Unfortunately, anger can become almost a way of life when you have PTSD. It often keeps us from feeling good about ourselves and enjoying life, but, being aware of what makes us angry and how we allow it to control us helps us gain control over it.
Being mindful of our thoughts and angry feelings is the first step to controlling anger. Pay attention to what you’re feeling on and off throughout your day. Notice how negative thoughts can weigh you down and contribute to feeling bad. Try to examine what’s running through your mind and look at it objectively. If you can honestly evaluate the truth behind your thoughts, you may find you’re letting your negative thoughts and feelings control you.
There are some specific ways in which we let our thought patterns influence us. You may find you generalize about things. This happens when we believe that things are one specific way and can’t be any other way, also known this as “black and white” thinking. It’s an extreme viewpoint, and may develop when we have not really examined the situation from every side. It’s easy to fall into generalization without realizing it. If you think you may be using this negative thought process, try challenging your thoughts and looking at things in a different way, or “relabeling.” If we decide things are bad without looking at them closely enough to realize they have some benefit too, we are doing an injustice to ourselves and we’re committing our thoughts to only negative beliefs. Almost every situation has some potential good to it too.
I have a friend who always sees the negative side of anything that is happening to him. He magnifies it until it becomes a major life stressor, yet I notice that it’s often just what I would respond by saying, “That’s life.” By focusing on the negative, he makes every situation worse.
An example of generalization occurred to me this week. I’ll be leaving on vacation this Friday, and driving to Virginia with my sister. We’re going in my car, and on Monday, it started making a grinding noise. My first response was, “Oh, no! This is the worst time for this to happen.” I had so much to do in such a short time, but when I challenged that thought, I realized that this was a much better time for it to happen than when we were actually on the trip! It could have been much worse if we would have had to stop on the way just to learn the front brakes need to be replaced! Once I acknowledged that, I wasn’t so stressed out about the problem.
Another form of negative thinking is “emotional thinking.” This is when our emotions drive what we’re thinking. In emotional thinking, what we feel controls what we think. An example is, “I’m afraid, so I must be in danger.” Now there are times we are afraid, yet we are projecting the fears of another time into our current situation. Because something bad happened to us in the past, when we feel afraid like we did that first time, we think it automatically means things are going to turn out the same. In reality, there may be no base for feeling that way at all.
Learning to control our PTSD may take some time, but most things that are worthwhile do take time. Listen to yourself and what you are thinking and feeling. Challenge your thoughts, when necessary, and let go of your anger. Don’t let it control your life!