Destructive Anger in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Two friends having an argument on the street
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The term "destructive anger" comes from Seeking Safety, effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse. Anger is a common symptom of PTSD. Destructive anger is intense anger that causes harm and happens often. With PTSD, anger may be experienced in different ways:

How Destructive Anger Develops in People With PTSD

If you have PTSD, you’ve experienced some type of extreme threat that caused you to react with extreme responses in order to survive. Sometimes this survival response gets “stuck” and becomes the way you always respond to stressful situations. When that happens, you respond in extreme ways, such as destructive anger, to everyday situations that are not particularly threatening.

What happens when destructive anger starts bubbling up? Your body reacts physically, calling on the systems most related to emotion and survival: your heart, brain, glands, and blood circulation. Your muscles tense as well. The result is a state of extreme emotional intensity and tension. With PTSD, this can become your normal state instead of an infrequent reaction. As a result, you may:

  • Always feel irritable and ready to argue or fight
  • Look for potentially risky situations where you feel you must stay on “high alert” to protect yourself
  • Turn to drugs or alcohol to “push down” your angry, tense feelings

In a constant state of arousal (alertness) and tension because of your PTSD, you may often respond with destructive anger, even aggression, to everyday stressful situations.

How Your Thoughts Can Contribute to Destructive Anger

PTSD-related thoughts and beliefs can also contribute to destructive anger. If you have PTSD, you may not realize how much your PTSD influences your thoughts or how often you think in ways that express your state of feeling threatened.

Do you recognize any of these thoughts and beliefs, common among people with PTSD?

  • "I can't trust anybody."
  • “It’d be really scary if I got out of control.”
  • “I deserve better treatment because I’ve been through so much.”
  • “They’re out to get me.”
  • “There’s no one who’ll protect me.”

Managing PTSD and Destructive Anger

If you often express destructive anger, chances are your behavior is causing problems in your family or at work. You may also feel less sure of yourself from day to day since you can’t predict when you’ll have a destructive anger outburst.

Destructive anger "works" very well in the short term by releasing a tremendous amount of tension. However, it's important to remember that the long-term effects often include damaged relationships or loss of others' support. In addition to learning effective anger-management techniques, you may also consider seeking help from a mental health professional to help you manage your PTSD and anger.

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  • PTSD.VA.Gov. Anger and trauma.