How to Deflect Feelings of Guilt and Shame in Motherhood?

by Belinda Jane Batt

The Flourishing Mother

How to Deflect Feelings of Guilt and Shame in Motherhood?

Feelings of guilt and shame are unfortunately common in motherhood. As mothers, we often hold ourselves to impossibly high standards, and society compounds this by having certain expectations of how we ‘should’ behave. When we inevitably fail to meet these high standards and expectations, mothers experience guilt and shame, which can negatively affect our mental health, and, in severe cases, interfere with the bonding process with our children. This can be particularly catastrophic in new motherhood when the infant-caregiver attachment is being formed.

It has been argued that if a woman experiences a discrepancy between her actual self as a mother and her own internalised ‘ideal’ of what a good mother should be she will feel guilt, and if she experiences a discrepancy between her actual self and her perception of other people’s standards she will feel shame. Of the two emotions, shame is the more damaging for maternal wellbeing, with research finding a link between mothers’ experience of shame and their likelihood of developing postnatal depression.

It’s not easy to stop feelings of guilt and shame from arising, but there are some ways in which mothers can try to deflect them:

 

1. Aim for ‘good enough’

Believe it or not, good enough parenting is actually better than perfect parenting because the rupturing and repairing of neurons that happens in children’s brains when their parents make mistakes and then course-correct those mistakes helps children to learn.

 

2. Remember the 30-40% rule

To expand on the first point, it’s okay to get it wrong: up to 40% of the time! So long as you always apologise when you make a mistake and show your children that it’s okay to fail.

 

3. Don’t be afraid to ‘speak your shame’ 

Brené Brown’s Shame Resilience Theory states that being able to express feelings of shame to others can actually help to overcome it, by reducing the sense of being judged. So, if you’re feeling guilty or ashamed, call a friend who is also a mother and offload, it will likely make you both feel better!

 

4. Remember that some guilt can be a good thing

From an evolutionary standpoint, feelings of guilt inhibit neglect and increase the chances of offspring survival. So, as long as you’re not feeling crippled by guilt, remembering this may help to gain perspective.

 

5. Rationalise, rationalise, rationalise!

Research has found that some mothers can develop strategies to deflect feelings of guilt and shame. One such strategy is the ability to take a step back and view the situation as rationally as possible, putting aside our (often automatic) emotional reaction and listening to our heads rather than our hearts. An easy way to do this is to consider what advice we would give to a friend feeling the same emotions. Chances are, you would encourage them not to give themselves such a hard time – so try not to give yourself a hard time either!

 

Belinda x

 

 

Belinda Jane Batt is a Mother & Positive Psychology Coach, supporting stressed mums to achieve their goals and flourish. Contact her at belinda@theflourishingmother.com, visit her website www.theflourishingmother.com or follow her on Instagram @flourishingmother.