Getting to today’s topic: This idea of anger has captivated my attention. Mostly, because I lived with it for so long and never thought twice about it. In my world… well, that’s the state I was so often in; it seemed normal to be frustrated and angry — when I couldn’t control my environment, when others got in my head space, when someone would say, for example, “Can’t you just let go of the past?” To which I would reply (often inside my head but sometimes very outloud), “Um… NO!”
Feeling isolated in my symptoms and experience only made me more irritable. Anger became a general daily sensation.
And now I’m no longer angry and I’m amazed by what a different world it is when I’m not feeling like a combination of The Grinch, The Wicked Witch of the West and Darth Vader every day.
This morning I started looking around for anger info to better understand why it’s such a common PTSD symptom. You might find the reasons, and how anger functions on our behalf, pretty interesting:
What is Anger?
Well, we have to begin somewhere; may as well start with the source. In a great article by Harry Mills, Ph.D. he explains that
Anger is a basic human emotion that is experienced by all people. Typically triggered by an emotional hurt, anger is usually experienced as an unpleasant feeling that occurs when we think we have been injured, mistreated, opposed in our long-held views, or when we are faced with obstacles that keep us from attaining personal goals…. At its roots, anger is a signal to you that something in your environment isn’t right. It captures your attention and motivates you to take action to correct that wrong thing.
So this can potentially be a good thing! After trauma we are sensing something’s wrong and we should be motivated to take a corrective action. Unfortunately, the psychological unraveling after trauma gets in the way. We are overwhelmed, and so we don’t immediately take positive steps. But I mean, really, how could we when you consider the role of anger in trauma…:
Anger & Trauma
Initially, anger is a really useful tool for us. Theories suggest that high levels of anger are actually related to a natural survival instinct. Take heart, depending on how we use it and how we perceive it anger could be viewed as a healthy emotion: We survive and are bolstered in our efforts by this driving internal force. (Remember this for later: We have a healthy, instinctive driving internal source for survival.)
This great @health.com ‘Anger and Trauma’ article offers this explanation of the role of anger in trauma:
Anger is usually a central feature of a survivor’s response to trauma because it is a core component of the survival response in humans. Anger helps people cope with life’s adversities by providing us with increased energy to persist in the face of obstacles. However, uncontrolled anger can lead to a continued sense of being out of control of oneself and can create multiple problems in the personal lives of those who suffer from PTSD.
(This article also offers a guide to finding relief, so you may want to take some time reading through the entire page.)
As in everything with PTSD, anger is another one of those coping/survival mechanisms that gets out of control. What began as something to help us cope and keep us safe outlives its usefulness, but we’re so far gone emotionally we don’t stop to consider what’s happening or how we can stop it.
Or, as I did, the aberration of who we are becomes so familiar and recognizable – and who we were before trauma becomes so far away and unfamiliar – we don’t even realize we’re living in an altered state. We accept this is who we are now. After my trauma I knew I had been changed and I accepted that. But that was wrong! Yes, of course, we are changed, but those effects do not have to mean negatively and dysfunctionally forever. We can be changed in good ways: we can have experienced something that taught us things about ourselves those who don’t suffer never know. Things like 1) our large capacity for inner strength, 2) our survival tools, 3) our deep reserve of will, 4) our incredible amount of courage, 5) our ability to face fear and transcend.
When we get lost in anger we fail to appreciate our survival. We see only the bad that happened to us, and we lose sight of the fact that WE ARE SURVIVORS, and surviving means more than just struggling through the trauma and the aftermath. Literally, surviving means we ‘outlive’ an event. But in feeding our anger what part of us lives? Not all the good, the possible, the amazing. In feeding anger we keep the trauma alive, which means the trauma wins. Now that’s something to be angry about!
Read Part 3: The Physiological Side of Anger