My solution for TBI/PTSD rage

Anger (or out-and-out rage) is one of the places where my TBIs and PTSD intersect to cause real problems. I’ve been having some rage issues, lately. Getting worked up over little things — getting angry over nothing, really. Just getting angry. Temper, temper…

In the moment, my anger — my rage — seems completely justified. I feel with every cell in my being that I am entitled to be outraged. I am entitled to be angry. I validate my emotional experience, and I end up spiraling down into a deepening pit of anger, resentment, and acting out. Yelling. Making a fuss. Putting up a stink. And getting aggressive with whomever happens to be offending me at the moment.

This is not good. I’ve done it with police officers, and I’m lucky I didn’t get cited. Or arrested. I’ve done it with family members, and it’s cost me plenty, in terms of peace of mind and my relationships. I’ve done it with co-workers, and it strained our connections to the point of breaking.

Not good.

But lately, I’ve been able to pull myself out of my downward spiral before it gets too much of a hold on me. I’ve started doing some basic things that stop the progression of rage before it picks up so much speed it’s like a runaway freight train.

First, I recognize that I’m angry, and I am convinced that I’m right about being angry. This might not seem like a big thing, but I have trouble figuring out how I’m feeling sometimes, and anger is one of those emotions that I don’t always identify well. It just feels like a rush of energy — and while everyone around me knows I’m pissed off, I usually can’t tell what’s going on with me until it’s progressed to a really problematic point. I recognize that I’m angry, and I remember that I need to not let myself get carried away.

Second, I step away. I take a time-out and just walk away. I stop myself from saying what I’m about to say, no matter how badly I want to say it. I tell myself, I’ll give it some thought and figure out how to say it exactly the way I want to say it. I tell myself… anything … just to extract myself from the situation. I step away, telling myself I’ll come back when I’m better able to express myself.

Third, I take some deep breaths.  This helps stimulate my parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of the nervous system that chills you out. The sympathetic nervous system is what gets you worked up to respond to a crisis situation — and when I get really angry, it’s often because I think and feel like I’m in a crisis situation, and my body is getting all geared up for fight or flight (more often fight). I consciously take some deep breaths to get my parasympathetic nervous system to chill out.

Fourth, I seek out some kind of tactile stimulation. I need to get out of my head, which is spinning out of control, and just give myself a different point of focus. My head is going so madly, at this point, that I cannot even think straight, so I seek out some kind of physical sensation to get my mind off the madness. I press the side of my face against the cold side of a door that leads to the outside. I pick up something rough and rub my fingers along it. I jingle change in my pocket. Or I find something heavy and hold it. The physical sensation, along with the deep breathing, gets my mind off the crazy cycle it was in, just a minute ago, and it lets me focus on a single point — the feel of the cold door against my cheek or the feel of quarters and nickels and dimes juggling among my fingers. Tactile stimulation, like looking at a flame of a candle while meditating, helps me center and get my mind off that crazy downward cycle.

Fifth, I remind myself that my body and brain are playing tricks on me. I am probably not getting angry for the reasons I think I am — it’s my body that’s getting all worked up into a fight/flight/freeze state, and my mind is interpreting that as a real sign of DANGER. And I’m probably starting to panic a little, too. As a matter of fact, when I take an objective look at things, the rage that’s building inside of me might not even be real rage, rather a response to a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system response. It could very well be my body tricking my mind into thinking the wrong things. And I need to remember that I get to choose how I interpret my life. My mind gets to decide how I’m going to think about things, how I’m going to react. And my well-intentioned body, which thinks it needs help, is just misleading my brain into thinking that I have to do something about whatever it is that’s getting to me. When I remind myself that this is a physiological process that’s taking place, I am able to relax… and the anger subsides.

The thing I have to remember, when all this is coming down, is that It Is Not Worth It. No matter how justified my rage seems to be. No matter how entitled I am to be angry. No matter how wronged I may have  been. It is not worth it, to get so tweaked over things. When I go off on an anger “binge” I end up feeling really hungover and dumb and numb afterwards, which just makes my life more difficult, once it’s passed.

I’m no doctor, but I suspect that it may be connected with the mechanics of panic/anxiety… all that post-traumatic stress stewing in a pot, and my TBI brain being unable to sort it all out in a timely fashion… My processing speed is slower than I’d like, and by the time I figure out what’s going on, the damage is often done.

So, I do my best to recognize when I’m getting angry, I step away, I take some deep breaths and try to relax, and I do something that gets my body’s attention — like feeling something cold or rough or tactile in some way. And I remind myself that my brain and body are playing tricks on me again. They’ve done it before… and they’ll do it again.

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13 thoughts on “My solution for TBI/PTSD rage

  1. Good suggestions – I especially like the tactile sensation – you are correct this is a way to short circuit the anger loop by creating another conceptual focus. Excellent idea.

  2. thank you so very much for your method of taming tbi anger. It has become my own worst enemy, and so I feel my own worst enemy is now me. I could not overcome my feelings -they controlled me- i didn’t control them. this article helps so much. i will be memorizing this and using these methods in the future; thank you very much for posting. i rated five stars, because its great advice and people with tbi usually don’t get much advice, especially not good advice!

  3. Thank you for your kind words, s.d.m.

    I find that anger is one of the biggest issues that we tbi survivors face, and it can be very debilitating and destructive. I am actually putting together a book about TBI anger — how to recognize it, handle it, and head it off at the pass. I anticipate completing it within a few months. I will be making review copies (pdf) available for preview by my readers, and I would welcome your feedback.

    Thanks again and good luck with the anger. Remember, you don’t have to be your own worst enemy. Just keep at it, and you’ll figure out how to handle it better.

