Holes in your Head|
Brain Affected by Thoughts?
We've all heard doctors warn that fits of anger may cause high blood-pressure or even lead to coronary heart disease and heart attacks.
But, new research shockingly reveals that unforgiving, resentful, pessimistic or negative thoughts cause the "memory trees" in a brain's dendrites to become sparse and thorny. They no longer look like healthy, abundant "branches" referred to as "magic trees" by neurologists and brain researchers.
Anger Makes Abscesses in Brain
Let me put it another way. When we are unloving, angry and unforgiving of others, special photographs of the dendrites in our brains begin to look as if dark abscesses have taken root. Literally.
We develop black holes in our brains.
A Fruitful Tree
This brings revelatory, fresh insight to the first Psalm which suggests the person who stays away from wicked men and concentrates on God's Word will be "like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither - And in whatever he does, he prospers" (Psalm 1:3, NASB).
Injury to our Brains
How incredible! This is another good reason to get rid of malice and unforgiveness in our hearts, because not to do so is to cause injury to our brains. This injury is a physical record of our thoughts.
3 Million Years of Memory Storage
It is astonishing that our brains contain three million years worth of memory space or storage space. That's a lot of room to record and maintain memories!
But, what in the world is it there for?
Dr. Caroline Leaf believes we will use most of our brain's memory storage-space in heaven! We won't be idle. Instead, we will be continuing to learn about our Father and His beautiful creation (Leaf, DVD #2). Dr. Leaf believes that this is backed-up by the apostle Paul's words:
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face, Now I know in part - then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known" (1 Cor. 13:12, ESV).
Let's get to work and study Scripture knowing that the Bible brings healing to our thought lives and causes our memories to be like "fruitful trees" in our brains.
(Lord, forgive me today for harboring any bitterness, unforgiveness or resentment in my heart. Help me to clear up any toxicity that doesn't agree with Your will and Holy Word).
A Divine Brain Scan?
I have always suspected that our physical brains hold an imprinted record of our good and bad thoughts which will be tested in judgment.
The apostle Paul warns,
…they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:15-16, NASB).
As a result of this passage I do not want to be caught in a divine "brain scan" that shows I did not at least try to "bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). If my thoughts "alternately accuse and defend" me in judgment, then I must work hard NOW to line up my thoughts with God's Word. It's urgent if I want to finish life well! (2 Timothy 4:7).
Thoughts Become Real "Substance"
Did you know that your thoughts turn into real tissue in your brain? Thoughts are electrical impulses that turn into "sticky-glu" chemicals that form into "bumps," then as "lollipop" shaped substances, and then look like "mushrooms" before they become memory "branches" on your dendrites (Leaf, Your Body, His Temple, DVD #2). In other words, your thoughts are real. What you think about is "written" as a substance in your brain. Yikes!
Neuroscientists and biochemists tell us that when we think malicious, hateful thoughts our brains release toxic chemicals which "burn" holes in the brain! Or at least, they look like "holes" and abscesses in brain scans to the layman. Perhaps a "cavity" might be a better term.
Anyway, this research became common medical knowledge at the turn of the century. Brain specialists such as "Dr. Daniel Amen, Dr. Marian Diamond, Dr. Caroline Leaf and other neuroscientists and biochemists describe the toxic chemical-flood our bodies release into our brain when we think malicious thoughts," notes Director Tom White of Voice of the Martyrs in 2008. "Microphotographs reveal these chemicals burn tunnel-like holes in branched nerve cells called dendrites."
Emotional Black Holes
"Dr. Leaf calls these burned places 'emotional black holes.' By contrast, positive thoughts actually create more dendrite nerve fibers in the brain. She says, 'You can grow a new memory over the old memory.' One of the elements she mentions in this healing process is forgiveness.'"
Response to Torture
Tom White adds, "When Christians are under stress, or even torture or imprisonment, and they praise God, sing or quote uplifting Scripture, they are putting on the helmet of spiritual and physical salvation (White 2008, 2).
Overcoming Evil with Good
In other words, putting on our "armor of God" and "spiritual helmet" as the apostle Paul suggests in Ephesians 6:11,17, protects our physical brains and may shield us from the possible effects of negative thought processes as well. Awesome!
"Overcoming evil with good" becomes a physiological reality in the lives of conscientious Christians (Romans 12:21). We can grow lush, dense branches over thorny, barren "memory trees" in the dendrites of our brains.
Our Minds a Battleground
Leaf explains that "the mind is a battleground, with ongoing conflict between toxic thoughts and good thoughts, thoughts that serve your mental and physical health well and thoughts that deplete your body and mind of health (2007, 35).
