Dealing With Anger in the Grief Process

Posted on Oct 20, 2011 in All Blogs, Death is Not the Only Cause of Grief, Helping Another, Moving Forward | 13 comments

Angry Moments Can Arise

Often times when we are hurt, offended, or lose something or someone we love, we become angry. During the grief journey there may be times when anger rises within you without warning. Many times it’s a reaction that just appears, usually uninvited and unwelcome. Perhaps your anger is specifically directed at someone. You may feel mad at the person who died, or with someone who caused your loss like the drunk driver, an abuser, or the one who stole from you. People, even family and friends, can do or say the wrong things that make you angry. There may be no particular person you are angry with; sometimes you just feel mad at the whole world. You may not understand the reason for your loss and the injustice of it all makes you want to scream in frustration and pain. I know I did. Maybe you have generalized your anger toward “fate”, life or even God for allowing the loss. There are times you just feel angry!


Unresolved Anger

Anger in itself is a natural reaction to grief and loss; getting mad occasionally is normal. But if anger stays too long, it can develop into a stronger emotion called rage, and that can turn out of control. Anger that is unresolved can create bitterness. If it’s left to fester too long, anger can also turn into fury and vengeance. These are all dangerous and destructive by-products of a normal emotion that you don’t want to keep. Through diligence and forgiveness, the anger you feel now will become weaker until it ultimately changes forms. The energy is still there, but if you allow it to, the anger can change from negative to positive.


Releasing Anger

Anger tends to come and go before it’s finally resolved. Yes, anger can be resolved, and should be. Rather than being held in the caustic grip of prolonged anger, you can chose to release the powerful and negative emotion. If you hang on to it for an extended period of time, it can become a stumbling block in your recovery. Even though it’s typical to feel this way, it’s important to get these feelings out. However, you don’t ever want to take your anger out on another person. There are some things you can do to release these emotions constructively. When feeling angry:

  • Simply count to 10 or take several deep breaths.
  • Scribble hard on paper or tear up strips of scrap paper, then wad up the papers and throw it all into the trash; imagine your anger being discarded with the paper.
  • Draw, paint or use other art forms to express your anger.
  • Talk to someone in your support system or let all your emotions out in your journal. Explain what makes you angry; be honest and open with your words and don’t worry about sounding “right.”
  • Exercise and being active helps to release negative energy.
  • You may feel like physically letting your emotions out; sometimes expression of anger does not come in words. In those times, you can find a safe place to vent your emotions by yelling, kicking, screaming, stomping your feet, shaking your body, pounding your fists into a pillow, or running. However, if you choose to release your anger in such a way, make sure you tell someone you trust what you are doing and always make certain you remain safe. You don’t ever want to hurt yourself or others while releasing your anger.
  • You may choose to direct the negative force into something constructive by becoming an activist for a particular cause or advocate change where it’s needed.

You may find that expressing the feelings you have and helping others makes you feel better. Make the choice to let all the anger go from your heart and then replace it with love.

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  1. This may be difficult, but be wary of how you express your anger and rage during the grieving process, and be ready to apologize if you blow up at someone.

    We lost a 13-year-old daughter in an accident, and my wife blew up at me the next day, and continued to do so as I prepared the funeral – which required talking to the coroner, the police, the funeral director, my wife’s priest (I’m not religious), the cemetery, the stonecutter, neighbors, probate court, etc. I wasn’t in the best shape myself as I did this, as I was certainly shocked and in deep grief myself. Every time I told her what one of these people said or what was happening, she exploded at me, and made nasty remarks about anything else I said to anyone throughout the process, such as asking them if they had a good night’s sleep (“Oh, now he’s asking if people slept well last night …”).

    I said nothing for two weeks, and then finally asked her if she could give me some support. She denied that she had done anything, and at that point I shouted back. Had we not had other kids, I would have left or asked her to spend some time elsewhere right then – it was too much for me to bear.

    I soon found that the best way not to get yelled at was not to mention our deceased daughter’s name, or to tell her anything about what was happening or how I was handling her affairs. I withdrew from my wife.

    We’re divorcing now, and she’s blaming me for everything. Although I’ve taken plenty of credit for the split up – I could have done things much better, but I was in a pretty weak condition myself – my wife’s attacks started us on the road to divorce. She’s now in a deep depression, having cut off our surviving kids, so perhaps there was nothing that could have been done.

    However, if you do take out your rage on another person, make sure it isn’t someone who is also in as much grief as you are. Also, make sure you apologize, and not by simply saying, “I’m sorry.” Instead, say something like, “I’m sorry. That must have really hurt. How did that make you feel?” Otherwise, the person on the receiving end will think you hate them.

    And, of course, get counseling immediately.

    • After reading your comment, I was touched by your openness and also by your pain. I spoke to a friend who also lost their daughter in a tragic accident and she wanted to respond to you by saying…

      Losing a child is an excruciatingly painful experience. We know. Our eight year old daughter was killed in an accident one and a half years ago. Pain unspeakably great only increased as, over time, my husband and I stopped communicating. We were angry at God, at each other, and at people around us. The well of pain was so deep that even lifting the lid seemed too much. After months of not communicating we separated. During those long months of separation I saw a counselor. It became safe to lift the lid of that well of grief and pain and look inside. In this place of honesty I began to see things for what they were. Slowly, God helping me, I hauled pails of shame, anger, guilt and fear out and examined them. Now my husband and I are learning to courageously face what is in our wells, hauling out pails of pain and anger and hard questions, and placing our pails in full view of each other. Through this vulnerability God is healing us. Together we carry these pails to our garden of sorrow and suffering, emptying our questions and grief. And stuff is beginning to grow: flowers of Perseverance, Character and Hope. Our unanswered questions are numerous. Our pain enormous. But seeds of Hope are beginning to grow.

