Combat Veterans: Handling Rage and Difficult Emotions

Posted: August 3, 2013 in Healing from War, Rage, Spirit Wounds

There’s a perception out there that it’s not okay to express sadness, fear, uncertainty, loss, or guilt. They make you vulnerable, they leave you exposed, they give your power away, right? Anger is okay, though. Anger represents a form of power, though it often is a cover emotion for all of the ones that aren’t acceptable.

For many combat vets, rage is the only “safe” place to funnel the deep emotions of war. Blind rage — that boils over for no apparent reason or the tendency to have much stronger reactions to things that normally wouldn’t bother you — is often the soul crying out to release what it’s holding inside. The problem is rage can lead to violence and creates distances in relationships when what you need most is acceptance and love.

Lashing out when your soul is wounded is a natural reaction to a sense of being out of control over your life or past.

Anger, rage, lashing out are challenging, but normal effects of war. The tricky part is that loved ones have a hard time understanding where that deep anger is coming from and why you’re directing it at them. (And you may not be able to explain why either.)

Many combat veterans hide just how vulnerable and uncertain they feel after war. The questions, the loss, the grief, the way they miss war as much as they hate it, the not fitting in anymore, the strange gaps that exist in relationships at home — it’s convoluted, and messy, and no one wants to admit to being a mess. Because, god forbid, you go to war, kill people, nearly get killed, experience the sudden loss of friends to intentional violence, feel both immense power and utter powerlessness at the same time, have shifting perceptions as to what the whole point of it is, escape death, then come home to a silent, blessedly mundane life where you’re supposed to forget all that happened and just be happy making money, getting your education, paying the mortgage — and, no, you wouldn’t have reason to be a bit angry, would you?

**Deep breath**

The point is rage is normal. And it’s more a symptom of other unexpressed emotions than of true anger itself. Yes, there is real anger involved. Anger over what you’ve lost, over how you have to fight with the VA for your rights, anger over what you did or didn’t do, anger over being so fucked up now and anger at yourself for not being stronger than you’d thought you’d be. Anger has a real and valid place.  But sorting it all out can seem too much work and too exhausting, especially when you don’t know where to begin and no one really wants to hear about this dark side of you anyway, right?

So, what are you supposed to do? How do you handle rage and difficult emotions after war?

