Stages of Grief
If you’ve read any books or on-line articles about grief, you’ve probably come across a list of emotions associated with grief (e.g., shock, denial, guilt, sadness, etc.) I feel anger is the emotion that may be hardest for the grieving individual to handle because there may be guilt, frustration, lack of control, and a host of other emotions intermingled with that anger.
Anger Directed at the Deceased
The anger of grief might be targeted at the deceased:
- “I’m angry he/she didn’t take better care of his/her health / themselves.”
- “I’m angry that he/she left me to live alone, raise the kids solo, deal with this financial mess, etc.”
Anger about the Death Circumstances
The anger of grief might be targeted at the people who were involved in your loved one’s death:
- “I’m angry at the doctors, nurses, health care workers, EMTs, who didn’t save my loved one’s life.”
- “I’m angry with the family members who made decisions concerning my loved one’s medical care that led to my loved one’s death.”
- “I’m angry at the driver who caused the accident that killed my loved one.”
- “I’m angry at the person who murdered my loved one.”
Anger Unrelated to the Death or the Deceased
The anger of grief might be targeted at people and things that have absolutely nothing to do with your loved one and might result in anger that is disproportionate to the issue or transgression. For example:
- You are driving in your car and another driver is inconsiderate. You feel intense anger and express that anger by cursing, honking, driving erratically, etc.
- You accidentally cut yourself when you’re paring an apple. You throw the knife across the room, stomp out of the kitchen, and start yelling at someone unlucky enough to be in your path.
- You have no patience in speaking with a company’s customer service over the phone and you loudly demand justice for the representative’s incompetence because he/she isn’t able to handle your request.
- A co-worker makes a mistake that irritates you. Instead of calmly trying to address your concern with your co-worker privately, you escalate the situation in front of other people by yelling, belittling, and berating your co-worker.
Helpful vs. Damaging Grief Anger
The anger of grief that is related to the deceased or the circumstances of their death can be helpful in moving through your grief. However, the anger of grief that is unrelated to the death or the deceased is rarely therapeutic from the standpoint of moving through your grief and can in fact be damaging. Unexpected and intense outbursts may be a sign that your grief needs to be expressed in a constructive manner—especially if the anger is out of character and the intensity of the anger is surprising to you.
Surprised by Intense Grief Anger
Of all the emotions that you might experience after the death of a loved one, the emotion that I feel can really sneak up on you and catch you off guard in your grief is anger that is directed at someone or something that has nothing to do with the death of your loved one.
I believe that intense grief can lead to intense anger.
I think this type of grief anger can be particularly surprising if you feel you are handling your grief.
- You’re remaining calm.
- You’re being supportive of your family and friends.
- You’re saying all the right words and doing all the right tasks.
You feel your grief is normal.
- You’re sad.
- You’re expressing your grief to yourself or others.
- You’re appreciative of other’s sympathy.
However, underneath, you may be shoving down your grief instead of feeling and releasing your grief. Unfortunately, grief that is internalized instead of realized has to go somewhere. If you don’t allow your grief to escape a little bit at a time, it may come spewing out when you least expect it. Your expression of anger might even surprise you, because the anger of grief that is unrelated to the death or the deceased is typically completely out of proportion to the situation. When you’re not grieving, these situations may not even annoy you, but when you’re deeply seated in grief, a tiny little irritation might cause you to erupt like Mount Vesuvius.
Dealing with the Aftermath
Be kind to yourself after an intense burst of anger occurs that is unrelated to the death or the deceased. Be especially kind to yourself if an expression of anger is so intense that you feel out of control. Once you’re able to calm down…
- Assess the situation.
- Apologize if appropriate.
- Analyze why that particular trigger caused an outburst of anger.
- Forgive yourself.
Don’t say unkind words to yourself—in your head or out loud.
Acknowledge (if only to yourself) that the anger surprised you.
Take steps to address your grief and your anger by talking about your grief with a friend, seeking professional therapeutic assistance, journaling, or engaging in some other activity to allow yourself to feel and release your grief.
And always be gentle with yourself.