In an earlier post, I mentioned the idea of capturing my thoughts. I want to delve into that a bit more. Part of my recovery from the trauma I experienced as a child included learning how to manage emotional spirals. I am by nature an emotional person. Some might describe me as too sensitive. I prefer the term empathetic, but I must agree that I overreact at times to seemingly ordinary events of the day. My emotions and thoughts become my worst enemy. When I think I have offended someone, my thoughts can quickly shift from “I shouldn’t have said that” to “Why do you hate me?” Early in my healing journey, a therapist diagnosed the problem as Borderline Personality Disorder. While she told me I a “nice borderline” I felt helpless to change the way my mind worked. I felt trapped by the diagnosis, but I did not give up.
At age 34 thoughts of despair, fear and anger engulfed me.
As I struggled to heal from the effects of childhood abuse, my thoughts seemingly had a life of their own. Although friends and family surrounded me, I believed that no one could love me. I panicked when my daughter wanted to spend time with her best friend instead of with me. I cycle dialed friends if I did not hear from them immediately. I snapped at my daughter unpredictably over small things. To me, everything I did or said would probably end badly. In nearly every situation my main thoughts were “Why do you hate me?” or “When are you going to leave me?” My emotions overtook reason and controlled my thoughts and behavior. I made dangerous, impulsive decisions almost everyday. I realized my survival and healing depended on learning how to manage my spiraling emotions.
In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis writes, “The head rules the belly through the chest-the seat…of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments.” The chest functions as the liaison between the intellect and sentiment. Lewis’ reference to the chest suggests that the “heart” of man is the element that that causes us to have internal conversations when faced with moral decisions. Relying solely on intellect with disregard for emotion of any kind results in men without chests whose unbridled emotions lead to impulsive, animalistic behavior. By allowing my emotions and thoughts to spiral out of control, I prevented the liaison to do its job.
For me, the first step in developing a strong chest was understanding the truth about who I am. In 1988, I remember sitting on a small hill just outside of Lubbock, Texas praying for relief from the inner turmoil. As the sun shone down on me from the clear west Texas sky, I imagined Christ holding me as a young child. As I sobbed quietly in His arms, He wiped away my tears and gently whispered, “I am all you need.” I shook my head in disbelief. He took a small tattered bundle from my tightly clenched fist. The bundle held my hurt, sorrow and all that I was, when He opened the bundle, a pure white dove flew toward the sky, “This is how God sees you when He looks through my eyes. No matter what the world tells you, this is who you are.” God did not see me as Borderline but as a pure, clean child. That image gave me hope and reminded of the truth of who I am. I am not my hurt. I am His, always and forever, I am His. I realized on the hilltop that I do have a choice. My thoughts do not control me. I can choose to take every thought captive and stop the spiral.
“Take every thought Captive” Corinthians 10:5
Paul encouraged the Corinthians to take every thought captive, not just the ones you want to, but every thought. That means to stop, think, and chose to act based on whether your thought in line with the truth. Christ does not define you by your failures, your flaws or by what you have endured in your life. You are His. His eyes view you through the filter of His Father.”
Remember How Christ Sees You
If you struggle with the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, you may think, “I can’t do that. I can’t stop the thoughts in my head.” You may feel you have no choice because, after all, you are Borderline. I felt that way for years, but at 65, I live my life without chaos and only minimal fear of losing relationships. I worked hard to find the peace I have. I did not achieve it simply by praying or through hours of therapy. I achieved it by blending what God says about our thought processes, “Take every thought captive” and what psychology/education says about controlling emotions, “The head rules the belly through the chest-the seat…of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments.
I do not always remember to take every thought captive.
I don’t always remember the comforting image that I saw on the Lubbock hillside when an unexpected crisis hits. In those moments I turn to friends I trust to remind me what I have forgotten I ask them to tell me to choose to take every thought captive. They gently urge me to line up each thought with the truth that God loves me. Then the spiral stops and I can focus on the crisis without the distraction of negative thoughts. My daughter told me years ago, “Mom, God did not create you with Borderline Personality Disorder.” However, I still have moments where the old thought pattern creeps into my mind. I do not experience the extreme emotional swings or impulses that were everyday events for years. Taking my thoughts captive may not change the circumstances that led to the emotional event, but it does change me in that circumstance. Today I manage crises much better than I did 30 years ago. I am content and peaceful most days. I rarely think about the diagnosis that immobilized me for so many years. I did not change overnight and I am not without occasional episodes that lead my daughter to say with a smile, “Your borderline is showing, Mom.” Today a gentle comment is generally all it takes to remind me to stop, think and take my thought captive.
In my next post, I will describe how to take your thoughts captive by providing a tool that you can use everyday.
 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001), 25.