The definition of rageaholic is, “a person who gets excited by expressing rage; a person prone to extreme anger with little or no provocation” (Dictionary.com). This is a rather underdeveloped definition. On the Wikipedia page there are more details, mainly focusing on developing self-control and anger management skills. But what is going on underneath? Eliminating the cause is always better than mitigating the symptoms.
Unlike flash rages, rageaholism is not necessarily emerging from an unresolved traumatic life experience held in the body, but rather is more related to habits of thinking or cognition. While volunteering with SMART Recovery San Francisco as a group leader, I learned to view rageaholism as a frequent or habitual rage state brought about by irrational thinking. The rageaholic could be experiencing Low Frustration Tolerance, which is when an individual is demanding that life not present any frustrations. They lack the ability to think rationally about all the frustrations of daily life, for example, considering others’ point of view, or how things came to be this way over time (irrational thinking or “cognitive distortions” are discussed in depth in the book Feeling Good by David Burns).
The kind of irrational thinking that forms most of the core of the problem are demands – the individual believes reality SHOULD or MUST be how they DEMAND or PRESCRIBE it, and they go crazy with anger if it is not. Also called “musterbating,” or thinking in terms of “musts”, this is a psychological condition explored in depth by Albert Ellis who developed the cognitive therapy “REBT” (rational emotive behavior therapy, the basis for SMART recovery). Thus we can see that the rageaholic has an exaggerated sense of what they have a right to; they have problems being demanding and self-centered.
Another characteristic of rageaholism is being OK with rage expression, but lacking healthy emotional self-control or self-monitoring. The rageaholic is not afraid of expressing rage, whereas the person still primarily in the immobility /helpless aspect of PTSD barely ever feels anger (emotional numbing) and has no idea how to express it when all the anger and fight begins to surface. Some people who have experienced trauma monitor and control their anger completely because they would never want to hurt another the way they were hurt. The ideal is a balance – the person in a place of helplessness needs to develop skills in appropriate self-expression in a safe context and the rageaholic needs to develop more skills with healthy emotional self-control without repressing their emotions.
Sadly, the rageaholic could be creating a traumatizing situation for another person due to their rage. I have experienced a strange phenomenon where I had repressed anger from trauma, and someone expressed more anger directed at me than was warranted, almost as if the rageaholic who is OK with and used to anger expression sees a “recipient,” like a negative space where anger should be but is not, and unconsciously throws their anger in that direction. Anger is life force or life energy, so some anger dynamics may work like energy – if there is a vacuum, fill it.
But all of these things discussed so far could simply be described as “rage.” Rageaholism implies an addictive component, either psychological or physiological. The psychological addictive component could have to do with masking other deeper emotions, using rage to escape having to face the deeper levels of some life situation like grief. The physiological addictive component could be that rages generate adrenaline rushes leading to a kind of altered state of consciousness, which could become addictive.
Ragaholism and PTSD
Anger generated by one’s irrational cognition can add a huge amount of stress to the nervous system unnecessarily. If one has PTSD, the nervous system is already quite stressed and does not need any habitual rages added to the burden. It has enough to deal with. Making demands is like constantly throwing hot grenades into a nervous system that is attempting to process all the shock and recover its stability after a huge disaster. It would be like constantly bombing the people who were rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. The nervous system will have trouble rebuilding with that situation occurring simultaneously.
Rageaholism needs to be addressed during the process of healing PTSD. There is another kind of anger that is many times more important than the rage generated by being demanding of everything around one. This is the anger beneath the trauma, the volcano that comes out in “flash rage.” My personal opinion is it is important to nurture the flash rage into healthy boundary setting, self-defense, and assertiveness, and it is important to let go of the rage/rageaholism by developing a mental habit of having preferences and letting go, once and for all, of demands.
In order to distinguish when you are in “rageaholism mode”, some characteristics of a rageaholic are:
- they have trouble thinking rationally including seeing others’ perspectives, thinking of the cause and effect over time, seeing the big picture and having preferences for outcomes rather than demands (and other cognitive distortions)
- they have developed a mental habit of making demands
- they have issues with being self-centered/being God
- they have low frustration tolerance
- they have not developed skills of emotional self-control, self-management and self-monitoring
- they tend to be emotional and dramatize things
- they could be psychologically addicted to the emotion of rage as an escape from other emotions
- they could be physiologically addicted to the altered state/chemicals produced by rage
- they could be compensating for someone else who has difficulty expressing rage, taking on their anger, providing an energetic conduit for it or filling an energetic void of some kind
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