Mom Rage… The term has made the rounds on social media, which sounds like an incredibly scary experience that is significant to ONLY women with children. This is not entirely accurate. While not an official clinical designation, “Mom Rage” encapsulates a specific type of emotional dysregulation commonly identified in mothers. ‘Angry moms’ also know that the negative part of the term “Rage” is not exclusive to women or any certain phase of motherhood. Rage, simply defined as uncontrollable anger can impact anyone.
For some, it is believed to have a connection to the “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” response, which is a primal, hard-wired, biological mechanism, designed to help react swiftly and effectively to threats or danger in our environment. However, in today’s complex world, where threats aren’t just physical but also emotional and psychological, this response can sometimes be triggered in situations where it might not be the most appropriate reaction.
One such manifestation of this can be in those moments of dysregulation. Recognizing and naming the experience can be a crucial step toward understanding and managing it. Rather than a singular cause, this rage—referred to as “Mommy Emotional Dysregulation” (MED) for precision and reduction of stigma—stems from a multitude of factors and experiences, often unnoticed by those affected. Angry moms may experience the manifestation of MED varies, ranging from an overwhelming urge to lash out or scream, all the way to completely shutting down and becoming resistant to engagement or communication.
Why Is My Fight, Flight, Or Freeze Response Activating With My Kids?
It may seem odd that your safety response system or the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), would be setting off “danger” signals when you are having a difficult time with your child. You may logically know your child is not a threat to you in any sense of the word, but you still experience this heightened sense of arousal that crescendos into some form of elevated emotional expression. Let’s break down what Fight, Flight, and Freeze might look like:
Fight: Stand up and confront (snapping or shouting)
Flight: Wanting to run away or escape the situation (just needing a break)
Freeze: Feeling stuck and not knowing what to do next.
If you are a so-called ‘angry mom’ it is possible your body (or brain) has become overwhelmed by the situation/stimuli; causing an additional sense of being trapped and not knowing how to resolve, escape, or de-escalate the situation. Those feelings of not knowing a direct and easy resolution, the likely assault of stimuli on your senses, and a general belief of, “I don’t know how to get out of this situation” can trigger the SNS into action. But because this is your child and you recognize there is no real threat, your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) would also be triggered. The PSNS is basically your calming or cooling system for the body. It is your internal “reset” button.
Unfortunately, the simultaneous activation of these two systems can create a bit of a battle or “autonomic conflict.” An outward expression of this physiological battle may present as anger, rage, shutting down completely, or physically lashing out. Dysregulation in the Autonomic Nervous System (which includes the SNS and PSNS) can create an emotionally dysregulated expression in non-emergent situations.
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Who Is At Risk?
Although there are a few predisposing elements that may heighten the likelihood of encountering these distressing episodes, it is important to understand that the experience of dysregulated emotions in motherhood is truly universal and does not discriminate.
These risk factors include:
- Pre-existing mental health issues: perinatal or postpartum mood disturbances, generalized anxiety or major depressive disorders, or a history of trauma
- Chronic stress
- Medical issues or endocrinological imbalances
Emotionally unsupported or emotionally dysregulated upbringing
How Did I Get Here?
The transition from a state of patience to overwhelming rage (think “Marry Poppins” morphing into “the Hulk”) leaves many women baffled and seeking explanations for such swift emotional shifts. Although it may feel like a rapid shift in your emotional state, “Mommy Emotional Dysregulation” (MED) is typically the result of a gradual accumulation of stressors and emotional burdens, many of which might go unrecognized.
My workbook Parent. Breathe. Repeat., provides a comprehensive look at emotional dysregulation in motherhood and illustrates this process by using the metaphor of climbing up a mountain.
Various contributing factors, or footholds, facilitate a so-called ‘angry moms’ climb to the summit, where emotional control is precariously balanced. Just waiting for a small piece of undesirable stimuli, to send us careening over the edge. Once this peak is reached, it’s often a quick, unexpected, and painful descent down the other side, marked by an overwhelming sense of “guilt,” “shame,” and “regret.” This metaphor not only highlights the complexity of the journey but also the multifaceted nature of the contributing factors leading to MED.
The accompanying graphic outlines each identifiable stage of the ascent. The numbered footholds represent a contributory factor that amplifies the potential for MED:
- Disrupted Sleep: Fundamental to overall well-being, disturbances in sleep patterns lay the foundational stress that can escalate feelings of irritation and anger.
