Overcoming Guilt With CBT

After a few weeks of CBT and homework exercises I’ve figured out a very clear pattern. Many times when I am feeling very down and guilty, my automatic negative thoughts have something to do with my daughter having a problem as a consequence of me being an incompetent mother. With the help of my therapist, I am starting to realize that my current struggles with being a mother and having postpartum depression really originate from my lifelong feelings of inadequacy. The main difference is that being incompetent was never as important as it is now. Whenever my self-esteem was very low in the past I could easily shake it off by calling friends and having fun with them. Getting distracted worked. My problems with self-esteem never had much to do with my looks or with what my friends thought of me. Every time I felt down it was because I thought I was not being successful, capable or smart enough. Now that I have an inescapable responsibility for the care of a baby 24/7, my incompetence could have terrible consequences for her wellbeing.

I’ve learned to identify certain convictions that I’ll have to overcome to stop feeling guilty and get out of this hole. Some of them are: I believe that making mistakes is unacceptable. I see my mistakes and I conclude I am useless. Any average woman is capable of taking care of her children, so my mistakes when taking care of my only baby daughter are not acceptable. Being a terrible mother not only shows that I am inadequate, but it also has dangerous consequences to a defenseless child. Emma goes hungry because of me. She is not gaining enough weight and I am to blame. My sadness is going to have a negative impact in her own mental health. If my husband gets tired of me she’ll grow up in an unstable family.

I realize now that my own assessment of my performance and failures is not completely rational. I can’t just go on feeling guilty. I need to start questioning the judgement I pass on my actions.

The internal negative feedback might have helped me get stuff done before, but now it’s mainly destructive. Telling myself I was an idiot after a bad grade might have helped me study harder for the next test. But telling myself I did something wrong every time my daughter cries is not getting me anywhere.

I’m glad I’ve found a way to overcome the guilt, but it’s not easy. Every time Emma starts crying I need to catch myself when I start thinking I’ve done something wrong. I need to constantly check my automatic negative thoughts and question the ones that are making me feel sad and guilty. I still have these negative thoughts many times a day, but I no longer allow them to dwell in my mind all day and drag me to the deep hole of depression. Now I’m more aware and I feel more empowered to challenge any destructive way of thinking and get my life back.