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Childhood Trauma: understanding and overcoming rage in cPTSD

Childhood Trauma: understanding and overcoming rage in cPTSD.

This post will overview the causes, symptoms, and possible coping strategies of rage in cPTSD. Through a deeper understanding of rage in childhood trauma, affected individuals can learn to understand and regulate their rage better. The aim is to help sufferers overcome their rage and regain control of their lives.

Definition of rage – What is rage, and how is it defined? 

Rage is an impulsive and aggressive reaction triggered by a situation or remark perceived as unpleasant, e.g., a slight. It is associated with characteristic thoughts and accompanying vegetative symptoms. Rage is more violent than anger and more challenging to control. The result is an elementary state of solid emotional arousal (affect) with an aggressive tendency. 

It is a solid and overwhelming emotion that all of us have experienced. It can motivate us to solve problems and damage our physical and emotional health. Rage can be particularly intense if it is due to childhood trauma.

Categories of rage 

1. Chronic rage: 

This type of rage is long-lasting, low-level anger, often related to stress, anxiety, or depression. Seething rage burns like a smouldering fire under the surface.

2. Situational rage: 

This type of rage is a reaction to specific events or situations that trigger feelings of frustration or irritation.

According to the way the rage is expressed, passive rage can be distinguished from expansive rage:

1. Passive rage: 

In this type of rage, one expresses one’s anger indirectly or through passive-aggressive behaviour rather than directly addressing causes.

2. Expansive rage: 

This type of rage involves sudden, destructive outbursts against the rage triggers or the environment.

One can also distinguish between total and partial rage.

1. Total rage: 

It refers to an all-consuming anger response that affects all aspects of a person’s life, which can be dangerous or destructive.

2. Partial rage 

It is intense, yet it leaves room for self-awareness and behaviour management.

Three triggers for rage are important in cPTSD:

1. Survival rage: 

This type of rage is triggered by a perceived threat to one’s safety or well-being.

2. Shame-based rage: 

This type of rage is due to feelings of shame or inadequacy. 

3. Abandonment rage. 

This type of rage responds to feelings of being left alone and rejected.

People can experience diverse types of rage at various times. In any case, knowing how these distinct types of rage can impact their lives is crucial. By understanding them, individuals can better comprehend their outrage, anger responses, and develop more effective strategies to manage them.

II. Causes of rage in cPTSD.

A. Traumatic experiences in childhood – What are the triggers of rage in cPTSD? 

Rage is a very normal reaction to painful experiences. After experiencing childhood trauma, survivors often feel a particularly intense rage. This rage can be sudden, long-lasting, and directed at the self or others. It is a kind of emotional flashback – the anger response of a helpless child to neglect, abuse or violence. It was a defence mechanism and the child’s only way to protect themselves from further pain. Likewise, it is essential to understand that the causes of rage in childhood trauma are deeply rooted, and that change typically takes time and effort. 

B. Emotional dysregulation – Why can emotional dysregulation occur? 

Children who have suffered abuse, neglect, or violence regularly have problems expressing and regulating emotions in relationships, work, and other daily life. That is called “emotional dysregulation” and can occur after childhood trauma because the unprocessed trauma impairs a person’s ability to assess situations and gauge how they react to them adequately. Survivors of childhood trauma regularly have not been able to learn appropriate emotional skills because they have grown up without reliable environmental support.

In addition, emotional dysregulation can also be due to persistent overstimulation of the nervous system triggered after the trauma. When the nervous system is constantly in a state of high alertness, it can be difficult to respond appropriately to stressful situations.

C. Tension and stress – How do stress and tension affect rage in cPTSD?

Stress and tension can be other triggers of rage after childhood trauma, especially for those suffering from the emotional dysregulation described above. When the nervous system is constantly in a state of high alertness, it is more difficult to react appropriately to stressful situations.

In addition, typical thinking patterns in cPTSD, such as catastrophizing and black-and-white thinking, lead to persistent stress.