- Overtasking: The burden of multitasking and managing numerous responsibilities simultaneously can strain a mother’s emotional bandwidth, leading to heightened frustration.
- Lack of Support: The absence of a robust support system—be it emotional, physical, or logistical—can exacerbate feelings of isolation and overwhelm.
- Poor Self-care: Neglecting one’s personal needs, both emotional and physical, can significantly diminish a mother’s resilience to external stressors.
- Overstimulation: Constant bombardment of stimuli, whether from demanding children, digital devices, or other external factors, can cause sensory and emotional overload.
- Loss of Control: Reaching the peak, this is often the tipping point where a culmination of the aforementioned factors leads to a sensation of losing grip over one’s emotions and actions.
As mothers progress up this metaphorical mountain, the compounding weight of each factor makes the subsequent ascent steeper and more arduous. The visual representation emphasizes the importance of recognizing these stages early on, offering an opportunity for timely intervention and prevention before reaching the critical point of emotional breakdown.
What Can I Do?
First and foremost, give yourself a little grace. The guilt, shame, and regret cycle can be really damaging to your psyche and sense of self-worth. You are human and we all make mistakes. You are also a mom, just trying to do the best you can. Know that is ok you had a moment of weakness. You are not alone. The experience of emotional dysregulation in motherhood is common but there are things you can do that can help reduce the number of times you have these ‘angry mom’ moments.
Repair. Repair. Repair.
Beyond personal reconciliation, the next crucial step in the aftermath of a MED episode is mending the relationship with your child. This involves taking genuine accountability for one’s actions and offering a heartfelt apology. By demonstrating humility and vulnerability in such moments, parents provide invaluable lessons to their children. They witness firsthand that adults, too, are prone to errors but can gracefully acknowledge and rectify their missteps.
Historically, some parenting approaches shied away from admitting faults to children, stemming from the misconception that apologies might undermine parental authority. Contemporary understanding, however, has debunked this belief. Apologizing, in fact, strengthens the parent-child bond and fosters emotional intelligence. Such transparent communication cultivates an environment of trust, mutual respect, and open dialogue.
Are There Prevention Strategies?
Yes! The first step in moving forward is self-awareness. Learning how to proactively self-reflect is paramount in navigating the challenges of MED. Engaging in consistent self-reflection allows mothers to identify which factors or “footholds” on the MED mountain might be triggering their emotional reactions. By asking introspective questions such as, “Where am I currently?” or “Which of my needs are unfulfilled?”, mothers can address those specific needs, mitigating the risk of a MED episode.
Parent. Breathe. Repeat. offers various resources, from handouts to coping strategies, tailored to assist at every step of the MED mountain. By employing these tools, the odds of emotional escalation and dysregulation can be reduced or even completely prevented.
Despite these resources, if MED moments persist and become challenging to manage, it’s crucial to recognize the value of seeking professional assistance. Moms everywhere tend to put themselves last by de-prioritizing personal needs that are essential for health and wellness. Many women may not realize the emotional climate of a household often mirrors the mental well-being of the mother. Therefore, “backburnering” personal health and mental wellness can negatively impact the family system. Prioritizing maternal mental health not only benefits the individual but also contributes to a healthier, more harmonious family environment.
When It Is More Than Emotional Dysregulation…
As a gentle reminder and a bit of a disclaimer, “Mom Rage” or “Mommy Emotional Dysregulation” (MED) should never be misconstrued as a justification for child abuse. When the intensity of these emotions escalates to the point of prompting extreme physical discipline, it is a signal that professional therapeutic intervention is necessary. The purpose of addressing MED is educational, aimed at fostering self-awareness and personal growth. However, it is critical to understand that self-help resources, including books on the subject, are not substitutes for professional therapy, whether in-person or virtual, especially in severe cases.
How to Manage Angry moms During Pregnancy FAQ's:
1. What are the symptoms of mom rage?
2. What is the mom rage problem?
3. What triggers mom rage?
- Parent. Breathe. Repeat.: by Dr. Jessica Kaffer
- How Today’s Parents Say Their Approach to Parenting Does – or Doesn’t – Match Their Own Upbringing
- Effects of Gonadal Steroids in Women With a History of Postpartum Depression | American Journal of Psychiatry
- Fight, Flight or Freeze: Why We Live in Rage Nation.