PTSD and Anger: Untangling the Connection

Woman looking thoughtfully out a windowIn the years following the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, media reports of veteran violence began accumulating. Formerly social and kind people returned from war angry, and often violent. Rates of domestic violence among former combatants surged. Some veterans killed their partners or families. Many people were shocked, but the truth is that research has long linked PTSD to feelings of anger, and even violent aggression. People with PTSD may be angry about the trauma they survived or feel helpless or out of control.

In the popular imagination, posttraumatic stress (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder. Many envision people who cannot leave their homes, who are easily triggered into fear or panic attacks. Anger, though, is a common symptom of PTSD—so common, in fact, that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) specifically lists anger as a common emotional reaction among people with PTSD. Feelings of anger can make it difficult to get support from loved ones. A person who feels angry or out of control may feel guilty or ashamed, intensifying the isolation of experiencing trauma.

Even when loved ones want to be supportive, they may not fully understand the severity of the trauma, leaving trauma survivors feeling as if their suffering has been ignored or forgotten.

The Link Between Anger and PTSD

Trauma can be deeply isolating. Loved ones may not understand the trauma or may react inappropriately. For example, rape survivors frequently report being interrogated about their own behavior, while returning soldiers say that civilians are often eager to ask about violent combat experiences. Even when loved ones want to be supportive, they may not fully understand the severity of the trauma, leaving trauma survivors feeling as if their suffering has been ignored or forgotten. This can trigger anger, distrust of others, and related emotions.

Trauma itself may also cause feelings of anger. For example, a birthing person abused by a doctor may be angry both about the abuse and about losing a more positive birth experience. A child abuse survivor may have overwhelming feelings of anger directed at their abuser.

Sometimes a person’s feelings of anger are complicated. A returning solider might be angry about politicians who do not understand war, while also feeling proud about their service. An adult child abuse survivor may love their parents but be very angry about the abuse they suffered. These mixed emotions can make it difficult to manage feelings of anger and rage. In some cases, a person might feel like their anger is unacceptable or be unable to articulate why they feel angry or at whom.

How Anger Complicates PTSD Symptoms

Spending time with an angry person can be difficult. The friends and family of people struggling with PTSD-related anger may eventually grow tired of dealing with mood swings or angry outbursts. They may experience compassion fatigue or even end their relationship with their loved one. This can intensify feelings of alienation and anger.

People with anger from PTSD may feel both ashamed of their emotions and entitled to them. This challenging cocktail makes it difficult to talk about how they feel or to try new coping strategies. For example, when a person feels righteously indignant about being abused, they may not want to try meditation or other coping skills. After all, the thinking goes, they shouldn’t have to have experienced trauma, and shouldn’t be the one stuck coping with the after-effects. While these feelings make perfect sense, they can also be quite self-defeating.

Research has also uncovered a correlation between PTSD, anger, and other mental health conditions. A 2014 analysis, for example, found that 30.3% of people with intermittent explosive disorder (IED) also have PTSD, compared to 14.3% in the general population. When a person presents with a secondary condition, such as depression or IED, their PTSD may go unnoticed and untreated. This prolongs their suffering and may cause them to drop out of treatment, especially when they do not see results.

Other Symptoms That May Co-Occur with Anger

The hallmarks of PTSD include persistently reliving memories or experiences associated with the trauma, such as in dreams, flashbacks, or emotions during the day. People with PTSD also may avoid stimuli associated with the trauma, and experience depression, sadness, anxiety, and anger.

People who experience PTSD-related anger are more likely to experience certain other symptoms, such as:

Getting Help for PTSD-Related Anger

PTSD can disrupt a person’s life and relationships. It can make them feel hopeless and even suicidal. But no one has to live with the aftereffects of trauma forever. PTSD is highly treatable. Some strategies that can help include:

  • Therapy. Therapy gives an outlet and offers a compassionate ear. Certain types of therapy, including exposure therapy, can help with many symptoms of PTSD. Therapeutic methods that help a person better control their emotions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may ease anger.
  • Support groups. PTSD can be deeply isolating. Support groups, especially those that cater to people with similar experiences, offer reassurance, companionship, and practical support.
  • Medication. No specific medication is approved for the treatment of PTSD, but certain drugs may help ease symptoms like anxiety and depression.
  • Education. People who understand that their anger is a normal reaction to trauma, but also that this reaction is treatable, may feel more hopeful.
  • Lifestyle changes. Some people find relief from exercise, a healthier diet, or pursuing a new hobby, especially when these choices restore a sense of agency.
  • Social support. People with PTSD need support from loved ones. It’s especially important that loved ones not diminish their feelings, tell them how to feel, mock them for their emotions, or shame them for not healing fast enough.
  • Complementary treatments. Massage, acupuncture, and other complementary therapies may help some people with PTSD. These modalities can be particularly effective at easing the physical symptoms of PTSD, such as chronic pain and sleep disturbances.