A third cause of stress is the toxic “inner critic”, which constantly damages self-esteem. The inner critic refers to one’s self-critical thoughts, as opposed to criticism from outside, such as friends, family, or colleagues. It is possible to reduce the power of the inner critic over self-worth by developing a stronger sense of self-compassion and learning to cut back on one’s inner critic – the inner critic is a self-improvement tool, nothing more. That is also achieved through mindfulness, self-reflection, awareness, and questioning of negative thinking patterns. 

III. Symptoms of rage in cPTSD.

A. Physical signs – What are the physical symptoms of rage in cPTSD? 

Like any affect, rage manifests itself in physical symptoms. Here are some examples of physical symptoms of rage :

Racing heartbeat: 

An increased heart rate is one of the 4 F‘s, a fight or flight response.

Acceleration of breathing:

An increased rate of breathing accompanies increased nervousness and tension.

Muscle tension: 

Rage leads to muscle tension, especially in the neck and shoulder area.

Heat sensation: 

A sudden feeling of heat can indicate a strong emotional reaction to a stressful situation.

Physical symptoms of rage indicate a possible emotional overreaction at an early stage.

B. Thoughts – What thoughts trigger and reinforce rage in cPTSD?

A common reaction to trauma is rage. Thoughts that trigger and reinforce rage in cPTSD may include the following:


Survivors may feel guilty about not being able to prevent the trauma. That can lead to anger because they feel overwhelmed and helpless.


Trauma can lead to rage by affecting a child’s self-esteem. That is especially likely with trauma that a child perceives as humiliating or degrading.

Negative beliefs: 

Children who suffer trauma may develop negative ideas that can lead to rage. For example, they may think that all people are evil or untrustworthy.


Children who suffer trauma also often must experience how unfairly they are treated later. Childhood trauma and its consequences will therefore lead to rage.

C. Behaviour – How does rage in cPTSD manifest itself in behaviour? 

Rage will also manifest itself in behaviour. Here are some examples of behavioural changes that may occur with rage after childhood trauma:

Aggressive behaviour:

Loud, angry outbursts and violence, destruction of objects or verbal attacks.


Some people may also withdraw from social situations or isolate themselves to control their rage.


Rage can also lead to self-harming behaviour, where a person intentionally hurts themselves to relieve their emotional pain.

Substance use: 

Some people also use addictive substances to control or suppress their rage.

D. Emotional consequences: What are the emotional responses to rage in cPTSD?

Here are some of the emotional consequences of rage in childhood trauma:


Sufferers become angry with themselves, especially if they feel that the trauma was unfair or undeserved.


Sufferers may feel frustrated when they cannot change their feelings or situation.


Rage can also be accompanied by anxiety, especially if the person fears that the outrage will happen again or that they might face a similar threat as in the past.


Triggered individuals will regularly feel guilty or ashamed – firstly, for the trauma experience itself, and secondly, because they feel ashamed of the feelings and reactions to the trauma.

IV. Understanding and managing rage in childhood trauma. 

A. Self-reflection and awareness – How to better understand rage? 

Understanding and coping with rage in cPTSD can be challenging because it results from the past and because it hurts. It is crucial to develop a certain level of self-reflection and self-awareness to understand this rage better.

Understanding one’s rage starts with the unbiased observation of thoughts, physical signs and behavioural patterns accompanying it. By becoming aware of situations when the rage is triggered and how it manifests, the roots of rage can be recognized and understood as to why it arises in certain conditions.

In Shrinking the Outer Critic: How to Overcome the Negative Thoughts of Your Inner Critic, Pete Walker recommends several methods:


Practising mindfulness helps to become aware of the thoughts and feelings that bring up the inner critic.


Regular self-reflection helps identify the causes of negative thoughts and feelings, which need to be examined.

Questioning negative thought patterns: 

Learning to recognize and question negative thought patterns can weaken the inner critic’s power.

Developing self-compassion:

Self-compassion is crucial in reducing the power of negative thoughts and feelings.

Acceptance of the inner critic: 

The inner critic can be seen as a tool for self-improvement, and this change of perspective reduces its power.

Seeking support: 

Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist to cope with the inner critic and promote growth and self-knowledge.

