When you live with PTSD, things can act as triggers, setting you off in a fit of rage. It’s the responsibility of those of us who have PTSD though to make sure we channel that anger into acceptable directions rather than allow it to hurt other people. So, how does one do that?
Knowing what triggers your anger is the first step. It can help to keep a journal, noting those times you’re raging over something. Being mindful of what is happening not only to you, but within you, can help you intervene before you find yourself out of control. What irritates you beyond the normal? When the kids are screaming and having a good time, does the noise trigger your anger? If your spouse is nagging about financial fears, is that the burr that gets under your hide?
If you can recognize what’s setting you off, you can often manage the environment so that you stop the anger before it gets a grip on you. When the kids start screaming, send them outside. When your spouse is complaining, take a good look to see if those complaints are valid. If they are, then try to problem solve and seek realistic solutions. If they aren’t, look at ways to offer reassurance. It may be that the real issues isn’t the finances at all, but other fears you aren’t even aware of at the time.
Whatever you are facing as a trigger to your rage, brainstorm ways to head it off before it grows bigger than you can control. Look at alternate ways you can respond other than giving in to your anger. Is it easier to just let your rage lash out at others? You bet it is! But the courageous way to handle the situation is to accept responsibility for your anger. You are responsible for the ways you hurt others. In the long run, it’s may take some effort on your part to control your rage, but your relationships with family and friends will be stronger and healthier for it.
With PTSD, we often have issues with controlling our anger. Due to chemical changes in the brain, we operate in the aroused state most of the time, and that can make us super-sensitive to what’s going on around us. Because of this, we may over-react to what might otherwise be considered normal behavior in our children and spouses.
Caging the temper tiger isn’t always easy! We have to work at controlling our temper and we often must learn different ways of channeling that anger into more positive responses. Fortunately, the National Center for PTSD offers “PTSD Coach Online.”
PTSD Coach Online is an excellent program where you can work on your anger issues, getting guidance without having to bare your soul to the world. One entire section is devoted to Anger Management. There are segments on changing your feelings through changing your thoughts, noticing your thoughts and feelings, relaxation through visualization, changing negative thought patterns, planning enjoyable activities, relaxing your body, looking carefully at your thoughts, relaxing through breathing, and weighing the pros and cons of your actions. You can access this material by going to: www.ptsd.va.gov/app/PTSDCoachonline/tools.
I’ve noticed that sometimes those of us with PTSD tend to take on the title of victim as a defining term for who we are. We wear our pain like a badge of courage, and use our experiences as an excuse for not having a more fulfilling life. For example, I was brought up in a very violent family. My siblings grew up in the same environment, and there is a great difference in how we internalized similar experiences.
One of my siblings used drugs as a way of easing the pain. Another fell back on her past as an excuse every time she failed. I looked at it as the perfect bad example! It was a way of life I would never inflict on anyone else. I believe two of my siblings learned to depend on pity and sympathy related to how we were raised as a way of explaining or excusing their failures. The problem is, once we are adults, it’s really no longer a valid excuse.
I’m a firm believer that if you don’t like who you are today, you can start changing yourself with your next breath. I choose to not play the role of victim. I choose instead to say, Yes, I have PTSD, but it’s not going to be the entire definition of who I am throughout my life. I may have had a poor childhood, but that’s no excuse for who I am today. I’ve had plenty of time to learn who I want to be and to work towards that.
As a child, I lived in a war zone. I was subjected to brutal force, and I have PTSD as a result. If I choose those experiences as defining who I am, I may never realize my full potential as an adult. I choose not to be a victim any longer. I still have PTSD, but I won’t willingly carry the pain, the warped self-image, and the excuse of what happened to me into my future. It is my future and my abuser has no claim on who I am now. I don’t diminish my experiences or the damage inflicted on me. I simply acknowledge that although that happened in my past, I won’t give it any additional power. I won’t be a victim forever. I choose to leave the past in the past. I’m happy with that decision…I can live with it.
Dissociation means disconnecting. When we think of it in terms of PTSD, it is a method of self-defense. Dissociating allows us to escape. We just do it mentally rather than physically.
