In this article I will explain what causes anger issues in relation to CPTSD. In a future one I will go into more depth of what causes anger issues explaining other biological, social and psychological factors.
Firstly, anger is a normal emotion that we all need and have naturally. To get or feel angry by itself isn’t a bad thing. We actually need anger to survive as it is part of our inbuilt flight or fight response to stress. .
If you think about the natural response of a lion hunting for food. He then spots a gazelle who then runs away (flights). However the lion’s hunt is fueled by his passion and aggression (fight) to get what he needs. If he doesn’t fight for what he needs, he won’t eat.
The problem when you have anger issues is that unlike the lion who once he has caught the gazelle, he calms down straight away and he eats. His body relaxes so he can digest his food properly. After that he only then feels this anger when he is hunting for food and defending himself.
This does not happen so easily for if you have anger issues as this fight response does not switch off that easily or it tends to get fired up at times where it is not appropriate.
Why does that happen?
I believe we need to dig deep and look into your past as a child or adolescent where all this could have started.
CPTSD is a severe form of PTSD, sometimes called developmental trauma, and usually arises from trauma or difficulties from childhood. This trauma during your childhood, unlike PTSD, would be repetitive, usually lasting over a long period of time. The child then feels trapped or powerless and there is no way out of it.
The child then adopts coping mechanisms to manage their life to help them to survive. Those coping mechanisms helped them to survive as a child but then it becomes normal and the child brings those ways of coping into adulthood.
I have done a previous article on CPTSD, you can read about it here.
When a child experiences trauma, they usually respond in one of four ways to cushion themselves against what is happening to them in their lives.
Fight – where you believe that power and control is what you need to feel safe
Flight – Where you respond to a threat by finding ways to flee from the situation
Freeze – Where you give up, disconnect, disassociate or numb out to cope
Fawn – You have taught her to appease your abusers to feel safe.
These four ways are known as the 4F type (Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn) response.
There is nothing wrong with any of the 4F types. One is not better than the other. In response to a difficult situation, when we are emotionally healthy, we can access anyone of these appropriately.
It is OK to be angry and to try and control situations. The only issue is when you respond to all situations and difficulties with anger. As opposed to being assertive, set good boundaries. You can be aggressive to defend yourself when necessary.
A difficult childhood is just traumatic for a child in that situation
The first thing to say here is that what is traumatic for a child is not necessarily viewed as traumatic for us as adults. Sometimes we look back at our childhood and think, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that bad, my parents were great etc. It is important to view our childhood through the eyes of a child and their experiences at that time.
So please don’t say, I had a great upbringing, nothing major happened to me, my parents were good people. That’s not the issue here, the issue here is that for you, as a child on an unconscious and subconscious level, you felt you needed to respond in anger to defend and protect yourself against whatever was happening to you.
The only issue here, as it is with all types of trauma mentioned about (Fight, flight, freeze or Fawn), without emotional support of some kind, it is difficult to break out of those behavioural patterns and habits.
People who respond in anger may have experienced one or more of the following as a child:
Witnessed domestic abuse
Unresolved grief / complicated grief
Experiencing violence and aggression either verbal, physical or emotional
Was bullied as a child but did not get any emotional support
Witnessed anger frequently as a way of responding to situations between family members i.e. all family members shouted and argued
Your parents did not demonstrate any boundaries for your anger as a child. Maybe they were quite passive and allowed you to get away with certain behaviours without any consequences.
Unhealthy Sibling rivalry to the extent you were scapegoated
The list can go on
Why you continue to be angry and why it happens.
Remember that if you understand yourself more, you will be in a better position to do something about it.
Previously I mentioned how anger issues relate to Complex Post Traumatic Stress disorder (CPTSD). I introduced what it is and introduced four different types of responses to stress – Fight, flight, freeze and fawn.
Anger is linked to the fight response where the individual feels they need to exert power and control to get their needs met.
It would help, at this stage, to look at some of the symptoms of CPTSD in relation to anger. In particular these symptoms of CPTSD which are
We are going to look at each of these three symptoms in relation to someone I just made up called Jennifer.