  • Recognize that you haven’t become a “monster” – your spirit needs attention and it’s acting out to get you to realize that. You can’t emerge from war unscathed. It has changed you. It’s time to accept that you’re not who you used to be. And there’s no going back. The person you are now is someone who is going to become someone new, but the war will always be a part of you. It’s time society woke up and realized that the expectation that you would be unchanged by something as powerful as war is both absurd and stifling. That expectation prevents you from healing. Because if no one acknowledges that there’s something to be healed, the healing will not occur. Don’t let this belief do that to you.
  • It’s your life and while you may feel lost, you are still the only one who can choose to set upon a path toward healing. No one is going to do it for you. There are people, services, organizations, books, therapists, alternative healing practices out there — but unless you choose to connect and explore possibilities for healing, none of them will do you any good. What works for some, may not work for you. But there is a path for you if you keep looking.
  • Healing vs coping. I believe the human spirit is capable of experiencing healing and regeneration. Freedom and growth come when we change our thoughts and embrace new beliefs. But there are some aspects of war wounds that may never fully disappear and may need long-term methods of coping and adapting. While managing PTSD symptoms may be your first priority, the underlying goal is to find the healing your soul needs in order to create a new sense of wholeness and well-being.
  • Honor your own spirit as much as you’d honor a fallen brother. You know how to do this. Most likely you took part in memorial ceremonies and special acts of remembrance that honored the ones you lost. You’ve felt that deep respect for them. What you need now is to give that kind of respect, empathy and grace to yourself. Your wounds are honorable, natural, and they deserve respect.  I know if you’re hurting, “honor” is the last thing you’re thinking about. You’re just trying to cope, to numb out, to ease the pain so you can function and get through another day and night. What I’m talking about here is really an attitude. An attitude where you give yourself a break, you acknowledge your pain is real and valid, you recognize and respect your mind, body, and soul for what it’s endured and for how it’s protected you (even if you hate the methods it’s chosen) – and you start toward healing from a place of reverence and respect for your life.
  • Break the silence. Share your story. Find a safe place where you’ll be accepted and not judged no matter how devastating or traumatic your story is. I know it’s not easy. Your fellow warriors know where you’re coming from, and while they can provide you much needed camaraderie and support, they may not be able to lead you down a healing path, unless they’ve walked the path ahead of you. You need someone with deep spiritual wisdom, compassion, and a strong belief in you. Someone willing to carry your story with you while holding you to your own ability to heal. You need to confide. Lay it all out. Let that person hold you in a healing embrace and trust that your story won’t break them. Words are powerful. Stories that are kept inside often lose power when they are expressed in words. So take a chance and share your story.
  • Find a method to express what you’re carrying inside. Sharing your story through words is foundational to healing, but you also need to express how you feel about your story and what you’re carrying inside. (Don’t be put off by all this talk of “feelings” — the fact is, you have them and they’re giving you trouble.) Stories are made of facts, actions, events. They tell what happened to you or what you did, they don’t necessarily express how you feel about it.  Those feelings are going to come up again and again. They need to be validated, expressed, released. But you don’t have to use words. Creative arts, music, gaming, sports, working out, volunteering, spending time in nature — can all become part of your healing process. The point is to find something non-destructive that you can turn to whenever you need to release pent up thoughts and emotions. Art and creative writing are particularly powerful because you use your hands and heart to bring something into being. You don’t have to be an “artist” or a “writer” to try painting, sculpture, woodcarving, drawing, storytelling. The goal is to pour the energy of your emotions into the form.
  • When blind rage emerges, breathe. Realize where it’s coming from, disengage from the person you’re with, breathe in, breathe out. Thoughts run wild and irrational when rage flows, breathe. When you’ve calmed a bit, have a look at what’s running through your mind. Try to replace those negative thoughts with more logical, factual ones. If you know your rage is coming from a place that needs healing, you’ll start to see your reactions in a different light. The dots will start to connect. You may still need to learn some anger management techniques to find ways to cope, but at least you’ll have a better idea of where that rage is coming from and why you’re experiencing it.

The people around you won’t know why you’re angry unless you find a way to explain it to them. Print off this article and share it with them or recommend this site to them to help them understand where you’re coming from. (If you are a family member, or want your family member to talk with me, I’m more than happy to do so.) When people know that anger comes from a place of unresolved pain, they are far more understanding and see you in a different light. Not to be pitied, but understood. Unfortunately, you may have to be the catalyst to help them gain that understanding. But if you love them, they deserve the chance to realize what’s going on with you.

I know this post is getting long, but the one thing I didn’t mention is crying. Tears are a natural form of emotional release. Children and most women know this instinctively. The concept of men crying gets all tied up in cultural beliefs and expectations of what is means to be a man. But crying is a human response of the heart and spirit. And whether you are okay crying in front of others or not, it really is okay to cry. If you’re embarrassed, cry in private. If you’re worried that once you start crying you won’t be able to stop, don’t worry. You will when your heart has released everything it needs to. You’ll breathe again, you’ll smile again. We’re made of energy, and crying is a form of releasing energy.

Rage, difficult emotions — they’re part of the process. Don’t let them define you. Claim your right to heal.

If you want to confidentially share your story, vent, get things off your chest, and receive soul-level support, please reach out. Life is too short to walk your path after war alone.

Comments
  1. ADRIANO says:

    Confidential comment.

  2. Don says:

    Yes!!

    Crying is absolutely normal. In fact, I would say from personal experience in dealing with combat trauma and PTSD that if you are crying that’s a good thing. That means you are alive, and in touch with your feelings and what’s going on inside of you. When I started therapy, I did not have any kind of emotions whatsoever. However, after doing therapy for a time and starting to admit to myself that I had a problem that I had to deal with, I found myself crying at “weird” things. Watching my son outside playing having a good time, seeing the dogs running in the backyard playing, watching a movie, and even sitting on the couch and seeing a commercial reminding us to call our moms on Mother’s Day! Every time, I would wipe my tears and wonder to myself “what the hell is wrong with me?!” The answer was- NOTHING. What was RIGHT with me was that the walls were coming down, and I was releasing all of that sadness, anger, resentment and all of those other emotional and spiritual boulders I had been carrying in my “emotional rucksack” all those years.