B. Stress management techniques – How can you reduce the stress that triggers rage? 

Stress can be one of the leading causes of childhood rage outbursts, so it is vital to develop effective stress management techniques to reduce stress. Here are some ways in which this can be achieved:

Relaxation techniques: 

Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, breathing exercises or yoga can help to reduce stress and find peace.

Regular physical activity:

Regular physical activity such as jogging, walking, or dancing reduces stress and releases endorphins that improve well-being.

Constructive thinking: 

Realistic thinking and goal visualization can help reduce stress and promote a cheerful outlook.

Spend time with friends and family: 

Spending time with friends and family and socializing reduces stress and promotes positive emotions.

Take time out: 

It is indispensable to take time to relax and unwind to reduce stress. That can be done by reading a book, meditating, or having a bath, for example.

C. Emotion regulation training – How to regulate and control rage? 

Emotion regulation is critical to understanding and managing rage in childhood trauma. Here are some techniques that can help regulate and control rage :

Say to yourself, “I am having a flashback”. 

Flashbacks transport us to a timeless part of the psyche where we feel just as helpless, hopeless, and surrounded by danger as we did in childhood. The feelings and sensations you experience are memories from the past that you cannot hurt now. 

Remind yourself: “I am afraid, but I am not in danger! I am safe now, here in the present.” 

Ground yourself and remember that you are now in the safety of the present, far away from the dangers of the past. 

Acknowledge your right and need to draw boundaries. 

Remind yourself that you do not have to allow yourself to be mistreated; you are free to leave dangerous situations and protest unfair behaviour.

Talk reassuringly to the inner child. 

The child needs to know that you love them unconditionally – that they can come to you for comfort and protection when they feel lost and scared. 

Deconstruct eternity thinking: 

In childhood, fear and abandonment felt endless – a safer future was unimaginable. Remember that the flashback will pass, as it has happened before.

Remind yourself that you are in an adult body with allies, skills, and resources to protect you that you never had as a child. 

Feeling small and insignificant is a sure sign of an emotional flashback. 

Return into your body. 

Anxiety causes us to worry or numb out and shut down. 

  • Gently ask your body to relax: Feel each of your major muscle groups and gently encourage them to relax (tight muscles send unnecessary danger signals to the brain). 
    • Breathe deeply and slowly (holding your breath also signals danger). 
    • Decelerate: haste pushes the panic button of the psyche. 
    • Find a safe place to relax and calm down: wrap yourself in a blanket, hold a cuddly toy, lie down, have a bath, or a nap. 
    • Feel the fear in your body without reacting to it. Fear is just an energy in the body that cannot hurt if you do not run away from it or respond to it self-destructively. 

Resist the drastic and catastrophizing of the inner critic: 

  • Use thought stops to stop the endless exaggeration of danger and the circling ideas of how you will bring the uncontrollable under control.
    • Refuse to shame, hate, or give up on yourself. Redirect the rage of self-attack and say “No” to unfair self-criticism. Use thought-stopping techniques to replace negative thoughts with a memorized list of your qualities and achievements. 

Allow yourself to grieve. 

Emotional flashbacks are also opportunities to release old, unexpressed feelings of fear, hurt, and abandonment and to validate – and then leave – the child’s past of helplessness and hopelessness. Healthy grieving can turn our tears into self-compassion and our rage into self-protection. 

Do not let shame isolate you. 

Feeling shame does not mean you have reason to feel ashamed. Educate your loved ones about emotional flashbacks and ask them to help you through them.

Learn to recognize your triggers that lead to rage. 

If possible, avoid people, places, activities, and mental processes that trigger you. Practice preventative measures when triggering situations are unavoidable. 

Conscious breathing: A simple but effective technique is mindful breathing. 

That involves consciously taking time to breathe in and out deeply and slowly to reduce rage.


Positive self-talk can regulate one’s thoughts and emotions to control rage.

Emotional intelligence: 

By better understanding and regulating one’s own emotions and the emotions of others, one can better control rage.


