Living with PTSD: An Antidote to Anger

dealing with anger and irritability.jpg

This article is a guest post from Patience Mason's PTSD Blog. It was republished on PsyWeb.com with permission.

Anger can become your biggest problem after you get home, driving away your friends and family, isolating you so that you can't get the help you need to process what you have been through. It can make you dangerous and unreasonable, self-righteous and cruel.

If you develop chronic PTSD, your cortisol levels will be depleted, so you can't calm down once you are angry. And while you are angry, your heartbeat may get above 175 beats per minute, which means your brain is not operating either, so no one can reason with you.

Anger Is a Symptom of PTSD

If you have been to war and are now constantly angry, that is a symptom of PTSD. You may not like to hear that, but you have been, quite naturally, affected by the war. Many generations of veterans have lost family and friends because of this symptom, and it is not your family nor your friends' fault. They could behave perfectly, and you would still be pissed off.

Nothing they do will prevent that because this anger is welling up in you due to your experiences, and you need to process those experiences with an experienced therapist, or work a fourth step with a sponsor in AA/NA or some other 12-step program (In the fourth step, you start by listing your resentments - the fun part - and then you look at your part...) or start meditating so that you can see your anger as an emotion and not THE TRUTH about what is going on.

Handling your anger is your responsibility. You need to learn to walk away, and your spouse needs to learn to let you. You need to learn how to let go of anger, seeing the emotion beneath it, like feeling disrespected, blamed, guilty, or afraid you won't get what you want.

An Antidote to Anger

Steven Stosny's HEALS technique is the most effective antidote to anger that I know of. It is an acronym:

  • Healing: See the letters flashing in neon, which takes you out of the angry space.
  • Explain to yourself what the underlying feeling is - from disrespected down to worthless - and feel that feeling for a few seconds, like an inoculation, so that you can tolerate the painful feeling without flying off the handle, which gets easier with practice.
  • Apply compassion to yourself: "Of course it hurts to feel disrespected or worthless, so I need to have compassion for my pain and to respect myself or value myself, give myself an antidote to the pain which fits the particular kind of pain I am feeling."
  • Love yourself: If this sounds selfish, loving yourself means you will be able to love others and feel compassion for them too.
  • Solve the problem: Anything you say or do that does not involve yelling or other outbursts of anger is much more likely to solve the problem. When you are not angry, your thinking is clearer and your solutions are better.

Stosny has written a book for people in emotionally abusive situations - and blowing up at your nearest and dearest is emotional abuse - called You Don't Have To Take It Anymore, which contains a boot camp for the person who is doing all of the yelling and name-calling and criticizing. If you are doing that, the book will help you.

You have to think about what kind of a partner and parent you want to be and commit to that. Was your plan to emotionally abuse your family and friends? Probably not.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

There is a type of therapy, which is used at some VA hospitals, called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). You accept that you have been affected by war (or if you have been diagnosed with PTSD, by that) and you commit to learning how to be the type of spouse and parent you've always wanted to be. You learn basic un-training, which means how to take time for yourself so that you are not blowing up all of the time, how to handle your anger, how to let other people make mistakes (it is how they learn), be human, etc.

You have to commit to your own healing and to being fair to your family, even though what happened to you and your friends in war WAS NOT FAIR. None of them deserved to die. You don't deserve to have PTSD. That is the truth. But you do deserve to recover, no matter what you did or didn't do, saw or didn't see - you deserve to recover and to have a good life.

 
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