Trauma and Anger: 6 Questions to Consider

Trigger Warning: The following blog post discusses trauma, including the definition, possible causes, and its potential impact on you and/or your children. Please be advised. 

If you want to help your child to manage their anger, you first have to help yourself. 

One of the first facts we teach in our anger management course is that anger is a learned behavior. This means that your triggers for anger, the way you communicate your anger, and how you express your anger were most likely shaped by either someone or something you experienced in your life.

Take a moment to reflect on who or where you learned your anger from. Upon reflection, you may realize that the triggers, expression, and communication of your anger was learned from someone close to you. Most adults can identify either a parent, friend, partner, coach, boss, or person close to them. You may also realize that your anger became more problematic after experiencing a traumatic event.

Trauma is commonly defined as a disturbing or painful experience. Trauma is professionally understood in the medical/scientific community as something that develops from “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 271). In regards to the way you think about your exposure to trauma, we believe that you are the expert on your life. Therefore, if you think of an experience you had as traumatic or life-altering, and you know it has had an impact on your expression of anger, it is important to explore/consider that.

So, what is the connection between trauma and anger? Research demonstrates that childhood maltreatment in the form of trauma can lead to a negative impact for mental health in adulthood (Edwards et al., 2003). Furthermore, in studies examining the correlation of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anger, it is known that those who have experienced trauma often report an anger response as a common symptom (Durham et al., 2010). 

This connection may be both a call for you to recognize the negative impact trauma has had on your life, and a motivator to get help for your anger. Ask yourself the following questions to help pinpoint where you may need some assistance:

  1. Is something I experienced in the past still negatively impacting me or my anger today?
  2. Am I losing control of my anger, and if so, do I feel shameful for my actions?
  3. Do I show some of the same loss of control of anger as someone I know?
  4. Did my anger begin or become worse after a difficult or traumatic experience?
  5. Is my child being exposed to traumatic/negative consequences of my anger?
  6. Does my child react similarly to me during stressful and/or frustrating times?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, it may be time to consider or seek help/support for your anger. There are many specialists out there who teach anger management skills and who also understand the importance of trauma-informed care. Separately, there is also specific help or treatment for trauma or PTSD that you can obtain along with anger management. In our experience, many clients find that doing both is effective.

In conclusion, losing control of your anger is a behavioral pattern that can be learned, however, the good news is that it can also be unlearned. If you are able to heal from trauma and unlearn these behaviors, there is a much lower risk that your children or family will be impacted in a negative way. Our hope is that you will consider taking the first step to change your life.

References

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
  • Durham, T., Byllesby, B., Armour, C., Forbes, D., & Elhai, J. (2016). Relations between anger and DSM-5 posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. Psychiatry Research, 244, 403–409. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2016.08.004
  • Edwards, V. J., Holden, G. W., Felitti, V. J., & Anda, R. F. (2003). Relationship between multiple forms of childhood maltreatment and adult mental health in community respondents: results from the adverse childhood experiences study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 160(8), 1453–1460.
  • United Nations. (2015). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved from https://www.un.org/en/udhrbook/pdf/udhr_booklet_en_web.pdf

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