      May the Presence of God lift any burdens of fear or anxiety, and fill you with His Perfect Peace today.


      • Your friend may want to read his post again. He states he is not religious so all the “God” talk is not helpful.

        • No offense was intended by having my friend respond to Anvil. Their loss was similar and I thought he may gain some insight from her. My website and my book, The Grief Recovery Kit, are both faith-based and my faith is a vital part of my own grief recovery as I deal with my brother’s death only a few weeks ago. My friend and I both openly share that faith with others but it is our belief, our opinions – and never our intention to offend by our sharing.

          As for Anvil’s comment, I do believe his point is valid. It’s imperative that we be mindful of how our anger is expressed and that no one would be hurt in the process. He also offers sound advice from someone who has experienced the rage and anger of another. I’m so very sorry for that. I am pleased that Anvil shared with us in spite of his intense pain.

          • Don’t worry – the comments about faith in God didn’t offend me. They don’t empower me, but I do feel that for many people religion is empowering, so I don’t oppose it.

  2. My grandma Evans died on September 28th, 2015, and I loved her so much it hurts.

    • Jessica,
      I’m so sorry for the loss of your Grandma. Losing someone we love so much cuts deeply but I am confident that your pain will soon ease with time. It sounds very cliche but it’s true, with time and effort you will become more peaceful. Maybe you could write everything down on paper…exactly how you are feeling, whether it’s sadness, loneliness or even anger. After my Daddy, and then my brother, died I had so many different feelings I didn’t even know what to do with! It helped me tremendously to just vent them all out on paper, no one else needs to ever read those words unless you choose to share them. I pray you will soon find peace and comfort through your grief.

  3. My good friend lost her husband to cancer. It was about a four-month battle. She never expected he would pass and did not spend time with him fighting the battle. As they were both doctors he tried to treat himself and she helped by treating his patients while he was ill. Not only did we lose him but we lost her friendship also as she is so angry. It is very hard to talk to her or be around her she has not grieved. She has thrown herself into her work. She is mean and angry with her patients and her friends and relatives. I no longer know how to approach her. I have prayed for her for 2 years. She is a Christian or was. I just don’t understand her anger. She has even turned against her children and is focused on money.

    • Debra,
      I’m so sorry to hear this about your friends. It sounds like you’ve lost one to death and the other to the affects of grief. As you know, everyone deals with (or doesn’t deal with) grief differently. The focus on money is simply a distraction to avoid the grief that is pinned inside of your friend. She will never be whole until she faces the loss of her husband head on. I pray that she will find the tools to start that journey and I pray for you to have patience and the right words to help her.
      Blessings to you all.

  4. I am in my 40s and have been depressed most of my life from the effects of abuse when I was younger. I have spent time in counselling and have been healing, by processing my grief. I have worked through my depression but have been overwhelmed with intense anger since doing so. It’s more rage than anger. I can’t even feel or comprehend warning signs, it just hits. I am out of control.
    I am quickly disliking myself because I am hurting the people closest to me. I feel like a bad person. I want to isolate myself so I don’t hurt others and they don’t dislike me. I am desperate to know what to do. I feel that even my counsellor doesn’t understand or can help me with it.
    I enjoyed your article because I have screamed and pounded my fists and thought I was crazy for doing so. I am desperate. I feel like another person and don’t know myself. This is major for me and I don’t know what to do.

    • Lorraine,
      I’m so sorry that you have suffered and are still feeling the effects of that victimization. I don’t have all the answers but I can say I understand. I too, have dealt with depression, intense rage and anger due to sexual abuse as a child. I let it dominate my being for way to long. Although I still have those feelings rise up, I now control them, instead of those negative thoughts and emotions controlling me. It took work and prayer. I used to feel the exact same way as you described, trust me…exactly. Please don’t give up on your healing and recovery. I feel that we are on the same road, only I’m just a little farther down that road so hang in there. I don’t know if you are spiritual but just know, I will be praying for you. May God give you peace and strength as you face your pain and memories and ultimately assist you in releasing them. You can do it…one step at a time.

  5. My situation is the loss of my best friend. The friendship started as long distance but evolved over time with visits, vacations with our families and birthdays with his children. My spouse understands the friendship was above reproach. Since his death, my friend’s wife has not contacted me although she asked a family friend to notify me of his death. Initially she was fine with continuing the relationships but then changed her mind. All of this information relayed to me second person. I’ve made a handful of attempts to contact her these past few weeks without success. It’s been almost two months and there comes a time to let go. Her decision is hers alone. With numerous efforts made to asking what happened, what went wrong, I’m facing the grieving process losing not only my friend but the past 5 years of friendships. My head knows all the right things about grief but there is a huge disconnect with my heart. Counseling has started for myself but I’ll never be the same again because of another person’s choices.

    • Edie,
      I’m so sorry for the loss you are experiencing but it is good that you realize we have no control over how another grieves, even if it adds to our own grief. You are headed in the right direction by talking about your feelings as well as starting counseling. I’ve realized myself in my own grief, there is a period of time where the head and heart don’t align, however with time, effort, forgiveness and release, I believe your’s will.

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