The feeling of magnetic attraction a person has when they experience a (romantic) connection with another person whose traits and behaviours trigger their schemas.
Schema chemistry (a termed coined by Jeff Young (Young & Klosko, 1993; Young et al., 2007) refers to the intense feeling we have when we’re attracted to a person who has the potential to ‘wound’ us (emotionally) in the same way we were ‘wounded’ in childhood.
In other words, it’s the tendency to be more attracted to those people who will trigger and reinforce our schemas (or core beliefs about ourselves).
The role of the unconscious can’t be underestimated when it comes to romantic partner selection and the idea that romantic attraction can be influenced by unconscious processes has a long history. These ideas date back to Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) – in his discussion of the “Repetition Compulsion”. Here he states these ideas: Humans are destined to repeat old patterns in an attempt to gain mastery/resolve old emotional wounds. We are doomed to repeat what we cannot remember. These repetitive processes are called “enactments”. Freud was really onto something. Although Freud’s word are a little gloomy, his ideas ring true when it comes to romantic relationships and the long-term patterns that our clients commonly present with.
In our work with clients, we call these high schema-driven relationships Love-traps.
In a love-trap:
- You both trigger each other’s schemas and this creates ruptures (e.g., hurt feelings, arguments)
- The relationship can be tumultuous, have high conflict, anger (both overt and passive), with lots of emotional unmet needs
- You stay in it though and engage in unhelpful coping styles in response to triggers
- After a rupture there is not a proper resolution, the unmet needs continue, and the next cycle of misunderstandings begin
- The relationship feels “comfortably uncomfortable” because it resonate with a previous core relational dynamic (eg, early attachment to care-givers; earlier unmet needs; what was missing from parents).
What it feels like
High schema chemistry in the early days of dating can feel like heightened anxiety – there is often relief when you’re with the person and yet you might feel anxious and insecure when you’re not with them. So there is a payoff in terms of the ‘relief’ and therefore the relationship is reinforcing (it can be a rollercoaster of ups and downs – particularly for those with abandonment & emotional deprivation schemas dating each other). It’s also hard to end the relationship in the face of high schema chemistry because the ‘dynamic’ albeit uncomfortable is also very ‘familiar’ to you on a deeper level (mainly unconsciously).
As things progress (if they progress!), it is important to tune into whether this new partner (the person you have high schema chemistry with) is actually emotionally available or whether your attraction to them is driven by the familiarity of the (previously set) insecurity feeling.
But it’s complicated. There can be so much schema triggering going on – any number of combinations of triggering each other’s schemas is possible.
“But I like strong chemistry and I only want to be with a person I have 10/10 chemistry with!! What am I suppose to do?!?!” This is a common concern expressed by the clients that come to see us who want to break the pattern of attracting (and staying with) emotionally unavailable partners. It is very normal to want to hold on to the excitement that high schema chemistry can bring. This excitement though, is often a marker of a relationship which is very intense at the beginning but will crash and burn in the end.
Starting to challenge schema chemistry
When there is an absence of high chemistry with a new potential partner, it’s typical for people to walk away and assume that the new person cannot possibly be right for them. However, this feeling deserves exploration and it pays to reserve judgements until you get to know someone more fully.
If there is some attraction and the ‘chemistry’ is say, somewhere between 5-7 out of 10, then don’t give up on a potential date just because there’s no immediate strong sexual desire. If, as you get to know them more over the course of several dates, they seem to be – reliable, consistent, available, interested and curious about you, then there is a foundation there for something more to grow. But, notice if little things they say or do turn you off at all and notice if you start to get bored with them. If this happens, then it’s likely going to be one of two things. (1) Either this person is just simply not compatible with you and/or you don’t find them attractive enough OR (2) this person is potentially a suitable partner for you and you are turning away from what is an unfamiliar (but potentially good) dynamic.
