Anger From Childhood May Operate To Soothe Emotional Pain

Childhood abuse/trauma can put as at an increased risk of developing problems controlling our anger as adults, particularly if the abuse/trauma that we have suffered has been serious enough to result in us developing a serious psychological condition such as borderline personality disorder or complex posttraumatic stress disorder.

Steven Stosny, author of the excellent book Treating Attachment Disorder, proposes that the act of getting angry may function, at times, to reduce the level of psychological pain we are feeling (it is known that borderline personality disorder can cause intense mental suffering, even agony).

 

How Can Anger Alleviate Mental Suffering?

According to Stosny, anger may lessen mental suffering by the chemical changes it produces in the brain, in particular by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter called norepinephrine.

 

‘Core Hurts’

Stosny further states that the mental pain our anger may help to soothe is pain that is linked to our core hurts‘ ; these are the painful feelings that we carry around with us that are linked to our childhood trauma / abuse and may include those of :

   – rejection

   – worthlessness

   – powerlessness / helplessness 

   – guilt

   – shame

   – being ‘unlovable

   – being an ‘outcast’

Anger As A Kind Of Addictive Drug :

If, then, as Stosny suggests, the act of getting angry, by producing chemical changes in the brain that serve as a psychological analgesic (i.e. pain-killer / self-soothing agent), it is possible that, just as we can become addicted to other pain-killing drugs (such as morphine), some of us may become addicted to anger as a means of coping with unbearable mental anguish. 

Any Benefit Of Anger Likely To Be Short-Term :

However, the possible analgesic effect of anger are likely to be ephemeral ; indeed, research suggests that, overall, the effects of chronic, high levels of anger can DAMAGE the brain (seeTHE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF ANGER ON THE BRAIN AND BODY, below).This is because, after the initial boost of norepinephrine, we are likely to regret, and feel guilty about, our behavior and find that, in the longer term, it has merely served to compound our already not  inconsiderable problems.

 

 THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF ANGER ON THE BRAIN AND BODY.

 

 

Five major causes of anger are fear, rejection, frustration, disappointment and being negatively evaluated by others. When such causes occur, a chain reaction takes place within the brain :

First, the region of the brain known as the amygdala is activated (one of the consequences of childhood trauma is that the amygdala can become highly sensitive and over-reactive); in turn, the amygdala activates the hippocampus which, in its turn, activates the pituatary gland.

The pitutary gland then activates the adrenal glands which produce stress hormones including :

 

 – norepinephrine.

cortisol

adrenaline

noradrenaline

 

THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF CORTISOL ON THE BRAIN :

Excessive cortisol :

– harms the prefrontal cortex

– harms the hippocampus

– reduces levels of serotonin

 

I provide more details about these three adverse effects below :

 

Cortisol can cause neurons in the brain to absorb excessive quantities of calcium which, in turn, can cause these same neurons to fire too frequently and die.

Two areas of the brain which are especially vulnerable to losing neurons in this way are the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus ; let’s look a little more closely at the implications of this :

 

ADVERSE EFFECT ON PREFRONTAL CORTEX :

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain involved in planning, judgment and decision making ; it follows, therefore, that the loss of neurons in this part of the brain impairs these functions.

 

ADVERSE EFFECT ON HIPPOCAMPUS :

The hippocampus is the part of the brain involved in short-term memory and the formation of new memories ; again, it follows that the loss of neurons in this part of the brain impairs these functions.

 

REDUCTION OF SEROTONIN LEVELS :

Levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin are lowered ; lowered levels of serotonin are associated with : increased aggression, increased sensitivity to painful stimuli, increased susceptibility to depression.

 

THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF STRESS HORMONES ON THE BODY :

Excessive levels of stress hormones generated by anger also physically damage the body ; in particular, harm is incurred by :

the immune system

– the cardiovascular system

– the digestive system

 

Let’s look at how these bodily systems are damaged in a little more detail :

 

THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM : impaired functioning of the metabolic system, reduction in blood flow

THE CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM : increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, increased levels of glucose levels in the blood, increased levels of fatty acids in the blood, increase in tension of the arteries – these symptoms in turn increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

THE IMMUNE SYSTEM : impaired functioning of the thyroid, increase in the number of cells infected by viruses, reduction in the levels of diseases fighting cells, increased risk of cancer.

 

Freeing Ourselves From Anger About Our Past :

 

It is far from uncommon for those of us who have experienced a traumatic childhood to remain angry and resentful about the past, specifically, perhaps, about how our parents badly treated us. This can result in us bearing grudges and feeling bitter for years, decades, or even for a whole lifetime.

We have all heard the expression, ‘forgive and forget’, but how applicable is it to the kind of situation that I have just described?

Well, first of all, it is not possible to forget (unless, that is, we have unconsciously repressed the memories of what happened to us as a means of psychological defense).

But what about forgiveness? As we are all different, and as our past experiences are also all different, this boils down to a matter of personal choice. Notwithstanding this, many psychologists advocate forgiveness, not least because the act of forgiving is very likely to benefit us, and, of course, the flip side of this is that a decision NOT to forgive is liable to damage us.

let_go_of_past

How Does Remaining Angry Harm Us?

If we constantly brood about how we were wronged in the past this can be mentally exhausting and cause us to feel perpetually anguished, unhappy and unable to enjoy the present or look forward to the future.

It also gives more power to those who wronged us : not only have they hurt us in the past, but, by refusing to let go of what they did to us, we allow them to keep us unhappy, both now and in the future. To put it colloquially, we permit them to score a double whammy against us.

By staying angry, bitter and resentful we may perpetuate a self-destructive feeling of unresolved anger (which we may displace onto others, ruining our relationships); emotionally exhaust ourselves with constant feelings of animosity and, in some cases, hatred; get caught up in a futile mental cycle of revenge fantasies and of waiting for those who hurt us to make amends (which, sadly, often never happens).

Moving On:

Instead of inflicting this pointless mental suffering on ourselves, we have the option to take what lessons we can from our adverse experiences and move forward with our lives, perhaps even turning these adverse experiences to our own advantage, in as far as this may be possible.

The Bottom Line :

The bottom line is straight-forward :

Does holding on to anger, bitterness and resentment make our present lives, and future prospects, better or worse?

It is, of course, up to each individual to decide.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

ALL OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT ANGER, PLEASE CLICK HERE

 

Resources:

LET IT GO : HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

MANAGER YOUR ANGER PACK | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

 

eBook :

childhood trauma control anger

Above eBook now available on Amazon for instant download. Click here for further information.

 

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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