- Grief can unfold differently for each individual mourning a difficult loss, but a common emotion that arises is anger.
- If you feel angry after losing a loved one, you should first ask yourself where that anger might stem from: Are you angry at the situation, the person, or maybe a spiritual figure?
- A common cause of anger when it comes to grief is the individual’s reluctance to accept that they have to continue life without their loved one.
- You can also get to the root of your anger by exploring other difficult emotions; these include sadness and fear.
- Finally, with the proper support, lean into all of the pain you are experiencing — as suppressing your feelings will only prolong your grief.
In 1969, Swiss-American Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross theorized that there are five universal stages of grief: denial and seclusion, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages have since been used to describe how we respond to a heartbreaking loss. But here’s the thing: Coping with a devastating loss is an incredibly individual and personal experience.
While these “stages of grief” might be common, there’s no telling exactly how you, I, or another person will grieve the loss of a loved one. As such, these “stages” can happen in any order, for varying durations, and in any combination, not just one at a time in this exact order. You might experience denial, or you might accept the loss rather quickly because you were expecting and preparing for it; you could grow increasingly angry, or you could sink into a low level of despair. Or, you might experience an emotion that we haven’t even talked about.
All of that said, the important question at hand is: How can one work through anger they may feel as related to the loss of a loved one? Here are three steps to get you started.
1) Get to the root of your anger.
If you feel angry after losing someone, the first step is to understand where your anger comes from. According to Social Worker Kriss Kevorkian, Ph.D., “When anger is involved, it’s important to look at it and find out if you’re angry about the situation, the person who died, or perhaps even God,” she says. “The best tip is to discuss this with a grief counselor who can help the person with his/her grieving process and find ways for that individual to cope with the loss he/she has had.” A grief counselor can help you determine the source of anger as well as determine healthy coping strategies for dealing with the loss.
Kevorkian goes on to explain that anger may result from the fact that “the person now has to deal with life on their own since a loved one has died.” For example, if you’re an adult child whose parent died, what will this mean for your life and all the plans you had to share in those important life events… like marriage and having children with your parent by your side, teaching you how to raise your children? This is a lot to process — and feelings of overwhelm can easily manifest as anger.
2) Dig into other emotions — what else are you feeling?
Did you have any luck? Exploring other emotions can further aid you in discovering the cause of your anger. Melissa Hudson, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, explains how confronting other uncomfortable feelings like sadness, fear, and pain can help you to better understand your anger and ultimately help you heal from the loss:
“The anger stage of grief can certainly feel confusing. ‘Why am I so angry?’ you may wonder. ‘Is this a good thing?’ What is important to realize about anger is that it is a secondary emotion; underneath it is a primary emotion, often sadness or fear. It is often helpful to try to slow yourself down a bit and ask, ‘What is my fear? What is my sadness?’ These questions and, more importantly, the answers will highlight what concerns you are still working with regarding your grief.”
3) Lean into your pain.
Another helpful tip as you move through grief and confront anger is — with the proper support, from a therapist, a friend, or both — try to lean into the pain. Don’t work to turn it off or avoid it. Go ahead and feel. Why? Because this will help you continue to move through grief.
“When we suppress feelings, stuff them, or ignore them, they don’t go away… they are just unresolved,” says Hudson. “Unfortunately, there is no going around and skipping hard feelings. There is only going through it to reach acceptance. And when we have unresolved feelings, they often come up in unexpected ways. If you kick feelings under the rug, I assure you: You will continue to trip over them. So face it, name it, feel it, and you will have it behind you sooner than later.”
If your emotions become too intense, practice grounding. A few quick grounding exercises include taking 10 deep breaths, drinking a cold glass of water, or concentrating on another sensory experience like how the ground beneath your feet feels and looks.