How to Banish Harmful Postpartum Thoughts
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
Whether you have adopted or birthed your new child, it is normal to go through a period of adjustment. However, if you feel like something is not right, like you aren’t yourself, or like you are worthless, you deserve the support of a mental health professional. There are lots of things you can also do such as discuss with a health care provider, go see an acupuncturist or naturopath, or get a good self-help book, but today I will discuss one of the tools you can use to help yourself feel better right in the comfort of your own home.
Depression and anxiety come with a host of negative and harmful thoughts that affect our emotions and physical body. A vicious cycle forms:
The baby won’t stop crying, therefore
I can’t do this, therefore
I don’t deserve time for myself, therefore
I need to keep cleaning and caring for everyone else, therefore
I am exhausted, therefore
I am worthless…..
Basically, our negative thoughts lead to harmful behaviours that confirm and validate our harmful thoughts.
One approach to dealing with feelings of anxiety and depression is to challenge these thoughts. This theoretical concept is what is known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Your job is to change your brain structure, so that instead of going to the harmful and self-deprecating thought, your brain automatically associates a behaviour or feeling with a helpful and compassionate alternative.
One fellow social worker explained it this way:
In the winter, you must go to the bus stop. You follow a path that has been walked on many times, so it is easy. This is your automatic harmful thought pattern: “Baby is fussy”= “I am a bad mother”.
To change your brain structure, you must create a different pathway in the snow. This is hard at first. You might need snowshoes or someone to push you in the sled at first (support from a mental health professional, medications, alternative therapies…) but with time you can start taking the walk yourself, and eventually, it becomes your automatic thought!
Soon, when you look over to your previous path it will be all snowed-in, and eventually, it will disappear completely.
Here I will offer rebutting statements for some of the most common thoughts postpartum folks experience. You can find your own and replace them and make up ones for the harmful thoughts not posted.
Basically, when you notice a harmful thought, you ask yourself, “What is evidence that does NOT support my thought?” or "How can I look at this differently?"
I will also post a link to a CBT worksheet that can guide you as you work through this.
1.Thought: Why is this so hard for me? I am not cut out to be a mom.
Re-framing: This feels hard because it IS hard. I need and deserve support.
Using facts and self-education:
Historically, moms lived in small communities surrounded with help. Kids were watched by relatives and moms were cared for by relatives. It is NORMAL that this feels hard when I am isolated.
2. Thought: Everyone else seems to be coping. My mom could do this. I must be weak.
Reframing: If it feels like a lot, it IS a lot.
Alternative reality: If I look closely, can I see that other families have more support, less stessors?
Maybe they are pushing themselves too hard. How can I know they are really coping?
3. Thought: I feel ugly, I am fat, I am no longer attractive.
Look at what my body accomplished. It is brave, and strong. It deserves love and attention and tender care.
Look at my battle scars. I am glorious.
My body is different and I don’t have to love it yet, but I can appreciate what it did.
4. Thought: I am horrible to have negative thoughts about my children.
I am not my thoughts. My thoughts are a reflection that I am not feeling my best.
91% of mothers have anxious thoughts about their kids.
My negative thoughts are a sign that I need some self-care and nurturance of myself. They are like an alarm. They are helping me to get back to my healthy self.
(If you are having thoughts about harming your children, it is important to seek help immediately to keep all of you safe.)
5. Thought: If I take time or want time to myself, I am selfish.
Feminism! (My favourite re-framing tool!):
Selflessness in motherhood has been idealized but it is not sustainable. It does not help me and my family. Only by filling myself up can I have enough to give around.
If you are feeling more anxious than negative and depressed, The Worry Cure is great!