Understanding where anger is coming from in our lives is helpful. There is usually a deep-rooted hurt that is beneath anger. In the case of the Veteran in my office, he shared traumatic events from his childhood and from his time in Iraq. When we experience a traumatic event, anger is a common feature of a survivor’s response to trauma because it is a core component of the survival response in humans. Anger helps people cope with life’s adversities by providing us with increased energy to persist in the face of obstacles.
In the lives of those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), uncontrolled anger can lead to a continued sense of being out of control and can create many problems. One theory on anger and trauma suggests that high levels of anger are related to a natural survival instinct. When initially confronted with extreme threat, anger is a normal response to terror. Anger can help a person survive by mobilizing all of his or her attention, thought, brain energy, and action toward survival.
Research at the National Center for PTSD has shown that responses to extreme threat can become “stuck” in people with PTSD. This leads to a survival mode response where the individual is more likely to react to situations with “full activation,” as if the circumstances were life-threatening. This automatic response of irritability and anger in individuals with PTSD can create serious problems in their interpersonal relationships.
With counsel from our PTSD clinic, the Veteran whose anger was out of control was able to see that he was stuck in a “full activation” stage of anger due to his childhood survival of his father’s physical abuse and his military survival from his time in Iraq. As the Veteran looked closely at his childhood, he learned that his father’s intolerance of simple mistakes had accentuated his own intolerance of his and his wife’s slightest short-comings. Things like burning the toast, spilling coffee, or being a few minutes late would set him off into a rage. As he stepped back into his military experience, he realized that his training emphasized how a minuscule deviation from the plan of action meant loss of life. Thus he saw how his wife not putting something away in its exact spot might put him into a crazed mania.
If you find yourself relating to the Veteran in this story, it is important that you reach out to a trained therapist for help. You may have been through horrific experiences as a child and have thought yourself in hell during your military service.
I assure you that God passionately cares for you, and deeply desires for you to be supported as you work through these horrific memories and better understand what is behind your raging anger.