I’ve been talking to a lot of people recently about their thoughts. Specifically ones that they are scared of. Their thoughts about harming their babies. Their thoughts about other people harming their babies. Their thoughts about anything happening to them to stop them from being able to look after their babies.
And writing them down, it strikes me again that it’s good that these thoughts are scary, because these are all scary things to think about.
And sometimes it’s necessary to think about them, because sometimes scary thoughts are there to keep us safe. Our species has survived this long because we have avoided dangerous situations because of our ability to recognise threats in situations and do something about them.
It’s a biological imperative to watch out for threats to our child (even in utero – it’s been shown that women’s brains start changing and becoming more aware of threats from the time of conception) as that’s what helps us keep them safe. However, a lot of the time we can dismiss thoughts that are not useful.
In 2006 Jon Abramowitz, a researcher into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, discovered that 91% of mothers (and 88% of fathers) experience obsessive thoughts about their baby. That doesn't even cover the mothers who experience excessive worry, rumination, intrusive memories and / or catastrophic misinterpretations!
Does that surprise you?
Many people are upset by those thoughts, and then shake them off. However, if, for some reason, you are unable to shake off that sense of disquiet, that’s when it can get a bit trickier. How you feel about the thought is almost more important than the thought itself.
Because if you are having scary thoughts, there is NO correlation between having these thoughts and acting on them.
I’ll repeat that – if you are having thoughts about your baby that scare you, you are NOT going to act on them (Barr and Beck 2008)
Knowing that might not take the thoughts away, but it maybe help you find it easier to talk about your thoughts if you realise that you are not choosing to have them and that the distress they cause you is precisely because you find them so awful. It can help you avoid the denial or panic that you might experience when you have these thoughts, and instead get some help.
So what can be done about these thoughts? Firstly, as always, please talk to a GP or Health visitor you trust. I say that with the great big caveat that it might make you feel worse if they are scared by what you are saying, but it just means you have spoken to the wrong person. Unfortunately not everyone will understand. Please do not be deterred, but find someone else to tell.
Depending on what kind of thoughts you are having and why you are having them, you might be offered different kinds of therapy. Medication can be useful, as can different kinds of talking therapy such as counselling, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural , EFP, and peer support. If you would like to know more about how counselling can help with different kinds of scary thoughts, then please get in touch.
You can also make some lifestyle changes such as using mindfulness or exercise or self-help tools, including the excellent book 'Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts' by Karen Kleinman and Amy Wenzel. There is now also a wealth of information about diet and our mental wellbeing, and I would recommend that you consult a reputable dietician to learn more about that.