Trauma is generally defined in the mental health world as an emotional response to a terrible event. However, it is really a wound to the soul caused by the actions of another person. Trauma disrupts one’s very way of being as the world begins to look diﬀerent through the eyes of such a soul wound
Anger is one of the most common symptoms of trauma, particularly in boys and men. There are emotional and even physiological reasons for this. First, it makes sense that someone who has been abused and/or seen the vile things of the world would have some free-floating anger about it that would impact how they interact with others. Second, when someone experiences a traumatic event, such as physical or sexual abuse, their frontal lobe checks out. This is the part of the brain that is in charge of logical problem solving and reasoning—the part that would tell a person something like “all people are not out to get me…” That part takes a break during a traumatic event, leaving the amygdala, or emotional brain, in charge. This part of the brain responds with fight, flight, freeze. Once the traumatic event is over, the amygdala is left with a lot of free-floating fears and anger that don’t have a place to go, leaving them to get released at seemingly “random” times. For example, a child could feel threatened when asked to do schoolwork and comes out swinging–metaphorically or literally.
Many parents see their child’s anger as a behavior problem that needs to be disciplined. They respond to anger with anger, further exacerbating the cycle of injury to a child who already believes the world is unsafe. Trauma-related anger cannot be disciplined or punished out of a child. In order to truly “fix” the anger problem, trauma work must be done to help the child’s brain find a place to put the painful event(s) so that they can understand that not everyone is a direct threat to their personal safety and emotional well-being.
Trauma treatments, such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), target the amygdala where those emotions are stored to allow anger to be processed eﬀectively. Other treatments, such as Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), work to change the negative beliefs that form about one’s self, the world and others when trauma occurs.
Finding quality, trauma-specific treatment is critical in order to resolve anger issues and other symptoms of trauma.