Mums are experts in negative thoughts. We judge ourselves harshly (“I’m a useless mum if I need to ask for help”), make comparisons with other mums (“my bestie always has a spotless house, why can’t I even tidy up?”), put up our own obstacles (“I’m too busy to get my hair cut”), and even make predictions about the future (“my kids will never eat broccoli”).
First of all, relax. Having negative thoughts is perfectly normal and part of being human. Happy people have negative thoughts. Zen masters have negative thoughts! No amount of “positive thinking”, brushing them under the rug, or affirmation-reciting will ever eradicate them. And they are so much part of us sometimes we aren’t even aware of them.
Negative thoughts are not harmful in themselves, but they can generate powerful emotions and influence our behaviour. For example, if your thought is that you are a less than fantastic mum, then you may feel sad or despairing. These emotions can sap your energy and your ability to put strategies into place to improve things. Your thought could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But here’s the good news. Thoughts are not necessarily facts. They are just words and pictures in our heads.
So, what to do?
First of all, catch yourself with your negative thought (“I’m always late”) and ask yourself; is it accurate? a fact? Then try to find past evidence to the contrary (“actually, 3 times last week I got out of the house before 9am”). Or, maybe the answer is not black and white, more a shade of grey. Stop the harsh self-judgement and replace your negative thought with something more realistic (“when I’m rested I cope much better”).
And what if your negative thoughts are facts?
Then the question to ask yourself is: is this thought useful or helpful to me? The strategy here is to defuse the emotions the thought produces, better allowing you to gain perspective and find solutions. Distance yourself from the thought. Rather than “I’m useless”, change this to “I’m having the thought that I’m useless”. Or, reduce the power of the thought on your emotions. If you sing ”I’m a useless mum” to the tune of Happy Birthday enough times, it will soon sound ridiculous and help you detach from the grip the thought has over you.
Negative thoughts are not themselves problematic – they only are if we believe them, act on them, and they prevent us from pursuing our activities and goals, or being who we want to be. The more you practise these techniques the better you will become at handling them next time.
Adapted by Flourishing Mothers from the work of A. Beck, S. Hayes and R.Harris