Keywords: Complex PTSD and Anger.
Anger is one of the hardest emotions to come to terms with. It is an emotion that is, for the most part, rejected by society and instilled from very early on, to be avoided or suffer the consequences (rejection, being ‘frozen’ out or receive punishment).
Within the energy of anger is also where your empowerment lies. When constructively expressed—through healthy boundaries—it puts you in touch with your sense of self; it assists you in being able to distinguish with discriminating clarity, which are your own thoughts and feelings and which are someone else’s. And it also gives you motivation, drive, and persistence.
Why Dealing Complex PTSD and Anger is so Tough
Uncontained anger, for over a too long period of time, is certainly destructive.
It will move between extremes of suppression, and thereby expressing itself as self-reproach, self-doubt, self-criticism and/or self-hate and will impact on one’s sense of self, self-worth, and self-esteem.
When anger swings to its opposite extreme it projects itself onto what is wrong with the world and others through blame, fault-finding, and self-righteousness.
Uncontained anger, for over a too long period of time, is certainly destructive.
Both the inward and outward expressions of uncontained anger tends to lend a negative, even destructive element to the expression of anger. Hence, how we look at and approach anger become negatively tainted and filled with judgment of it, making it harder to observe and come to grips with it.
3 Types of Uncontained Anger and PTSD: Creating a Healthy Framework
Each emotion has its rightful place and healthy expression, including anger. When someone is unrighteously hurtful towards you, there's a need to state your boundaries, or even fight back to protect yourself.
The problem is that when your relationship with anger is unhealthy you will either not react in a stressful or aggressive situation or you will overreact, rendering your response out of proportion to the situation. In both instances, you're furthering the conflict within yourself.
In the above so far I have gone into the unhealthy relationship with anger you might have developed, and how that acts out or fails to act out.
And, I have identified three types or forms of uncontained anger and how it flows into a fragmented form of anger; and these are:
- Anger that flows inward into self-reproach (related to that are self-hate, issues of self-worth and self-esteem).
- When anger flows outward into blame (hate and revenge are attributes of blame).
- Anger that flows outward into self-righteousness (fault-finding, pride and criticism form part of self-righteousness)
Getting insight into how Complex PTSD and anger is not working for you is half of the work! It gives you a clear understanding of; the way in which it impacts you.
Finding the Middle Ground; Neither to Suppress nor to React on Anger
As you are aware now that emotion can be expressed both constructively and destructively, I would like to invite you to observe any criticism of anger you might still hold.
If you could you close your eyes for a moment and see where you hold your anger in your body. When you feel where your anger is located and connect with it, see if your thoughts interfere and give it a value judgment of self-reproach, blame or self-righteousness. Slow it down, because it moves rapidly.
Before that energy moves further into memories, thoughts, events and the people it relates to I want you to stop there for a moment. If you can negate that movement that goes into thoughts and bring your attention back to what was before.
The feeling in the body. The anger or sensation of anger. The heat.
The staying with the discomfort of it, and not act on it in any way. Now knowing, how overwhelming emotion dissociates/disconnects into thoughts through self-reproach, blame or self-righteousness.
Navigating the Extremes of Complex PTSD and Anger
And as you sit with yourself observing and holding the anger you can even express and validate it towards yourself by whispering (or verbalizing) ‘I am really really angry’. But maintaining the importance of what YOU feel. Neither letting it implode or explode.
As you feel the emotion of it, you may sense that it comes in mounting waves. It might come with anxiety and/or sadness. Once you have reached a certain height, the emotion subsides and is released.
It is by staying fully with it while validating and expressing it's meaning, that you bring containment to it, and are able to process its emotional residue.
How are you dealing with complex PTSD and anger? Leave your comments below.
All of them. Negative feeling/image as well as self righteousness and wanting to find answers/blame. Everything that you mentioned. As well as being critical to everything around me. Although I have been aware of it and trying to recognize it when i do it.
It all starts by bringing awareness to it.
