One of the most difficult aspects to my postpartum depression and anxiety were the negative comments. When someone would ask me how I could be so sad when I had a beautiful baby, my spirits would sink. My guilt would compound and I would berate myself.
But the thing is, I DID appreciate the baby I had, and I didn’t understand what was happening to me any more than the person making the comment to me. The negative assessment and careless feedback on my mental illness at the time sent me into a spiral that exacerbated my symptoms.
These negative comments—some well-meaning, some said out of frustration, others out of ignorance, and the ones we all know who have no filter—would upset me and leave me feeling judged, vulnerable, angry and in the end, I’d shut down.
It’s hard not to feel defensive when others shame you, even if that wasn’t their intent. How do we make someone understand? Should we even try? If they eventually do—or not—is not up to us. But standing up for ourselves can be an empowering act that leads to positive changes to how we handle these negative comments.
When I hear a negative comment, I begin by examining what emotion it is that is being triggered within me. Usually, I feel evaluated. I feel that I’m being seen as weak of character and “wimpy” when it comes to life. This isn’t accurate, I know, but that’s the visceral reaction that comes rising to the surface.
Other emotions that can bubble up are:
feeling of being criticized
sad, hurt, defensive
adds to symptoms of distress
increase our bad mood
If we spend mental energy on caring what others think instead of nurturing ourselves back to health, we’ll fall back two spaces for every one step we move forward. I am sensitive by nature, and negative comments only intensify when I am in a period of depression. Negative social feedback increases my symptoms of depression and social anxiety.
So, how do we face negative comments? Is the answer to come back fighting?
In the past, I would stand silent and wounded. My depression holding my tongue and hearing the comments, leaving me even more voiceless. Today, I would meet these negative comments head on, without accepting the invitation to the boxing match.
Begin by telling yourself this: We are not here to gain the approval of others.
I’m in full recovery now, and can think straight. But for you, my fellow Warrior Moms, I have compiled some key responses you can keep in your back pocket. Please use them to remind yourself, that PPD AND PPA are not your choosing and none of your fault:
“I’m sure you don’t intend it that way, but your comment is making me feel worse about a situation that is already distressing to me.”
“Thank you for your input. My Doctor and I are hoping that with treatment, I’ll soon be in recovery.”
“I’m sad/anxious because I have PPD/PPA. That’s why I’m getting help.“
“I’m sure you mean well, and I appreciate your concern. I hope to feel better soon, too.”
“I’m sure it’s hard for you to understand. It is for me, too, but I’m doing my best.”
“I’d like to be open and honest with you. But right now, my mental health and recovery are my priority.”
“I really need support at this time. I’d love to explain the facts to you about postpartum depression and anxiety, so that you can understand better.”
And last, but not least, you don’t have to listen or answer. Nowhere is it required that you provide someone with information simply because they ask for it. But you can address it, and walk away.
Maybe we won’t convince some people, but we can show them a better example. They may think twice about the energy they send out into the world, and next time mindfully choose one of light and positivity. The saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all,” applies not just to children.
It’s not easy to let these comments go, and we don’t have to, but they don’t have to take us down, and we don’t have to retaliate. Lashing out in anger is easy, but depletes our energy and attention to getting better. Taking a deep breath, and breathing peace back in, is the smartest thing for us to do as we work toward our recovery.