A person may have to experiment with treatment options or therapists before they find what works for them. This persistence can be challenging for someone who is already in pain. Friends and family should offer support, research treatment best practices, and remind their loved one that there is hope.

As with all mental health diagnoses, it is important to note that PTSD, even PTSD that causes intense anger, does not make violence inevitable. People with mental health conditions are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Stigmatizing mental health issues can deter treatment, especially when people are dismissed as violent or needlessly angry.

Find a compassionate therapist who understands the many complex emotions a person with PTSD faces here.


  1. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (U.S.). (2014). Trauma-informed care in behavioral health services. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (U.S.)
  2. Mental health myths and facts. (2017, August 29). Retrieved from
  3. Morris, D. J. (2014, April 17). PTSD contributes to violence. Pretending it doesn’t is no way to support the troops. Slate. Retrieved from
  4. Reardon, A. F., Hein, C. L., Wolf, E. J., Prince, L. B., Ryabchenko, K., & Miller, M. W. (2014). Intermittent explosive disorder: Associations with PTSD and other Axis I disorders in a US military veteran sample. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 28(5), 488–494. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2014.05.001

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Don

    September 15th, 2020 at 6:37 PM

    What I find to be the most difficult obstacle to overcome with my combat ptsd from vietnam is that those I love the most have rejected me in their lives because of the symptoms of my ptsd. I can understand that during the 30 years plus of marriage and family no one knew what the problem was, other than severe chronic depression and outbursts of anger. This made relationships difficult, my wife often threatening to leave me if I did not “get it together”. Finally after two suicide attempts about ten years ago my psychiatrist was able to determine that I had had undiagnosed combat ptsd from my time in the Marines on the ground in Vietnam. I was hopeful because I felt I had a better handle on why my behavior was so bizzare. I thought my family would be relieved also, knowing that my anger was not coming from anything towards them, and in reality was not at all who I really am. I love them, and cherish them . But I could not control these outburst; although repentant and apologetic and treatment seeking always. I even sought and received 7 ECT sessions in 18 days at a local VA hospital. But it did not matter. My wife and children gave me the boot, kicked me to the curb, got a restraining order, and would not let me return to my home after being released from a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt. Instead my wife filed for divorce, and my children rejected me and blamed me for everything. They promoted my wife leaving me, and now, even 5 years later, try to influence my wife not to reconcile with me, citing her personal happiness as being the primary objective. I have been left alone to fend for myself. I have numerous physical and mental diagnoses and am currently facing the possibility of having lung cancer. Chronic and severe combat ptsd, major depressive disorder, polymyalgia rheumatica- chronic for six years- , chronic coronary artery disease (agent orange), 97% pacemaker dependent, chronic moderate sleep apnea requiring CPAP, anxiety, sleep disorder, and as if that was not enough, I was one of the fortunate Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina during the period when our water was polluted by toxic chemicals, subjecting me to another 13 or so cancers and diseases. I am 72 years old. Between all of the above and the covid virus, I am in a very high risk, exaccerbated by living alone. My family could care less. I wish I was the sort who could just put it all out of my mind and enjoy the time I have left; but I cannot. I spend every day praying and hoping and pining for my wife and family. I feel as if I have no worth, and in addition to “doing” some wrong things, I am just plain “BAD” or “WRONG”. I feel like I am trying to climb a greased rope to get out of a death spiral.. God is my only hope. Without Him, I would find a way to end this pain.

  • Elec

    August 14th, 2023 at 6:16 AM

    I see you. This must have been an enormous struggle. You might want to look up dr Joe Dispenza. He has books and meditations and live events that helped a thousands of people, including a lot of veterans and other people with CPTSD. People heal from mental and physical issues. I am not in any way related to Joe Dispenza, just a student of his work who found an enormous release from what he teaches. bLessings to you

  • Sam

    January 28th, 2021 at 8:10 AM

    This is my biggest fear, I feel like i’m still stuck in my own personal hell and everyone will leave me. It’s already happening and the feeling no one that cares to help anymore is overwhelming. Reading your message does give me a glimmer of hope, at least i’m not the only one with the feeling of spiralling. I really needed this today so thank you. I wish i had something more helpful to say but I hope that you are doing okay and I’m sending you all my prayers from across the pond.

