Stretching Our Understanding of Anger: Psychological Inflexibility as a Predictor of Problematic Anger in Trauma Populations

Carin Teeters, Tennessee State University


Trauma presents extraordinary challenges to coping and adaptation (Agaibi & Wilson, 2005) and is defined by the DSM 5 as exposure to “death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence” (APA, 2013, pg. 271). Reportedly, 60% of adults in the United States have experienced a traumatic event at one point in their life (Gradus, 2017). Consequences of trauma include the development of various mental health diagnoses (Penza et. al, 2006), often Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Arguably one of the most problematic symptoms of trauma-related disorders is anger; especially due to problematic anger's negative impact on treatment outcome, symptom maintenance, social relationships, and general mental wellness (Evershed et. al, 2003; Forbes et. al. 2008; Jakupcak et al, 2007). Some treatments target increasing psychological flexibility as a way to treat PTSD and problematic anger, in various populations and settings (Eifert, Foryth, & McKay, 2006; Thompson et al 2013). Therefore, the present study sought to explore the relationship between problematic anger, psychological flexibility and trauma within military and civilian populations. Specifically, participants completed an online survey containing demographics and measures related to problematic anger (DAR-5, Forbes et al., 2014), trauma (LEC-5, Weathers et al, 2013; PCL-5; Weathers et al., 2013b), and psychological flexibility (AAQ-II; Bond et al., 2011). Findings suggest that problematic anger varies based on military affiliation and trauma exposure. Specifically, veterans reported significantly higher problematic anger than current servicemembers and civilians, and current servicemembers reported significantly higher problematic anger scores than civilians. Regarding trauma, individuals meeting criteria for PTSD reported significantly higher levels of problematic anger than individuals who were exposed to trauma but did not meet PTSD criteria and individuals without trauma exposure. While psychological flexibility did not moderate the relationship between trauma exposure and PTSD or problematic anger, psychological flexibility was found to be predictive of both problematic anger and PTSD. With this in mind, it is important to consider implications for treatment development and implementation. Implications, limitations, and future directions are discussed.

Subject Area

Counseling Psychology|Military studies|Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Carin Teeters, "Stretching Our Understanding of Anger: Psychological Inflexibility as a Predictor of Problematic Anger in Trauma Populations" (2020). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI28027199.