Part of the PTSD-Identity is to be seized by unexpected anger. We have been doing well and then all of a sudden we discover ourselves to be angry. The suddenness of it can be startling. We might have been doing fine and then it feels as if someone doused us with a bucket of anger. PTSD anger can come in waves and we cannot always control when it will hit.
We can, however, influence how much PTSD anger controls us and what we can learn from it.
Must I Drown in My PTSD Anger?
Unacknowledged or undiagnosed PTSD is a horrible ride to be on. You can become angry and not even know why you are angry. It is hard on you and it is hard on relationships. By learning more about how PTSD works, how it affects us, we can minimize our vulnerability to it.
I may get doused with a bucket of PTSD anger, but I am not required to drown in it. If I am aware that I have PTSD, that anger is a PTSD by-product, then I can diminish the range of damage it does to my friends and I.
Currently I have had PTSD for about 25 years. I understand it in its physical (scientific) dimensions and I understand it in its spiritual (theological) dimensions. Like any good scientist or theologian, I admit there is much I still have to learn. My lifetime is a voyage of discovery if I allow it to be. Part of that voyage is to better understand PTSD soul wounds and how to heal them.
The reason I wrote that last paragraph is to stress, that even though I have some understanding of PTSD, I am still vulnerable to it. There is more for me to learn. I know that anger will be something I always have to watch out for.
Understandable PTSD Anger Triggers
When I become angry it may be due to an understandable trigger. Extreme acts of selfishness make me angry: Someone runs a red light and almost kills me. I watch a politician who avoided military service talk about supporting troops but cutting medical funding for the Veterans Administration. Or a politician says he is a Christian but advocates cutting money for children’s health care. These acts of selfish hypocrisy trigger my anger.
What is my response to these anger triggers? Sometimes I choose not to drive in rush hours or watch the news so as to avoid these triggers. (I still need to pray for these fools and hope I mature to where I can teach and love them and not merely despise them).
We all have understandable triggers. What are yours? If you actually write them down, you will have more control over them and they will have less control over you.
New or Unknown PTSD Anger Triggers
At other times I get hit with the bucket of PTSD anger when I have not had an understandable trigger. This takes me by surprise and I have to be careful I do not allow that surprise, and the frustration that goes with it, to make me even more angry.
Frustration at being angry can make us even more angry – watch out for that.
When this anger hits I need to use the techniques I have been taught to control my anger. For some folks, breathing exercises can help. Perhaps writing or prayer can help.
I need to do an inventory to see if I can identify a new anger trigger. Is there an event that made me angry? Is this the anniversary of a traumatic event? I need to ask if there have been a series of small triggers that added up to a big bucket of anger.
I must do my best not to reinforce this anger with fresh anger and get trapped in the PTSD Anger Cycle.
I must always watch out for the PTSD Anger Cycle.
And, I must realize something else.
The Anger is Not My Fault
At a fundamental level PTSD anger is not my fault. This is not permission to be angry and treat others poorly. I have a responsibility to not allow others to be harmed by my anger.
There will be an odor if I have a flesh wound and it gets infected and contracts gangrene. The odor is not my fault. It is a symptom of a greater problem. PTSD anger is a symptom of a bigger problem. We don’t volunteer to be angry; with PTSD anger comes with the territory.
People who get malaria are always at risk for a later attack, no matter how healthy they have become since the initial attack. People with PTSD are always at a heightened anger risk even if they have been doing well for some time. Knowing that helps us not to be enslaved by our anger.
Why Does PTSD Afflict Us with Anger?
PTSD afflicts us with anger so as to isolate us. PTSD wants us to enter despair and ruin all of our relationships. It wants others to give up on us. Anger will help alienate us from those who care about us. It seeks to alienate us from ourselves and the knowledge that God loves us.
Sometimes I stay away from people so my anger will not lash out at them. I know I am angry, I know my triggers, and I may need a short break from people because I am so toxic with anger. I need some time before I re-enter the human stream. But, I must not allow this to be a permanent condition. If I do, then the PTSD-Identity wins.
I will tell my wife if I am having anger issues. It helps her to know she is not the problem. And, in telling her I gain more control over the anger. In telling her, I have formed a team with her, a community that rescues me from PTSD’s grip.
PTSD hates it when I share that I am having PTSD symptoms.
It means I am less likely to anger the world right back at me, to isolate myself, and then kill myself. PTSD wants me dead. It strives to make me less desirable and more alienated from all of my relationships. By dousing me with anger, it hopes to drive everyone away from me so I can enter despair and then commit suicide.
When I remember that God made all of us in God’s Image and Likeness (Genesis 1), I am reminded that I am never alone, that I am inherently valuable, that God loves me no matter what I may have done or what may have been done to me. PTSD hates love. Love can help free us from the PTSD-Identity.
Turning Surprise into Learning and Healing
We should not be too surprised when from time to time we get zapped with PTSD symptoms that seem to show up unannounced.
We take precautions to control our toxicity, we try to identify any triggers, and we reaffirm our relationships – even if it is only our relationship with God. In these ways we take control of our lives and do not have to be managed by the PTSD-Identity.
I can use these surprise anger episodes to learn more about myself and to deepen my relationships. Doing this makes me healthier, increases my love, and helps fend off the PTSD-Identity.
Trauma need not become our new normal. The waves of anger that take me by surprise and frustrate me will pass if I let them. I must be careful not to breed new anger and look for fights. But the waves of anger will diminish.
We can use a bout of PTSD symptoms to learn and grow and heal.
Share with those you care about what you are going through. Know that God loves you.
For more on PTSD and Anger see:
Semper Pax, Dr. Z