The latter implies that the lack of schema chemistry is preventing you from seeing the potential in this person and because the relational dynamic is not familiar to you on an unconscious level, you incorrectly interpret this unfamiliarity as incompatibility (for example; if you were use to criticism in childhood but your new partner is non-judgemental and not critical at all, or if your new partner is reliable and available but your childhood was more defined by inconsistent and insecure connections with care-givers).
When examining new relationships you are uncertain about, you need to look at each interaction in detail to see what is turning you off about this person and what is turning you on about them? You need to start tuning into what it feels like to be seen, heard and treated well by your partner (and what it feels like to not be) in order to assess whether your new partner is emotionally available or unavailable and whether you can tell the difference.
With this knowledge you can differentiate between knowing when your schemas are sabotaging something potentially good OR whether this person simply isn’t right for you based on valid, sound reasons. It’s a tricky process and requires trial and error and lots of patience.
Your ‘vulnerable child’ has a lot to do with schema chemistry!
Also, in terms of schemas and schema chemistry, we have to be aware of our inner child or ‘vulnerable child’ parts of ourselves. If we are in a relationship with high schema chemistry (with a person who will hurt us in similar ways that our attachment figures did), then we need to understand that it is the wounded child part of us who is actually driving the attraction. It is really the vulnerable child part (eg, the abandoned child), who is driving the high schema chemistry. In such a case, the abandoned child feels the familiarity with the new partner if this partner is unreliable, inconsistent or keeps you at a distance.
The abandoned-child part of you doesn’t want to leave the relationship because leaving would trigger all the old abandonment feelings (all at once). Instead, the abandoned-child part of you wants you you stay in the (insecure) relationship because they have been conditioned to exist in this dynamic and they have become almost fixated upon the unmet emotional needs (ie, we are drawn to what is familiar). They (ie, this child part of you) believe that by staying in the relationship (and hoping, wanting and waiting for secure love), they will eventually be seen and loved by their partner and that their partner will eventually ‘come good’ so to speak and give them the love they deserve. Especially if they just manage to be “good enough” to win that love and recognition! But this doesn’t happen, because chances are their unavailable partner doesn’t have that capacity or desire to accommodate due to their own unhealed schemas.
This process is all too common. We see many clients who continue to ‘hang in there’ with partners who are not good for them, because their vulnerable child dominates the feeling space – hoping, wishing and wanting the other person to finally meet their needs. Because, as the narrative goes, “if this person can love me, then I’ll know that I am loveable”. The ‘love’ of a high chemistry unavailable partner, is worth more to the unhealed abandoned child than the love of a steady, available and predictable partner.
Carl Jung said – “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate”
Schema healing is so important if you are embarking on a journey to change negative or unhelpful relationship patterns. Bringing these unconscious processes into the light by taking stock of your past and present relationship dynamics is one vital step towards change. Healing the vulnerable child parts of yourself is key if you want to start breaking the tendency to get into relationships which trigger your schemas (especially your abandonment schema) and reinforce old beliefs associated with that schema.
- Schema chemistry happens when each person in a relationship has schemas triggered in negatively complementary ways. They wound each other in the same or similar ways to their original attachment wounds.
- A love trap refers to a high schema chemistry relationship (with chronic unmet needs) – AND your schemas keep you from leaving/problem-solve effectively.
- Relationships that have high schema chemistry are stressful, tumultuous and pre-occupying.
- Learning about your schemas is essential and the first step towards breaking the pattern.
- It is possible to change old patterns, choose different partners and have healthier relationships. It does take some work and effort and it will feel uncomfortable at times, but you can do it!
Dr Gemma Gladstone.
The term narcissist gets used quite a bit these days. It carries pejorative connotations and people use the tag to describe family members, workmates or media personalities who act in an obnoxious and overly self-involved manner. Like any personality trait however, narcissism lies on a continuum, spanning from what might be healthy narcissism (e.g., a confident self-assured leader who cares about others) through to toxic or pathological narcissism (e.g., a self-absorbed bully who has no empathy).