Invasion of the Ants
Dr. Daniel G. Amen calls our toxic thoughts "ANTs." These ants are Automatic Negative Thoughts that we must strive to replace with good thoughts (Amen 2008, 4).
From a theological viewpoint, "All believers can be light in a dark world - light to futile, toxic thinking," says White's pastor. "The dendrites of our minds can literally flourish as we feed on the Word of God, allowing it to stop the negative chemical bath and create a new network of dendrites that act as a super highway, bypassing, even shrinking the 'holes' of the past" (White 2008, 2).
As a practical antidote to rid ourselves of these black holes in our memory trees, Dr. Leaf offers hope for rewiring the brain's toxic thoughts. She believes the first step is to consciously control our thoughts.
But, how? How can we control our thought life?
Jay Adams suggests that practicing Philippians 4:8 gives us the best chance to conquer intrusive or obsessive thoughts and bouts of unforgiveness. He calls this his "Philippians 4:8 Think List."
Adams writes, "This can be especially helpful to those who are having trouble disciplining their minds. Paul tells us to focus our thinking on the things that fit the categories listed in Philippians 4:8:
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable - if there is any moral excelence and if there is any praise - dwell on these things (HCSB).
No Self-Pity Allowed
"If you find yourself dwelling on what someone did to you, you need help. Remember you promised not to bring up the matter - to yourself. That means all brooding, feeling sorry for yourself, and so on, is sin"…"You can't enjoy even the slightest remnants of self-pity." (Adams 1994, 86, 88).
Making a Think-List
To put this "think list" into effect Adams suggests we write down twenty things we especially enjoy doing (Adams 1994, 87). This could be reading a book about golfing, fresh-air gardening, walking the dog, watching an engrossing movie or cooking a gourmet meal. Note that our list does not need to consist only of religious things.
Ticket out of Self-Pity Hell
When our minds begin to wander and we think about or rehearse past offenses, then we must pull out our list and concentrate on one of those things. We must practice this over and over and over again. The "Philippians 4:8 Think List" is our ticket out of self-pity hell!
Memorize and Pray Bible Verses
Another remedy to negative thinking is to pray Scriptures and become active in our mental health by memorizing key passages that pertain to our particlar difficulty. Both Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer have written books devoted to this subject. Praying God's Word (Moore, 2000. Broadman and Holman) and Power Thoughts (Meyer, 2010. Faith Words) are helpful to believers who want to fight strongholds and mindsets against faith and positive thinking.
Speak Positively and Mean It
Dr. Leaf also recommends that we speak positively - and mean it! Congruence between what we think and what we speak is imperative if we wish to grow new memory trees to overcome negative black-holes. We cannot think one thing but feel another and produce any positive fruit in our lives. We must work at making our emotional state link up positively with our intellectual thinking processes.
40,000 Neuron-Brain in our Hearts
In other words, what comes out of our mouth reflects what is in our hearts. So we must work hard to think right, feel right, and speak right. This is especially true because new research shows the heart contains a 40,000 neuron "brain" (in the heart) that works in a feedback loop to our brains! (Leaf, DVD #2)
This "independent nervous system in the heart…acts like a checking station or conscience for all the emotions generated by the flow of chemicals from thoughts" (Leaf 2007, 71).
God's Word backs it up: For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7, KJV).
Jesus said it this way:
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders (Matthew 15:18-19, NASB).
Meditation and Confession
Leaf recommends that we do not repress or try to hide our bad emotions. We need to interactively meditate on Scripture and take responsibility for our thoughts. This means we must process our thinking by asking questions, answering questions, and discussing all issues that cause us stress.
However, doing this without sinning or thinking angry, stressful thoughts may be difficult.
Use the Christian's Bar of Soap
Therefore, my suggestion is that all Christians learn to apply the Christian's "bar of soap" when we suffer from regressive feelings and find ourselves concentrating on negative things. We can do this by acknowledging and confessing our sins as described in First John 1:9:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (ESV).
Acknowledge and Confess
Although it may seem self-evident, Christians must "acknowledge" their sins before they can "confess" them. We must clearly identify what it is that we have done wrong. If we have thought hateful things about someone we must acknowledge it and confess it to God. If we have felt jealousy, we must acknowledge and confess that.
Forgive Others First
Furthermore, forgiving others of their sins against us is a prerequisite for receiving our Father's forgiveness.
Matthew records Jesus' clear words: …if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions (Matthew 5:15, NASB).
This makes our forgiveness of others a non-negotiable requirement if we are to live productive Christian lives and receive our Father's forgiveness. God will avenge our offenders, not us (2 Thess. 1:6).
