Long before you became a mother, you fantasized about the special connection you would share with your little ray of sunshine. You made the promise that you would arm yourself with all the patience in the world and be the calmest and most loving parent there is.
And how long did it take you to end up confused, worried, or disappointed when reality didn’t meet your expectations of being a mother?
In my practice as a psychotherapist, I often meet mothers overwhelmed by guilt and shame because, in their eyes, they don’t rise to the challenge.
I snapped at him again, says Vera, why do I do that? Looking at that innocent face, seeing how scared he was of me, I just wanted to vanish. How can I be such an awful mom?
Talking with young moms, I have found there is this shared experience of anger that everyone gets shy to talk about. There is too much pain and blame around it. The fact is that one of the most common unwanted guests that crash the party of motherhood is anger.
You might have heard by now about the post-partum experience and the depression and anxiety that come along. But there are times when anger is the dominant symptom. Although it is hard to live with fear and sadness, the fact that you are informed helps a bit because you have a vague idea of what to expect, and it is more socially acceptable to be depressed than angry.
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The mothers I met had very little knowledge about how normal it was to be angry so much of the time. You, too, might be one of the many people who finds anger to be a very abnormal experience associated with taking care of children.
Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a mother, and when I had Iris, I felt that my life finally fell into place. And I just can`t understand how I can get so mad at her at times. I wanted to have her with all my heart, and now I am unable to enjoy any aspect of it.
Laura was referred to me by her psychiatrist. She was diagnosed with insomnia, anxiety, and depression, and by the time we started the psychotherapy sessions, she was taking the doctor-prescribed medication. Although the sleeping problems were starting to get better, she was still terrified by the fact that she could not shake the anger off. And her fear was that she would lose her mind and harm her 3-year-old daughter whom she was raising as a single parent. She never exhibited any violent behavior toward her daughter or anyone else, she was one of the most pleasant and gentle people I have met, but she somehow learned to perceive anger as being dangerous.
We learn to fear anger and to see it as a harmful reaction, but looking objectively, anger is nothing more than a message sent from our survival equipment that there is a threat nearby. Anger is a guardian meant to signal when a need is not being met or a boundary is being crossed.
I know you told me to give myself time and take it easy, but last week I lost it again. It was feeding time and David was having a meltdown. I yelled at him and started to throw things around. I feel so embarrassed, but again, I did the exact opposite of what you told me to try.
Clara was raised by a mother suffering with bipolar disorder. As a child, she experienced severe emotional abuse and sometimes physical abuse. She never wanted to be like her mom, and whenever she manifested anger, she buried herself under a thick layer of shame and guilt.
Exploring with Clara, we discovered that for her, most of the time, anger was a reaction to an unconscious fear. She was getting angry at her toddler when he was behaving as an obstacle to her mission of being a good mother. Whenever he was refusing to go to sleep or refusing to eat, her fear of not being able to meet his needs or protect him would overpower her and make her see red.
In therapy, Clara learned what her triggers were and she learned strategies to pull herself away whenever she felt the anger building up.
Anger is so often followed by shame and self-blame. It is hard to view anger as being normal, but even harder to view that as being normal when a mother feels anger in relation to her child.
RELATED: I Don’t Want to Be an Angry Mom
If you, too, find yourself feeling defeated by anger, take your time and start observing what triggers it, you might find an interesting story worth telling.
Dear mom, whenever you feel overwhelmed by shame, fear, confusion, and guilt regarding anger, before you diagnose yourself as being a horrible parent, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I getting enough sleep?
- When was the last time I had a decent meal?
- Am I getting proper familial and social support?
- Are my needs being met?
- Are my boundaries respected?
- Is there something that worries me?
If most of the answers to the questions above are no, please consider your anger as being more than normal. Take some time to figure out what your anger is trying to tell you. Most of the time, it is there to protect you. Reach out to family, friends, community centers, a mental health specialist, or whatever you find as being helpful. There is no unique recipe for healing.