The expression of anger as you grieve your loss can be both damaging and productive as you work towards healing. Uncontrolled anger has the potential to strain your relationships and push away those you love. But at the same time, a healthy expression of anger can open up your grief in ways that allow for healing from past pain and trauma that has gone unrecognized for years.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Happens During the Anger Stage of Grief?
- What Are Some Examples of the Anger Stage of Grief?
- Tips for Moving Past the Anger Stage of Grief
Here you’ll get to know what it’s like to go through the anger stage of grief, what to expect, and how to work your way out of it with most of your relationships intact.
What Happens During the Anger Stage of Grief?
Anger is one of the significant stages of grief that plays a major role in how you react to and process your grief. It affects the grieving process by pushing away those trying to help you cope with your loss. Anger over your loss is also often used as an excuse for your negative behavior that can severely affect your relationships. As a result, it can cause others to withdraw from you as you retreat into your grief.
During the anger stage of grief, you can expect to experience uncontrollable rage and other emotions associated with anger that stems from the pain of losing a loved one. One moment you may feel normal and your emotions stable, and the next, you’ll lash out against everyone and everything standing in your way.
What Are Some Examples of the Anger Stage of Grief?
Some ways that anger manifests can be saying or acting in ways that are out of character for you, and that you know are wrong or socially unacceptable. For example, telling your grieving spouse that it’s their fault that your child died because they didn’t watch them closely enough. Or when you’re verbally abusive to a surviving child because you’re angry that your favorite child died instead of your least favorite.
These may seem like extreme examples, but they are very real ones that occur in real life more often than not. The following are some ways to help you move past the anger stage of grief.
Tips for Moving Past the Anger Stage of Grief
Everyone has a tipping point in what makes them angry. When grief exacerbates your emotional responses and causes you to lash out at ordinary things, recognize that this may be a sign that you need to get your anger under control. The following tips may help you process this stage of grief:
1. Embrace your anger
Grieving individuals need to focus their anger on something or someone specific to make them feel better about the loss that they’ve suffered. In some cases, society finds it more acceptable for people to be angry than to feel sad about the death of a loved one. There seems to always be a need to blame someone or something instead of accepting things for what they are.
Some unexpected deaths happen unjustly or accidentally and it makes it that much harder to accept a loved one’s death. Instead of allowing others to see your vulnerable side, you lash out in anger instead, finding blame in others and within yourself. Anger is a natural response to loss, especially when someone died at a very young age, through an accidental death, or at the hands of a stranger.
2. Discover the root of your anger
Like most other grief reactions, there’s always a reason for the way you feel. Whether you feel sad, angry, or relieved that your loved one died, all of these grief reactions can stem from past experiences. Your current loss and your past traumas can also contribute to your anger. Unresolved grief, especially, can build up over the years and cause you to react in ways that are unusual or out of character for you.
To help you pinpoint the root of your anger, consider delving into some grief work as you work towards healing. Attending grief workshops and other grief-related seminars or group therapy sessions may help you explore your past pain and trauma. It may help you understand why you’re feeling so angry or resentful.
3. Confront past traumas
Figuring out what's making you feel this way is not always enough. You must take action or steps toward resolving these past hurts. Confronting your past traumas can mean something as simple as making a phone call to someone who hurt you in your past to talk things over.
You can later decide if you’re ready to work towards a resolution. Maybe you’ll just want to acknowledge that this is a contributing factor to your grief-related anger for now, and deal with it later.
4. Be honest about your loss
When someone close to you dies, it’s normal to think about all the good qualities and aspects of the relationship you two shared. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook all the negative parts of the relationship when you’re grieving a recent loss. Past resentments may resurface now that the news of their death has started to sink in.
Being honest about your loss means taking a broader look at your relationship with the person who died. Did they die before you were able to resolve any outstanding issues with them? Did they hurt you and never own up to it? Were you hoping for a reconciliation of an estrangement that never materialized? All of these things can be adding to your feelings of anger and resentment.
5. Find a healthy outlet
Healthy outlets for anger can be anything from music therapy to dancing to finding joy and laughter after loss. The pain of your loss will not magically disappear with the passing of time.
You’ll need to take an active role in figuring out how to work past your grief and anger. Take the time to explore different outlets for your feelings and emotions until you find something that works for you. Try and avoid self-destructive behaviors such as driving at dangerous speeds, and substance or alcohol abuse.
6. Join a support group
Joining a support group may not seem like a great idea when you’re filled with rage over the death of your loved one. However, for every emotion that you’re feeling, remind yourself that someone else out there is experiencing a similar reaction to their loss. Together you can support each other as you navigate your grief.
Grief support groups are available in-person and online. They help connect grieving individuals to one another for added support and encouragement during the most challenging times of their grief.
7. Get some exercise
Letting off some steam in the form of exercise is a healthy way of letting go of some of that anger that you’ve been experiencing. Holding in your anger can be as damaging as lashing out to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Force yourself to take a step back and go out for a short walk around the neighborhood the next time you feel anger coming on. At first you may resist getting out there, but the more you exercise, the better you’ll feel.
8. Learn meditation
Learning to meditate will help you not only in letting go of your anger, but also help you gain spiritual growth and understand your loss. The more you hang on to your anger, the more you harbor the misery that’s tied to your loss.
Meditation can be practiced anywhere by anyone. You don’t need to find a special quiet place to do it in, although it does help. When you meditate, focus on the present and nothing else. Don’t think about your loss, your pain, or your suffering. As these expressions of emotion swell up inside of you, acknowledge them and release them. Meditation takes practice. The more you do it, the calmer and less angry you’ll start to feel.
9. Practice yoga
Yoga is another form of spiritual practice that doesn't have to be tied to any religious practice. Yoga exercises your body, mind, and soul. It helps you gain a different perspective on your sorrow and anger. The physical practice of yoga trains your mind and body to focus on the here and now.
As you train your body to master the sometimes complicated poses, you’re also training yourself to have discipline. The goal is to focus your attention on something other than the feelings of guilt or resentment that are causing you to feel angry about your loss.
10. Get help
Find a therapist or counselor that can help you sort through your anger. A trained professional that knows how to spot grief-related issues will help you get to the source of your anger much quicker than you trying to figure it out on your own. They can help you open up about things you may have been repressing for years that you may not even know or have forgotten existed.
A therapist can also explain to you what is normal grief as opposed to a more complicated or prolonged grief that you may be experiencing. Within a few sessions, you should start feeling the effects of your anger lessen. You may also benefit from reading books on grief to help you understand what you’re going through as you seek therapy.
How Anger Affects Grief
The grief process can get complicated. Have patience with yourself, and in time you’ll work your way out of this stage of grief. Remember that the anger stage lasts until it changes you and you decide that being angry no longer serves you.