Last month’s post gave some definitions of grief that hopefully make the experience a bit easier to understand. The next several bereavement posts will explore some of the more difficult aspects of coping with grief. For many, anger is one of the hardest parts of the grief experience. It can be difficult to talk about. In preparing for this post, I asked my clients and colleagues what they hope other grieving people can understand about the experience of anger. This post will explore some of what they suggested.

Ten Things to Understand About Anger

  1. Anger is a clue that something is amiss in our world

Anger is the feeling we get when we are reminded that we are not in complete control of our world. It is seen in even the very young. As we grow, we are generally socialized to think that expressions of anger are inappropriate. Because of this, we have developed a lot of different ways to describe anger. Instead of “angry,” people might use words like “frustrated,” “irritated,” or on the opposite end, “rage,” “fury.” 

  1. Anger may feel bad, but it is not a “bad feeling”

Anger is hard to live with. It is hard to understand, and it is hard to acknowledge. It also serves a purpose. It can give us helpful information about ourselves and our grief. Anger is not a bad feeling, nor does it mean “I am bad for feeling this way.”

  1. Anger is normal

Many people describe feelings of anger as a part of their grief experience. If you are feeling this, know that you are not alone.

  1. Anger is normal, but not everyone will feel anger

You may have heard that everyone will feel anger; that it is a necessary part of the grief experience. The “five stages of grief” name anger as one of the stages, which may lead those who are not feeling anger to wonder if they’ve missed a step. While anger is normal and natural, not feeling anger is also normal and natural.

  1. Anger is normal, but that doesn’t make it easy

Just because anger is a normal, natural part of the grief experience, this does not mean that it is easy to work with.

  1. Anger requires attention

Anger is a sign that something is going on that we need to attend to. Often our first instinct is to deny anger the attention it needs. When we address anger and seek to understand it, we are usually able to get the helpful information we need to know what to do with anger

  1. Anger can be felt in many different ways

Anger affects many aspects of our life. Mentally, anger can cloud our judgment and cause us to make choices that we otherwise wouldn’t make. Physical changes may include increased blood pressure and heart rate. Anger takes energy and can leave us feeling fatigued.

  1. Anger can be directed outward or inward

Anger directed outward may head in any direction. It can be at another person, at the world, at the situation, at deity. Anger directed inward is usually expressed as guilt or shame.

  1. Anger sometimes hides other feelings

We always feel something immediately BEFORE we feel anger: attacked, afraid, offended, disrespected, forced, trapped, pressured, or something else.

  1. We can choose how to work with anger

Anger often moves us to action. That action can be constructive or deconstructive. Many ideas and events that have changed the world are a result of anger moving us to action. Organizations such as MADD (Mothers against Drunk Driving), a group created out of constructive anger, are examples of constructive action. As you choose how to work with anger, it can be important to ask ourselves questions about our anger: “What is my anger doing for me? What purpose is it serving?”

Anger often has a bad reputation in our polite society, but the truth is that it can be a very helpful tool for understanding yourself and your grief. Paying attention to your anger, where it is coming from, and how it is directing your choices. Doing so can help the painful feelings of anger to dissipate.

Anger as soon as fed is dead-
'Tis starving makes it fat.

― Emily Dickinson, Selected Poems

--by Laura B., grief counselor