Those of us who have suffered significant childhood trauma often find, in both adolescence and adulthood, that we are full of rage and have great difficulties controlling our feelings of anger. Reasons for this include the conscious or unconscious hostility we feel towards our parent/primary caregiver whom we believe to have significantly contributed to our mental anguish. Such feelings can lead to us :
a) directly expressing our anger towards our parent/primary care-giver
b) DISPLACING the anger we feel towards our parent/primary caregiver onto others (especially if we IDENTIFY such others with our parent/primary caregiver e.g. a therapist) even though they were not the primary cause of it
c) both of the above
d) REPRESS our anger towards our parent/primary care-giver (ie deny it/bury it deep within ourselves) so that we are NOT CONSCIOUSLY AWARE OF IT. If this happens, unconscious processes may take place which causes us to turn this anger in upon ourselves resulting, perhaps, in self-loathing, clinical depression, suicidal thoughts/behaviors, and/or psychosomatic illnesses.
FLUCTUATING MOOD :
We may find, too, that, as adults who experienced severe childhood trauma, our moods are far more prone to change than the average person’s. We may, for example, find our feelings of intense irritation and anger are much more easily triggered than they are in most others. In short, we may find our moods and emotions are highly unstable and unpredictable. This, in turn, can cause others to be wary about interacting with us, perhaps feeling that, when they do, they are ‘walking on eggshells.’
We are especially likely to experience problems controlling our moods and emotions if our adverse childhood experiences have led to us developing a mental illness such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP OURSELVES TO CONTROL OUR MOODS/OUTBURSTS OF ANGER?
1) If we have a mental illness, such as BPD or PTSD (as referred to above) we should very seriously consider obtaining specialized treatment to ameliorate such conditions. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy are two possible options).
2) Improve our diet – for example, a high intake of sugar can cause intense highs and lows directly affecting our mood.
3) Cut down on caffeine and alcohol, both of which can have powerful effects on how we feel
4) Avoid recreational drugs – this is especially important if we are vulnerable/have a pre-disposition) to developing mental illness. Recreational drugs can tip people over the edge (eg cannabis-induced psychosis).
5) Try to tackle any sleep problems – lack of sleep/sleep deprivation is very likely to make us more irritable/prone to anger.
6) Reduce stress as much as possible – this is extremely important as, when we feel under attack and generally oppressed, then, much like a cornered animal, we are far more prone to ‘lash out.’ This is an inbuilt, biological defense mechanism. If we have been drinking due to stress and, as a result, our inhibitions are lowered, we are particularly at risk of destructive behaviors which we are liable, later, deeply to regret.
Furthermore, if we suffered severe childhood trauma, it is possible that the development of vital brain regions such as the amygdala were adversely affected. Such damage is now known to make it much harder to deal with stress and to make the individual who sustained it generally more emotionally unstable (click here to read my article on this).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).