If You've Had Scary Thoughts About Harming Your Baby, You're Not Alone

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why intrusive thoughts about harming your children are so common

You might wonder why anyone would ever think about harming their own children. Only a monster would do that, right? 

Turns out, that's not exactly true.

It turns out, having passing thoughts about harm coming to your baby doesn't mean there's something wrong with you — but in rare cases, it can be a sign you're in need of support or help. 

RELATED: Do You Have Intrusive Thoughts? Here’s How To Keep These Disturbing Ideas Under Control

Intrusive thoughts about harming your child is an extremely common phenomenon that happens to pretty much everyone. 90% of new parents experience thoughts about harming their children, accompanied by a sense of horror or fear.

What is an intrusive thought?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted ideas that pop into your head without you consciously willing them into existence. You likely don’t ever intend to act on these thoughts, but you have them nonetheless. 

Some common forms of intrusive thoughts involve imagining yourself jumping off a bridge as you cross it, or hurting yourself or others. Other common intrusive thoughts involve sexual fantasies. These are generally passing ideas that don’t linger or become permanent. 

Many conditions can cause intrusive thoughts to appear, like post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, eating disorders, and others. Unless these thoughts lead to action, there’s often nothing to be alarmed about. 

Why do parents have intrusive thoughts about harming their children? 

Just as someone wandering over a bridge might have the passing thought to jump from it, parents might find that the idea of dropping the baby in their arms pops into their minds from time to time.

Marriage and family therapist Frances Patton says that “Many people have an occasional intrusive thought of harming their child, and most of them don't act on those thoughts. Being a parent is extremely emotional and a tremendous responsibility. It's no wonder that parents experience stress and fears in this way.”

The responsibility of literally holding another life in your hands can lead the mind to do funny things. But most of the time, these things are totally harmless. 

“Some people realize that these are simply passing thoughts, and they forget about them,” says Patton. “Other people start to worry about them, and then the worry becomes a problem in itself, which leads to more unpleasant intrusive thoughts. When this happens, it's often caused by anxiety or a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

When do intrusive thoughts become a problem?

Like any mental health disorder, intrusive thoughts are harmless until they begin to interfere with your daily life.

If the bridge becomes more than just a passing thought, and you purposefully begin to neglect your responsibilities to hang out there, gazing into the abyss and seriously pondering your absence from the world, then it’s time to see someone about how to get a handle on them. 

When your children are involved, Patton says that “the thoughts have gone too far if you find yourself starting to agree with them."

"Examples would be, repeatedly fantasizing about harming the child on purpose, becoming tempted to harm the child, or seriously wanting to harm the child out of anger."

Patton warns that if you experience something like this, you should "call 911 or seek help from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist right away. Get someone else to stay with you to make sure you and the child stay safe.” 

Intrusive thoughts can cause other conditions to worsen

As a parent, your day-to-day consists of balancing a multitude of responsibilities. If you struggle with a mental illness like one in five U.S. adults, then intrusive thoughts have the potential to make existing conditions worse. 

It’s one thing to have the occasional fleeting thought, and quite another to obsess over those thoughts, worrying about what they mean. If someone is suffering from OCD, then obsessing over thoughts to the point that they interfere with their life can become a legitimate problem in itself. 

RELATED: What It's Really Like To Live With Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, According To People Who Have OCD

One strategy Patton points out for coping in this scenario is to accept that it’s happening. 

“Take time to really feel your feelings,” she says. “Don't take them out on someone else; just feel them. Feel all of your joy, worry, love, anxiety, excitement, stress, sadness, and whatever other feelings are in there. Intrusive thoughts often arise from feelings that have been pushed down, so don't push them down. Feel them.” 

If intrusive thoughts become serious, get help right away

For most people, having an unwanted thought that’s violent or disturbing is a rare occurrence. It’s something that can be managed, and won’t send the mind spiraling.

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For some, intrusive thoughts can manifest into serious problems. 

A skilled therapist can find solutions that are unique to your situation. They can help you alleviate the symptoms of unwanted thoughts and build a genuine connection with your child. 

It's important to note that postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety can often cause intrusive thoughts to occur, but PPA and PPD can be treated and managed.

As many as 10-20% of new mothers will experience postpartum depression after their baby is born. Treatment for this includes therapy and medication. It’s best to talk through any unwanted thoughts of harming yourself or your child and remember that you aren’t broken; what you’re experiencing is treatable. 

The mind often plays tricks on us in a number of ways. It’s important to remember that any intrusive thoughts are probably fleeting, and that most people never experience any further signs of distress over them. But there are cases where there’s cause for concern in parents, especially in situations where postpartum depression or other underlying mental illness is involved. 

Only you can judge whether or not your thoughts should be evaluated by a professional. If you aren’t certain, then speak to trusted friends and confidants to help you. 

If you actually believe you might harm yourself or your child, then call 911 and get help immediately. If you’re like most of us who entertain random thoughts at all hours, some of them strange and disturbing, then there’s probably nothing to be concerned over.

If you continue to be worried about these thoughts, reach out to your OB/GYN or therapist for advice.

RELATED: Therapists And Counselors: Who We Are & What We Do

Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.