If a person’s narcissism gets in the way of their work, relationships and life in general, then they may have Narcissistic Personality Disorder or NPD (for a comprehensive coverage of narcissism and how to deal with it, see “Disarming the Narcissist” By Wendy T. Behary).
In a romantic relationship, a narcissist is one type of emotionally unavailable partner whose failure to meet your emotional needs is going to be especially damaging. Narcissism can manifest in different forms and there can be different surface or behavioural presentations of the narcissist. Some narcissists demonstrate quite obvious grandstanding and entitled behaviours, whiles other lack these ‘showy’ behaviours and instead may be more passively self-absorbed and quietly belittle others. There can be many surface behaviours or coping styles of the narcissist.
While it may not look like it, most narcissists are suffering on the inside. They are often very fragile people who are caught up in an unending cycle of needing to elevate themselves while putting others down. This is done so they can protect themselves from accessing deep seated feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
One of the most effective (yet destructive) ways to do this, is to launch into over-compensatory behaviours which aim to keep people in their place (i.e., well below them) so that they can feel secure and/or superior in themselves. Needless to say, narcissists usually have few true friends and have a lifelong struggle with relationships. They are very often deeply dissatisfied on the inside, but their persistent struggle to avoid feeling any form of vulnerability keeps them separated from others.
A narcissist will rarely, if ever come along to therapy so that they can modify their personality. They really only seek help when their world collapses in the form of occupational losses, family and relationships failures and of course chronic depression. In their mind, it is always other people’s fault and other people who are causing all the problems.
Both men and women can be narcissistic although the behavioural displays can look a little different across the sexes. Anywhere between 2 – 6% of people in the general community will qualify for NPD, although in mental health sample this is considerably higher. More men than women tend to have narcissistic personality disorder both in the general community and in clinical samples.
But what of relationships? How might you tell if your date or potential new partner is narcissistic? Being aware of the signs and the red flags is a great start. For more discussions on this please visit our podcast where we discuss this issue in details. In particular see Episode 14 of The Good Mood Clinic Podcast.
If you think you are in a relationship with someone who is quite narcissistic, then there is something you should know…………….
Anyone can get into a relationship with a narcissist, but not everyone will stay in a relationship with a narcissist. If you do stay in a relationship which is not good for you, in which you are overly criticised, controlled or verbally abused, then there is also likely another agenda going on for you. If this is the case, your own schemas may be getting in the way of you making wise decisions and making your emotional safety a priority.
Getting professional help from a psychologist or schema therapists who understands narcissism and relationship dynamics, can really help you gain greater insight and perspective into your relationship.
Do you find that you keep attracting Narcissists as romantic partners? If so, check out our new online course for women. The Red Flag Project: How to screen out ‘assholes’ and date with self-respect.
It’s here! our new online course – The Red Flag Project: How to screen out ‘assholes’ and date with self-respect! Yes, we know, the title is totally irreverent. But if you like the title and can relate, then the course was probably made for you!
Over our years as clinical psychologists in private practice, we have worked with hundreds of women who have struggled to identify early warning signs when dating and entering new relationships with men. If they had been able to spot these ‘signs’ earlier and make decisions to not pursue a guy or end something early, then they would have saved themselves months of heartache and years of precious time!
Who exactly is this course for?
Well, this course is for women with a pattern of getting involved with “emotionally unavailable” men, including those subgroup of men who become controlling, possessive and harmful. This course is really for any woman trying to navigate the dating world and wanting guidance on how to not waste time with dates who are – unavailable, inconsistent, avoidant, detached, narcissistic or controlling. If you have difficulty setting healthy boundaries and find it hard to read the signs or judge the behaviours of your partner early in a relationship, then you will definitely benefit from this course.
Many of our clients with this pattern have found themselves embroiled with these types of men over and over again. We know what this feels like, because both of us had this pattern and have lived through the frustration and hopelessness associated with it.
We have chosen to focus on women for this particular course simply because we have worked with so many women hugely affected by this issue and we want to make a difference – a preventative difference in the lives of women prone to have this pattern!