Can you give an example of “expressing its meaning?” Some people say that mindfulness alone is not enough, that you have to mobilize the anger in a way that effects change outwardly Is that what you mean?
I think there are two parts to it. One is to allow oneself to be vulnerable enough to feel the emotion and the hurt of it. Second is to express those emotions as healthy boundaries. The latter is especially important when working with anger as within anger is also your empowerment and the moving away from anxiety.
When one opens up to that vulnerability, does that healthy expression not more or less occur very naturally?
Not really. The vulnerability makes you feel into the pain that is there. Working with anger often needs expression, which needs a facing of one’s anxiety and please response to be able to access the anger. It is best to do this in a therapeutic setting to practice this.
WOW! This is me to a T! My suppressed anger comes out sideways often, and it is totally out of context to the situation at hand. Although I do however find myself in yet another very unhealthy working environment where I am once again having to protect myself from loud and destructive verbal abuse. I keep quiet, unable to find a healthy way to protect myself and this is so extremely frustrating and difficult. My ‘flight and fight’ emotions are so raw that I battle to react in a constructive and healthy manner. I would dearly love to be able to respond effectively and not succumb to the petulance of subservience and becoming completely mute!!! I further hate the fact that I cannot stand up for myself in defence that is adequate. This frequent situation leaves me feel worse and worse about myself, compounding my already low self esteem and feelings of inadequacy and the constant reminder whilst in these frequent situations is making it very difficult to grow with the new found knowledge I have learned while on the journey to self growth. I really and truly have a very hard time managing and accepting my anger/disappointment. I am not physically aggressive but it is very evident I become a verbal tiger when it does raise its horrible head. I would LOVE to be assisted in this area of growth. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the wonderful articles I have received this far. My journey of recovery has been a slow one and not without the excruciating pain of transformation, but I am still walking forward and that is progress.
Happy to hear it resonates with you. Keep moving forward.
I was never allowed to express my anger as a child even though I was being seriously abused by my mother and brother. Even now at 62, I am deathly afraid of conflict for fear of being rejected, abandoned, or abused.
I was never allowed to feel anger either as a child – I used to take it out on my teddy bears and “torture” them, although I always loved animals and protected them with all my body and soul (I still do, I work in rescue). I came from a wealthy family of doctors and politicians, all powerful, well respected people, but nobody knew how angry and frightening they were at home. The ultimate hiders. Everyone else around me showed anger freely, when I finally popped at the age of 43 and screamed back they all got surprised and then started really turning on me, they cut me out, froze out my son, told me I was a loser, that I was dying of cancer (my father being a doctor did a blood test and decided I would be dead in two years – this with a one year old boy as as single mum) and that I was better off dead. I cut out everyone I could, everyone who was the cause of the anger, but have still not been able to deal with my own self worth and fear of reprisals and nastiness. About a year ago I decided abandonment was a perpetual state. This has helped as now it’s about acceptance. But the anger at the original perpetrators still remains and I know I still attract angry people into my life. it’s gradually getting better, but being perpetually alone with my son is not helping, and the fact they have been able to rewrite history to suit their own story doesn’t help, (telling people I am borderline and have bipolar – neither of which are true) because I have never been able to defend myself in front of people they justify themselves to. Anger is a huge theme for me.
Anger was the cause of my depression.
You have just written my life story, Anna, even down to how they diagnosed you. I have just come out of an emotionally abusive marriage and during painful therapy discovered that I married my mother who scapegoated me my entire life, spoke ill of me behind my back and triangulated me to all and sundry. I have been like a hermit these last five years, fearful of the world and being further hurt by letting anyone get close. My anger, albeit contained, does erupt for the wrong reasons. I feel cheated of my life, my joy. I question what my purpose is. I have been used, abused and discarded to the point my abandonment issues, unknown to me till recently, have spiralled to the point I am a quivering wreck. Self-worth and compassion for self is so short-lived, like you say … the reprisals which just add more fear. What your father did to you was appalling, how could he, his own daughter? I am proud of you for walking, I did too, but with it comes our own recriminations. I feel I was born guilty so will always make other people’s bad treatment of me my fault. We have basically been brain-washed when all we wanted was to be loved, accepted and validated for ourselves. I feel for you your loss. Hugs xx
I have moments of explosive rage and anger, where I can break the world, everything and everyone around me. I hate it, so I travel through life alone, it is less stressful and I don’t hurt anybody that way.
