Ugly Feelings – The unwanted feelings following miscarriage and baby loss and how to manage them.
What are the uglies?? Put simply, the ugly feelings are the unwanted and painful emotions that you don’t ‘expect’ following the loss of your baby.
Ugly feelings can make you feel, at best, a bit guilty, at worst, consumed by total shame and self-loathing.
These feelings can include (but are defo not limited to) jealousy, anger, bitterness, resentment…
They are often triggered by pregnancy and birth announcements, pregnant women and occasions such as Christmas, baby showers, christenings – however, they can also be triggered by anyone, anywhere, anytime – often when you least expect it – because the ugly feelings are tricky fuckers.
It’s interesting though, to look at why we get them.
Despite the fact they might make you feel like an arsehole, in reality, they say nothing about you as a person, they don’t reflect on you at all. What they do suggest is that you are… spoiler alert… a human.
Let’s expand on that.
As humans, we’re fucking basic and in terms of the way our brains work, we haven’t evolved much since we were hunting, gathering and getting mauled by wild animals when we strayed too far from our cave paintings.
In our brain we have an animal brain (limbic system) – concerned with the basic needs for survival and our human brain (prefrontal cortex) – the rational side that helps us emotionally regulate ourselves and behave in a ‘normal’ (i.e., socially acceptable) way.
Our Limbic system (LS) is fucking strong and fucking quick. It dishes out emotional response like your mother-in-law dishes out unwanted advice and, just like your mother-in-law, it’s impossible to reign in, and like the advice, the emotional responses generated are often unhelpful.
In short – the limbic system is your mate Lary Laura on a night out.
In contrast, our pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is slower, less aggressive and more thorough. The PFC deals with (perceived) fact rather than emotion and assesses our surroundings to enable to us generate a socially appropriate behavioural response.
On your night out – the PFC will be your friend Hannah who follows Laura round, apologising on her behalf, righting upended chairs and trying to fold her into a taxi at 9.30pm
Our LS is responsible for keeping us alive – it shouts ‘run’ or ‘fight’ (the flight or fight response) (It’s also the area that pumps out Marvin Gaye when the sun is warm and the sangria is fruity (arousal) – (Just FYI)
Due to its superior strength and speed, our experiences are always handled primarily by the LS – if no danger is detected the experience gets passed on to the PFC to be dealt with in an appropriate way.
“What the has this got to do with the fact I said ‘fuck you’ under my breath as I walked passed a pregnant woman the other day?” We hear you cry.
Well – BECAUSE our brains haven’t evolved to reflect the lack of danger in today’s society (no tigers roaming) we are unused to the function of our limbic system, we’ve sort of forgotten why it’s there. When we are triggered by an announcement, a person or an event, our limbic system incorrectly interprets this as danger and reacts with emotion that it thinks will be helpful – emotion that will generate the ‘fight or flight response’
Often the ferocity and intensity of our emotions can be quite shocking and when the prefrontal cortex kicks in, we have the clarity and rationality to look back on our initial reaction and feel ashamed – we don’t recognise this part of us, because we don’t see it all that often and we incorrectly determine that the response of our LS is an accurate reflection of who we are. It’s not – it’s an accurate reflection of our most innate response system.
So what do we do?
Understanding the way our brains work is one thing, and can be super helpful, but managing these painful experiences is something that requires practise and know how. Here are a couple of tips that I have found helpful in management of the ugly feelings.
Recognising that your mind is trying to help rather than hinder you can be beneficial in managing difficult emotional response. Ultimately our brains just want to keep us safe. Next time you feel triggered, try chatting with your LS – give it a name, humanise it. Tell them that you’re grateful for their help but that they’re not needed at the moment. Place your hand on your heart and say I am safe. I’ve got this. I am loved. Repeat taking deep breaths, in through your nose for 4 seconds and out through your mouth for 6… In for 4, out for more. Reassuring yourself that you are safe can be a powerful exercise in calming your LS.
Try a grounding exercise… The one I find most helpful is a sensory meditation given to me by my reflexologist. When you feel triggered, start off by taking a deep breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth, then focus on your surroundings. Say out loud (or in your head if you’re out and worried about looking like a crazy person) 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Doing this will bring you back to the present and give your pre-frontal cortex time to take over from your limbic system.
The most important thing in all of this is being kind to yourself, both you and your brain are doing the best you can with the shitty hand you’ve been dealt.
You’ve got this and we’ve got you.
Caveat – I love exploring the way our minds work, it’s a topic that interests me deeply and as such, I’ve done loads of research into it – however, I’m not a psychologist and therefore – this blog is based on my personal understanding and interpretation of the research of others. If this is a subject that interests you, I highly recommend the book ‘The Chimp Paradox – by Professor Steven Peters’ it was a game changer for me.