Sometimes we have “PTSD Anger Flashes.” This is when someone says something or something happens that is also one of our PTSD triggers and then we go “Kaw-Wooomph” and respond with anger to the person in question. The person whom we just responded to may get back into our face and PTSD is delighted that it started a fight and damaged a relationship. How do we handle these PTSD Anger Flashes? How might we actually use them to our benefit?
(First off, to my fellow theologians – and anyone else – who I may have offended by using the term “Kaw-Wooomph” in the previous paragraph: Yes, it may be technical theological vocabulary, but you cannot use it to get extra points in a scrabble game and please do note I used it in a sentence. Now…back to our essay!)
Reducing Vulnerabilities to PTSD Triggers
Our PTSD can be activated by triggers. Once we know what our triggers are, then we can start creating ways to prevent getting slapped around by them.
Generally, when we know what our triggers are, we can take steps to reduce our vulnerabilities to them. In some cases we may opt for keeping a firm distance away from such triggers and ourselves. In other cases, we may discover that we may be able to soften the blow of a particular PTSD trigger through some therapeutic technique, such as Prolonged Exposure Therapy. Depending on other variables, we may find ourselves more sensitive to particular triggers at some times and less sensitive at other times. This may have to do with how stressed we are in general or it may because we are about to have the yearly anniversary of a specific traumatizing event.
Same Trigger, Same Person, Different Responses
The difference in how a specific PTSD trigger affects us on one day and then how it affects us more intensely on another day is sometimes used against trauma survivors by those who deny PTSD exists and for those with Compassion Deficit Disorder. PTSD is not a mere mathematical formula; rather, it involves not only the body but also the soul, so there are quite a few variables involved in its manifestation. No matter how “standardized” an illness, allergy, syndrome, disorder, etc., may be in the medical journals, there is still a range of how different people are affected by them. For example, some people can eat peanuts safely, others will die due to an extreme allergic reaction, and some if they eat them will have varying outcomes depending on their relative sensitivity to peanut allergens at the time.
Constant Assessment Necessary
As I’ve said elsewhere, we need to make several PTSD trigger assessments on how we are doing. Are we going to be around particular toxic people who usually set us off? Is a particular anniversary coming up in the calendar? Are fireworks or crying babies expected to go off? If we know these things ahead of time, knowing which of our triggers are likely to crop up, then we have a better chance to not be controlled by them. We may still get symptomatic, but the symptoms will not be as devastating as if the trigger happened with no warning.
Knowing how we are doing and what triggers we are likely to encounter will make us less susceptible to our PTSD.
Discovering Unknown PTSD Triggers: Two Options
But sometimes we discover a new PTSD trigger we didn’t know we had, or we discover a higher level of sensitivity to a trigger when compared to earlier sensitivities. Even when I am active in self-assessment and asking myself how I am doing in regards to PTSD, I may get a nasty surprise when something new reveals itself to be a PTSD trigger.
What do I do when I get zapped by a surprise PTSD Trigger?
You ride the wave and survive the episode.
Sometimes when I get zapped with PTSD symptoms I tell myself that the episode will eventually pass. If I am in tears, or if I am having tremors, or vomiting, I can remind myself that this situation will pass. If I have it bad, it might last all day, but the severity of the PTSD episode will eventually get less and I will gain some more control over my tears, etc. There have been times I have lain on the floor and just rode the wave, praying, “Lord, let this pass.” There are times when I have been so wounded by PTSD that all I can do is utter “God” or “Jesus” and then groan or weep or shake. That, by the way is a prayer just as deep as one with 1200 words and a choir in the background – maybe even more so.
What do I do when I get zapped by surprise PTSD Trigger?
You ride the wave and ask God to ride it with you.
When the episode has cleared up and I am in more control of my body I do two things. I thank God for getting me through yet one more time. Second, I remember, maybe even write it down, that currently I have a new PTSD trigger and need to be careful about it in the future. In other words, I add that experience to my personal database of what I’m subject to in regards to PTSD triggers and what is my relative PTSD susceptibility right now.
What if My PTSD Made Me “Anger Flash” at Someone?
For many of us, anger is one of our PTSD symptoms and can even become a way of looking at life. PTSD prefers to keep us angry at all times, if possible. This is because many times anger is used to harm or destroy relationships. While we may very occasionally have righteous indignation, anger usually ends up harming relationships and promoting our alienation. There is an entire category on then PTSD Spirituality website devoted to PTSD and Anger.