Me too. You are not alone.
I thought I had “a problem with anger” and I discovered that I had a problem with accepting my righteous anger. By righteous anger I mean appropriate angry reaction to having my boundaries crossed and abuse or attempts thereof. Now the more I work on the acceptance side, the less problem I have with my anger, I feel so much more love and acceptance towards myself. I did the exercise above (connecting and sitting with my anger) and I was pleased to discover that even though I felt the anger, and powerful anger too, it didn’t migrate or turn into thoughts – I just sat with that fire in my solar plexus feeling OK about it. After a while I connected with anxiety and sadness though – the result of my childhood experiences which probably led me to reject the anger itself and my angry self. I think anger is a great gift – a lot of people really should have a blast getting appropriately angry if we are to bring balance to this world! Thank you, Roland, great article 🙂
Hi Agata. Nice to hear you applied the exercise and shared it here with us.
Anger was a very taboo and suppressed emotion in my Primary family. My eldest sibling, who is 9 years older than me had a serious mental illness, and I remember specifically being told by my parents that anger was one of his triggers. So I’ve had a horrible time expressing my anger and getting on in life, anger is such a vital and important emotion, I’ve spent a lot of my life stuck and waiting to be rescued by relationships, no one can rescue you but yourself. I know that I tend to internalise anger and blame others not taking full responsibility, this article is key Roland, thank you, I’ve already ordered the ebook, I love reading these articles they are very helpful. I think I’m full of self reproach and self esteem problems hopefully these will improve. Regards
Now is the time. Happy to hear the articles are of help to you.
I definitely have the inward flowing anger, and sometimes if I’m honest (though I really hate it… in myself and in others,) I have some self-righteous anger, like my way is better. I will try the exercise you suggest after reading it again. Thanks.
Yeh. I admit i tend over re act and have hurt people. I never was the type like this beforevi was married. I was always on the quiet side. But married into am alcholic man who has been verbably and physically. From the srart for 26 yrs. He has destroyed so many relationships on me and getting fired from his job with his mouth. Im in processbof going through divorce.
Thank you for this. Now im wondering if all the moments of sobbing sorrow that comes up for me looking at the repeat cycles of abuse is really anger turned into self reproach and shame. I’m afraid of my anger, that I will kick off and get locked up if I let it out. But I yearn to. Becuase it does surprise me how it spurts out over seemingly insignificant things. I hate to say how deeply disrespected I feel, it feels so narcissistic, but I have submitted to so much disrespect to avoid abandonment. I’ve lanced nearly everyone out of my life, seeing the betrayals more clearly. But I’m still doing the mental dance of self righteousness, blame and self reproach (which can lead me back to begging for the abusers’ forgiveness) and I need to slow this down, and allow the anger to swell up without trying to change it, solve it, appoint a culprit. It is all incredibly confusing to me but I am learning incrementally what I need to do or allow or see to no longer be a stranger to myself. Or so I hope.
Brilliant and well put! In my late 20’s, I was a mess from repressed anger and grief. Discovering bioenergetics in 1971 turned my life around: as I let go unclaimed grief about my mother’s death when I was only 13, hope and vitality returned.
Finding and learning how to work with anger was an even bigger godsend. I gained boundaries and got the nerve to become a writer and speaker from the heart. Now I recognize anger as a powerful messenger: am I cranky because I am tired or taking on things that are not mine to do? Is there something that’s seriously bothering me that I’ve been trying to ignore? Is there an injustice that I am called to help correct?
