“Often, traumatized people either feel nothing or they feel rage, and often the rage is expressed in inappropriate ways. By beginning to get a sense of what healthy aggression feels like, the extremes of numbness and rage can begin to give way to a healthier middle ground.”― Peter A. Levine, Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body
Many of us have experienced anger in our lives, but few truly understand its root causes. While it can often feel like a reflexive emotion that has no real explanation, the truth is that anger usually has its roots in traumatic experiences and underlying mental health issues. In this blog post, we will explore an alternative view on rage, which takes into account the traumatic origins of anger and seeks to understand it better through a trauma-informed lens. We will discuss the importance of recognizing and addressing the underlying causes of anger rather than simply attempting to suppress or repress it.
Defining Rage and Anger
Rage and anger are often used interchangeably but are distinct emotions with different intensities. Anger is a natural response to a perceived threat or injustice, whereas rage is intense and uncontrolled anger that can lead to violent outbursts.
Anger can be a healthy emotion when expressed appropriately, but it can also be a sign of deeper issues such as childhood trauma, attachment disorders, and authoritarian or rigid parenting. These underlying issues can result in a disorganized or reactive attachment style, which makes it challenging to regulate emotions effectively.
Misunderstood anger is often a result of trauma, which can lead to dissociation or structural dissociation of unconscious adaptive survival parts of the self. The experience of fear from unsafe environments growing up in childhood can lead to the development of maladaptive coping mechanisms, including anger and rage.
To understand rage differently, it is necessary to recognize the role of trauma in its development and manifestation in anger reaction as adaptive for survival. This can help individuals recognize the signs of trauma responses in their anger and take steps toward healing and resolving their emotional dysregulation.
The Traditional Perspective on Anger
The traditional perspective on anger has been focused on individual responsibility and self-control. Anger has often been viewed as a negative emotion that must be suppressed or controlled to maintain healthy relationships and function in society. This view fails to recognize the underlying causes of anger, particularly in individuals with a history of trauma.
Psychologists have long recognized that anger can be a defence mechanism used to protect oneself from vulnerability and pain. However, the traditional perspective has not considered trauma's impact on emotional regulation and attachment patterns. Disorganized attachment, often resulting from childhood trauma, can lead to a regression in emotional development and an inability to regulate emotions effectively.
As a result, traditional approaches to anger management may not be effective for those with a history of trauma. Instead, a trauma-informed approach acknowledges the root causes of anger and the need to heal from past trauma to address the behaviour. This approach recognizes that anger may be a symptom of deeper issues and provides tools and resources for healing and developing healthier emotional regulation.
Exploring Trauma as a Catalyst for Rage
Rage and anger are often viewed as natural and acceptable emotions that people experience. They can be seen as a way to express frustration and disappointment, but also as a way to release pent-up energy and stress. However, another perspective on rage and anger views them as potential symptoms of underlying trauma.
Trauma is an event or series of events that cause intense stress and distress and can have long-lasting impacts on a person's emotional and physical well-being. Trauma can cause a person to feel powerless, helpless, and unsafe, and it can significantly impact a person's ability to regulate their emotions.
For some people who have experienced trauma, rage and anger can be a way to try to regain control and power while responding to perceived safety fears. This can manifest as explosive outbursts or chronic irritability. It's important to understand that this type of anger is a reaction to present circumstances* and a response to past traumas.
Exploring trauma as a catalyst for rage means acknowledging that anger is not the root cause of the problem but the response to it. Instead, it is a symptom of underlying emotional distress. When we understand and address the trauma, we can help reduce the intensity and frequency of rage and anger outbursts.
In the next section, we will explore the impact of trauma on the brain and emotional regulation.
The Impact of Trauma on the Brain and Emotional Regulation
Trauma can profoundly impact the brain, including the part of the limbic brain responsible for emotional regulation. When a person experiences trauma, their brain goes into survival mode and the fight, flight or freeze response is triggered. This can lead to the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can have a lasting effect on the brain's structure and function.
The amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions, can become hypersensitive in individuals who have experienced trauma. This can lead to an overactive fear response, making it difficult to regulate emotions and reactions. Trauma can also impair the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for executive functioning and decision-making.
These brain changes can manifest in various ways, including anger and rage. Individuals who have experienced trauma may struggle with controlling their emotions and responding appropriately to stressors. It is essential to understand that this behaviour is not a personal failing or a lack of willpower but rather a manifestation of trauma-related changes in the brain.
Healing from trauma can be a long and challenging journey, but recovering and restoring emotional regulation is possible. Therapy and other forms of support can help individuals identify and manage their trauma responses, develop coping skills, and work toward healing and recovery.
Recognizing Trauma Responses in Anger
When exploring rage from a trauma perspective, it is essential to recognize the unique responses that stem from traumatic experiences. Trauma responses can manifest in various ways, including heightened arousal, hypervigilance, dissociation, and flashbacks. Individuals who have experienced trauma may react with extreme anger or rage when triggered, dissociative, even in seemingly insignificant situations. It is crucial to understand that these responses are not intentional and are often a coping mechanism for unprocessed trauma which can be understood as dissociative. By recognizing the signs of trauma in anger, individuals can begin to approach their experiences with greater understanding and compassion.
Healing from Trauma and Resolving Rage
Healing from trauma can be a complex and ongoing process, but it can significantly change how we experience anger. It often involves exploring and processing past experiences, building resilience and coping skills, and learning to regulate emotions in healthier ways. Therapy can be a helpful tool in this process, as can mindfulness practices, creative expression, and self-care. By understanding the roots of our anger and how trauma may have influenced it, we can work towards resolving our rage and cultivating a greater sense of inner peace. The first step in healing from trauma and resolving rage is acknowledging and validating our emotions. It's essential to permit ourselves to feel angry and to express that anger safely and healthily. This can involve finding outlets for our anger, such as journaling, talking to a trusted friend, or engaging in physical activities like exercise or punching a pillow.
In addition to expressing anger, exploring and processing the underlying emotions and experiences that have contributed to our rage is crucial. This may involve delving into past traumas, whether childhood abuse, neglect, or other traumatic events. Working with a therapist or counsellor can provide a supportive space to navigate these difficult emotions and memories.
As we uncover our anger's roots, we can build resilience and coping skills. This may involve learning strategies for emotional regulation, such as deep breathing exercises or mindfulness practices. Developing a self-care routine is also crucial in the healing process. Engaging in activities that bring us joy and help us relax can contribute to overall emotional well-being and reduce the intensity of our anger responses.
It's important to remember that healing from trauma and resolving rage is not linear. There will be ups and downs, setbacks and progress. We must be patient and compassionate with ourselves as we navigate this journey. Seeking support from loved ones and professionals specializing in trauma can significantly affect our healing process.
Ultimately, by understanding and addressing the traumatic roots of our anger, we can cultivate a greater sense of inner peace and transform our rage into healthy expressions of emotion. Healing from trauma is possible and can lead to a more fulfilling and peaceful life.
Our agency provides therapies that understand anger and rage from a trauma lens. Treatments we apply for clients struggling with anger/rage rooted in trauma include polyvagal theory, structural dissociation/part work, schema therapy, and focused mindfulness trauma therapies.