  • George

    January 30th, 2021 at 10:46 AM

    Many grade school students who live in low income neighborhoods suffer from trauma that has been unrecognized and untreated. Frequently, these student exhibit aggressive behavior in school and are suspened or expelled rather than evaluated for trauma and provider treatment.

  • Melissa

    March 19th, 2021 at 12:59 PM

    My abuse was from healthcare providers at age of 5. I was revictimized in 2018 which only validated the fears and avoidance that I carried through my whole life. Healthcare is the only aspect of my life that I cannot handle. My best friend is pushing me to take better care of myself. She actually supports me (not shames or blames). I have worked through the hurt and fear only to find anger at the bottom and driving the hurt and fear. The hardest part is when your trauma is validated and/or when the intentions were not malicious (but the behavior was abusive). Avoidance protects me, I don’t want to give it up (my anger drives this). I do want to get rid of my anger, but the hurt and fear keep me tied to it. It is a vicious cycle that I cannot break.

  • Patti

    April 16th, 2021 at 7:04 PM

    Don, you are a beautiful man who deserves the best of treatment from everyone for your service for our country. I go through the same thing with people hating me and my symptoms, mostly self-protective rage from PTSD. Do not be hard on yourself, man of God, I am praying for you! My best friend was a vietnam vet and his family deserted him, too, due to issues that were not his fault at all. I love you and wish you the best of everything. 100% agree GOD is the only ONE I have in my life and want in my life! God bless you!

  • Retha

    May 12th, 2021 at 8:49 PM

    I am a suicide witness survivor. I had therapy and on the outside it looks like I am coping. I work till i drop and drink till I sleep. Maybe one day I won’t wake up.

  • Maddie

    May 28th, 2021 at 9:26 PM

    I grew up in an extremely abusive household, with a father who emotionally and mentally abused me, as well as neglected me. I had a realization over time that my mom is also abusive; They’re both narcissists. I’ve also been abused by men in my relationships. The last relationship I was in, the man would call me names, drive erratically while hitting me in the car, while screaming in my face. He was, evidently extremely abusive. It’s only been 9 months since I’ve left but I realized today that I’ve been experiencing flashbacks. I went off on my current boyfriend today, and felt confused, like I was in the same situation. I was hyper vigilant, agitated and I threw things around, and finally he said something to snap me out of it, and I broke down In tears. I’m a very empathetic person who’s non violent and this felt so helpless and out of control to my own mind. The guilt I feel is immeasurable, and there’s no apologizing for my behavior. My boyfriend understands, but I can’t look at myself the same. Back when I was with my abusive ex, I’d mirror his behavior and act erratically so he’d stop going crazy on me…I guess I did it to assert control over an uncontrollable situation, but I’m in the present, with a stable, loving man and I can’t seem to stop being on edge. I have hope that maybe one day I can relax and heal

  • Ophelia

    June 26th, 2021 at 11:00 AM

    I have a bf suffering with ptsd from being in the service. he loves me one min and if i say something that he doesnt agree with or doesnt like. it sets him off and he tells me ugly things. He’ll always go back to his normal self after a few hours or so and its like nothing ever happened. ive tried to tell him about it a few times and i recognize he doesnt like to talk about it and i can tell it irritates him so ive learned thats probably a trigger. He always thinks im going to leave him and will tell me to move on sometimes which breaks my heart sometimes. I want to be there for him and reading about ptsd and others stories, i know its not easy and it may never get easier. but he holds so much space in my heart i dont want to leave him. yes i get tired of reassuring him that im not out to screw him over or that im not cheating, etc… im just now understanding that its a bigger picture and i forget sometimes. i think its sad that family deserts ppl who experience ptsd but at the same time ive heard its ok to walk away. even if we dont stay together i want him to know that i would still be there for him as a friend.

  • anita

    October 21st, 2021 at 6:10 AM

    You lost me at “birthing person”

  • April

    March 2nd, 2022 at 5:00 AM

    I stopped reading at “birthing person”. Are you serious?!?! I’m done with any useful information you may or may not have offered.

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