For many years hearing confessions I would listen to the anguish, especially of senior Catholics, concerning their “impure thoughts.” It was impressed upon them by parents and teachers that the desires of the flesh, especially sexual thoughts, were in conflict with being a good Christian. Early on as a confessor I tired of this false dualism not only because rooted in ancient heresy but also because it did such damage to the psyche of individuals who were simply living normal lives. I used to tell my octogenarian penitents, usually men, that the day they no longer had sexual thoughts was when they should call the undertaker to be measured for a casket! This usually got a good laugh and calmed them down considerably.
Thoughts in and of themselves are harmless, yet they can lead us to some awful behavior. The purity of our imagination can be invaded by a huge range of “impure” or disturbing thoughts. In my case I am most disturbed by self-defeating images whereby I end up feeling at a loss. Such thoughts for me get triggered by the silliest things and events.
Catching these invisible saboteurs before they do damage to my peace of mind can be difficult because they are so much a part of my habit. They frequently arise from deep hurts and fears that we I experienced as a child. They have morphed many times through life so as to become unrecognizable until they’ve taken their toll.
In the case of my penitents, their so-called impure sexual thoughts were rooted in the shaming of their bodies and their sexuality as kids. Many other damaging thought patterns can be trace back to shaming. This kind of toxic shame communicated that something was wrong with us. We were held responsible for someone else’s feelings or struggles, or were told we were somehow defective for being “different.”
The worst aspect of such thoughts is that they can morph into intentions. The way we think can become the way we expect to be treated and to treat others. We end up communicating these expectations, often non-verbally. Negativity, fear, resentment, and griping are among the impure avenues our minds can follow, which then become self-fulfilling and self-defeating.
I fight daily against my own impure thoughts by making positive affirmations throughout the day about who I know in my heart I really am. I am sensitive to my need to change perspective and choose non-instinctive rather than automatic paths for my thoughts. Eventually the new thought patterns become automatic themselves. My coach has been of great help in this area and invariably I am able to shift from the impurity of self-defeat and victimhood.
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