But where does this pattern come from?
Well, as you probably guessed, it’s got a lot to do with your childhood experiences and how you were parented. And……….your schemas, like the abandonment schema to name a dominant one. In other words, if you had any of the experiences below, then you may well struggle with this pattern:-
- One or both parents were critical, controlling, narcissistic or abusive
- You experienced early abandonment of some type or your caregivers were unreliable, unpredictable or inconsistent in a significant way
- You were emotionally neglected
- You never felt “good enough”
- You had to take care of others in your family or you had to keep the peace and you didn’t have a ‘voice’
What will I get from the course?
Well, we’ll teach you how to spot the red flags when dating and…..
- Understand the relationship between your schemas and a pattern of attracting and staying with emotionally unavailable men (i.e., ‘schema chemistry’)
- Realise that this pattern is quite common and that you are not alone!
- Understand the difference between emotional availability and unavailability in a romantic partner
- Identify red flags of emotional unavailability, avoidance or disinterest when dating so you can avoid or end unsuitable relationships early
- Spot more ‘toxic’ red flags so you can screen out narcissistic or controlling guys
- Tune into your ‘Internal Red Flags’ and learn how to trust your gut instincts
- Use tools and exercises to gain greater insight, self-awareness and optimism for the future.
- Develop a step-by-step Dating Plan which you can start using immediately!
If you can relate to what we have been talking about, then we hope you check out the course and tell us what you think. We wish you every success in navigating your way through all the drama and eventually finding a relationship with an emotionally available and loving partner.
Yours in relationship success,
Dr Gemma Gladstone and Dr Justine Corry. Clinical Psychologists and Director of The Good Mood Clinic in Sydney, Australia.
‘How to set new year goals, and accomplish them!’
A few days into the start of this new year I asked a friend if she had made any new year resolutions.
Her response was to laugh and say that she had given up with that nonsense as she never stuck by them and usually forgot about the goals after just a few weeks.
If this is sounding familiar to you, then you’re definitely not alone in finding it almost impossible to stick by the well-intentioned goals you set yourself for the year. So, does that mean we should give up making goals for the year completely? Despite the many failed new year’s resolutions people make, I still believe that the new year is a great time to reflect on our past progress and set ourselves goals and direction for our future.
By following a few easy steps we can give ourselves the best change of setting goals that we can be successful in achieving.
When setting goals for yourself think about these factors:
1. What is important to you right now. Think about your interests and make sure that your goal is something that you are going to be passionate about and want to work towards. Many people think about goals relating to their fitness, work, or study (things which we usually find boring or challenging), but new year goals can be about anything including our leisure activities, friendships, or mental health. Think about things that are going to steer your life towards your values, such as spending time in nature, catching up with old friends, practicing mindfulness, or learning a new skill you’ve wanted to try.
2. Be realistic. Setting myself a goal of running a marathon if I’m not a runner at all is going to be asking for disappointment and failure. If the goals we set ourselves our too far of reach we quickly get fed up when it becomes apparent that we aren’t making any progress at all towards the finish line. Start with small and realistic goals – you can always make new ones as you tick goals off or if they become too easy!
3. Break down a large goal into smaller measurable steps. This one can be trickier than it seems initially – for example, if my goal is to learn a new language, how can I break this down? Think about the steps you may require (e.g. signing up for a language class, finding someone who speaks the language to practice talking to, reading some books or watching movies in the language) and set these individual steps as goals for yourself.
Ensuring that these steps are measurable will help you to know when you’ve accomplished them.
After you’ve set yourself some realistic goals that you’re excited to start working towards, here are some tips to help you get there:
1. Write your goals down somewhere you can see them. This one doesn’t take a genius to figure out, keeping our goals in sight will help to keep them in mind. If you’re someone who uses a wall calendar this can be a great place to write your goals. Otherwise get creative and leave yourself little post-it notes in places you look often.
