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Welcome back to my blog post series on how to deal with anger in motherhood. In part 1, I explored why we get angry, what happens in our brains when we explode and some of the ways you can release the rising pressure that leads us there. Now, let’s continue with some more ways that you can release the pressure…
5. Notice and rewrite your stories
When a situation occurs that leads to pressure rising within you, try to identify what story you are holding onto. It’s often our stories that create most of the pressure! If you find a story that is creating pressure, rewrite it.
For example, if you’re feeling angry that you haven’t been able to sit down all day because there’s so much to do and no one is helping, you might be holding onto a story that everyone should know what you need without being told and proactively help you. You might also have a story about the fact that you aren’t allowed to rest until everything is done, otherwise you’ll never catch up.
These can be rewritten into more supportive stories, such as “No one can read my mind and I can delegate tasks at any time” and “I can do the important things and take a break. My wellbeing is a priority too.”
6. Choose a calming action
When you feel pressure rising, take a moment to breathe. Ask yourself “what do I need right now to help me feel calm?” Here are some options:
- Change your environment.
- Drink some water.
- Stretch out the tension in your body.
- Massage your own neck.
- Splash cold water on your face or hold your wrists under cold water.
- Apply calming essential oils.
- Reduce noise around you, find a quiet place.
- Swap out with your partner to take a break.
- Stand outside in the fresh air.
- Take some deep breaths.
- Hum a tune.
- Shake your hands vigorously.
7. Journal it out or express anger through something creative
Creative activities are great ways to channel anger and release pressure. You could try something like craft, drawing, painting, writing, building something or cooking. Journaling is a particular favourite of mine for releasing pressure because putting your thoughts and emotions on paper helps to bring perspective and insights. If you’re new to journaling, keep it really simple and start with a prompt like “I feel…” and then write everything that comes into your mind whether it makes sense of not.
8. Practice self-compassion
Our inner critic can run wild when we’re feeling angry. Not only are we angry about the situation, we can be angry at ourselves for being angry (because fictional perfect mum never gets angry!) Self compassion disrupts that cycle of being unkind to ourselves and helps us honour our feelings.
Put your hand over your heart, and say to yourself:
“I’m a good mum who is having a hard time right now.
All mothers struggle at times. Anyone can lose it. I’m a good person” (you may want to repeat this part a few times, until you feel a bit of relief).
I will look after myself and release some of the pressure I’m feeling inside. I will….(add an action you will take to release the pressure)”.
When you get to 10
If you find yourself at 9 or 10 out of 10 in terms of the pressure you feel, and you are about to explode, focus on not doing any harm.
In their book “Whole Brain Child”, Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson suggest that when you realise your downstairs brain is in charge, close your mouth and put your hands behind your back, before removing yourself from the situation to collect yourself (this may involve simply moving across the room, if you can’t leave your children unattended). Then, do whatever you need to do to calm yourself down (using some of the suggestions above).
You might choose to excuse yourself by saying (in a non-threatening or blaming tone) “I feel like I’m about to get angry and so I’m going to take a couple of minutes to calm myself down”, or “I’m having a bit of a hard time right now and so I need to take a couple of minutes to feel calmer, then I’ll be right back”.
The focus at 10, is getting through the situation and regulating your emotions (which in itself is a great example for our children), so you can hold space for your children’s emotions. Don’t try to teach or discipline in this moment. After everyone is calm, you can create space to reflect on and process your anger, as well as teaching your children.
Learning from anger
It’s hard to believe that anger could be a constructive part of our lives when we feel so bad about it, but anger can actually teach us a lot about ourselves. Anger is information and when we see it as such, we can use anger to our benefit, rather than making it fuel for our self-criticism.
To learn from anger, we need to dig a little deeper than what’s physically going on in front of us. The situation at hand is often giving us a chance to release tension that we’ve already been carrying around. We might be yelling at our kids, but the real issue isn’t them. It’s something about ourselves.
Anger is considered a secondary emotion, which means there is more going on underneath, such as hurt, fear, guilt, grief, embarrassment, powerlessness, regret, shame or feelings of inadequacy or rejection. Anger is easier to feel and can be directed at someone else and in doing so, it’s protecting us from having to feel something more uncomfortable. Something that could have first surfaced even as far back as your own childhood.
If we don’t dig deeper to identify and allow those feelings to be processed and accepted, they will keep on creating pressure within us over and over.
So, after you have calmed down, create some time to get really curious and ask yourself:
“What might my anger be drawing my attention to?”
Let’s look at a common example. Imagine you’ve yelled at the kids because you were running late. Your daughter was looking for her missing shoe and the book she insisted she needed to bring to read in the car. Your son was crying because you turned the TV off and he didn’t want to go out.
What might your anger be drawing your attention to?
Consider areas such as:
- How you feel about punctuality, control and obedience from children.
- What it would mean about you if you were late.
- What you believe about how you manage time and how organised you are, both in general and in this particular situation.
- Whether there is anything in this situation that reflects something you experienced as a child, that may require healing.
I have always equated being on time with being capable and on top of things. If I am late, this belief makes it mean I am not those things (which is not true). I also used to assume that punctuality was important to everyone. It is clearly not at all important to young children and also not to some adults. When I’m running late I’m usually annoyed at myself for not starting to organise everyone earlier and if I have been repeatedly asking everyone to get ready, I may also be feeling unheard and unsupported.
Once you identify what might be going on under the surface for you, take time to process and release it. My favourite way to do this is journaling but you may also choose to talk to a trusted person, who will listen without judgement. I know this may seem like hard and uncomfortable work, but as you work through the real underlying emotions, you will find that they don’t trigger anger so much and eventually perhaps not at all.
Lastly, let’s talk about how to repair with your children after you explode.
While we don’t want to be angry at our children, when they see us express a range of emotions it helps them understand what it’s like to be human and flawed. When they see us then regulate our emotions and repair the connection, they learn to do the same. Because at some point in their life, they will get angry too.
If you think about it, we spend a lot of time in repair with our children. It’s actually a wonderful skill to learn, and one that has been proven to create even stronger connections. Repair can be followed by teaching or you can have that conversation separately.
When you are calm, and as soon as possible, try including these elements in your repair:
- Apologise – “You just saw me having a really hard time. I took that out on you and I’m sorry for that.”
- Take responsibility for your reaction – “Nothing you did caused me to react like that. It’s not your fault. It happened because (this is explaining what was going on for you, not blaming them). Next time I feel like that I am going to….” (shows you are taking responsibility for your own responses and that they don’t have to).
- Reassure – “Even when I’m having a hard time, I always love you. Nothing will change. I know that must have felt scary for you. Do you want to talk about it?”
These repair conversations are valuable for both you and your children.
Not ashamed of anger anymore
What would it be like if:
- You saw anger as a normal, functional human emotion that you could learn from?
- You intentionally and regularly released the pressure that builds up within you each day, so you don’t feel like exploding?
- When you did explode, you used it as an opportunity to repair and build even stronger connections with your children?
You’re not a bad mum, lovely. You’re a great mum who has a hard time sometimes. Like every mum.
I hope this has helped you think differently about how to handle anger in motherhood. If you know you need more support with this, you can find out more about how to work with me here.