It is common for someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to experience anger, when they are trying to recover. In fact, because the experience of anger is so common among people with PTSD, it is actually considered to be a symptom of hyperarousal. Although anger can often lead to unhealthy risk taking behaviors like drinking, self harming, eating disorders, drug taking or getting into abusive relationships,no impulse control. The experience of anger in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is a valid emotional experience that can provide you with important information. It is how the anger is expressed which is the problem and many people do not know how to express it or how to regulate it so it may overwhelm them and end up in major trashing sessions.
The Facets and Functions of Anger
In general, even though emotions may often feel unpleasant or uncomfortable, they have an important function. Emotions are essentially our body’s way of communicating with us. Emotions can communicate information to other people, give us information about our environment, prepare us for action, and deepen our experience of life.
Anger in particular is an emotion that is often about control. When we experience anger, our body may be telling us that we feel as though things are out of our control, or that we have been violated in some way. Anger can motivate us to try to establish control over a situation. Given this function of anger, it makes sense that a person with PTSD may often experience anger.
The experience of a traumatic event can make you feel violated or constantly unsafe. It may also make you feel as though you have little control over your life. In addition, the symptoms of PTSD can give you the sense that danger is all around and there is no escape. The extreme fluctuations of internal experience among people with PTSD for example you may fluctuate between extreme free floating anxiety as if you are always waiting for the next out burst and then rage, then a total shut down and numbing out. You may also make you experience your inner life as chaotic and out of control. Considering these symptoms, it seems completely understandable that you may experience anger, as your body is attempting to communicate to you that things feel out of our control.
Even though anger is a very valid emotion, it has the potential to be used either constructively or destructively.
Seeking Safety describes constructive anger as anger that can be healing. Constructive anger is often lower in intensity than destructive anger. It is also something that can be explored or examined to help you better understand your situation, other people, and yourself. Further, for anger to be constructive, a person must also be aware of that anger. Finally, constructive anger is something that is managed appropriately, with respect given to your own needs and the needs of others.
As an example of constructive anger, let’s say that a friend cancels an important lunch date with you at the last minute. By approaching your anger and listening to what it is telling you, you might be motivated to talk to your friend about how you were upset by the last-minute cancellation and come up with ways to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. The anger in this situation is being used to take control over the situation and maintain your self-respect.
Destructive anger causes harm, according to Seeking Safety. This is anger that is responded to in an unhealthy way. For example, a person may act out aggressively towards others. The anger might also be turned inward, resulting in deliberate self harm, provoking arguments, drinking, taking drugs, suicidal ideation, all of these things are very angry gestures and outlets for something people have not found a language for.
Destructive anger is also often very frequent and/or intense. It may also be something that the person is unaware of or something that the person has suppressed. As a result of not being addressed, the anger may slowly simmer and build in intensity, increasing the likelihood that it would be expressed in an unhealthy manner.
Destructive anger may work very well in the short-term by releasing a tremendous amount of tension; however, it is associated with long-term negative consequences. For example, if you were to respond to your friend (from the example above) by yelling at him or cutting off all ties with him, you could lose a friendship and an important source of social support. If you took the anger out on yourself, you wouldn’t learn how to adequately address the situation, increasing the likelihood that it would occur again in the future.
Managing Your Anger
Anger can be a difficult emotion to manage, especially for someone with PTSD. However, if you can listen to your anger and attempt to connect with the information that it is giving you, you can learn how to better respond to your environment. In addition, better understanding why the anger is there may make it feel less chaotic and unpredictable.
There are a number of healthy ways of managing anger (as well as other emotions). For example, self-soothing skills can be very helpful. Taking a time to chill out and seek support from someone, or message us here, can also be helpful.
It is important to remember that if you have been pushing down your anger for some time, it may initially feel very uncomfortable to approach it. The anger may feel very intense or out of control. However, the more you approach your anger, listen to it, and respond to it in a healthy way, the more your tolerance for anger will increase, and the long-term negative consequences of not dealing with anger will decrease.