2. Get a friend, partner, or colleague involved. Finding someone to work on your goal with you will make it much easier to stay motivated and gives you a buddy to help keep yourself accountable. Not to mention it makes it much more fun when we have good company!
3. Create a habit out of your new goal. Working things into our daily routine is the best way to make sure we do them. Start slowly and work to weave your new goal into the things you already do. For example, if your goal is to spend more quality time with your partner then arrange to have a date night once a week with no phones allowed, if your goal is to begin meditating then dedicate a regular time in the day that fits in with your current routine.
4. Check in and review your goals. Set a date that you will check back in with the goals you made and review how you’re going in your progress. If you haven’t come as far as you’d like(or you’ve completely forgotten about some!) that’s okay and remember to be aware of any self-criticism that may come up.
Use this is as an opportunity to check in with how realistic and achievable your goals were and make adjustments if need be.
So good luck with setting your goals and achieving them successfully.
All the best for 2021.
Astrid – a beautiful young woman taken from this life far too soon.
16/11/76 – 11/12/19
We will miss our dear friend and colleague Astrid, who passed away on December 11th 2019. Not only was Astrid an amazing and vibrant person whose energy was contagious, she was a therapist and clinical psychologist with deep compassion, interest and curiosity.
Astrid worked with us until shortly after her cancer diagnosis at the end of 2016. We so enjoyed working with Astrid and she was a valued member of our team and a real asset to us at the Good Mood Clinic. She was a very popular therapist during her time with us. She always showed heart-felt warmth and care for her clients and had genuine interest and emotional investment in people doing well.
Astrid loved her work and she was fabulous at what she did. She helped so many clients regain their sense of self and empowered them to make important and life changing decisions. Astrid was deeply empathic and compassionate. She cared for the people she worked with and always thought very considerately and thoroughly on how best to help her clients.
Astrid leaves an important legacy and she will be remembered with great love and fondness.
On a personal note, I knew Astrid very well, both personally and professionally. I first met Astrid in 2005 while working in a hospital in Sydney and got to know her well gradually over the years. We went on to share some important life experiences together and she was a dear and much loved friend of mine. Astrid worked unbelievably hard to get well over the course of her three-year illness. Her courage, commitment and discipline shown over the course of her illness often astounded me and she is nothing less than a complete inspiration to me.
I feel privileged and blessed for having known Astrid and having her in my life as both a colleague and dear friend. I am a better person for having known her.
Astrid, you are loved, you are deeply missed and you will always be remembered.
We are here for such a short time. We and everything and everyone we love and hold dear is impermanent. When we can really hear the penny drop and know in our heart of hearts that our life as we know it is so transient, so temporary – we can let go and love ourselves more, without concerns of ‘who we are’, or ‘who we should be’.
Each moment passes and fades in an instant and we change with every experience that passes through us – good and bad. Having a deep appreciation of impermanence can open our hearts and pave the way for greater self-compassion, greater self-acceptance and we can allow ourselves to feel the joy in the smallest of moments.
Knowing that we are impermanent can transform the way we value ourselves and those around us. We are more than what we know, how we act, what we do, how much money we have or who we know. We are amazing creations with endless potential for change, healing, growth, connection and love.
One day in the future we will all have to leave it all behind. We will have to let go of it all, everything we have attached to, owned and possessed, everything we have held on to or used to prop ourselves up. All of it, we will need to give up and let go.
So can we do any of that any sooner? What are you holding on to that no longer serves you? What identify, value or belief are you clinging to that takes more away from you than it gives. What are you not doing that you really want to do? What risks are you not taking due to fear or pride? What are you not saying because it’s been so long since you’ve heard your own real voice that you have forgotten what it sounds like?
Maybe now is the time to make the change, to notice what you have, to be yourself!
Feeling down, unmotivated, fearful or depressed? Here is a list of evidence-based (backed by substantial research) suggestions & behaviours to reduce depression and help relieve nervous tension and anxiety:-
- Movement & physical exercise. Exercise and physical movement, whether it be intense or gentle can help us complete the stress response cycle, activate the relaxation response and is a natural anti-depressant.