    • Absolutely. Thank you, Don. Crying is a form of releasing energy – in this case emotional energy – and it’s nothing to be alarmed or ashamed about. The concept that “men don’t cry” is sexist and denies men the opportunity to be comfortable exploring their full range of human emotions. Crying is a human expression and a release, and like you said, it doesn’t always make sense when or why the tears come. When you are stuck in the “nothingness” and feel dead inside, crying is a indeed a sign of life. It’s also a sign that your spirit needs some attention. When I was living in Sarajevo, I cried a lot. Much to the alarm of my husband and myself. I hadn’t cried in years and to be suddenly crying so often was indeed a bit disconcerting. But it was the only place everything I was experiencing could be expressed. When we moved back to the States, the tears continued to flow – and like you said, Don – at the oddest things. I also had one particular song (Westlife’s Flying Without Wings) that spoke so deeply to me that I would listen to it over and over while I was driving and just cry (okay, probably shouldn’t have been driving while doing that – but it was one of the few times I was completely alone). I really couldn’t keep the tears from not falling, they just sprang up at will. But they were cleansing and exactly what my spirit needed to move toward healing. So if you find yourself in tears, don’t think there’s something wrong with you. It’s a good sign.

  3. Reader says:

    Hi.
    Right now, I just want to share a quote, attributed, I believe, to Matt Licata, sent me after responding to the writer who’s been helping those of us fortunate enough to have found this spot, where it’s safe, where it’s okay to be exactly who we are, how we are, guided toward healing. My hope is that you’ll be as inspired as I was after reading this wisdom packed quote, even if I add some parenthetical, bracketed, ideas if my own, to find yet more courage in continuing on the path of healing which brought you & I here in the1st place:

    “At times it may feel as if you are falling apart. While at other times… somehow you are holding it all together. Only to fall apart once again. Together, apart, together, apart, these golden arrows in the quiver of the beloved, her primordial tools of integration. But, you can never truly fall apart, because you were never ‘together’ to begin with.
    [Think for a moment about the minute parts that comprise each cell, indeed, each electron, proton, neutron, etc; and, all that makes up the”space” between each piece, of each piece, of each piece and on through infinity, that make up the tangible and intangible components of your body-mind-spirit, most mainly known by their effects more than their measurable presence. There are part(s), pieces of who we are, called, “space,” etc., merely because no one of note has yet defined just what the currently “invisible and unknown” parts of “space” are made up of. Yet, these pieces nevertheless, all work together, but not always in synch, in ways that comfort us, or leave us feeling pleased].

    “If you remain too identified with ‘falling apart,’ you disintegrate [dis-integrate : your parts stop functioning as an integrated whole]. You lose contact with the radiance within you. And become misattuned to the unfolding of your somatic experience, which is the movement of pure luminous wisdom. You forget how intelligent and creative it is inside of you, that your body and your nervous system [pieces, parts of your body, (&) tangibly expressed self] are crafted of the stars, and that you are never ever in need of fixing.[ ! ] You forget that the darkness, when provided a sanctuary, is brighter than a thousand suns inside of you. [When your darkness is viewed as holding keys to beauty, good, greatness, your built in floodlights can be found even there to overpower fear of the unknown, the all, most of which we seem to have negligible control over. For, in the overpowering Light that is YOU And within You, You Are, and Will Be Found. This is The “you” composed of Innocence, Pure Goodness and Love, so that that part of your identity can in fact be saved, embraced, strengthened and comforted, to safely and sanely, accept the darker parts of who we are, in fact parts of The Light themselves; experiencing the unifying of our internal parts; and, with the help of others & This awesome personal spirit, ably practice allowing our insides to more frequently match our outsides. We Can reconcile the seemingly separate parts of our/the human condition, brought aboard the ‘boat’ we’re all in, anew, both men and women, forever-children of a Kindly Power greater than ourselves].

