Dealing with Anger in the Aftermath of Trauma

man sitting alone on his bed Dealing with Anger in the Aftermath of TraumaMost people think of trauma and think of symptoms like anxiety and fear. But, for many of us, anger is the first and the strongest response. After getting over our fear, we become angry. That comes out in irritability, in being controlling, and in outbursts and in poor mood control. For some of us, anger after trauma looks like mood swings and temper problems. In others, it’s actual anger at the situation and the people behind it.

That makes a lot of sense, because anger is a normal response to stress. Someone creates stress and you get angry and solve it. At the same time, it’s not a way to go around living your everyday life and it will get in the way of treatment, interpersonal relationships, and your mental health.

Understanding is the first step to dealing with anger in the aftermath of trauma, but you can take many steps to help.

Why is Anger a Response to Trauma?

Most people experience some form of anger response after trauma. That’s true with trauma that results in recovery and in trauma that results in PTSD. Here, it occurs because anger is about regaining control or about resolving the situation. People who frequently try to fix things, to take charge, to improve their situation are more likely to experience anger. However, anger can also be about hypervigilance, which is about preventing further trauma. For example, hypervigilance means that the adrenaline system remains active, that you stay on high alert, and that you’re constantly ready to react in case of danger.

That can result in irritability, hostility, and mood swings. It can also result in tenseness, headaches, problems sleeping, snapping, and avoidance. These further exacerbate anger issues by causing irritability.

If you recover from trauma, that normally goes away within a few weeks or months of the traumatic incident. However, if you don’t recover, it can mean that you are experiencing PTSD.

Figure Out Triggers

It’s important to figure out what triggers anger. If you know that you’re likely to experience anger and irritability in response to a certain situation, you’ll be better prepared to cope with it. That means paying attention to your mood throughout the day and learning how to see when your mood changes. For many people, that means keeping a mood journal or a similar record. Here, you track what you were feeling throughout the day and try to remember what prompted it.

For many people, this doesn’t help. You’re not experiencing anger after a specific incident; you’re walking around dealing with extreme anger at something that already happened. In this case, the answer is to get therapy to help you deal with and resolve that anger. However, if you are experiencing anger and irritability in response to situations, you can track that and then go into those situations more prepared.

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a man dealing with anger after a trauma trying to calm himselfLearn to Recognize Anger

Often, anger becomes a problem because we don’t recognize when it starts. Instead, we just react and then react badly – meaning that others can become a casualty of our anger. While it’s very common for people recovering from trauma to try to push anger down and repress it, that isn’t what you should be doing. Instead, you should be trying to acknowledge when you experience anger, to recognize when it starts, and to recognize when you’re in a bad mood. From that basis of recognition, you can take steps to acknowledge, resolve, and manage your anger in a healthy way that makes you feel seen and heard.

Take Time Out

If you’re responding with anger, the first step is to take a break. That means acknowledging that you’re feeling anger and taking time out. That means stepping out of the situation and taking 10-15 minutes to change what you’re doing, to breathe, to focus on what’s happening now, and to ground yourself in reality.

Having a few minutes to yourself means you can take a step back from whatever you were responding to, separate anger from that, and then go back to that without the anger. It might not resolve the anger. However, it will allow you to interact with the situation without directing anger at it, which is probably helpful for your relationships and how you feel about yourself afterwards.

Not everyone will be willing to allow you to step outside of a talk, a situation, or an activity to take a break. However, explaining that you’re dealing with trauma can help.

Learn to Calm Yourself

Figuring out calming techniques can help you to reduce anger without dismissing it. For example, breath work and breathing exercises can be calming. Some people prefer physical activities like pushups or lifting weights. And, others prefer doing something that gets their mind off of whatever they were doing, like a phone game or a puzzle. The important thing is that you learn grounding skills or mindfulness skills that reengage your attention with the present and not with whatever you’re angry about. That will help you to clear your mind, to let go of your anger, and to relax. Going to mindfulness classes and anger management classes here can also help. However, it’s important to remember that while anger is directed at something in the past, you may need to put significant work into resolving feelings towards that, rather than just managing anger as it comes up.

Be Nonjudgemental

It’s important to accept that anger and irritability are a symptom of trauma and not you as a person. That does not mean you should not be taking accountability for that anger. It does, however, mean that you should be treating anger as a symptom of being sick and not as a personal failing. “I am angry so I need help dealing with that”. That means being nonjudgemental. “That’s not something I would normally be upset about”, “I don’t like being angry about this”, “I don’t like feeling this angry”.

Being nonjudgemental about anger means you can approach it in a way that is healthy and conductive towards recovery – rather than beating yourself up about it and repressing the emotion. That’s important, because repressing emotions usually does nothing but bottle them up for them to come out all at once later, and that can be very unhealthy for you and the people around you.

Get Help

If you’re struggling with mood swings or significant emotional outburst after trauma, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Chances are, you can benefit from counseling and trauma counseling. If those symptoms don’t go away, you might need additional help to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder. Even in the short term, the side-effects of trauma can be difficult to deal with and even traumatic on their own. If you’re struggling with controlling your mood, if your anger is hurting people you care about, and if it’s making your life worse, that makes it harder for you to recover. It’s important that you talk to people who can help, get the help you need, and get the tools you need for a safe and smooth recovery.

Anger isn’t the most well-known symptom of trauma recovery, but it can be a significant one and it can impact a large portion of your life. Good luck getting under control and getting the help you need.

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