Finding Opportunity After an “Anger Flash.”
If someone activates one of my PTSD triggers I may flash some anger at them. Extreme anger can be one of our responses to our PTSD. Anger can result from a PTSD trigger and we can even become angrier because we got angry about becoming angry.
What If I Offended Someone with my “Flash Anger”?
Anger frequently helps us to say things that we regret. If our pride has iron chains wrapped around us, then we will refuse to apologize even when we know we should. The person who prattles about, thumps their chest, and says, “No Apology! Never Apologize!” are immature and enslaved to their pride. We hear this line of self-righteousness from current politicians and also abusive spouses.
I have a healing opportunity if I reacted to a PTSD trigger with anger and am mature enough to regret my actions. Shouting at someone is never the best thing to do; it should not be our goal. But if we did flash in anger, then we are blessed with an opportunity to grow, mature, and heal. That opportunity comes when we make amends or try to explain our action – whenever possible. If the offended person won’t listen we can still talk to God about it and write about it in our private journal.
Hopefully you can tell that individual you are sorry for your angry reaction and be able to explain what was going on PTSD trigger-wise. Sometimes that can be best explained face to face, by phone, or written in a letter. Whenever possible, it helps to be able to start healing the breach that PTSD caused. That also depends on if the other person involved is able to hear the information, forgive, and move on.
The flash of anger can be transformed from an alienating moment into one of healing, forgiveness, and growth. Both people can come out of this better than they did before. The PTSD will have less power over us if we are able to explain why we had the “anger flash.” In this way we have less alienation and more forgiveness. Those are two of the healthy outcomes that PTSD hates. PTSD does not want us to have friends, it wants us isolated. If we can apologize, forgive, and accept forgiveness, then we have opted to walk in the Light.
But What About the Immediacy of an “Anger Flash”?
What if you are in a conversation and the other person inadvertently triggers your PTSD? What if, “…you need to respond immediately and there isn’t time to identify what trigger is occurring and what to do about it…”?
Created in Time
Thankfully, God created humanity with the ability to function and appreciate that we are in time. Since we are created to physically function in time, we always have the opportunity to follow-up later with an explanation of what happened. We can follow-up and ask for forgiveness if we have wounded someone else. One of the reasons I can suffer a PTSD episode and know that I will survive is because even though I may be suffering now, I know that in the future I will recover. I know that my present suffering is not some sort of Eternal-Now in which I have no hope of healing. Rather, I can have hope because I am created in time and know there is a future that does not have to be this bad continuously. When people enter absolute despair it is because they have lost all hope for a different or better future. This is why PTSD wants us to think our new normal is always the worst possible outcome that will never improve. Helping PTSD sufferers realize that they need not despair is one of the ways to help them choose continued life and not suicide.
Learning from Immediacy
The more self-aware we become of our PTSD triggers and how we react to them, the fewer instances we will have where we suddenly flash anger at people. Remember that we are on a sanctification journey where we strive to learn and love more each day. This means we can improve. Yet, we are still people, we will still make mistakes. What is more, we are people with PTSD who may flare in anger over an unexpected trigger. Yet, even if we get surprised by a PTSD trigger and lash out, we always have a chance to apologize and explain what happened.
If the person you apologized to has any maturity they will accept it, forgive, and learn. They will grow a bit more themselves as they realize what the world can do to some people, but that God loves us enough that we can be forgiven and strive for holiness.
It is unrealistic to think I will never again be surprised by a PTSD trigger. The longer I pay attention and learn and apologize and forgive, the fewer times I am as likely to get zapped. I can learn from these experiences, I can heal better and better…but I still have PTSD. It allows me the irony of growth and redemption. It allows others to live the spiritual values of forgiveness and healing for real and not just on certain days of the week.
Expect to be surprised, but know that the surprises will decrease over time if we strive to self-assess. We will become healthier if we can keep our pride behind us. The fact that people can even ask these questions shows they are learning more about the day to day living with PTSD and they are healing.
PTSD Triggers covers a lot of ground. You can find more information at the PTSD Triggers Category at PTSD Spirituality.
Once surprised by a new trigger, we catalogue it and are less susceptible to surprise in the future. If we are zapped by a PTSD “Anger Flash” we can still recover. Remember PTSD wants to ruin our relationships, alienate us, isolate us. Our PTSD-induced behaviors are meant to drive people away and make us all give up hope and enter despair. If we learn, apologize and forgive as necessary, we will actually improve our relationships, have more hope, and heal from more of our PTSD.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z