Is Anger One of the Stages of Grief?
You may find yourself feeling angry:Legend has it that one evening an elderly Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside every one of us. The battle, he said, is between two wolves. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. His grandson thought about this for a moment, then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” His grandfather simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Although anger is commonly identified as one of the so-called Stages of Grief, we now recognize that grief does not occur in easily defined stages, and anger is not always a part of everyone’s experience. Better to think of anger as a state (the circumstances or condition in which you may find yourself at any given time) rather than a stage (one of several sequential phases you may be in, as you work your way toward an end).
What is more, many mourners report not feeling angry at all. Nevertheless, there are times in your grief journey when you’re frustrated and hurting, and it’s only natural to lash out and look for someone to blame. Being angry is a way of channeling energy, of making some sense of the pain. When you are protesting an unjust loss, you may have every right to be angry. Even if you know your anger isn’t logical or justified, you can’t always help how you feel. Emotions aren’t always rational and logical. Feelings are neither right or wrong, good or bad. They just are. And for some of us, being angry may be preferable to feeling the underlying hurt and pain of loss.
- at yourself for what you did or failed to do, whether it is real or imagined.
- at your loved one for dying and abandoning you.
- at a surviving family member for not being the one who died.
- at medical or nursing staff who expressed little or no sympathy during your loved one’s illness or death.
- at the doctors or the health care system for failing to save your loved one.
- at the situation which suddenly rendered you helpless and powerless, when all this time you thought you were in control of your life.
- at fate or at God for letting your loved one get sick and die.
- at life because it isn’t fair.
- at the rest of the world because life goes on as if nothing’s happened, while all your dreams are shattered and your life’s been turned upside down.
- at others who have not lost what you have lost, who aren’t suffering; who are more fortunate than you and don’t even see it or appreciate it; who cannot understand what you are going through; who will go back to their lives as usual.
- at others for being happy (part of a couple, part of an intact family) when you are not.
Anger is a powerful emotion that can be frightening. But feeling angry doesn’t necessarily imply that you will lose control or take your anger out unfairly on others. Before you can get through it, let go of the intense emotions attached to it and move on, your anger must be admitted, felt and expressed, if only to yourself. When you simply acknowledge feelings of anger to yourself or a trusted other without actually doing anything about them, no harm is done, to you or anyone else. On the other hand, if anger is suppressed and held on to, eventually you may erupt like a volcano, internalize it and take it out on yourself (in the form of depression or anxiety), or misdirect it toward innocent others such as family, friends and colleagues.
Suggestions for Coping with Anger
- Recognize what you were taught about anger as a child and how that may affect the way you experience and deal with anger now.
- Seek to understand what’s driving your anger, resentment or disappointment. Examine whatever expectations you had of others that were not met. What did you expect that did not happen? Were your expectations reasonable? Were others capable of doing what you expected?
- Discover ways to discharge the energy of anger in appropriate, non-destructive ways that will bring no harm to yourself, to others or to property. Find a safe place, space, activity and time where you can let your anger out through:
- physical exercise: sports, brisk walking, pounding pillows, chopping wood, digging holes, scrubbing floors.
- hobbies and crafts: painting, pottery, stitchery, wood working.
- music: blowing a horn; pounding drums or a piano.
- writing: keeping a journal; writing a letter and tearing it up.
- talking: finding someone you can talk to, without feeling judged or being told you’re bad because you’re angry.
- reaching out: asking others for the support you need, rather than expecting them to know.
- If you’ve decided your anger with another is justified, you can choose to deal with it by
- confronting the person constructively with what happened and how you feel about it.
- realigning your expectations, accepting the person’s limitations and seeking the support you need elsewhere.
- leaving the relationship.
- If you think you’re in danger of hurting yourself or someone else, if you’re feeling as if your anger is out of control, seek professional help at once.
- Remember the wise words of Mark Twain: Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.
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