    “But if you remain too identified with, ‘holding it all together,’ you abandon your sacred vulnerability, disavow your untamed aliveness and spontaneity, and turn from the wild reality that your heart could break at any moment. You forget that it is through brokenness that your gifts pour into this world, and that each crack in your heart is an illumined portal through which the poetry of your life will flow. [ It cannot be stopped, but only denied. Why not risk witnessing that awe-striking flow and cadence from within You, washing forth, adding to and consciously choosing improve life and the world as you’ve known it to be thus far?].

    “Right in the middle of ‘falling apart’ and ‘holding it together’ is the secret place… of the luminous middle path. Stay there. For it is there where the Light and the dark are no longer two [they are as they originally were, and pervasively, trusrworthily, eternally remain, integrated within us, as in The One, as in the Power of Love as Mighty, as Strong]. It is here where the beloved dances inside you, spinning secrets [mysteries] of separation and union, so that a new fragrance…” [piece of life waiting to be sensed, dis-covered, recovered, a piece/a peace] of love may come into the world [through you, as the very brilliance that made, birthed and rebirths you as your senses of identity are renewed, refreshed, restored throughout the time & truth that stands now, holding you up to face death down, again, again, as you retrieve and hold on while being held, enwrapped in and by the Life you are being called to, whether listening, hearing/obeying consciously or not.
    You Are Alive. If I ask , “Why not choose to live that way,” many may likely provide what Seem to reasonable answers. However, the Truth is not always reasonable. It was not made to fit “the 5 senses” so often used to find “reasons” to help make those pieces of The Truth, of The All, The Power of Love, reside within our control.
    Yet, while Love is indeed in our bodies, minds, hearts, and more, it transcends our minute forms, embracing us, ever present for us, to lean on, and learn from, with & through, even when seen as beyond our understanding, more often at best accepted as Real; Potent; For Us and All others; Greater by far than any and all; greater than any of us will ever possibly conjure or conceive.
    Conscious of Love as present, hatred has no power. Consciously felt and sensed enough, even we will grow to concede that this unparalleled Power exists not only “for them,” but for us, for you and for me. — That’s right, even and evenly, always present as a Being a Force of Life For thee, by It’s own description, having created you for purposes of greater good; forms of healing, thorough forgiveness, love of & for self and others, via the giving and receipt of acceptance, respect, honor.
    Love Is Here, helping you and I to amend (to change) our perceptions, beliefs…our pieces of The Truth as we re-attune for and with Love at the healm of This ever-new life, which regardless of how painful it’s been, may feel or be at any moment, It has been designed For us, aware of this or not, encouraging us to live on, heal, succeed.
    We’ve been brought this far in life, not to abandon nor be abandoned by the Love that wants us to seek and find, to sense the safety and security of Love’s presence in This world such as it is, in ways that Only YOU, I, Each of Us can perceive and convey, thus making the world a better place. Your purposes exist here, now, living within your heart, awaiting your permission to be revealed and acted upon.
    Reading this Blog, I’d say that you’ve most definitely begun. Love, Good, Honor, Truth, Respect, Honesty; Healing Powers, Grace, Light, Life, and the lives of people whose goodness enormously outweighs their more troubled areas of living, as others, too, Live Now, cheering you on, trusting that you Can make it through, no matter what now looms as would be threats to this Unbeatable Fact- Based, Life Changing Power, urging your heart and mine to carry on through the pain, the terror, the rage into a life where Peace, with our every piece, welcomes us with healing arms, offering us a life in which joy and sentient, Real relaxation will be parts of the lives We are working to build together. For, alone we shall only wait, frustrated if we expect to live well without the aid of other people and The Power Love to help us move on.
    But, not to worry, for the spirit of Love, Wisdom, Healing, is ready and awaiting y(our) return, Knowing and Teaching that you will never be alone, but wanted, needed, loved. Yes, as is, you, I, we, belong. And, in This lifetime, we Can find a comfortable and comforting home, to share and to call our own].

  4. Reader says:

    I want to reach out, to tell my secrets & my story, but I don’t know where to start. There are so many emotions, thoughts images, other sensory recall as well as problems connecting with others. Once one if my greatest and most obvious gifts, now that the floodgates to war are opening, I find myself feeling unsure of myself, insecure, even afraid. I’ve lost relationships over my silence around my life as related to war…important ones.
    I just don’t know what to do.

Reach Out Here or Email Me at brittareque@gmail.com

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