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Self-Talk

Your Fertility Journey: Are You a Self-Blamer?

How to not self-blame during your fertility journey and beyond.

Key points

  • Some are prone to self-blame on their fertility journeys, confusing their behavior with their character.
  • Studies find that optimism has a “protective impact” against anxiety and self-blame during fertility treatment.
  • Permit yourself to act less than perfect, especially while taking hormones, waiting for results, or being deluged with advice and questions.
Liza Summer / Canva
Liza Summer / Canva

Dealing with fertility issues means dealing with the stress of the unexpected and the unknowable. Adding self-blame seems like adding insult to injury. Why would anyone choose to do that? We wouldn’t, of course, but many of us are doing it while we are on our fertility journey without even realizing it.

To see if you are prone to negative self-talk or creating performance anxiety, ask yourself the following questions. If your answer to even one is “true,” you’ve probably been practicing self-blame more than you realize.

Self-Blaming Behavior Inventory

True or False:

  1. ____I don’t expect things will work out for the best on their own.
  2. ____I have a hard time bouncing back after setbacks.
  3. ____I am impatient with those who don’t do things as quickly or well as I do, so I usually end up trying to take care of everything myself.
  4. ____ I feel anxious if I don’t personally double-check others’ recommendations, even if they are professionals or experts.
  5. _____I feel guilty when something goes wrong in my life because I didn’t see it coming.
  6. _____I am my own worst critic, and I constantly review my behavior to find fault.
  7. _____I can’t let myself forgive or forget my mistakes.

Add up your “true” responses and then use your answers to help you become more aware of your tendency to blame and shame yourself. These are behaviors you can change once you are no longer on autopilot.

Here’s how to start:

First, catch yourself if you confuse your behavior with your character. For example, you may have delayed starting a family, but that does not mean you made a mistake. You made a decision, not a mistake, which made sense at the time. Reliving it will not give you a do-over – it will just give you self-blame.

Next, catch yourself if you confuse what you do with who you are. Give yourself permission to act in a way that’s less than perfect, especially while you are taking hormones, waiting for results, or deluged with advice and questions. If you are irritable, anxious, or overwhelmed, observe yourself rather than criticize yourself. Try to take both mental and physical time-outs until you catch your emotional breath.

Then, practice picturing a positive outcome at the end of your journey. It will reduce your self-monitoring for slip-ups and retrospective criticism. Besides, expecting the worst will not lessen your disappointment if there’s a setback, and expecting the best will not jinx your progress – so you might as well be positive. Studies find that optimism has a “protective impact” against anxiety and self-blame during fertility treatment.1

Studies also find that supportive friends and family who strongly disagree with your negative self-talk can help change the way you talk to yourself.2If they are encouraging and positive, don’t argue with their point of view. Instead, echo and embrace it. What you say to yourself about yourself has a powerful effect on how you value and feel about yourself. No research supports the idea that there is a secret critical us buried deep, only the ‘here and now’ us that can be self-supportive and self-forgiving if we choose to be.

No matter your score on the Self-Blaming Behavior Inventory, you can protect your sense of self-worth during your fertility quest.

Your thinking affects your feelings as much as your feelings influence your thinking, and since you can choose how you want to think, you can change your self-image for the better starting now. You can choose to focus on the future rather than rehash the past, you can choose to focus on what you can do next rather than what you “should have“ done, and you can choose to treat yourself with empathy and sympathy rather than with harsh criticism.

Call it mindfulness, gratitude, reality-testing, rational analysis, self-acceptance, compassion, self-kindness, or patience; we can all practice it more and use negative self-talk less on our journeys.

References

1) Importance of Personality Factors in Determining the Psychological Consequences of Infertility: A Systematic Review Shashi Darolia 1, Debasruti Ghosh 2, Health Educ Behav, . 2022 Aug;49(4):708-723.

2) A systematic review of psychosocial factors associated with emotional adjustment in in vitro fertilization patients Helen E Rockliff 1, Stafford L Lightman 2, Emily Rhidian 2, Heather Buchanan 3, Uma Gordon 4, Kavita Vedhara 3 Hum Reprod Update . 2014 Jul-Aug;20(4):594-613.

Additional resources:

Women's emotional adjustment to IVF: a systematic review of 25 years of research,C M Verhaak 1, J M J Smeenk, A W M Evers, J A M Kremer, F W Kraaimaat, D D M Braat .PMID: 16940360 National Library of Medicine. Pub Med.gov Hum Reprod Update. 2007 Jan-Feb;13(1):27-

Predictors of psychological distress in patients starting IVF treatment: infertility-specific versus general psychological characteristics Uschi Van den Broeck 1, Thomas D'Hooghe, Paul Enzlin, Koen Demyttenaere Hum Reprod . 2010 Jun;25(6):1471-80. .

Predictors of psychological distress in patients starting IVF treatment: infertility-specific versus general psychological characteristics.Van den Broeck U, D'Hooghe T, Enzlin P, Demyttenaere K.Hum Reprod. 2010 Jun;25(6):1471-80. doi: 10.1093/humrep/deq030.

Battling the self-blame of infertility,By REBECCA A. CLAY, American Psychological association, September 2006, Vol 37, No. 8, Print version: page 44

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