How to Avoid Common Thinking Traps in Parenthood
By: Dr. Kristen J. Lipari
Parenthood is full of traps, some of which come in the form of inexplicably painful Legos that hide on the floor just waiting for you to stumble at the end of a long day. Some of these traps occur in our minds. They’re thinking traps, and just because they live in our heads does not mean they are not very real.
Thinking traps, also known as cognitive distortions, are thought patterns that keep us from seeing things for what they really are. These patterns create cognitive shortcuts that lead us to jump to conclusions and make it difficult for us to keep things in perspective. Thinking traps stem from our evolutionary desire to avoid danger. Our brains are hardwired to recognize threats and respond quickly. Although this tendency can be helpful in certain circumstances, more often than not they do more harm than good.
According to the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) model, our thoughts influence our feelings and behavior. For new parents, falling into common thinking traps may exacerbate the stress of parenting and take away the joyful early days of being with your infant.
Common Thinking Traps in Parenthood:
1. Fortune-Telling: Predicting that things will turn out bad; situations will only have negative outcomes.
Example: “My baby will stop breathing in the middle of the night” (thought), which leads to anxiety and fear (feeling), and you stay up all night watching your baby sleep (behavior).
Reframe this thought: “It’s possible, but not probable, that my baby will stop breathing in the middle of the night. By practicing safe sleep, I am doing everything I can to keep my baby safe.”
2. All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking of things in extremes, as either all “good” or all “bad.”
Example: “My baby hasn’t met a milestone yet, so something must be wrong with him/her” (thought), which leads to worry, sense of inadequacy, or fear (feeling), which may make you extra careful with your baby, holding him or her back from perfectly safe activities (behavior).
Reframe this thought: “These milestones are all based on what babies do on average. My baby may need a little extra time with this one and he’s doing great overall!”
3. Mind-Reading: Assuming what others are thinking, and believing that they are thinking the worst of us (without having any evidence that this is the case.)
Example: “That woman in the park thinks I’m a bad mom because I can’t get my child to stop throwing a tantrum (thought), which leads to anger and shame (feeling), so you decide to go home earlier than planned (behavior).
Reframe this thought: “No one can actually read minds. Maybe this stranger is looking over in solidary because she has been there too!”
Steps to Balance Your Thinking
If you recognize tendencies towards these types of thinking traps, you are not alone. Parenthood can be a miraculous and beautiful experience, and it is also a stressful, scary, and uncertain time. In times of high stress (and sleep deprivation!) we are more vulnerable to thinking traps and cognitive shortcuts. Now that you know some of the most common traps in parenthood, you can look out for these patterns and “catch” the thoughts early.
To evaluate the truthfulness of a thought, we must first evaluate the evidence. Ask yourself the following questions before jumping to conclusions:
- What is the evidence that this thought is true? What is the evidence that it is not true?
- What are some other possibilities or alternate explanations?
- What would you tell a friend in this situation?
- Is this thought possible or probable?
While the examples in this article highlight common thought patterns in early parenthood, there are many other thinking traps and thoughts that are not discussed here. Working with a San Diego Psychologist specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) pre- and post-partum can be helpful to address and challenge your unique thinking traps. If you are struggling with critical, negative thoughts, the compassionate and skilled team at Therapy Changes are here to help you approach these negative and unhelpful thoughts from a different perspective. Contact us now to learn more about our services and how we can help.