Coping with Postpartum Rage
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
Postpartum rage is a topic that is being addressed more and more frequently in the maternal mental health field, and I am so grateful that this issue is being brought to light. Moms often receive messages that any emotions beyond gratitude, happiness, and appreciation for their children are unacceptable and means there’s something “wrong” if they are feeling anxious, stressed, frustrated, or annoyed with their children. So if a mom is feeling rage and anger, this can further set off a spiral of shame and guilt, leading to self-flagellation for experiencing such a stigmatized emotion. Today, we’ll talk about how to normalize and handle postpartum rage if you find yourself experiencing this throughout your motherhood experience.
Practice self-compassion - If you notice yourself feeling angrier and more reactive upon becoming a mother, it can be surprising and scary, especially if you weren’t prone to feeling angry prior to having a baby. You may have thoughts like, “What is wrong with me for feeling this way?” “I should be happy right now,” “This isn’t me,” or “I’m a terrible mom for feeling this way.” Take note of whether you are making these sorts of judgments about yourself, then try to take a step back to identify what may be contributing to your anger. Are you sleep deprived? Are you overburdened by the mental load of raising your family, maintaining a household, and keeping a running list of innumerable tasks and chores that need attention? Are you lacking support from your partner, family, colleagues, or community? Do you feel alone or misunderstood in your experience as a mom? This exploration can lead you to a deeper understanding of the root of your anger, as well as a sense of compassion for why you may be feeling the way you do.
Identify emotions behind the anger - As you reflect on the causes of your anger, it can also help to identify if there are other emotions you are experiencing alongside and beyond the anger. We often experience anger as an initial reaction to a trigger in our environment, however don’t necessarily realize that there can be a multitude of emotions occurring in conjunction with that anger. Often, anger serves as a mask for shame, sadness, guilt, embarrassment, helplessness, and loneliness. When we are able to pinpoint these more subtle, granular emotions, we can start to hone in on what we really, truly need from ourselves and others in our lives. Two handouts that I like to use with clients to better understand their emotions are The Anger Iceberg and the Feelings Wheel, seen below.
Identify your needs - Once you’ve been able to identify what you’re feeling, you can begin identifying your needs and expressing them to others. Are there strong physical imbalances that may be contributing to your emotions? Are you lacking sleep? Are you undernourished or struggling to make balanced meals? Are you having trouble including physical activity in your life? Are you utilizing alcohol or other substances to cope with your challenges? Is there a possible health issue you need to attend to? If any of these resonate for you, what are some things you can do to start gaining balance in these areas?
Are there other strong imbalances that you’re experiencing? Are you feeling disconnected from your partner? Are you lacking emotional support? Are you overextended at home and/or at work? Is your support circle limited? Are you and your children going through a rough patch? If you answer yes to any of these, you may need to find a balance between finding time for yourself to recharge as well as identifying ways to reconnect with your family or identify other sources of support in your community.
Identify whether you need additional support - If your anger is increasing, feels relentless, or if you’re afraid it may cause harm to yourself or others, it may be a signifier of needing more support. Postpartum rage can often accompany postpartum depression and anxiety, and may require more attention than your loved ones, friends, or colleagues can provide. Motherhood can be an extremely challenging time for many women, and seeking additional support can help to relieve the burden of the emotions you are feeling. It may help to look for and join a local postpartum support group, consider seeing a therapist, or get assessed for whether you may benefit from a combination of medication and therapy.
Postpartum rage can be such a frightening and isolating experience. Know that it’s okay to get support if this is something you’re experiencing. For more information and resources in your area, visit Postpartum Support International at https://www.postpartum.net