Is Anger One of the Stages of Grief?

Is Anger One of the Stages of Grief?

Ashley's Voice

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.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.

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Grief and the Burden of Guilt

Grief and the Burden of Guilt

Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death. ~ Coco Chanel 

Guilt is a normal response to the perception that we’ve somehow failed in our duties and obligations or that we’ve done something wrong. It generates a jumbled mixture of feelings including doubt, shame, inadequacy, insecurity, failure, unworthiness, self judgment and blame, anxiety and fear of punishment.

 When your loved one’s terminal illness was finally diagnosed, as a caregiver you may feel guilty that you hadn’t noticed symptoms sooner, waited too long to seek treatment or didn’t do enough to comfort your beloved. If death came suddenly or unexpectedly, you may feel guilty for not being present when it happened. If it came after a long, lingering illness, you may feel guilty for feeling relieved that your loved one’s suffering is over and you’re now free from the burden of worry and care. You may feel guilty that you are the one who survived, or uncomfortable that you received an insurance settlement or inheritance following the death of your loved one. If you’re a religious person, you may feel guilty that you feel so angry at God.

Unfortunately, guilt is a natural and common component of grief. When someone you love dies, it’s only human to search for an explanation, to look at what you did or did not do, to dwell on the what if’s and if only’s. You agonize and tell yourself, “If only I’d done something differently, this never would’ve happened.” Sometimes, though, there simply isn’t anything you could have done differently. When your loved one’s illness or death occurred, chances are that whatever happened beforehand was not intentional on your part. In the wise words of internationally known author and publisher Louise Hay, we do the best we can with our understanding at the time, and when we know better, we do better. Given the stress you were under at the time and how exhausted you may have been, you were doing the best you could. You were basing whatever you did on what you knew, given the information available to you then.

Harsh as it may seem, consider that even if you had done things differently, your loved one still could have died in some other way at some other time! Sometimes we act as if we can control the random hazards of existence, even when we know that death is a fact of life.

Guilt is driven by our own personal beliefs and expectations, and dealing with it requires that we examine what we think we did wrong, face it and evaluate it as objectively as possible. For example, what did you expect of yourself that you did not live up to? Were your expectations unrealistic? If they were, then you need to let go of them. Since you did all that you were capable of doing at the time, there simply is no basis for your guilt, and you need to let go of that as well.

Nevertheless, if after careful examination of the facts, you find that your expectations of yourself are legitimate and you still did not live up to them, it’s important to face and take responsibility for what you believe you could have done differently. Healthy guilt allows us to own up to and learn from our mistakes. It gives us a chance to make amends, to do things differently next time, to come to a better understanding of ourselves, to forgive ourselves and move on.

Tips for Coping with Guilt

Identify what it is that you feel guilty about. Resist the urge to keep such thoughts and feelings to yourself like so many deep, dark secrets. Bring them out into the open where they can be examined. Share them with a trusted friend or counselor, who can view your thoughts and feelings more objectively, and challenge what may be irrational or illogical.

Listen to the messages you give yourself (the should haves, could haves and if only’s), and realize the past is something you can do absolutely nothing about.

When guilty thoughts come to mind, disrupt them by telling yourself to stop thinking such thoughts. Say “STOP!” firmly, and out loud if you need to.

Live the next day or next week of your life as if you were guilt-free, knowing you can return to your guilt feelings any time you wish. Pick a start time, and stop yourself whenever you make any guilt-related statements.

Write down your guilt-related statements, set a date, and pledge that from that day forward, you won’t say them to yourself anymore. Post them and read them every day.

If you are troubled by feeling relieved that your loved one’s suffering has ended, know that a heavy burden has been lifted from your shoulders; you have been released from an emotionally exhausting and physically draining experience, and to feel relieved is certainly understandable.

If you believe in God or a higher power, consider what He or She has to say about forgiveness.

Participate in a support group — it’s a powerful way to obtain forgiveness and absolution from others.

Be your own best friend. What would you have said to your best friend if this had happened to that person? Can you say the same to yourself?

∙ Remember the good things you did in your relationship with your loved oneand all the loving care you gave. Focus on the positive aspects: what you learned from each other, what you did together that brought you joy, laughter and excitement. Write those things down, hold onto them and read them whenever you need to.

Ask what you expected of yourself that you didn’t live up to. How is it that you didn’t? What were the circumstances at the time? What have you learned from this that you’ll do differently next time?

What can you do to make amends? Find a way to genuinely apologize to your loved one’s spirit and ask for forgiveness.

Have a visit with your loved one. Say aloud or in your mind whatever you didn’t get to say while your loved one was still living. Be as honest as you can be.

Have your loved one write a letter to you. What would this person say to you about the guilt and sadness you’ve been carrying around?

Ask what it would take for you to forgive yourself. Can you begin doing it? Say out loud to yourself, “I forgive you.” Say it several times a day.

Remember that no one else can absolve your feelings of guilt—only you can do so, through the process of intentionally forgiving yourself.

When you’ve consciously learned all you can learn from this situation, and when you’ve made any amends you consider necessary, then it’s time to let go of your guilt, to forgive yourself, and to move on.

Channel the energy of your guilt into a worthwhile project. Do good deeds in your loved one’s honor.