The Danger of the “Fake it ‘Till You Make it” Advice for Postpartum Depression

Moms have to deal with all kinds of advice when it comes to being a parent.

Many mothers with postpartum depression are told to “fake it ’till you make it” which is a common psychotherapy practice.  And in many cases, it’s a great way of building up a person’s confidence and self esteem.  But it’s not always the best course of action and can actually be more dangerous than good.  There’s a reason why this advice is best given by a licensed therapist and not just anyone on the street.  

Here’s some more information about why the “fake it ’till you make it” advice isn’t always best for managing postpartum depression. 
The Danger of the Fake It Till You Make It Advice for Postpartum Depression
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What does “fake it ’till you make it” really mean?

It’s all about pretending.  Let’s say a new mother is struggling to bond with her baby or feel any emotions other than sadness and despair.  She may be given the advice to “fake it ’till you make it.”  What it means is that she should pretend to be happy.  She should smile and cuddle with her baby as often as possible.  The theory is that acting happy will convince her brain that she actually is happy until eventually she’s not depressed anymore. 

I know, right?  It sounds ridiculous.

But believe it or not, there is some merit behind this advice.  It falls into the same category of things like positive affirmations, self help books, pep talks, or other self esteem building activities.  They all work by building up our confidence and helping us to feel positive, empowered and worthy.  The “fake it ’till you make it” advice basically says that if you want to be happy, you have to do what happy people do. 

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Why it’s not the best advice for postpartum depression.

While the practice of “faking it ’till you make it” does work for many people, it’s not the best thing to say to a woman suffering from postpartum depression.  First of all, it’s dismissive. Telling a new mother simply to “fake it ’till you make it” is kind of like a slap in the face.  It can leave her feeling ignored and neglected and makes light of her suffering.  Postpartum depression is a major mental health disorder and being told to “fake it till you make it” treats it as no big deal.

The “fake it ’till you make it” advice is often misunderstood. 

It’s not at all about faking a state of happiness in front of other people.  But this happens too often, especially among mothers.  When someone asks us how we feel following the birth of our child, we hide all of our pain and suffering and fake a smile. 

Instead, the “fake it ’till you make it” advice should be focused inwards. 

The idea is for mothers to act happy in order to train their own minds and not to convince anyone else.  Smiling in the mirror or dancing and singing to music when no one else is around are ways that we can fake a state of happiness for ourselves and no one else. 

“Faking it” can also make it difficult to gauge whether or not your condition is getting better or worse. 

The lines between real and fake can start to become blurred.  This makes it difficult to tell whether the symptoms of postpartum depression are truly improving or not.  If you’re planning to “fake it ’till you make it” you still need to be honest about how you are feeling in order to determine if it’s working.

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What to try instead.

Boosting your confidence and re-training your brain to focus on the positive are both very important for healing from postpartum depression.  But there are lots of ways to do it.

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Without the help of a trained therapist, it can be all too easy for a mother to get stuck in this “fake” world.  Postpartum depression already has a way of isolating us from the outside world and keeping us apart from our loved ones.  When it comes to mental illness, things can get out of control without warning if left untreated.  If you’re considering using the “fake it ’till you make it” method for boosting your confidence, do so with caution and preferably with the help and support of a medical professional.