Grief 101: Anger

The following series of posts outlines the traditional “stages” of grief as presented in Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s On Death and Dying (1969). The stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This post addresses anger.

Grief 101

Please see my post called The Five Stages of Grief” for a brief discussion of the five-stages.

Anger is perhaps the second most common emotion associated with grief (the first being sadness). Anger is one of those emotions that everyone understands: we are comfortable with it, we know how to express it, we know how to share it, we know how to recognize it. Grief is compromised of a lot of emotions we may or not fully understand and anger seems to be a catch all for the mish-mash of feelings we experience. Our emotional vulnerability when grieving can also contribute to anger, since are taught to view emotionality as a weakness.

Of anger, writes:

  • “It would be better to see anger as a ‘state’ during the grieving process where the circumstances or conditions of life are such that anger might easily be the response.”
  • “Being angry is a way of releasing energy, of protesting a loss that does not make sense or seem fair.”

In other words, anger is a way of responding to circumstances of grief that allows us to expel energy and protest the unfairness of the loss we experience.

The anger experienced in grief can be directed at anyone: the griever (as an outlet of guilt), grief supporters, or even the deceased themselves. It is common for grievers to be angry at the fact that their loved one died but also to be angry at the loved one for dying.

Anger arises from the overwhelming and stressful nature of loss and grief. Grief-related stress can feed a griever’s anger as well, giving fuel to the fire that keeps them locked in a state of anger, preventing the chance to heal.

Despite the helpful aspect of anger, it has its downsides. Anger can lead to a griever’s isolation and cause them to seem unapproachable to their support network. It’s hard for grief supporters to reach out to a griever whose go-to response in conversations and/or when presented with suggestions or advice is to lash out in anger. Although we have familiarity with anger, we should remember that it does have its limits–both for the person experiencing it and for those receiving it.

What should we do with our anger as a griever? Feel it, don’t suppress it. advises that a griever should “[b]e willing to feel…anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal.” Trying to avoid anger or masking it will only repress the anger. It will return and it could be more damaging the second time around as it has not been reduced but compounded by time and added stressors.

What else can we do to deal with anger that evolves from and during grief?

  • Cry if you need to. Tear are way for body to release stress.
  • Write an angry letter. Don’t send it! But helps get the emotions out.
  • Exercise helps reduce stress that can lead to anger.
  • Scream as loudly as you can (in a safe space–like your car)
  • Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing or yoga.

To help reduce anger, suggests that when a griever:

  • try to calm your body (deep breathing, exercise, shift focus to distance self from the emotional trigger event),
  • identify the cause of the anger (sometimes we know the cause, sometimes we don’t, sometimes the anger has been building and the event was the last straw,
  • communicate the anger somehow (write in a journal, talk to a friend, see a therapist),
  • and plan a course of action (view the situation from another person’s perspective, reframe the situation from different angle, work on increasing emotional resilience).

As with all grief-related emotions, anger is cyclical–once it disappears it may return at a later point, in part influenced by other emotions within the griever (such as guilt). And while grievers should feel their anger and let it run its course, grievers should be sure to check their anger to make sure it doesn’t overwhelm them and/or isolate them from support. If anger becomes obsessive or uncontrollable, grievers should seek professional assistance.

In short: anger (no matter when it happens during grief) is an expected and normal part of the grief experience and reflects the reality of loss as a griever moves from denial or disbelief to the reality and permanence of the loved one’s absence.


Published by ancarroll

Alexandra N. Carroll is an author, grief advocate, crafter, mother, and partner. She writes on grief and self-care from her home in Vermont. Her forthcoming book concerns how to untangle life-after-loss through the creation of a strong self-care plan.

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