Healthy Habits

4 Steps to Begin Your Journey of Healing from Toxic Thinking

You don’t have to live with the threat of depression, anxieties or even suicidal thoughts pulling at you. by Dr. Luann Dunnuck
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A New York Times article in 2019 reported that 70 percent of young people saw mental health as a major issue among their peers. That is an alarming statistic, but something even more concerning is that suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for children, adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15-24, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

In my own life and in my practice as a professional counselor, I have found that many times people struggle with surface issues. These surface issues could be characterized as mental health problems such as anxieties, depression, addictions or even suicidal thoughts. However, the answers to healing actually lie beneath the surface when we discover the toxic roots, which are truly the cause of our emotional turmoil. Toxic roots can be things such as a broken heart, anger, unforgiveness and feelings of low self-worth. The roots in our lives are often caused by past, or present, abuses or traumas. Instead of dealing with these painful hurts, many people stuff their traumas deep within their soul, which later manifest themselves as emotional or physical illnesses.

If you find yourself struggling with negative emotions or crippling anxiety, these four steps will help you begin your journey of healing and freedom from toxic thinking.

1. Identify the Root

The first step to heal from the toxic hurts in your life is to identify what is tormenting your soul. Is there a relationship that broke your heart? Was there a divorce or a death that was never grieved over? Were words spoken to you that pierced your soul, or perhaps a physical abuse left you feeling worthless? One helpful way to identify the source of your pain is to begin a journal. Start with the sentence, “I feel sad because…” or “I feel anxious because…” or “I feel angry because…” You would be amazed at what comes pouring out of your soul through journaling.

“I assure you, the pain from a trauma or abuse does not disappear no matter how much we try to hide it.”

One person I counseled began to journal and, during the process, she remembered that her stepfather had threatened her with a gun. She had forgotten all about it, but when she began to journal on a daily basis, that specific memory came pouring out of her writing. This was very painful for her to relive, but once she identified that specific event that caused her great fear, she took steps to heal from it. The first step in healing is to identify the source of your emotional pain.

2. Confront the Pain

This is the step that most people like to skip, and instead, they “stuff” their pain deep inside. But I assure you, the pain from a trauma or abuse does not disappear no matter how much we try to hide it. You can confront the pain by asking God to bring those memories to the surface, talking to a good friend or mentor about it, journaling about it and if necessary, seeking out a counselor.

It is in this step that you will allow your mind to get angry at what happened to you, grieve over a loss or cry over the pain. As simple as it sounds, it is very important to allow yourself to just feel the correct emotions. There are many people walking around who are numb because of trauma or abuse. This is where suicidal thoughts or even suicidal attempts are made because the person sees no other way out of their pain. I know of one person that wore a black sweater for an entire weekend in order to openly grieve a relationship breakup. Another person set up an empty chair to talk to their abuser and then they yelled and cried at the chair! That willful act of confrontation allowed them to begin healing the severe anguish that was lying dormant in their soul.

It’s important to get the trauma out of the depths of your soul and bring it out into the light for healing to begin. The memory of the painful event will be there, but eventually the sting of the memory will subside. For believers, it is therapeutic to envision yourself placing the trauma or abuse at the cross of Jesus Christ. Allow God to help you forgive others and forgive yourself. Jeremiah 30:17 (NLV) says “‘For I will heal you. I will heal you where you have been hurt,’ says the Lord.” Everyone’s time table to heal is different. It may take days, weeks or months for the sting of the pain to leave. Allow yourself the time you need for God to heal your hurt.

“It’s important to get the trauma out of the depths of your soul and bring it out into the light for healing to begin.”

3. The Mental Stop Sign

Step three is what I like to call the “mental stop sign.” Once you have exposed the root, grieved, cried, let yourself be angry over the trauma, released it and forgiven, then understand the temptation will be there to relive the trauma again and again. To prevent the memory from tormenting you, I recommend that you hold a mental stop sign up and say something like: “No! I have been healed of that heart wound. I am not going to relive it over and over and allow it to torment me and tempt me with depression or even suicide.” Remind yourself: “I have dealt with and released the pain, and now I trust God to turn that situation around.” Hold up that mental stop sign and don’t let yourself be beaten up by past memories. Think about your future and the amazing life that is in front of you!

4. Replace

It’s now time to replace the negative, toxic thoughts with affirmations, and even Scriptures. The way we think is a habit, and habits can be changed. Each week, find an affirmation such as: “I am valuable and worthwhile,” or a Scripture like, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:14, NIV). Put these in a place where you will read them daily, like on a mirror or refrigerator. This helps replace the negative playlist that’s in your mind with a more positive, affirming playlist—one that encourages and inspires you to move forward and succeed in life. When negative thoughts try to return, replace them with positive ones, call a friend to help remind you of the good in your life or get distracted by allowing yourself some healthy fun.

You don’t have to live with the threat of depression, anxieties or even suicidal thoughts pulling at you. God can heal you from toxic thinking. Everyone faces emotional pain at some point in their life, but the key is to get the emotional pain up to the surface by leaning on God, talking about it, journaling or even seeking a counselor. Don’t stay stuck. There is help. Let today be a turning point for the rest of your life!

For Further Study


  • For Immediate help with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text HELLO to 741-741. 
  • ConnectUp is a ministry focused on bringing healing to individuals and strengthening their connection with God. You can apply for a prayer session at
  • Visit to find a counselor in your area.


  • Soul Mend: Discover Spiritual and Emotional Health by Dr. Luann Dunnuck
  • The Bondage Breaker by Neil T. Andersen

This article was originally published by Peer Magazine and titled “Beneath the Surface.”

The Salvation Army is here for you. You are not alone! If you need someone to talk to, contact The Salvation Army Emotional and Spiritual Care Hotline. Call: 844-458-HOPE (4673)

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