Dissociating is a term it took me a while to learn. When I finally understood it, I was relieved because I had what I thought of a “time blackouts.” For example, I remember entering a room once where I was forced to walk past my father.
Now, my father was a violent man, and I was terrified of him as a child. I stopped in the doorway and wondered if I had the courage to walk past him when I would be in a confined space and close enough for him to hurt me if he wanted. Then, all of a sudden, I was on the other side of the room, past him! I had no memory of having walked past him. It was as if I had been transported through time.
That experience, and others that were similar, were very frightening to me. I wondered if I had “blipped out” because of mental illness or some other strange mental defect. Years later, after much research, I ran across the term “dissociating,” and looked it up. I researched it thoroughly and realized that was what had happened.
I no longer think of myself as being defective for having lapses of memory. I think of myself as having some pretty cool build-in defense systems that protect me from things I could not otherwise deal with. Dissociating is just another way I coped with the horrors I was living with. It is another way I found to successfully survive.
Each of us who knows what it is like living with PTSD finds our own path through it. As we are individuals in every other area of life, we are also individual in the way we respond to having PTSD; how symptoms affect us, how we cope, and how we view the experience.
I have a good friend who has PTSD from his time in the military. His sister has it from being abused as a child. My friend thought she should be on the same page he was because they both have the same disorder. He was frustrated that her coping styles were often maladaptive and weren’t the same as the ones he used. We had quite a discussion on how two people can have the same problem, yet experience it in totally different ways and cope with it in different ways.
For example, her coping mechanisms developed when she was a child, while his were learned as an adult. There is a huge difference there! Yes, some of her ways of coping are maladaptive, but she was totally powerless against her abuser and had no one to help her learn to protect herself.
Having PTSD doesn’t mean we are all going to be alike in our symptoms or our strategies for coping. We will all find our way through as best we can and in light of who we are and what we have to work with. Fortunately, as we grow, we can all learn new ways to cope and manage our symptoms.
When you have PTSD, you are in a heightened state of arousal; this is part of the “fight or flight” response to danger. With PTSD, fight or flight doesn’t go away when the danger is gone. It hangs around leaving us in a constant state of alertness. This arousal can affect our sleep, irritability and hypervigilance.
This heightened state of arousal can lead to excessive anger. When that anger gets out of control, it can affect your relationships and you may become aggressive toward others or develop self-destructive behaviors. Substance abuse may be a part of your response, or you may find you want to hurt yourself.
If you are experiencing intense anger, learn to use anger management techniques. You may want to try mindfulness, or talking through your anger with someone you respect. Deep breathing exercises can calm your body. Focusing on something other than your anger can help too. Developing ways to manage your anxiety may also be helpful as intense anger and anxiety are similar emotions that are involved in the fight or flight response.
PTSD intensifies anger. Learning to manage your rage can improve relationships and self-esteem. Take the time to learn ways you can try to manage your anger. Not all of them may work for you, but don’t give up! There are many ways to cope with the anger in PTSD and it’s worthwhile finding them.
I’ve found, over the years, that it is beneficial for me to monitor what I’m watching on television or at the movies and limit programs that are billed as having a lot of violence in them. I know the more violent the story, the more likely it is to negatively affect me and trigger my PTSD. It’s just easier to stop and say, “It’s not worth it!”
Although many people enjoy action-packed dramas, knowing it’s a trigger means that it’s my responsibility to limit what I watch. I’ve learned that seeing the movie often isn’t worth the trauma that comes after. I tend to think of this as the “garbage in/garbage out” effect. If I pour violent visual input into my brain, the output is going to be negative too. It’s just not worth going through.
I think it’s easy in today’s society to just kind of let things happen, and use the television to anesthetize ourselves. We tend to get lazy in ensuring that what we’re taking in is worthwhile, or at least not toxic. Television is a great escape, but it comes with a price: if you don’t monitor what you’re watching, you may well find your subjecting yourself to unnecessary content that simply inflames your PTSD.
Don’t allow yourself to become a victim of senseless violence. Turn off the TV and find something more worthwhile to take in. Garbage in/garbage out is controllable!