Constructive and destructive anger in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder

People with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often feel angry.In fact, anger is so common in people with PTSD that it is considered one of the symptoms of excessive arousal in this disease. Although anger can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as drug abuse or impulsive behavior, emotions themselves are not bad.

Anger is an effective emotional experience that can provide you with important information about yourself, your environment, and your relationship with others.

Aspects and functions of anger

Certain emotions may be unpleasant or uncomfortable, but they have an important purpose. Emotions are essentially the way our bodies communicate with us. They enable us to exchange information with others, provide us with information about the environment, prepare us for action, and deepen our life experience.

Anger is an emotion usually associated with control.When we are angry, it is usually our body that is telling us that we feel that things are beyond our control, or that we have been violated in some form.

Anger can motivate us to try to establish or re-establish control over a situation (or at least a sense of control). Given this feature, it makes sense that anger is considered a potential aspect of PTSD and is often experienced by people with this disease.

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Experiencing traumatic events can make you feel violated and constantly feel insecure. You may feel that you have little control over your life. The symptoms of PTSD may make you feel that danger is everywhere and that there is nowhere to escape.

The extreme fluctuations in internal experience that occur in PTSD (for example, the constant transition between emotional numbness and intense anxiety) can also make you experience chaos and loss of control in your inner life.

In turn, these feelings can cause anger. Anger is an effective emotion, usually constructive, but it can also be destructive.

Constructive anger

In her book Seeking safety (A well-known treatment developed for people suffering from PTSD and substance abuse) Dr. Lisa Najavits describes constructive anger as anger that can be cured.

Constructive anger is usually not as strong as destructive anger. It is also something that can be explored or checked to help you better understand your situation, other people, and yourself. In addition, for anger to be constructive, one must also be aware of this.

Constructive anger can be controlled. But to do this, you must recognize your own needs and the needs of others.

As an example of constructive anger, suppose a friend canceled an important lunch date with you at the last minute.

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By approaching your anger and listening to what it tells you, you may be motivated to talk to your friends about your dissatisfaction with the last-minute cancellation and figure out a way to make sure it does not happen again. Here, your anger is used to control the situation and maintain your self-esteem.

Destructive anger

Destructive anger is expressed in unhealthy ways and causes harm.For example, a person may be aggressive towards others. Anger can also turn inward, leading to deliberate self-harm or drug abuse.

Destructive anger is often frequent and intense. In PTSD, these feelings may be stronger. Sometimes, a person may not be aware of their anger, or, if they are aware, they may try to suppress or avoid anger.

If you don’t pay attention to anger, it usually only becomes stronger. As emotions grow, the possibility of expressing them in unhealthy and potentially harmful ways also increases.

Destructive anger can work in the short term because it can release tension; however, it can bring long-term negative consequences.

For example, if you respond to your friend (from the example above) yelling at him or breaking all contact with him, you may lose an important source of friendship and social support. If you vent your anger on yourself, you will not learn how to deal with the situation adequately, thereby increasing the likelihood of it happening again in the future.

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Manage your anger

Anger can be a difficult emotion to manage, especially if you have post-traumatic stress disorder. However, if you listen to your anger and try to connect with the information it provides you, it will help you learn to better deal with your environment. Understanding why there is anger usually makes it feel less confusing and unpredictable.

There are healthy ways to control anger and any other strong emotions that overwhelm you. For example, self-comforting techniques or timeouts.

Finally, seeking social support is also an effective way to cope with and manage anger. Other emotion regulation strategies can also help. As mentioned earlier, seeking a safe method includes strategies to deal with anger and other symptoms of PTSD.

If you have suppressed your anger for a while, you may feel uncomfortable to approach it at first. It may also feel very strong or out of control.

However, the closer you get to your anger, listen to it, and respond to it in a healthy way, the higher your tolerance for anger will be, and the long-term negative consequences of not dealing with anger will decrease.

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