Dealing With Trauma & Anger

I used to visit a support forum online for people recovering from various types of trauma. It felt like a wonderful place, and I know it does a lot of good for people. But after I was there for a while I started to wonder, “why don’t I see anyone getting well here?” Out of all the people there, you would see lots of people having “insights,” but the insights didn’t seem to translate into anything but small improvements in their actual lives. The more time you spent there, the more you saw people repeating the same patterns. Once in a while people would suddenly quit coming and I’d wonder, “what happened to them?”

I really wanted people to get well and to feel better myself so I kept thinking what to do next, what was the next step? …and then suddenly one day it occurred to me:

You can’t become happy and healthy without doing the things happy and healthy people do.

And happy, healthy, people didn’t spend hours every day reliving the most tragic and painful moments of their lives! Instead they were out playing with their kids, taking a class, going to the movies, working, whatever. They were going on with life.

It taught me that there is a subtle, but very important distinction between “healing” and “healed.” We need sometimes to reflect and discuss, but we should never lose sight of our goal. The goal is not the healing process, but rather to feel good again. Focusing on healing is akin to someone pointing to the moon but you stare at the end of their finger. Too often leads you into your pain and limitations and not to where you wish to be.

Since then I often think of my personal growth as one big matching game. If, for example, my dream life includes being very healthy and feeling youthful, well then today I might try to match. A healthy person has healthy eating and exercise habits. Or, say I wish to be confident. Today I might try to speak better of myself and hesitate less.

Self-help is like a middle step that sometimes we need and use, sometimes we don’t need but we worry ourselves into thinking we do, or sometimes we discuss the self help but fail to apply it.

Anger is not a very enjoyable emotion and it can cause many problems. We often feel helpless in our anger, but there are some simple techniques we can learn to help us reduce or eliminate our anger and direct it in more healthy ways.

Anger often is born out of a build up of stress, so the first thing you can do is learn relaxation techniques that you can use when you are feeling stressed. One technique is simply taking a break and breathing deeply and letting go of the tension held in your body.

It is our exaggerated and dramatic way of thinking that makes our anger escalate, so it is important to start breaking the habit of this distorted way of thinking. When we are angry, we might be imagining that people are deliberately trying to hurt us or that we are powerless or that things beyond our control matters more than it actually does.

Control issues especially come up with anger. We need to learn that we can’t control others but also that we don’t need to control others to be happy and safe. We only need to be able to direct our own thoughts and behavior, and more consciously choose to take positive things from situations and life.

Blame is another issue that comes up frequently with anger. Blame is very dis-empowering, and it is sometimes sneaks its way into our psyche in disguise. Make a conscious decision to let go of blame just as you would let go of holding onto something that burns you.

Expression is the last key to managing your anger. Trying to suppress anger you feel only makes it fester until it boils over or causes damage to you. Anger often can be unraveled by using the techniques just mentioned, but when it can’t, it is important to express it in ways that do not harm you or others. Sometimes it is enough to communicate to someone, “I am angry because I feel like…” At other times it is not helpful or possible to talk to the person with whom you are feeling anger. General anger can also be expressed in painting (even if you are not an artist), in poetry or music, in a journal, or some other safe manner. Just be careful that when you are expressing your anger, you are letting go of it and not increasing your anger. Managing anger should always make you feel more empowered.