The physical relaxation techniques mentioned before, such as progressive muscle relaxation or yoga, will relax your body and mind and thus reduce rage.

Be patient with your slow growth process: It takes time in the present to relax and considerable time in the future to gradually reduce the intensity, duration, and frequency of your rage. 

It is important to note that emotion regulation is a long-term task, and it takes time to master the techniques. However, by continually working on yourself and doing emotion regulation training, you can learn to regulate better and control your rage.

D. Psychotherapy – When should psychotherapy be considered?

Psychotherapeutic treatment can be essential to understanding and managing rage in cPTSD. Therapy can help connect to past experiences and identify possible patterns that may lead to rage outbursts. In addition, a therapist can also teach practical strategies and techniques to deal with rage and process it healthily.

It may be helpful to consider psychotherapy if…

Rage is interfering with your daily life: 

Psychotherapy may be helpful if rage interferes with everyday life and makes it difficult to maintain relationships or succeed at work.

Self-management techniques are not working: 

Psychotherapy may be better if stress management and emotion regulation techniques are ineffective.

Trauma from childhood is affecting the present: 

If stressful experiences from childhood are affecting life and leading to outbursts of rage, psychotherapy can help to process and overcome the effects of these traumas.

You have been diagnosed with a mental disorder: 

If there is an underlying mental disorder such as an anxiety disorder or depression, psychotherapy can be part of a comprehensive treatment.

V. Preventive measures. 

Preventive measures are essentially the same as those for dealing with rage. They are, therefore, simply listed here:

A. Strengthening emotional resilience.

Emotional Mindset: 

Strengthening a cheerful outlook towards emotions and oneself.

Emotional expression: 

Learning how to express your emotions safely and healthily.

Stress management: 

Stress management exercises (Yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation – s. a.).

B. Avoiding emotional triggers.

Understanding triggers: 

Identifying individual triggers and considering how to counter them.

Avoiding situations that trigger stress: 

Avoiding situations that trigger anxiety and cause overload.

Maintaining emotional stability: 

Engaging in activities that help to remain emotionally stable, such as sports and creative hobbies.

C. Maintaining social relationships.

Social support: 

Creating environments where one feels valued and loved.


Encouraging open communication and healthily resolving conflicts.

Shared activities: 

Engaging in shared activities with friends and family that bring pleasure and relaxation.

These preventive measures should help reduce the risk of rage outbursts in cPTSD and lead a healthier and happier life. 

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VI. Conclusion

This post has explained rage in cPTSD in detail. It elaborated on the causes, such as traumatic childhood experiences, emotional dysregulation, and stress. It also described the symptoms, such as physical symptoms, behavioural changes, and cognitive patterns. Preventive measures such as strengthening emotional resilience, avoiding emotional triggers, and maintaining social relationships were also explained.

If you suffer from rage in cPTSD, seek professional help. Therapy can help you understand and work on the causes of your rage. It is also recommended that you do regular physical activities to reduce stress and build your emotional resilience. It is equally important to look after your social relationships and connect with friends and family.

Rage in childhood trauma is a severe challenge, but help is available. However, the healing process can take time and patience. It is essential to continue your learning and personal growth by being willing to deal with your feelings and work on your emotional regulation. It is worth starting the process to live a more fulfilling life and overcome your rage.


Chapman, A. L., & Gratz, K. L. (2015). The dialectical behavior therapy skills workbook for rage: Using DBT mindfulness and emotion regulation skills to manage rage. New Harbinger Publications.

Potter-Efron, R. (2007). Rage: A step-by-step guide to overcoming explosive rage. New Harbinger Publications.

Walker, P. (2015). The Tao of Fully Feeling: Harvesting Forgiveness Out of Blame. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform. 

2 thoughts on “Childhood Trauma: understanding and overcoming rage in cPTSD”

  1. Hey,
    personally I dont think its a good idea to seek contact with your family when you suffer cptsd…
    but its 99% great content here!
    thank you!

    1. I totally agree, the first rule is: no contact with the perpetrator. Things can get messy, though, e.g. when there are children involved who want to see their grandparents …

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