It is common to feel angry and guilty after experiencing trauma.
People may suppress angry feelings or express anger outwardly, and sometimes they cannot control their anger. People may also blame themselves. They hope they could have thought or acted differently.
Anger and guilt are strongly related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a study newly published in Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, researchers examined the impact of these feelings on PTSD recovery.
The study recruited 116 trauma survivors with a diagnosis of PTSD. Each participant finished interviews about PTSD symptoms and other mental disorders.
After that, participants assessed their guilt feelings and beliefs related to traumatic events. They also filled a questionnaire about anger expression and anger control.
Participants received PTSD treatment during the study. They learnt how to recognize common reactions to trauma, how to discuss traumatic events, and how to calm down when facing the memories and trauma triggers.
Researchers found that anger and guilt did not prevent people from connecting with their memories and emotions, nor did they predict worse treatment outcome.
People who dropped out of treatment had lower levels of guilt. Furthermore, higher guilt feelings before treatment was related to slightly better treatment outcome.
Researchers suggest that the ability to acknowledge guilt-related thoughts in the beginning of treatment may help individuals connect with trauma-related emotions. These thoughts and feeling may also help individuals reduce distress during treatment.
To summarize, high levels of anger and guilt do not make people avoid trauma-related emotions or harm treatment. Future work will focus on trauma-specific anger and the influence of exposure to fearful situations.
Citation: Clifton EG, Feeny NC, Zoellner LA. (2017). Anger and guilt in treatment for chronic posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 54: 9-16. doi:10.1016/j.jbtep.2016.05.003
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