Everyone gets angry. Anger is a natural emotion that humanity has plenty of experience with it. When expressed in healthy ways, anger is adaptive and necessary to help us understand, set, and maintain boundaries.
This piece will concentrate on how anger and rage affect survivors physically and mentally. Often, survivors are told they should not be angry and ‘just get over it.’ That is not what this article is about.
Instead, this piece shall examine the importance of anger and rage in healing from complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
Childhood Anger, Rage, and Complex Trauma
Anger, like all emotions, serves the purpose of alerting us we are in some distress. Although anger is uncomfortable mentally and physically, it motivates us to address our needs, desires, and threats. However, unprocessed anger leads to many problems.
When anger or rage is expressed appropriately, the survivor of complex trauma feels relief, and their bodies and minds have a chance to heal.
Researchers estimate that over 3% of people living in the United States have experienced complex trauma and, as a result, have formed CPTSD. This 3% might be an understatement in childhood, as complex trauma is common.
As children, people experiencing CPTSD could not express their emotions healthily, pushing anger and rage deep into their minds. Unfortunately, this anger and rage, when left unexpressed, follow people into adulthood where it turns into depression or many other mental health disorders, including CPTSD (Plate, Bloomberg, et al., 2019).
For children living in a dysfunctional home, it was frightening and perhaps dangerous to get angry or rage at your parents or caregivers, as it may bring more abuse. You grew up with pent-up anger and rage that needs to be expressed.
Types of Anger
Anger is related to the fight, flight, and freeze response of the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and prepares people to fight. Fighting doesn’t just mean getting into a fistfight. Anger, when harnessed, can also motivate people to stand up against injustice.
There are many types of anger/rage, including:
Passive anger. This type of anger doesn’t always exhibit as anger and is difficult to identify. When one experiences passive anger, your emotions are displayed as apathy, meanness, or sarcasm. People exhibiting passive anger might look to others that you are intentionally sabotaging yourself, although you may not realize it.
Chronic anger. This kind of anger is prolonged and can harm the immune system. Chronic anger is the root cause of many mental health disorders. Chronic anger is an extremely troubling emotional state where a person is dominated by their anger. This type of anger is prolonged and does not subside with time like other anger types and causes major damage and significant impairment in daily life. If left untreated, chronic anger can lead to adverse physical problems with the survivor’s immune system and take a huge toll on the person’s mental health.
Self-inflicted anger. A kind of anger directed toward oneself and might be caused by guilt. When internalized, anger can lead to survivors becoming self-critical and self-hating, even if they do not realize it. When self-inflicted anger reaches serious proportions, it can play a huge role in feeling depressed and worthless. Self-inflicted anger leads to self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors, including suicidality.
Overwhelming anger. Caused by life, this type of anger makes demands that are too heavy for a person. Overwhelming anger can lead to suicidal ideations or actions.
Volatile anger. This kind of anger is characterized by spontaneous bouts of excessive/violent anger. Volatile anger/rage is the most recognizable form of anger and often is a surprise to the survivor and those around them. Most commonly found in males with substance abuse problems, anyone can experience volatile anger that includes verbal outbursts, property damage, physical violence, and emotional abuse.
Justified anger. Anger or rage is caused by complex trauma. Justified anger is connected to responding properly to betrayal. This type of anger, while a person may feel angry it can lead to severe mental and physical problems if not appropriately expressed.
The Physical Payment for Remaining Angry
The frequency and duration plus the intensity of anger are problematic. Often, survivors find themselves being controlled by their anger and rage. If endured too frequently, anger can cause enormous physical damage, including lowering the survivor’s immune response. Other negative physical effects of unmanaged anger are:
- Digestion problems
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Skin problems
While anger is a necessary emotion, it can negatively affect the health of a survivor.
The Psychological Consequences of Remaining Angry
Anger that is everlasting and does not diminish over time is dangerous to a survivor’s overall mental health. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is one condition that is enhanced by anger and rage.
There are many other psychological conditions that are made worse are formed because of anger and rage. These include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- Feelings of fear, worry, frustration, or numbness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty making decisions for oneself
The formation of a substance abuse disorder is also a consequence of unrequited anger and rage.
The Role of Anger in Healing from CPTSD
The five stages of grief, authored by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, came about by her discovering that each person she met is grieving in the same manner, even if the grief was experienced differently.
Denial, depression, anger, bargaining, and acceptance are the five stages of anger. Each has its own characteristics and leads to people accepting their loss and moving on. While Elisabeth Kubler-Ross studied grief related to death, the five stages can apply to healing from complex trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
Survivors of childhood trauma have been through much and lost out on their childhoods, plus the parenting they needed. As you can see in the list of the five stages, anger is a necessary part of the grieving process.
Anger is a natural and normal response to childhood trauma and should never be avoided or trivialized. While one does not want to remain angry for life, it is understandable that a survivor who has experienced and lived through childhood trauma feels angry.
Ending Our Time Together
As a survivor myself, I understand that healing from childhood trauma takes time, and yes; I have been angry and remain so at those who harmed me. The effects of what they did are life-altering and have changed my destiny.
I also understand that I must eventually relax and, after expressing my anger safely, release it so that I can improve my mental and physical health.
The only way I know to heal from my anger and the trauma that caused it is to visit a therapist. Some survivors state they dislike therapy and become frustrated at me for saying it is the answer. Obviously, this is not true. There are alternate methods, and I am not aware of them.
If you are feeling deep-seated anger because you are a survivor of childhood trauma and live with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, you can heal. It will take guts, determination, and persistence, but you and I will heal with time.
“Do not let your anger lead to hatred, as you will hurt yourself more than you would the other.” – Stephen Richards
“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” – Buddha
Plate, R. C., Bloomberg, Z., Bolt, D. M., Bechner, A. M., Roeber, B. J., & Pollak, S. D. (2019). Abused children experience high anger exposure. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 440.