Depression in Stepmothers

If you are a stepmother, there is no doubt you have found yourself in what can feel like a no-win situation. The very basic nature of being a stepmother, or an “outsider” who has joined the family circle, means that you’ll be examined under a microscope and potentially the recipient of criticism and emotional unloading…and that’s just for starters!


It is important not to deny your feelings, suppress them, or beat yourself up for feeling the way that you do. Of course you are going to have some painful feelings around this dynamic. How would you not? Depression is just a term used to describe a cluster of symptoms that we may experience at any one time.


A woman is more vulnerable to depression when there is any type of role change, transition, emotional upheaval, or discord in one or more of her primary relationships. Blending a family and becoming a stepmother can involve all of these, which are at the very least stressful, even under the best circumstances.


Three of the most universal experiences for stepmothers, which can undoubtedly lead to depression are:


  • Feeling ineffectual and like nothing you try seems to make the situation better. You may feel that your attempts to create harmony, closeness, and cohesion are in vain, and that in some cases, it makes things worse. This is particularly painful if you had a romanticized notion of what things would be like and the reality ends up being far from what you had imagined.


  • Feeling judged, criticized or blamed for just about anything you say or do. Even if you are able to stay centered and you understand where these strong feelings emerge from, it is hard to continually find yourself on the receiving end of this dynamic.


  • Feeling isolated and alone in your experiences. Even though there are more blended families now than ever before, the common trials and tribulations of stepmotherhood are not frequently discussed or addressed.


So, what can you do if you are experiencing symptoms of depression in response to these feelings? There are no easy solutions to magically make your heartache go away. However, the less you internalize these experiences, the better you will feel. This means taking a step back from your situation and trying to look at it objectively.


  1. The first and most important thing you can do to help yourself, is to build a strong support system around you. Don’t let yourself get too isolated or shut yourself off from others when you find yourself struggling. Isolating ourselves is a normal response when we feel defeated.


  1. Do your best to reach out to supportive friends, other family members, support groups, online communities, or even a therapist. You should feel validated by your support system, which will leave you to feel less alone in your experiences. It will also help you to do what I recommend next.


  1. Try not to take things personally. I know, I know. Easier said than done. I fully recognize that it feels very personal when things go awry. Try to remember that blending a family is a complicated thing. There are often a lot of painful and conflicting feelings flying around, most of which have absolutely nothing to do with you, but rather about what you represent.


There is nothing you can do to change this particular fact, so don’t spend your emotional energy trying to change what you cannot. This will free you to invest your energy in the things that nourish and replenish you. As you feel happier and stronger, the rest will come together more organically with time.





Avery Neal, PhD, LPC is a practicing psychotherapist, international author and speaker. In 2012 she opened Women’s Therapy Clinic, which offers psychiatric and counseling support to women. Avery is the author of If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse, which has been translated and published in twelve languages. Visit for publications, interviews and courses.


6/3/2023 4:00:00 AM
Avery Neal, PhD
Written by Avery Neal, PhD
Avery Neal, PhD, LPC is a practicing psychotherapist, international author and speaker. In 2012 she opened Women’s Therapy Clinic, which offers psychiatric and counseling support to women. Avery is the author of, “If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse,” which has been translated...
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