Trust God and Don't Try to Figure it Out
Another important step to cleansing our negative thoughts is to learn to trust God in everything - and to quit trying to figure-out why something bad happens to us.
Trusting in God's Sovereignty
In theological terms this means we need to learn to trust in God's "sovereignty" and "providential care" over our lives. While I cannot change another person's hurtful fits of anger or negative circumstances working against me, I can change how I respond to such events in my life.
Proverbs 3:5 may help me to do this. It says:
Trust in the LORD with all
And do not lean on your
In all your ways
And He will make your
One way or another, all that happens to us God will turn into good. Paul teaches us …we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28, NASB).
Knowing firmly that God directs our lives and is intimately involved in everything that happens to us is helpful. Proverbs 16:9 teaches us that God is sovereign in all things:
The mind of man plans
But the LORD directs his
God Makes it Right
We must also try to remember that God alone is our avenger for all the bad things that have happened to us. Paul says, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'VENGEANCE is MINE, I WILL REPAY,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19, NASB).
God does not want us to get even or get back at someone for what they have done to us. Too often we think, "I'm going to pay him back for what he did to me." But, God wants us to leave justice to Him. He will avenge unrighteous acts against us.
Another important step to detoxifying our brains is to learn to be thankful for the good things in our lives. For example, perhaps we were rejected by a parent. But, we can still be thankful that God promises to be a parent to those who have lost their families:
For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in (Psalm 27: 10, ESV).
Whatever we have beyond Subsistence is a Blessing
Scripture offers many alternative things to be thankful for when life appears to short-change us. We need to learn gratitude for many small things - for conveniences such as running water, heat, utensils, daily food and so forth. Many people in the world live on less than one dollar per day. Whatever we have beyond subsistence is a blessing.
But, we must learn what the Bible says first about our problems and particular situations before we can meditate upon those verses which may console us. We need to study our bibles and memorize relevant scripture passages. Owning a good concordance is a good tool to help us find relevant verses. Aids such asThe Complete Book of Life's Questions by Ronald Beers (Tyndale: 2007) and articles like this one are also useful.
Reprogramming the Mind
Finally, we must always remember to laugh, play, exercise our bodies, and eat right. Proverbs 17:22 says, A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.
We need to reprogram our minds with new biblical input. When we meditate upon God's Word and pray for things we need and for the needs of others, we are not only obeying what God says to do in the Bible, but we are also healing our broken minds, too.
Renew our Minds Daily
Paul tells us to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…" (Romans 12:2). That means we must memorize and study our Bibles every day. Certainly, we may augment our study through the use of tapes, CDs, inspirational movies and Christian music to reinforce Scripture in our minds.
Four to 21 Days to Healing
Hard working Christians who try to change their toxic thought life should note that "it only takes four days to form a new, positive memory over an old one" that has been thought through and discarded (Leaf, DVD #2). Repetition of the new memory for 21 to 63 days helps to cement the new memory in place, so it takes diligence and hard work. But, it's worth it.
The Helmet of Salvation
"When Richard Wurmbrand answered his torturers with the simple phrase, 'I am here because I love God,' they had no argument. …God's grace - the helmet of salvation - is our best defense" notes Tom White.
Thoughts and Words Do Hurt
"Unlike the psychologists and relativists who say we can think what we wish as long as we do not hurt anyone, Christians know that thoughts can not only hurt others, but also hurt ourselves."
The Perfect Antidote
"Medical science continues to prove what many unschooled Christians have known for 2,000 years - the love of Jesus is the perfect antidote and vaccination against evil. Seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus, we have the protection and the solution for the illness of the world" (White 2008, 2).
Therefore, let's all make a new commitment to put on the "helmet of salvation" and protect our brains and thought life from forming internal, twisted "black holes." Instead, love and forgive.
Adams, Jay. 1992. From forgiven to forgiving. Amityville, NY: Calvary Press.
Amen, Daniel. 2008. Healing the hardware of the soul. Brain News and Articles. From: www.amenclinics.com. Available from:
(accessed September 9,2008).
Leaf, Caroline. 2009 (2007 ed.). Who switched off my brain? Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
—- Your body His temple. (DVD #2: How a thought forms and becomes toxic). Presented by Life Outreach International. Available from: www.lifetoday.org.
White, Tom. 2008. Holes in your head - or helmet of salvation? Voice of the Martyrs. (Sept. issue). Available from: www.persecution.com.
Ant Photo - Bauer, Scott. USA Dept. of Agriculture.
Brain Photo - Courtesty of National Institute of Health - Toga, Arthur. UCLA.
Author: Valorie Mays Emilio holds an MA in History from UCLA and a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University. She teaches classes and writes articles for the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass, Oregon, where her husband, Ken, serves as Director.