How To Learn To Stop Doubting Yourself As A Parent
Have you ever stopped to listen to your thoughts? Are they positive, self-affirming supportive and kind, or rather nagging, niggling, pushy thoughts. The busier we get, the easier it is to lose control on our way of thinking, to forget to be kind to ourselves in our thoughts and instead, allow a stream of negative chatter to take over.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) tackles your problems by changing the way you think and behave. Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist, Jackie O’Kelly has worked with many new moms who find themselves struggling with negative patterns of thinking. She suggests that the first thing a mom should do, who feels like she’s struggling, is to talk to someone, whether that’s a family member, a friend, your partner, or a GP or public health nurse. Oftentimes, all a new mom needs is some reassurance that she’s doing OK.
“We are constantly thinking, often about many things at the same time, like a constant stream of stories that we automatically and spontaneously tell ourselves. Learning to think in a more helpful way does take some time but is addressed in a structured way. The B in CBT stands for behaviour. CBT also involves looking at behaviours, actions and coping strategies which can be unhelpful. For example, a tired mom, who thinks that she is not doing enough, might work even harder to try to meet unrealistic standards or goals. This will make a bad situation worse as she will run herself into the ground. In CBT, problems are defined by the relationship between thoughts, feelings (physical and emotional) and behaviours.”
So, if you’re in a whirlwind of continuous negative thoughts - about yourself, how you’re parenting, how you’re not parenting - how can you begin to pull yourself up to a more positive attitude?
“Admit that you are struggling,” suggests Jackie. “Support and reassurance may be all that is required. Also, remember that thoughts are not facts; they are often not true reflections of reality. Nor are we our thoughts; our thoughts do not always represent our views, ideas, beliefs or attitudes. They can simply be random mental constructs. The stronger our emotional feelings, the less reliable our thoughts actually are. Thoughts, if busy and pressured, can be compared to noise, like a hairdryer or vacuum cleaner, making it hard to hear or think clearly or accurately about anything in particular.”
Self-help books often get a bad wrap, but a good self-help book that strikes a chord with you at a time when you need the advice can really change your situation. “The book The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris is very good at helping people to understand how our thinking affects us, our feelings and how they influence our behaviours. Thoughts, feelings and behaviours often form “vicious circles” and this book explains how to break these vicious circles.”
Mindfulness can be extraordinarily powerful when practiced enough. Reminding yourself to live in the now, in the moment, focusing wholly on what you’re doing can bring a lot of peace to your daily life. “It also trains you to pay attention to your thoughts in a different way. With practice, you can learn to get out of your head and into the present moment, experiencing things as they actually are without the thoughts and mental chatter distracting you and feeding your discomfort and distress.”
Being aware of our thought patterns is also essential to break a pattern of negative, or unhelpful thinking. Taking irrational thoughts for truths often lies at the bottom of many problems - in relationships, with ourselves and others, not to mention in life, generally. It could be that you’re making ‘thinking errors’, that are making you unhappy. According to Jackie, the below are some common thinking errors.
- Am I predicting the future unhelpfully instead of experimenting with it?
- Am I trying to read other people’s minds?
- Am I condemning myself as a total person on the basis of a single event?
- Am I focusing on my weaknesses and forgetting my strengths?
- Am I thinking in all or nothing, black and white terms?
- Am I blaming myself for something which is not my fault?
- Am I taking something personally, which has little or nothing to do with me?
- Am I expecting myself to be perfect?
- Am I paying attention only to the black side of things?
- Am I over-estimating the chance of disaster?
- Am I exaggerating the importance of events?
- Am I fretting about the way things ought to be instead of accepting and dealing with them as they come?
- Am I assuming I can do nothing to change my situation?
- Am I being too absolute in my views, musts, should etc?
“Once you’ve identified your thought process, then, ask yourself what evidence you have to support your thoughts. What is the evidence against these thoughts? Remember, feelings are not evidence!,” suggests Jackie.
She suggests you then go on to ask yourself the following questions; “How might someone whose opinion I respect and value view this situation? How would I have viewed it before I started to struggle? What is the effect of thinking the way I do? Does it help me in any way or is it simply hindering me from getting what I want and how? What would be the effect of looking at things in a more realistic and helpful way? Am I being as compassionate and supportive towards myself as I would be to someone else in this situation?”
Taking a fresh, honest and compassionate look at the way you think and how it’s helping or hindering you can be a life-changer. If it’s something you’ve never done in your life before, imagine the freedom when you realise that actually, your reality is quite different from your thoughts, and you are not a slave to them.
Jackie O'Kelly, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist (CBT) works from her private practice in Rathangan, Co. Kildare. She also provides CBT services to the HSE. Visit www.cbt-ireland.ie
for more information.