Common Expressions and Experiences of Grief: Anger

Anger is a tricky emotion to navigate in our world. Anger is seen as a masculine emotion (one that women and children are punished for expressing), and when anger is felt or expressed it is frequently met with other people’s frustration, shame, and defensiveness. The reality is that anger is every humans’ normal response to injustice. When we feel like we are experiencing inequality, unfairness, or undeserved criticism or hardship, we feel anger. Anger, like any emotion, is not wrong. What matters is what we do with that anger.

What’s Anger Got to Do with Grief?

For many people who are experiencing a painful loss, part of their grief can be expressed and experienced through anger. This anger may come from the belief or thought of: “Why is this happening to me?” or “I don’t deserve this loss or all the pain that I am going through.” Our devastating losses can feel like an undeserved punishment from God or the universe. For others, the anger may come out towards medical professionals who couldn’t save their loved one, at ex-partners who we blame for the ending of our relationship, for our loved ones who didn’t take care of themselves or even engaged in self-destructive behaviors, or even towards ourselves for not being able to prevent our loss.

The Anger Iceberg:

Something important to know about anger is that it is the tip of the iceberg. Anger is an automatic reaction against injustice, but what lies underneath the anger is a lot of other difficult emotions. Some of the emotions that often lie underneath our anger include deep pain or sadness, a sense of loneliness or isolation, feelings of abandonment, and even fear that we’ll never feel happy or whole again.  Anger is, in many ways, an emotion that is much easier to deal with than these other emotions because our anger is directed outward at the unfairness we feel. To face these other emotions, we must turn inward and risk feeling the depth of our pain.

What to do with Our Anger:

Feeling anger is not wrong. As is said above, anger is just another emotion. What can become problematic is when we begin to take our anger out on the world through aggression and violence. If you find that you are feeling angry a lot more than usual after your loss, know that this is a normal response. If you notice this anger is coming out against other people (through aggressive, blaming, unfair, or hurtful words and actions), take time to recognize this may be your grief, then practice apologizing and letting others know that this anger is your pain coming out. When we sit with our anger long enough, we often begin to see the hurt underneath. Find safe spaces to feel this anger and pain (some examples include exercise, hiking or walking in nature, journaling or writing a letter containing your feelings, crying until you can’t cry anymore, and yelling or venting with a loved one without directing your anger at them).

Don’t forget to check out next week’s grief blog: Common Expressions and Experiences of Grief: Bargaining.


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