One of the most important things I learned about anger is ANGER DOES NOT EQUAL MEANNESS, NASTINESS, EVIL, or VIOLENCE. Anger is a message, a feeling, the others are actions taken for reasons including: a) people aren’t
willing to admit and work with their own anger, so it boils over inappropriately; 2) people choose to accept reality as it is and work to make it better in a responsible way; or they 3) choose to go negatively wild in any way that can harm others.
It is way past time to have a big national conversation on anger and how growing up on all our parts calls for self-responsibility about anger, spiritual intelligence, and emotional intelligence. And that means taking anger out of its hiding place and bringing it into the open where it can be healed.
Thank you again. Your work is so needed.
There’s a fine line between judging oneself or being judged ‘self-righteous’ and ‘righteous anger’.
How do we change anything that is a true, moral imperative, unless we’re finally mad as hell, and not willing to allow ‘that’ (whatever ‘that’ may be) anymore?
“Calm-Assertiveness” is a skill I’ve hoped to learn, and am making slow, deliberate progress.
“Non-Violent Communication” is something I’m practicing right now. And, I do mean “practicing”.
“If at first you don’t succeed? Brush yourself off, owning the apparent failing, and try, try, try again until it becomes second-nature.” (A Paraphrase).
Thanks for the article. Well-Said.
Thank u for your article it resonates a disconnectedness i am now able to connect with though understanding thank u
Seems to me there is always something new to learn about our curious emotions.
Thank you very much for the article. I now realize that out of not knowing how to deal with the emotion, I went to criticizing and blaming .. I wanted to be heard .. often made the experience though, that what I’m angry about is too much for others .. it makes most of them sick to even think about what I am dealing with .. it frightens others “to death”.
So now you gave me a new way of dealing with the emotion. “The way in is the way out” 😉
I will keep that in my heart and it goes with all king of emotions that are usually validated as negative .. I have plenty of them .. besides also being able to feel good emotions .. but with “boundaries” due to flashbacks I still have .. 5 years after the nightmare .. cancer of husband and son at the same time, died in the same month.
This year I am starting to make huge progress. I started with Trauma Sensitive Yoga, sticking with Bikram yoga, started Neurofeedback training 2 months ago, and am getting into TRE, Trauma Tension Release exercises.
For the first time, in September, I was able to work .. doing dishes at a small restaurant and helping out at event catering collecting dirty dishes and glasses. Before, I never even could imagine that I’d be able to do anything. I was pretty hopeless about my future .. could not see how things eventually might start to change one day.
I think I have a lot of anger, but I have shut it down so much that I am not able to feel it. How can I connect with that anger?
What is present for you in the moment. Is it feeling anxious, depressed, sad? You will have to start with where you are first and ask yourself what that particular state protects you from, which might indeed be feeling anger.
Anger is the hardest emotion & the feelings ( as above all 3 ).
I was NEVER allowed to say anything, unless spoken too, if I got angry I was shut down with ” Don’t you start!!! ”
All my so called friends,family have rejected me, as I stopped being thier doormat, I don’t want them back.
Infact, this journey is only possible, when you are on your own.
I have restarted my journaling, so i remember (Dissociation & going numb) so I can stay mindful & allow myself to feel the emotion, I hate it, as I feel so overwhelmed, but slow & steady,one day at a time.
This is the hardest thing I have EVER done, but it’s better, than reliving the past, over & over, being bitter,resentful & completely lost, numb & empty.
Too much going on in my head to really write anything interesting, but childhood stuff seems to be at the root of everything.
Just sitting with it and feeling it does nothing but raise your awareness of it
I’ve failed. I’m so interested in revenge and rage that I LOVE IT. I LIVE HATE. I’ve plotted the murder of my enemies 10,000 times over, Trying to discern any possible snag in my plan and to develop counter measures for my eventual demise at my own hands. Not at the hands of the police who raped me with a billy club 26 years ago.
I’ve been having a really hard time with this lately. Just this morning I was triggered and felt such anger and rage that I just exploded. Felt horrible afterwards. I’m more aware of it than I have ever been so that’s a good start. Trying to reach up on all I can to learn coping skills.