Tell Me What's Going Well: Changing Negativity

PHOTO BY © Tamas Panczel - Eross |

Catherine came to see me when her son was four-months old. She was suffering from postpartum anxiety. She tearfully told me how everything was going wrong. She described feelings of guilt (“I am letting my husband and baby down”), feelings of helplessness (“I just can’t do this) and physical and psychological stress (“I’m breaking out into hives”). At the end of our session, when we had finished processing her anxiety, I asked her to tell me what was going well.

“What’s going well?” Catherine asked. She looked at me surprisingly as she wiped away her tears. It was as if she had never thought about this. She paused for a moment, contemplating how to answer my question and said, “I am really good at giving smooches and pinching cheeks. Does that count?”

“I think it most certainly does,” I replied. Catherine gave me a bright smile that I would come to know well throughout our work together. And that was the beginning of Catherine changing negative thought patterns.

The concept of breaking negative thought patterns is based on the idea that we have control over how we feel. We often focus on the negative and therefore, we get wrapped up in our negative thinking, feelings and behaving. In the above example, Catherine was so consumed by what wasn’t working in motherhood that she discounted what was working.

It takes effort to break negative thought patterns. If we are used to focusing on negativity in every situation, it becomes a habitual response. As with any bad habit, we find comfort in what is familiar to us. There are a few reasons why breaking negativity might be hard for a mother to do on her own. Often mothers are too tired, anxious or depressed to put in the effort that is required to make such a change.

One way to break negativity is to first identify negative thinking patterns; then stop them in their tracks; and finally replace them with more positive statements. Once Catherine was introduced to the notion that she could break negative thought patterns by reframing her thinking, she was able to identify negative thoughts about her parenting, stop them and replace them with more positive parenting practices.

I still see Catherine for therapy. Her son is now walking, talking and thriving. She hardly engages in negative thinking. During sessions, she makes a habit of telling me the things that make her feel like an “awesome” mom—which there are many. Positive reframing has changed the way she feels as a mother, a wife and about herself. She is also still very good at giving her son smooches and pinching his cheeks.

Sometimes we need a little help to make a big change. If you or someone you know is struggling, contact Jamie Kreiter, LCSW here.