    Be well.

    BB

  4. Thank you Thank you! Your insight and direction has been so helpful. Our duaghter (and our entire family) has struggled with such challenges. You may have just given us the perfect recipe for success.

    Shawn

  5. Hey Shawn -

    I’m happy I may have helped. The whole “rage thing” is so challenging — and as someone recently brought to my attention (they became very animated over it, as they felt it was very unfair), anger/rage issues can be very difficult for girls and women because society has different expectations for them, than men. When a guy flips out, it’s one thing. But when a girl or woman melts down, it’s humiliating — for everyone.

    I — and others of both sexes — have found that avoiding circumstances that create fatigue and confusion go a long way towards heading melt-downs off at the pass. You do have to be more mindful and vigilant, but believe me, it pays off!

    Best of luck to you, your daughter, and your whole family.

    Be well
    BB

  6. I have used the very techniques with good success until today. I went right off the deep end and raged all over other people in my house. Threw things/destroyed things then finally stopped myself with these techniques, however not till I made an utter mess!

    TBI rage SUCKS!!!!

  7. I’ll say. Don’t you just “love” that out of control feeling that takes over? When it comes over me, I literally don’t feel anything – just a cold, bitter, vicious rage that doesn’t care at all what happens to anyone — me, my loved ones, my domestic possessions, etc. It’s the strangest thing, and afterwards it’s alarming how little I cared about the consequences when it took over. This, for a person who is normally very caring and loving and considerate and compassionate, is one of the hardest things to take in TBI.

    Time for a new post about this…

  8. The tactile sensation works, but I have found that I drive people away and they stay away. I do not think this is a good idea. The last thing I need is to be left alone and stew in my anger. It makes it worse. Does anyone else have similar inteactions with loved ones where they just abandon you? And how do I convince them that the worst thing to do is walk away from me when I need support.

  9. That’s a tough one. What works for some, may not work for others. In my case, I also find myself left alone by others when I am most in need of assistance. I think they are actually afraid of me, and they don’t know what to do. Or they take the approach you might take with a badly behaved child, thinking that cutting them off will get them back in line.

    But that doesn’t work in our case (at least, in my case, and apparently not in yours, either).

    I really don’t know what the solution is, other than having them meet with someone who can reassure them and let them know what you need — from an objective “outsider” point of view. Not sure if that kind of support is available to you, but it’s helped for me, the couple of times I got it.

    This is not easy.

  10. Please let me know what happens when you’ve tried all of the proven methods for some people and they still don’t work with others. I am in a constant state of anger and hyper-tension almost combat ready tense. Please help me with this I would greatly appreciate it.

  11. I’ll try to help… Not knowing your particular situation, it’s difficult to say exactly what can help. The first thing I would say is, take care of yourself physically. TBI and PTSD are physical conditions that have mental health consequences. Take care of your body… and see if that helps.

    Eat right – eat better. If you’re a meat-eater (like me), try finding meat that has NOT been pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. It stresses your system. Cut back on the sugar and processed foods, and have an apple or an orange instead of a candy bar. A lot of the food we eat — especially junk food — puts a huge strain on our bodies and brains. It keeps us on edge, much of the time.

    The other thing I would say is, get regular exercise. Go for brisk walks – especially when you’re feeling on edge. Try some strenuous exercise (but don’t overdo it, because then you’ll have to quit for a while and you might not go back to it). Do it regularly. Exercise has been shown to improve mood, to reduce anxiety, and to relieve stress. It’s been amazingly helpful for me.

    Make sure you get good rest. Nothing stresses the body more than not being rested. It sounds like you might be running on adrenaline and pretty wired, so find some relaxation techniques to help you sleep at night.

    All this might sound pretty elementary, and it is – I have personally found that taking care of my body is taking care of my mind. But you might have some pretty serious stuff going on that I can’t even imagine.

    You might also need to talk to someone. There are hotlines for people to call, some employers have confidential employee assistance programs that offer free counseling sessions. Check out your options. I’m not a huge fan of psychotherapy, but it really helps some people.

    Keep trying, don’t give up, and good luck!

  12. Actually, I had only 2 incident that my intense anger suddenly appear and disappear after 2010 December in college during free time playing with a friend when not paying attention accidentally hit by a basketball which given me an impulsive force causing Traumatic Brain Injury. The 1st time was when I heard that particular name of my college principal called, then suddenly my intense anger came and I wasn’t thinking anything energize me to take a bottle of my grandmother’s favorite China Cologne to hit on the toilet seat. It Anger subsided straight away after I notice what I have done.

    The 2nd time was in my college office where my suddenly anger appear when I already explain to my dad and my grandmother I can’t control my anger if it happens. Then, my pleas fallen on deaf ears. Then, I just gave a stare that really scare my college principal. Later, my dad was asking me why did I do that. I answered,”I have already explain to you earlier that I can’t control my anger but you didn’t listen to my pleas. She’s lucky that I didn’t reacted by hurting her.” Then, after a year, she felt bad that at first she thought I was lying about what happen to me. Solution only works if you family members were sympathetic when listen to you and follow as you already explain to them.

    Thus, I can’t trust my dad and others since they will never understand what I was going though with minor changes. A list of activities done will cause major headaches for instance, when I push myself too hard trying to get used to reading important information on internet until morning [the effects not getting enough sleep], think too much the whole day and had to go out of the house to get my favorite noodles most part in KL under construction.

  13. Impulsive anger can be a real problem. Make sure you know what situations cause that to happen with you, and make sure to manage them. Get good rest and take breaks when you can. Managing uncontrolled anger is well worth the effort.

    Good luck with everything and take care of yourself.

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