Many people who seek support for mental health issues during the perinatal period worry about being stigmatised, that they’ll be seen as a bad or incompetent parent. For those who experience postpartum rage asking for help can feel even more difficult. At Gidget Foundation Australia we understand.
Anger can be one emotional pathway towards a rage response. It is really an excess of emotion and may be a way we avoid feeling sadness and is often an ineffective way of getting an underlying need met. Those involved may just remember the emotion expressed and not what was actually being said.
Anger can be a difficult emotional experience to seek support for, especially for women. If society still fails to accept anger as a reasonable response at times from women even in situations that understandably and necessarily evoke anger, how can she feel comfortable saying that sometimes she is overwhelmed with uncontrollable rage? Not only that, but a sudden scary rage that she’d never experienced before having a baby.
Postpartum rage can be a symptom of perinatal depression and anxiety for women and men. However, it is more common or seen as more acceptable for people to share their feelings of worry or sadness in relation to this period as opposed to anger. We must give space for anger, resentment, jealousy and the less ‘acceptable’ emotions to reside because if we add sleep deprivation, hormonal changes and other numerous stresses to the mix, we may experience episodes of postpartum rage. Shame or guilt may prevent us from seeking help with this but support can help us to understand this intense experience and how to deal with it.
Symptoms and strategies
What does postpartum rage look and feel like?
- Irritability, quick-temper, a short-fuse or overwhelming anger.
- Feeling out of control or fighting intense or aggressive urges.
- Screaming and yelling and using words without filters.
- Physical responses such as throwing things, kicking, punching and breaking things.
- Intrusive thoughts of violence (see our tip sheet about intrusive thoughts here for more information about this).
- Feelings of shame or confusion after the episode.
How can I manage my postpartum rage?
Notice what your triggers are. Does it occur after spending a lot of time on your own with the baby? Or when feeling an imbalance with the mental and physical/emotional load you are carrying since the baby came along? Or when your baby cries? Or even when people come over unexpectedly? What practical things can you put in place to help support or pre-empt these triggers?
Acknowledge that this is a difficult time that you are not alone with this experience and there is help.
Shifting our expectations. This can be easier said than done, particularly if we are feeling anxious or depressed but even in minute ways, this can help. Consider the use of your time such as taking a little longer in the shower or laying on a yoga mat instead of putting washing away in a small window of quiet you may have.
This is an enormous time of change for you – a new little human has come along for you to understand, meet their needs, sleep deprivation, fluctuating hormones, a change in your identity and all that comes with parenthood. It’s understandable that this can be difficult. Self-compassion in our day-to-day life can help diminish the ‘build up’ of guilt, shame, frustration, loss etc.
Change the channel! This can be as simple as opening the windows and letting a gust of fresh air through the room, having a cold glass of water, putting on some music. Changing the atmosphere in the home can help our bodies reset at times of stress, worry or overwhelm.
Wrap your arms around your chest, essentially giving yourself a hug. It can be hard to ask this of someone else but amazingly we don’t need someone else in order to get the sense of being ‘held’. This can give our nervous system a moment to recalibrate. It can even help placing your hand on your heart and taking some even, slow breaths in and out.
If you feel your rage building
- Remove yourself from the space if you can. Notice the sensations in your body and accept they are there. “Yep, I’m losing it. I need to give myself some room here”.
- Go for a walk around the block or get yourself into the shower.
- Marsha Linehan exercise, ‘Willing hands’. Find it on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFiMTXn5An4
- Place your open hands on knees or in front of you and face upwards and out but in a relaxed way. Ms Linehan says it is very difficult to be angry whilst doing this simple strategy.
- If you can’t leave your baby safely, slip your shoes off and immediately tell yourself what you feel: “cold tiles, smooth surface, grooves in the wood, soft carpet” and consciously breath down into it, slow down your breathing and allow it to deepen.
- Get a glass of water notice the sensation of the water on your lips in your mouth and as it goes down your throat. Bring yourself into the present moment.
After an episode of rage be kind to yourself. “That did not feel good. I feel very exposed… I must have been holding onto a lot of things. What do I need to do now to feel a bit grounded? What can I do to get some space in the next couple of days? What trusted friends/family can I talk to about this?”
Most importantly if you are overwhelmed, concerned for your safety or that of someone else, please reach out straight away.
Call Lifeline on 13 11 14, or 000
Talking about postpartum rage helps dispel stigma and helps people know they can ask for help. At Gidget Foundation Australia all of your experiences of parenthood are acknowledged, put into perspective and supported.