- Some form of daily mindfulness practice, meditation or applied relaxation strategy is a must for good mental health. Coping with stress and reducing anxiety levels means that you can reduce their role as contributing factors in depression. If you want to deal with low mood, you have to address how you manage stress first.
- Dietary modifications can absolutely help with reducing symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. The reduction of things like sugar (basically anything that tastes sweet in your mouth), alcohol and other toxins also helps with reducing brain fog & improving mental clarity also.
- Don’t underestimate the power of adequate and good quality deep sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene and go to bed earlier. Getting more hours of sleep before the hand strikes midnight is beneficial to your health and mood. Getting up earlier and getting sunlight in the morning is a mood enhancer.
- Trying dealing with denied or avoided emotions (eg, through therapy, keeping a journal, being more authentic when relating with friends and family members for example). Chronic suppressed emotions serve to create a prolonged stress response in the body, which in turn can lower immune function and also increase the risk for depression.
- Avoid ‘avoiding’ – deal with the things you are avoiding, whether they be emotional, relational, social, medical/health or physical. Procrastination creates stress, which increases anxiety and anxious apprehension. When all you do is ‘avoid’, you never allow yourself to learn new ways to deal with situations and master difficulties.
- Make time to schedule in joyful moments, in a deliberate way (not just decluttering – although that is pretty good!) – like meeting a friend for coffee, going to the movies, having a massage, going for a swim in the ocean – whatever provides a positive mood shift, no matter how small.
- Spend more time in nature. I know we hear this one a lot, but it really works. Activate as many of your senses as possible and try to be mindful to all those sensations.
- Make the effort to connect with others in small, incidental ways (eg, chat with the person making your coffee, make eye contact and smile at a fellow shopper walking by) – especially if you’re not inclined to. Small but regular social contact is highly correlated with enhanced mood and is good for stress control.
- Asks for more hugs. Increase your level of physical contact with others if possible….even very small gestures count and have a mutually supportive effect . Physical touch is important for a sense of connection and nurturance. Perhaps get a massage or some foot reflexology. Obtaining comfort through pleasant sensory sensations is important when someone is experiencing depression. Think about getting a pet and if you have already got one make sure you give them plenty of physical contact. It’s beneficial and therapeutic.
- Take time to stop and breathe. Rest, slow down and reduce those expectations of yourself that might be just too high!
- Notice what you have; see, feel and practice the gratitude. Turn you mind towards the things and people that you have in your life that you appreciate. Take pleasure in small things and small achievements.
- Address unhealed or unresolved issues from the past. Time does not heal all wounds – no matter what the popular belief says. Sometimes we need help from a mental health professional to work with us to identify and address old unhelpful patterns of behaviour or old hurts from the past. It is never too late and you are never too old to deal with psychological injuries and unhelpful beliefs. Help is available.
If you notice a significant change and drop in your mood which you can’t seem to shift and if you notice that your ability to enjoy the things you normal enjoy is reduced, you should speak to your doctor and seek help from a mental health professional. Getting psychological therapy can be very helpful in guiding you to address the psychological factors which have contributed to you becoming depressed. There may also be a role for anti-depressant medication. Combining medication with counselling and therapy is often the best approach.
About 1 in 6 new mothers experience some degree of postnatal depression. Postnatal anxiety is just as common, and many woman experience both anxiety and depression simultaneously. Postnatal anxiety and depression can be worrying and isolating experiences for a new mum as she tries to deal with her own feelings and symptoms at the same time as trying to best care for her baby and deal with all the new changes and challenges confronting her.
Postnatal depression is very different from the “baby blues” which up to 70% of women experience after birth. This is a transient mood shift that occurs a few days after giving birth where a new mum can feel down, teary and overwhelmed with her new situation.
