Expert / 9 March, 2022 / My Baba
Mum rage: all mums get angry and lose their temper. All parents will scream and shout at their children. Pre-motherhood, I bought into the myth of motherhood being a zen-like experience, that as a mother, I would always be patient and nurturing. It wasn’t until I became a mum that I discovered how quickly I could lose my temper; how quick frustration could turn into rage. I certainly didn’t want to be an angry mum and allow my rage to get the better of me, so I discovered ways to deal with mum rage positively, which you can do in seven simple steps.
There are common anger triggers that seem to get to many mums. For me, it is usually bedtime, when I am depleted of patience and energy and my rest time feels so close. I desperately want to switch off, but constant requests for water and cuddles start to wind me up. Perhaps for you, it is the mornings that usually make you short-tempered, especially after a rough night’s sleep, or perhaps mealtimes are a trigger. It is worth taking control of your rage by learning how it gets triggered. This type of awareness can help you understand why you are angry and tame the intensity.
Anger is a valuable human emotion that often arises when more complex feelings are underneath, such as sadness, grief, powerlessness, loneliness and shame. Anger can be valuable as it points to something and tells us that something isn’t right and needs addressing or nurturing. Maybe you need to feel more powerful, more in control, more connected or appreciated. Perhaps it is a signal there is unresolved trauma. Create a narrative around your anger, and with compassion, address these more complex feelings in therapy or via journaling or mindfulness.
Notice, name, tolerate and accept your anger. These steps are the best way to regulate this often uncomfortable emotion. Get to know how your anger feels in the body. Where do you feel the anger the most? For me, it is always in my throat. For others, it can be in their stomach or neck. What is the sensation of anger for you? It’s probably there for a reason. That reason is probably not even to do with your children. Each time you feel anger arise, notice it, have a dialogue with it and accept it for what it is.
When we are angry, our voices become harsh, our jaw clenches, and our throat tightens. We may ever start clenching our fists and stamping around. Maybe even throwing things around the room. Once you know how this is arising within you, take a moment to pause. Loosen your jaw, notice your tongue on the roof of your mouth, create saliva in your mouth. Squeeze your hands and loosen them and squeeze them again. Do the same with your feet. Squeezing parts of your body helps to relax the body. Also, use your breath to regulate your nervous system. Take ten deep breaths. Drink a cold glass of water and find a strong smell you like, and notice the smell. Using all your senses to regulate and bring yourself down can be powerful. Also, notice the words in your mind? Are you speaking to yourself or your children in your head in a critical way? Are you winding yourself up with future thoughts that may not even happen? (He is never going to go to sleep!)
When a rage outburst has passed, don’t get stuck in guilt feelings, but do get stuck into working out what was underneath all that anger. We usually get angry when our values are not aligned, our needs are not being met, and a boundary is not being respected. It is easy for this to happen when we become parents, and our identities get lost. There is less time to nurture our values, or other people’s values take precedent over our values. Our needs start coming second to our children and partner. It also becomes harder to maintain your boundaries, especially as children are hardwired to push boundaries. Write a list of your values, your needs, and your boundaries. Be clear about what they are and use that anger to realign yourself.
Being assertive with our anger isn’t easy for many women but is a positive way of communicating anger. For some, when angry, we may erupt with rage, and we may start winding ourselves up blaming others and possibly not taking enough responsibility ourselves. For some, our anger can manifest in a more passive-aggressive way. We may not feel confident having a conflict, so we indirectly tell others what is irking us rather than communicating our anger directly. We can also internalise anger, and it becomes stuck or ignored, making it more likely to come out as an outburst of rage. As a mum, I have learned to communicate anger directly, consistently, clearly and communicate with kindness.
Use it as a reminder that we need a connection. Repair and reconnecting after an outburst is a powerful way to model anger to our children. Get down on their level, tell them you were feeling angry, but you are sorry if it was scary, reassure them it wasn’t about them as an individual, but you can make it about an expectation that you didn’t feel was being met if you think that is fair. Tell them you love them and give them space to talk to you. My son often apologises afterwards as he sees he has pushed it too far, and he will do so freely after I have apologised to him. They are only children, and we are only human, and we are all learning together. Often with a desperate need for sleep, caffeine and a hug.
Article by Cristalle Hayes, existential and trauma-based psychotherapist and author of Angry Mother Assertive Mother: From maternal anger to radical repair, published by Rethink, out now, available on Amazon
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