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“Ask a Priest: How Can I Banish Fears and Negative Thoughts?”
Q: I need spiritual guidance on how to stay strong and banish negative thoughts. I am in a relationship with someone whom I love dearly, and we recently started dating, and I am fearful somewhere in the back of my mind that one day everything good I have could come falling apart. This is by far the most love I have ever felt for someone, and I have my full trust invested in this young man, and I believe we can get through any tough times we face. I also feel as if my low self-esteem and fears are an issue. How can I reach out to God for guidance in a time like this? I want us to be the strongest we can be as a pair and have a lasting and loving bond, possibly leading to marriage one day. I need guidance on how to let go of the negative thoughts and release my sins so I can have a clear mind. – R.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: The fact that your instinct is to reach out to God for guidance is a good sign. God is and will be the best foundation on which you can build your life and relationships. There is no substitute.
Now, low self-esteem and fears can have various roots. Perhaps you as a child were exposed to a lot of criticism and heavy-handedness. I won’t try to guess further about your situation.
Let’s turn to your current relationship. What people find enticing about romance is the same thing that can leave them feeling vulnerable: the thrill of opening one’s heart to another person.
There are no guarantees about what lies ahead. The best thing you can do is to try to build any romantic relationship on solid ground.
The first relationship you want to take care of is your relationship with Christ. He truly loves you and will always be by your side.
To build your relationship with him you need to dedicate time to prayer each day, perhaps a bit of Bible reading or spiritual reading. Frequent the sacraments if you are Catholic. And cultivate a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary through the rosary.
All this will help to counter some of the negativity you feel. Frequent meditation on Christ’s love for you, the hope of salvation he holds out to you, and the gifts he has already bestowed – these are all causes for a genuine sense of joy and peace.
Nevertheless, we are complicated beings. We need accompaniment. To this end, you might look for a regular confessor or spiritual director who could help you.
As for this young man: Again, since I don’t know your situation well, the advice will be general.
First, focus on things that will help you build a solid friendship. Do things that will help the two of you learn about each other’s ways of thinking, your values, your common interests, your differences and – this is important – your ways of dealing with problems.
Your activities could include a range of things: trips to museums or shrines, events with each other’s family. Doing volunteer work together can be helpful, too. In your case, reaching out and helping others is a great way to put your life and challenges in perspective. We appreciate more what we have, when we see others who carry much heavier crosses.
Another thing that will help is to envelop your relationship in purity. Chastity practiced now is a beautiful preparation for marriage. Chastity will also carve out the space that the two of you need to grow in your friendship. The best marriages often start with great friendships.
All of this could help stave off the negative thinking. Even if the negative streak never totally disappears, it need not ruin your life. It can be kept in check.
For now, take things one day at a time. Keep Christ at the center of your life, and you will be on the right path.
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