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Here's What Happens To Your Brain When You're Mom-Shamed

by Caroline Tung Richmond

Mom-shaming can come in many forms. It happens out in public, when a woman walks up to you at Target and calls you out for buying baby formula. It happens in your own family, when your aunt loudly questions why your toddler isn't potty trained yet. It can happen online as well, when a complete stranger takes a photo of you nursing uncovered at the mall and criticizes you on Facebook. So what happens in your brain when you are mom-shamed — and what can you do to deal with its effects? While the issue of shaming isn't new, millennial moms can get bombarded by it from all directions, which can take a big toll mentally and emotionally.

Shame is traditionally defined as a dangerous emotion that makes you feel flawed and inadequate, noted Psychology Today. But the phrase "mom-shaming" has taken on a different meaning and describes a form of bullying where a mother is criticized by her peers or strangers — whether in public, in private, or online — over her parenting choices. Sadly, mom-shaming is super common nowadays. A survey conducted by the app found that 80 percent of women have been shamed over their mothering decisions. This statistic is especially worrying because shaming can lead to negative side effects.

On top of mom-shaming, modern mothers are dealing with enough pressure as it is, which can make their hormones fluctuate and affect their neurotransmitters — and that may lead to anxiety and depression, points out Richard A. Honaker, MD, FAAFP. "Mom shame is often carried for many years, and this can ingrain abnormal brain chemistry," he tells Romper. "The cultural expectations of American mothers, when high, will make shame stronger and emotionally deeper and more difficult to treat."

If you're feeling weighed down by mom-shaming, Honaker recommends talking things through with your partner or a trusted friend, along with increasing your physical activity. Exercise has been proven to improve brain chemistry so it might be time to dust off those running shoes or re-up your gym membership. But if you're still feeling sad and stressed out, you may want to make an appointment with a counselor or psychologist.

Keep in mind, too, that you're doing just fine as a mom. "The expectations of today’s mothers are much higher than in prior generations. Thus, a mother who is mom-shamed may feel not only defective as a parent, but as a person," says Dr. Joshua Coleman, a psychologist based in the San Francisco area and a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families. "Most other societies, however, don’t expect such heroic dedication from mothers and their children turn out fine," he tells Romper. Feel free to print that out and hand it to the next person who insists on correcting your parenting choices.

There will always be that person who disagrees with how you birthed your newborn or how you feed your baby or how you raise your kid. Unfortunately you can't always block out the trolls from your life, but you can control how their mom-shaming affects you. If you're a victim of this kind of bullying, remember to rely on your friends and seek out medical help if necessary — and tune out those shamers because your life is none of their business anyway.