Postnatal depression can vary in severity like any mood disorder, and for some it can be a very serious condition that requires prompt and targeted treatment. It typically occurs within the first four weeks after childbirth (although it can come on gradually after this time) and sufferers can experience the following symptoms:
- Low mood
- Feeling overwhelmed and extremely anxious
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Sleep difficulties (not just due to a disrupted sleep cycle due to night feeds etc)
- Appetite disturbance
- Feelings of hopelessness and being unable to cope
- Loss of confidence and low self-esteem (particularly in perceived ability to be a good mother)
- Extreme indecisiveness, this may also manifest as excessive reassurance seeking from other regarding decisions about caring for baby
- Excessive guilt caused by having transient negative feelings towards the new baby. Typical emotions that women describe as distressing are anger, resentment or hostility.
- Problems with mother-baby attachment
- In more serious cases, suicidal thoughts or urges may be present (a very small percentage of woman experience ‘postnatal psychosis’ – which is a very serious condition requiring immediate medical attention and usually an inpatient stay in a mother-baby mental health unit). However recovery is usually excellent, with no ongoing serious complications.
Causal pathways or “risk factors” for Postnatal Depression
Like all mental health conditions, the causes of postnatal depression are multi-faceted. It is useful to differentiate those risk factors that pre-exist before the arrival of your baby and those that arise after your baby is born.
Risk factors that can be present before the birth of your baby might include:
- A genetic vulnerability to mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder
- A previous history of a mood disorder
- Previous history of an anxiety disorder
- Pre-existing psychological vulnerabilities such as perfectionism (having very high standards and expectations of yourself) or dependence (doubting yourself and your ability to handle things on your own).
- In schema terms, having a very high ‘unrelenting standards’ and/or a ‘incompetence/dependence’ schemas can increase your risk
- Stressful family relationships or relationship breakdown
- Social isolation or financial difficulties
- Physiological stressors such as hormonal changes, fatigue and any physical complications
- A previous history of pregnancy or birth-related difficulties such as miscarriages, terminations, stillbirths, premature birth or the death of a child
- Poor social supports
- Protracted fertility difficulties and IVF treatments
Risk factors that can arise once the baby is born can include:
- A traumatic birth experience (e.g., high intervention births, post-birth surgery)
- The new baby having a serious illness or medical condition
- Prolonged feeding difficulties and disappointments
- Ongoing and serious sleep deprivation
If you recognise any of the antenatal risk factors shown above, you can reduce your risk by intervening early. In particular you can address the psychological risk factors and also plan adaptive coping strategies to put in place after your baby has arrived.
Seeking help before your baby is due can reduce the risk of developing postnatal depression as studies have shown that mood and anxiety symptoms during pregnancy increase the risk of developing post-natal depression.
It is also important to remember that a pregnancy and childbirth can trigger a lot of worries and anxieties as well as old wounds from childhood. If you experienced a childhood which was difficult, neglectful or abusive, having a baby is a major life event which may trigger painful memories and feelings from your own childhood. You may experience difficulties with attaching to your own baby or become at greater risk of developing depression. If you are worried about this, getting help before the arrival of your baby is important.
Also, sleep deprivation alone is enough to cause significant mood disturbance in many mothers. People tend to under-rate the degree to which sleep deprivation and interrupted sleep can affect mood.
At this time you are more vulnerable emotionally due to hormonal fluctuations and therefore pre-existing worries and anxieties are likely to flare up. For example, you may find yourself worrying about all the uncertainty around the birth and your transition into motherhood. You may also be concerned about how your parenting is going to be influence by how you yourself were parented.
A frequent concern is “I don’t want to make the same mistakes my parents did”. This can also fuel a lot of anxiety and worry. There is also increasing pressure for women to find motherhood and pregnancy an amazing and overwhelmingly positive experience. There are certainly many positive and joyful aspects, but there are also difficult ones as well. You may find that you judge yourself harshly e.g., “I don’t know what is wrong with me, everyone thinks I should be so excited”. By addressing any anxieties and worries before or during your pregnancy you can greatly increase your psychological resilience in preparation for the challenges of motherhood.
