How to Manage Anger from Grief
Anger is a natural human emotion. It is our response to a threatening sense of unfairness or injustice. This includes the loss of a loved one. It is helpful to apply anger management techniques while coping with loss. For some this may be difficult because the anger component in grief is often lost in the pain that arises after a death. If left unaddressed, our anger builds internally and prolongs our grief.
Even though we may not consciously be aware of our anger, we can become more mindful of its presence. We can externalize and overcome this pain by asking ourselves some focusing questions, such as “Who am I angry at?” or “How do I feel about what happened?”
We never think of asking such questions because we may have learned not to be angry at the person who died. If we did, we would feel too guilty. So we solve the problem by choosing to internalize our anger. Yet, we are angry just the same.
We are angry at the deceased, not for dying, but for causing us this painful experience. We are not blaming our loved one for dying, we are legitimately angry that they are gone. If we are angry at the deceased for leaving and abandoning us, for betraying our trust that they would always be there, we need to release these feelings.
Another focusing question might be, “What angers us the most about this loss?” or “What is the worst part about it?” The answer is often the first thing that comes to mind. “It is so unfair, this is not supposed to happen to good people.” We need to be mindful of the tendency to perceive unfairness in situations where fairness is not a factor. For some, fairness means “I get my way.” However, tragedy happens every day in imperfect and inconsistent ways. It has nothing do to with fairness.
Our mistake is to protest the cosmic unfairness of it all. This immense rage at the terrible unfairness of life is unbearable and unmanageable. Our inability to tolerate loss only compounds the pain. We need to use our adult sensibilities to put our anger in a more tolerable perspective. We may think, “Why does this have to happen to me?” This type of response tells us that we perceive this unfair loss as if it were a personal victimization, which it is not.
We can continue to ask ourselves, “What else angers us about what happened?” We can use our responses to shed some light on the powerful beliefs that are contributing to our distress and making our grief more painful than it needs to be.
We may be angry at the “wrongness” of it all or standing in moral judgment of the “responsible party”. We may be angry that all the time and energy spent on the deceased person’s behalf. We may ask ourselves “Who else are we angry at?” Perhaps we are angry at the doctors and hospital, the criminal or drunk driver who contributed to this loss.
What if we are angry with ourselves? We may blame ourselves for failing to prevent or control the loss we have endured. We may be dwelling about these unresolved and uncontrollable problems. We are stuck in the world of “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” and we cannot get out.
Now the question becomes, “what can I do about it?” When we feel that there is nothing we can do, we feel powerless and out of control. We may think of seeking revenge, but also realize that it would only cause us more trouble. This powerlessness is painful and it compounds all the other pain that we are feeling.
We can choose to write these emotional thoughts down in an anger letter. An anger letter allows us to control how and when the feelings come out. We are taking control by expressing our anger in a mature appropriate way, using our words rather then our behavior. By writing our feelings and using words, we are giving this out-of-control, painful experience a name we can grasp. We are also giving ourselves permission to describe the emotion that we are experiencing and release it so we lessen the pain.
The act of writing is a way to gain control by choosing how and when our painful feeling will resurface. It helps us to break the cycle of negative feelings and emotions inside of us. We can release them like squeezing a sponge, so we can then absorb new feelings.
We do not have to mail the letter. It is not about our spelling, grammar, or punctuation. It is to them, but done for us. We can tear it up, burn it, shred it, or delete it. The goal is to raise the anchor that has kept us stuck, so we can move forward on our journey.
Grieving woman image available from Shutterstock.
Karmin, A. (2013). How to Manage Anger from Grief. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 5, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/2013/10/how-to-manage-anger-from-grief/