In the previous blog in this series, I introduced how anger relates 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.
Please read the article first here before reading this one.
It would help, at this stage, to look at the symptoms of CPTSD in relation to anger
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. They 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 respond 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 over reacted at the team meeting when she lost her temper 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 yours or Jennifer’s fault what happened to you in childhood to make you like this, but you are not 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.