained that repentance is like getting a new car part. The dent from the sin is gone permanently through the Atonement. (No such thing as chewed up gum!) Jesus Christ made me a new person. Over time, I forgave myself.

In high school and college, I freaked out when I was attracted to other females. Suddenly, I felt nervous around my female friends. What happened if I held a friend's hand? Nothing. I realized it only meant friendship. Later, a college classmate mentioned that teenagers commonly feel attracted to the same sex. (Sadly, some commit suicide after such thoughts.) They fear, like I had feared, that the one thought defined them.

During a therapy session at college, the counselor compared thoughts to debris going down a river. It all washes downriver. This helped me visualize my "bad" thoughts going away. In addition, therapist Blaine Hickman writes about detaching anxiety from "bad" thoughts to prevent compulsions.

Days after delivering my first baby, I saw a knife and imagined stabbing myself or my baby. I had to hide knives from myself. It took time for me to let go of the fear of hurting myself or someone else. I still fear that I may hurt my children. I have to remind myself that it is only a fleeting thought. Even in emotional turmoil, I can remove myself from the situation and follow coping techniques.

I found more peace after attending Recovery International. The founder, Abraham Low, stated that a disturbing thought is like a thief in the night that goes away. The thief leaves.

A disturbing thought does not define who we are! We choose who we are through our mental focus and actions. Even if we act on the "bad" thought, we can change! We can change through the Atonement and feel peace again.