What is Mum Rage?
The term ‘mum rage’ refers to unrestrained, inexplicable anger many mothers experience during pregnancy, postpartum and even years later. Rage differs from anger, resentment or irritation in that it tends to feel uncontrollable and explosive. These intense feelings can blindside the mother, leaving them with little time to even attempt to regulate their emotions. When rage overwhelms them, they can end up lashing out in ways they might later regret, for example by shouting at their children or partner.
What Causes Mum Rage?
Mum rage often arises when a mother’s own needs are not being met. The mother likely feels depleted and is lacking emotional and practical support. Motherhood can be very demanding, especially alongside working and maintaining a home.
If you think about motherhood now compared to how it was generations ago, there are an increasing number of demands placed on mothers. More than ever before. Generations ago, mothers would be surrounded by their village. Literally! They would have their mum, sisters, relatives and friends nearby to step in and help. For example, if a mother had another child, they would help with caring for older siblings, taking them to school, cooking meals and doing laundry while the mother’s role was to bond and feed her baby.
Nowadays, mothers are much more isolated. They often work fulltime alongside raising a family. Many workplaces and institutions are still structured as if there is someone at home doing everything else. As people are living longer, mothers can also find themselves caring for elderly relatives on top of their young family. This is an awful lot of pressure to place on one person’s shoulders. It makes sense that the rates of maternal mental illness are so high.
The Impact of Unresolved Past Experiences
From my work with mothers who experience rage, I understand these intense feelings are often related to unresolved past experiences being triggered by the present. Let’s imagine a mother experiences rage when her child is not listening to her. If you think about it, rage feels like too strong an emotional response in this situation. I’m not saying your child not listening is easy to cope with, just that I would expect to see feelings of irritation or frustration as opposed to rage. In my opinion, responding to this behaviour with rage is likely to be linked to unresolved past experiences. For example, perhaps the mother is being reminded of when she was not listened to as a child.
This isn’t to say that mum rage is always about unresolved past experiences, but in my work with mothers I am always keen to consider what is it about a situation that is triggering such an intense emotional response. What is that situation reminding the client of and why is it causing such intense emotions?
If the current rage can be linked back to unprocessed past experiences, I would conceptualise mum rage as a younger part of yourself being triggered in the present. In trauma work, we would call this the ‘inner child’. This is the unhealed part of us that carries all the pain we felt from not having our core needs met in childhood. To a certain degree, you could say we all have an inner child. However, people who were let down more often as children will tend to have a very strong inner child that can be triggered easily by what may seem like very small incidents to other people. Read The Inner Child Explained for more information.
How to Cope with Mum Rage
Make a list of things you can do to soothe yourself when you feel dysregulated. If you are triggered by something in the present, it is perfectly OK to leave the situation and practice some or all of these things. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Leave the room for five minutes to give yourself some space from the situation that is triggering you.
- Focus on some deep breathing to regulate your nervous system.
- Imagine you are in a calm, peaceful place away from people or things you find triggering. Imagery and visualisation are powerful tools. Not only can they soothe the nervous system, but they also send messages to the brain that we are safe, protected, or loved.
- Listen to a piece of music that brings you joy.
- Go for a walk as you think about and process the experience that has triggered you.
- Call a friend or family member who can listen to you and validate your feelings/experiences and offer support and encouragement.
How Can Therapy Help?
Therapy allows you to explore the situations triggering feelings of rage and potentially look for any links or patterns. It also gives you the opportunity to consider whether the feelings triggered in the present remind you of any feelings you’ve experienced in the past. This could help identify any unresolved past experiences.
Therapy also provides validation for such strong feelings. Lots of mothers judge themselves, view themselves badly, or talk unkindly to or about themselves, for feeling and responding with rage. Therapy offers a safe, non-judgmental space for you to explore and normalise these feelings. You will be treated with understanding and compassion. You are not your feelings and it’s not your fault you’re experiencing such a strong emotional response.
As your therapist, I would work with you to develop and practice self-soothing strategies like the ones mentioned above. If we felt the rage was linked to unprocessed past experiences, we may use something like EMDR Therapy to go back and reprocess them. We would keep a record of the current triggers and how they are changing as a result of working on the things from your past.