Things to remember to help you cope during the early months
- Get support – don’t be afraid to ask for help. Once you know who the good people are that you can rely on, make a plan for how they can best help you get through the first 12 weeks and beyond.
- Reconsider your own expectations. Lower them! and then lower them again! Woman who expect themselves to be perfect and have high standards for themselves (their partner and their baby!) are more likely to get depressed and experience high anxiety. If you are holding, nurturing, caring for and bonding with your baby – you are winning! You don’t have to be anyone’s super-mum and you don’t have to be running around pleasing other people and making afternoon tea for Aunt Martha and her friends. Stop, listen to your baby, listen to your body and follow those instructions, rather than anyone else’s. Don’t beat yourself up for staying in your PJs for most of the day and hanging out with your baby enjoying each other and watching the odd movie. When your baby sleeps, you need to sleep or at least rest. Do the absolute minimum of ‘house-work’. Your baby doesn’t care that the house is messy, they only care that their mummy is taking good care of herself!
- Have faith and believe in yourself. Sure, listen to and use advise if it comes from supportive and reliable people or sources. But it’s also good to tune into and sense what your own intuition is telling you. Also, try to put yourself in your baby’s place when thinking about what they need. For example, don’t get unnecessarily hung up on things like ‘routines’. The first 12 weeks of your baby’s life is also referred to as the ‘fourth trimester’ – and for good reason! It takes your baby that long to even figure out that they are no longer a part of you, so to speak. It is therefore normal and natural (not to mention beneficial) that you are as close physically to your baby as possible and that you get as much skin to skin contact as you can.
- Receive psychological and medical help if needed. If you are struggling to have any positive feelings or if you feel disconnected from your baby, then you probably need professional help as soon as possible. There are safe and effective anti-depressant medications that can be used during this period, so don’t delay in speaking with your doctor or a perinatal psychiatrist for expert guidance. Speaking to a psychologist with experience in postnatal depression as well as recruiting practical support from family and friends will be very helpful.
- Go for walks with your baby. It’s important to keep active and get fresh air and exercise. Plenty of sunlight is good for your mood and exercise is also excellent for managing stress and anxiety.
- Listen to uplifting or fun music and dance at home with your baby. Music helps with mood and fatigue and dancing is a great way to get incidental exercise.
- Refrain from comparing yourself to other new mums. Unfortunately, some new mums are preoccupied with wanting to appear flawless and completely sorted! Perhaps they are overly concerned with and worried about appearing like a ‘failure’. They may appear like everything is running smoothing and that they are having a hassle-free time of things. Do yourself a big favour and just accept that this is all BS! Smile politely and concentrate on your own experiences and your own baby’s development one day at a time. It might be helpful to listen to “Buddhism for Mother’s” as an audio book and remind yourself that this time of your life is both short and precious.
- Remember that any difficult time you are going through now will pass. If you are going through a rough time, know that it will get better. All you can do is get whatever help you can and speak to helpful friends or family and to health professionals when you need extra support. Let yourself receive the help that is offered, rather than expecting yourself to do everything. Everything comes and goes in phases, better times will follow. Remember that any problems you experience now will seem more intense and upsetting due to hormonal stresses, sleep deprivation and the steep learning curve you are facing. While its good to welcome helpful support, its also good to encourage yourself for everything you are dealing with and to spend time with encouraging people.
- Find and connect with like-minded new mums and dads. Make sure you go to your local mother and baby group so that you can at least make initial contact with other new mums. As your baby gets a little older it will be important for you to do more things with other mothers and babys so you can experience a sense of shared community and support. Avoid other mums and dads who you find critical, condescending and who only like to talk about themselves. Spend time with other parents who make you feel good, who want a mutually supportive relationship and who are kind and non-judgemental.
- Try not to delay getting extra help and professional or medical help if you need it. Keeping yourself well is paramount!
- Enjoy your baby!
For more information and support go to: https://www.panda.org.au/