During the perinatal period, intrusive thoughts are extremely common. Approximately one in ten women disclose having intrusive thoughts and my clinical guess is another four in ten are sitting back thinking to themselves, “Like heck I’ll tell you about these dark thoughts, you’ll think I’ve lost my mind and take my children away!”
You may be wondering yourself if you have lost your mind. Having the insight to ask this question tells me, probably not.
You may be terrified that if you share your scary thoughts with someone that the thought will come true. Again, not likely so.
Perhaps you were brave enough to tell someone and they judged you. Likely because they do not understand.
What the heck is an intrusive thought, anyway?
An intrusive thought is unwelcome in your mind. It was uninvited and showed up anyway as if you don’t have enough to worry about right now! You’re expanding your family and your whole life is turning upside-down in enough ways. These thoughts cause distress, panic, disgust, and often fear and worry. Here come the promised ABC’s…
✔ If you find the thought APPALLING and AWFUL
✔ If you think the image or act your thought is about is BAD, negative or wrong
✔ If you find yourself CONSCIOUSLY avoiding or being CAREFUL about the thought
…then you are NOT experiencing something out of the ordinary, you are experiencing an unwanted intrusive thought.
Safety Check: If you DO experience a disturbing, violent or harmful image or thought and do not think it’s a negative or unwanted thing, now is a good time to check in with a trusted healthcare provider, therapist, psychiatrist, OBGYN, midwife or primary care, or call 911- these are very different and you want to consult a medical expert as soon as possible.
Very much like a colander, our unconscious mind filters through thousands upon thousands of thoughts per day, many pass through with ease…
Oh what a lovely flowering tree. Wow, traffic is heavy today. Do I want romaine or iceberg lettuce today? I hope steaks are on sale this week at the grocer. While I’m at the store I’ll pick up more laundry detergent. Why do socks always separate in the wash never to be matched again?
These thoughts do not elicit a strong reaction and we may give them little attention- when a thought is dark, violent, disgusting or scary it sounds off all sorts of alarms and panic- WHY did I think that? HOW could I imagine something so terrible?! And the narrative of self-criticism and panic starts.
Giving time and attention to these questions occurs when that thought gets stuck in the colander, it sits there creating resistance and perhaps worry or panic, which leads us to focus on it more in turn allowing this unwanted thought to grow bigger, louder, brighter. What once was a tiny abstract thought is now a giant LED billboard in Times Square.
In reality the thought is no more likely to pose a risk to you or your baby than the lovely flowering tree, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. You may find yourself full of dread and agony, over-thinking each step you take to protect yourself or your baby [or both of you]. Perhaps you avoid possible perceived risks or dangers to protect yourself or your baby, this is your maternal instinct protecting you both. It speaks to what an amazing parent you are.
Working through these thoughts in counseling with a trusted therapist may seem scary, it requires courage to disclose that your mind goes to such a dark place, but you are not alone. You are not the first nor are you the last mom to think and see upsetting images or thoughts. The potential benefits include less anxiety and worry, a more peaceful mind, feeling safer and more confident in your parenting and more enjoyment in your day to day life.
One more A-B-C for today:
ANXIETY about an intrusive thought is a strength, it’s a positive sign that you are having a symptom, a thought, not an ACTION.
BAD thoughts do not equate bad mothers. You are not bad, you are not terrible, you are living with unwanted thoughts or images.
COUNSELING can help. Speaking to a therapist who understands perinatal obsessive-compulsive and intrusive symptoms can help you CALM and quiet those unwanted thoughts so you can get back to enjoying your life and your family.
Disclaimer: This post is informational and nature and not a substitute for psychotherapy.