Jennifer who is a typical twenty something millennia lady who on the surface had great professional hard-working parents. She was an only child and wanted for nothing. In the material sense anyway.
Jennifer had frequent bouts of anger, especially with her current boyfriend Leonard. He would only have to breathe heavy and she would lose her temper. One day her anger spilled outside the home to one of her colleagues who made a sarcastic comment to her in a team meeting. He embarrassed her.
She laid into him and did not stop till she knew he was crushed. She couldn’t help herself.
Why did she react like that when she could have seen the funny side and realised he didn’t mean any harm? Or she could have just spoken to him after.
Digging deeper into her childhood history, in this seemingly well-off family. All her parents gave her was presents, gifts, toys. She was drowning in them as a child. What she didn’t get was enough affection and attention. Very often, her demands as a toddler for attention was dismissed with annoyance and sarcasm. The only way she began to get more attention from them was when she threw a tantrum.
She learnt pretty quickly that she could control people with her anger. She felt safe when she got angry, people did what she wanted as this was the only time her parents paid her any meaningful attention.
Her parents were “lovely” people, because of their own childhood experiences, that affected how they choose to parent Jennifer.
According to Pete Walker, “flashbacks are sudden and often prolonged regression, emotionally, to the often-frightening circumstances of childhood. These feelings are often intense and confusing”. Fear and despair is usually at the root of these intense feelings but many times, someone with anger issues responds with rage, power and control rather than allow themselves to feel that vulnerability.
Many people are not always consciously aware of what is really happening. They don’t realise that they are responding to a memory as we don’t always make the connection. They may not realise that at the root of their so-called anger could be fear and unresolved pain.
Generally something triggers these feelings and it could be anything but, in this example, we will look at anger in relationships.
When someone with CPTSD gets angry, they are often unaware that they are having an emotional flashback to previous childhood trauma. They are convinced that their anger is because of the person that has hurt their feelings in the present time. Often, when we over react and the present situation does not fit your reaction, it is likely that we could be having an emotional flashback.
Jennifer totally overreacted at the team meeting when she lost her temper with her colleague Martin. Yes, he was annoying but to verbally abuse him like that was really over the top as he did not deserve to be spoken to like that.
Jennifer was unaware that she was having an emotional flashback to her childhood where her parents were often dismissive and sarcastic. Because she hasn’t resolved that from when that hurt her as a child, she still carries that hurt and pain with her today. This hurt and pain infects how she sees herself and how she sees other people.
Rather than given into her feelings and allow herself to feel what was really going on for her, she projected her anger on him so she could gain back some control.
Healthy shame is I’ve made a mistake. Toxic shame is “I am a mistake”. Jennifer saw this sarcastic comment as a flaw on her character. She only saved face by resorting to the only method she knows how which is to project her feelings of shame back onto to Martin. She felt exposed and she made sure that he would feel what she was feeling. Even though Jennifer appears confident, her self-esteem is quite fragile.
She felt ashamed but made sure she didn’t appear vulnerable to her colleagues or to him
The inner critic refers to our inner voice which is always negative. When Jennifer was a child and often heard sarcastic comments from her parents, she believed them. Because those comments were often repeated over a long period of time those words and those common phrases that she heard from them shaped and became part of her identity. Her mum doesn’t have to tell her she is stupid any more. She subconsciously remembers it now and says it to herself.
Now when someone says something demeaning and sarcastic to her, it just confirms what she says about herself which just in turn fuels her anger.
Half the battle when dealing with issues such as anger is learning about yourself and where the anger came from. There is always a reason so you can cut yourself some slack. Give yourself the opportunity to learn more about yourself so you can get the help you need to work out where you go from here.
It is also worth noting that it was neither yours or Jennifer’s fault what happened to you in childhood to make you like this. However, you are now capable and able to make a change in your life even though you might feel powerless to do anything about it.
Hope you enjoyed this article, let me know what you think by commenting down below or by messaging me.
I am a Therapist based in Sutton Coldfield, UK also available online.
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