Addressing Your Anger

Author: IAFF Center of Excellence Staff

December 22, 2019

At its core, anger is one of the most primal survival responses in human beings. It’s no wonder that it’s so closely tied to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traumatic events are often life-threatening. Experiencing trauma can leave you feeling vulnerable. Anger may serve as a way to cope and maintain some sense of control.  

But what happens when anger goes ignored or unchecked? Unfortunately, this can happen to some fire fighters and paramedics in the wake of traumatic events. The good news is that it’s possible to manage post-traumatic anger by recognizing it, understanding its roots and seeking professional treatment for PTSD when indicated.

Fire fighters getting ready to put out the fire of a burning building

Understanding Anger

As with any emotion, anger is complex. It manifests itself both physically and mentally. In many cases, anger manifests as behaviors that can affect your family life, work and relationships

Post-traumatic anger may play a role in three different aspects of PTSD:

  1. Arousal: This is the bodily manifestations of anger, including muscle tension, increased heart rate and increased blood circulation. Also referred to as hyperarousal, people with PTSD tend to find themselves in this heightened state on a near-constant basis, making them more likely to lash out and become angry over any perceived threat. In an attempt to soothe and calm themselves from this heightened state of alertness, many people seek out drugs and alcohol.
  2. Thoughts and Beliefs: This refers to the internal mental manifestations of anger, including the belief that threats are everywhere, no one can be trusted and the environment is out of control. If you struggle with PTSD, you might not be aware of the ways that your inner experience has been shaped by your trauma.
  3. Behavior: In the aftermath of a traumatic event, anger can help fuel irritability, aggression towards others and impulsive or self-destructive behavior.

Learning to Cope

Post-traumatic anger can be all-consuming, dramatically altering the way you see yourself, the people you love and the world as a whole. If left unchecked, it can end careers, disrupt households and ruin lives. If you struggle with anger after a traumatic event, you might feel out of control and powerless to stop it. Fortunately, there are proven ways to control post-traumatic anger and related symptoms

In the same way that all emotions communicate important information about both the outer world and inner experience, anger in the wake of trauma can be an important sign that healing needs to take place. With the help of professional care from a trusted therapist, you can begin to understand the roots of your anger and learn the skills needed to manage it. A better life is out there, and treatment for your PTSD could be the first step toward attaining it.

You might feel alone, but the truth is that countless men and women have been in your boots. With the help of professional care, you can find relief. The IAFF Center of Excellence is a behavioral health treatment center that specializes in care for IAFF members.

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