Coping With Shame After Mom’s Rage: Tips From A Therapist
Maybe you’ve been there too, mom. Maybe you raised your voice unexpectedly when you scolded your child. Maybe you fell for your partner. Maybe you found yourself clutching the steering wheel or fuming while stuck in traffic with your kids in the car. However it turns out, mom’s rage most often seems unexpected and out of place to you. It leaves you feeling out of control and helpless as you wonder what happened and how you got here.
As a therapist, I have spent the past few years listening to mothers share their experiences of motherhood. Inevitably, once we have developed a foundation of trust in our therapeutic relationship, the walls come down and I have the honor of knowing the “real” mother behind the mask. When they talk about those unexpected moments of Mom’s rage, they quickly go to a deep, dark place. Shame.
If this is you too, know that you are not alone. Here’s what I recommend to my clients who are experiencing their mother’s rage and the inevitable shame that follows.
What is Momma’s Rage?
Rage is a symptom of feeling overwhelmed and undersupported. It’s a symptom of today’s culture of motherhood. We mother without our village, juggle work-home-life, carry the unseen mental, emotional and physical burdens of motherhood largely on our own. Not to mention that we have been surviving a global pandemic for over two years and our patience has run out.
It’s a perfect storm for an increase in rage, Mom.
Mothers were told they were supposed to love mothering, be incredibly caring, and know exactly what to do in every moment. So anything less than this idea of perfection is flawed. Rage is a forbidden emotion in this idealized world.
It is increasingly common for mothers to admit their guilt in motherhood, i.e. “mom guilt”.
Yet, how often do we talk about shame in motherhood?
Related: Mom’s Rage Is Real – And We Need To Talk About It
The difference between guilt and shame
Guilt is the feeling of “I did something wrong”, while shame is the feeling of “I am bad”. Talking about guilt in motherhood is one thing, but admitting that we are “bad” mothers is something very different.
Shame thrives underground; it feeds on “secrets” and begs us never to share our intimate vulnerabilities with each other lest we be rejected, viewed as inferior, or deemed unworthy.
In motherhood, where we want to be the best, perfect in the eyes of our children (and each other too), we dare not admit our dark moments to each other. The facade of perfection is the one we all work to maintain all the time.
If we are less than “perfect”, we have failed. So we don’t share our struggles. We hide them, keep them to ourselves, and silently blame ourselves for the damage we have caused and our inability to manage our emotions. Point out a spiral of shame that leads to an inevitable hangover of shame, the consequences we experience in the form of heartbreaking self-judgment and fear of having done irreparable harm.
Overcoming the shame
Sharing our darkest moments and being vulnerable can be scary. It takes courage and trust in another person. Yet it is through this sharing that shame will diminish. Start with a trusted friend and see how it goes. If you need extra support, find a mental health professional and know that your shame is safe with them.
Releasing the shame associated with mommy rage is one step in breaking the myth of the perfect mom.
When more of us talk about mom’s rage, we will see it less as a reflection of our capacity and more as a common reaction to a larger systemic and cultural problem; perfection in motherhood.
What to do next time rabies strikes
For most mothers, occasional anger, irritability and frustration are inevitable. The next time that happens, here’s what you can do.
- notice how you feel
Anger is often felt immediately in the body. It’s the heart racing, sweaty palms and short breaths. Start noticing these sensations in your body and try new ways to manage your stress response.
- Take space and reconnect with yourself
If you can safely walk away from your children for even 30 seconds, give yourself the space to regroup and find your center.
- Take a few deep breaths
Breathing reassures your body that you are safe and it can begin to regulate itself again. Try to make a box count of four. Inhale for four counts, hold for four, exhale for four, and hold for four. Repeat 10 times. Your breathing should slow down.
- Re-address the situation when you are calmer
Mama, don’t sweep him under the rush; own. Use it as a teachable moment for your child, regardless of age. Explain what happened, without blaming them. Take ownership of your emotions and actions, then apologize by explaining what you will do differently next time.
Humans are social creatures who thrive in relationship with each other. When this connection has been severed (also known as a “break”), such as during an outburst of rage, it must be re-established. This can come through apologizing, taking responsibility, and with children, through play. Invite your children to ask questions and share their experience of the moment of rage; listen and validate their feelings. This is where your attachment to each other can become even stronger. When you show them that mistakes happen and you can learn from them, they feel safe to make them themselves. When they feel safe, confidence grows. Realistically, all relationships will experience breakups. It’s about repairing the connection that increases security and trust.
Related: Feeling Shame Is Normal: Here’s How to Cope With It, Mom
Dealing with Shame After Mom’s Rage
We all know that raging against our children or our partner is not good for anyone. We also recognize that we constantly model behaviors for our children that they are expected to repeat. We must show responsibility when we make a mistake. Genuine apologies and behavior change show our children/partners that we are committed to learning healthier ways.
Be compassionate with yourself. Try telling yourself, “I’m a good mother. Perfection does not exist. I do good work. Remember that anger is a universal human emotion.
Remember that the shame of anger comes from unrealistic expectations placed on mothers. It is not a reflection of your ability. No one loves motherhood all the time and no one can do everything perfectly.
Call a trusted friend. Shame cannot survive when it is talked about and there is empathy. Have a friend that you know will be real with you and also share their misadventures.
Get help from a professional. If you are worried about the amount of rage you are feeling or your safety, that of your children or your family, get help right away. There is nothing wrong with you; anger tells you that you need extra support and sometimes we need a stranger’s perspective to help us understand what it is.
Be curious and learn from your rage
The point is to feel rage less often and less intensely, right? Ideally, we want to be able to stop the rage explosion before it even begins. It starts with getting to know each other better.
Remember, rage tells you something.
Start paying attention to your triggers. You don’t get angry all of a sudden; something has boiled underneath and it bursts when you feel the rage. Write a list of your triggers and note any patterns.
Become aware of your hidden emotions. Anger is like the tip of the iceberg: it’s a secondary emotion, which means there’s something just below that needs to be explored. It is often helplessness, a feeling of loss of control or helplessness.
Identify your needs. Ask yourself what you needed at that moment just before the rage you ignored or didn’t notice. Often it can be slowing down and stopping the rush, changing your plan and redirecting you for the day, or taking a few minutes for yourself.
Look more closely. Are your mothering decisions aligned with your values, not those of society? Do you mother as you wish or because that’s how you think you should mother? Where are the shoulds in your mothering experience? What do you appreciate? How to live your life in accordance with your values?
Once you can identify your triggers and underlying unmet needs, you can begin to proactively change the patterns that lead to anger and find more adaptive ways to deal with stress throughout the day.
friendship, mom guilt, Health