I never considered myself an angry person before I had kids. Yet when my two little humans came along in quick succession, all of a sudden they were pressing all the buttons, buttons I didn’t know I had, to get me bubbling with rage. Mum rage.
I was well aware of postpartum depression and the signs to look out for: ongoing feelings of sadness past the ‘baby blues’ period, trouble sleeping, difficult thoughts and so on. It was something I struggled with and luckily came out the other side of. But as for ‘mum rage’, I hadn’t heard anything about it. Zilch. However, once I got chatting to other mums, I realised it was pretty common. I wasn’t alone in losing my shit and dropping f-bombs.
“Most mothers describe postpartum rage as acute incidents of complete overwhelm and helplessness – episodes of intense blinding anger,” explains Silvia Wetherell, registered counsellor and psychotherapist from More Mindful. “Rather than a fleeting emotion or disturbing thought, it’s a powerful, physiological reaction. This rage disables our wise command centre of the brain – a bit like a volcano that suddenly explodes into life.”
A volcano is spot-on. For me, I’d erupt over the smallest thing: the car in front of me driving at what felt like a snail’s pace while my newborn was screaming blue murder in the back. Or my toddler throwing her cup of milk on the (freshly mopped) floor. And, before I know it, the red mist would descend.
Mum rage = mum guilt
It’s not nice. No one likes yelling at their kids, and I certainly don’t like the mum guilt that comes afterwards. The cycle goes something like this: get angry, yell, feel out of control, cry, feel guilty and that you’re the worst mum in the world, then say sorry to all you’ve verbally wounded. Then cry some more.
If you’ve flipped your lid on a Mt Vesuvius scale over the teensiest thing, know that you’re not alone.
“I encounter postpartum rage in many of my sessions with clients,” reassures Silvia. “In fact, it’s often an episode of rage that triggers mothers to make the first appointment and seek help. Most women feel terrible shame and guilt at their inability to control these outbursts.”
Don’t bottle things up
After chatting further to Silvia (and, ahem, an initial dose of Dr Google), I uncovered a few truths. Turns out anger is the end result of a whole cesspit of other feelings: anxiety, guilt, resentment, isolation, to name a few.
“Postpartum rage is not a diagnosable disorder,” explains Silvia. “It’s more a symptom that can go hand-in-hand with postpartum depression and/or anxiety. Overwhelm and helplessness, which includes feeling trapped, are the usual emotional suspects – and resentment can also be a great fuel for anger. Personality types that tend to repress emotions and bottle things up without addressing their needs or speaking out for themselves, can at times explode, much to the surprise of their family who may have never seen this side of their loved one.”
So, for instance, when I went into Hulk mode after the spilled milk incident (yes, I see the irony in that), it wasn’t necessarily the act itself that made me lose it. It was a whole heap of other emotions that rolled themselves into one hot mess and resulted in me flipping out. It was guilt for how I felt like I’m failing at being a mum, isolation after moving to a new country, being overwhelmed with adjusting to a new life, plus stress, homesickness… the list goes on.
It’s good to talk
“You might be amazed to realise how many mothers empathise with your struggle – you are most definitely not on your own,” says Silvia. “Shame wants you to be silent, but anger can also breed in silence. Confide in someone close to you who you feel is open-minded and supportive.”
Silvia’s right. Hard though it was, talking with loved ones – and professionals – was definitely a huge help for me. And it turns out once I got talking to a few of my trusted mum mates, they admitted feeling exactly the same. Yep, just because herpes is common doesn’t mean it’s healthy – the same applies with mum rage. So what can you do?
“The first step is to acknowledge the issue and to put it into context – is this possibly a symptom of postpartum depression or anxiety?” asks Silvia. “Physical exercise, socialising with good friends, time in nature, reading a book in a quiet cafe… there are many ways to help fill the ‘bucket’ of resilience. Prevention is the best remedy and an exhausted, sleep-deprived, hungry mother is more likely to ‘lose it’.
“Also, note that the body is the first to know something is off – don’t ignore those signs of a knotty stomach, painful jaw, sweaty palms or shallower breath. Address the little waves of anger so you’re less likely to be hit by the rage tsunami.”
Be your own SWAT team
When I was at my mum rage peak, I tried addressing my own waves of anger. Once I’d returned to Calmville, I’d decode my feelings to see where my ‘danger zones’ were. I’d ask myself: was I hungry? Was I overtired after a few too many late nights in a row? Was my workload stressing me out? Recognising my red flags and listening to my body would help me alert my husband, so he’d know I was on the cusp of losing it. He’d step up, swoop up the baby, distract the toddler and give me that all-important time to SWAT team myself and defuse my rage bomb before it exploded.
There are different solutions that work for different people, but the biggest thing is knowing when to ask for help.
Getting angry doesn’t make you a bad mum or a bad wife. It makes you human. What makes you a good mum is recognising the signs and trying to do something about it.
And finally: advisory articles like this can only get you so far. If you find yourself feeling particularly low, always go and see a health professional. More Mindful also offers free support group sessions for mothers once a month.
Top image: Photography by Limor Zellermayer via Unsplash.
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