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The "Mean" Person Inside Me

a blog by Ellen Glazer, December 27, 2013

I have a lovely client who has had an incredibly difficult time becoming a mom. She gets pregnant easily but loses each pregnancy somewhere along the way. Her losses include early ones and late ones, an ectopic and a third trimester loss. I’ve heard many painful stories in my decades as an infertility counselor, but hers is among the most challenging. And so it makes me all the sadder to hear her say that one of the hardest parts of her experience is “seeing the mean side of myself.”

I know all too well that it is not a therapist or counselor’s role to talk someone out of their feelings. Still it Is hard to listen to this client, whom I’ll call Melissa, without chiming in and letting her know (loud and clear I’m afraid) that “mean” and negative thoughts are part of the infertility and pregnancy loss experience. One doesn’t have to be a “bad” person to wish that a friend’s pregnancy would simply disappear or to angry when an invitation to a baby shower arrives.

There is a new book out called The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature by Richard Smith (Oxford University Press). The book takes this idea of “mean thoughts” a few big steps further and explores the concept of “schadenfreude, “ which is defined as the “pleasure that comes from another’s misfortune.” Schadenfreude occurs when a person one envies is brought down by some misfortune. To put it bluntly in infertility terms, Schadenfreude is how you might feel when the sister-in-law whose been flaunting the fact that she is pregnant yet again, miscarries or when the friend who was so cocky that she’d be pregnant exactly when she wanted to, is now moving on to her third IVF. A recent NY Times review said the book offers a glimpse into “the most basic human conflict—the friction between our selfish impulses and self control.”

So what do you do with these feelings when they arise and come so unexpectedly? I encourage Melissa and all the other women who have expressed similar concerns about their “mean” or “bad” thoughts, to accept their feelings and accept themselves. There are so many ways in which the experience of infertility may ultimately make them a stronger, more compassionate and generous person but for the moment, they are hurting. Big time.

I encourage them also to remember that “mean” thoughts do not become “mean” actions. In fact, feeling entitled to have harsh thoughts that one keeps to oneself, shares with a therapist, writes in a journal may actually help you figure out what you need to do socially to keep relationships afloat during infertility.


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