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Depression & Mental Health Blog
August 17, 2015
MHC @ DH
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How Fear and Trauma Contribute to Anger

Depressed young woman sitting at home.

Feeling upset or angry about a situation is a normal reaction; however, certain forms of anger result in self-destructive or potentially dangerous behaviors, like substance abuse. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (1), almost 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women face at least one traumatic experience in their lifetime.

Depending on the factors contributing to the traumatic experience, the way an individual reacts will vary. In some cases, the fear associated with traumatic experiences directly cause feelings of anger.

What is Trauma or Fear?

Trauma stems from a specific experience that leaves a lasting impression on an individual's mind. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (1), post-traumatic stress disorder most commonly occurs when an individual believed that they were in danger or felt helpless during the situation.

Types of trauma that impact an individual's lifestyle include:

  • Severe accidents that cause an injury, such as a car accident

  • Going to a war zone and engaging in a battle

  • Witnessing a crime

  • Facing severe and lasting traumatic experiences, such as physical or sexual abuse during childhood

  • Being betrayed by a loved one, close friend or intimate partner

  • Being the victim of a violent crime

The fear associated with the traumatic situation impacts a loved one's emotional response. When a loved one develops post-traumatic stress disorder (which occurs in almost 8 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)(1), he or she responds with fear and worries. In some cases, the fear develops to the point that he or she acts out in anger.

The Self-Defense Response

Concerned mature woman in kitchen

Psychology Today (2) reports that many individuals react to fear, guilt or shame by acting out in anger. The cause of the anger stems from the feelings of helplessness or vulnerability associated with the situation. For example, when a loved one fears the behaviors of another individual, he or she reacts with anger to try reducing the feeling of vulnerability or fear.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (3), anger gives a loved one the energy to cope with the stress and danger associated with a traumatic experience. It provides the energy a loved one needs to continue moving forward after a difficult or challenging situation.

As a result, it commonly occurs after a loved one faces a traumatic experience or even in the middle of a traumatic experience.

Anger is a response to the danger associated with trauma. It pushes aside the feeling of fear so that an individual focuses on survival in an extreme and dangerous situation. By reacting with anger, a loved one survives the situation.

How Fear and Trauma Contribute to Anger

Fear causes a loved one to react with anger, particularly when it stems from post-traumatic stress disorder or the lingering effects of a traumatic experience. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (3), anger causes problems when it stems from trauma and fear because a loved one reacts without a life-threatening situation.

Essentially, a loved one becomes angry in inappropriate situations. Since the reaction often contributes to substance abuse, encouraging a loved one to seek professional help for fear or PTSD helps the individual learn better ways to handle vulnerability, fear and personal behaviors.

Fear directly causes anger to help a loved one survive a dangerous situation. Feeling angry is a natural response; however, it also causes harm when the anger persists. Treating PTSD helps a loved one learn better coping strategies and limits the risk of self-destructive behaviors.


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