Anger plays a pivotal role in the grief process. Kubler Ross places it as the second step in the grief process after denial. Of course, steps and phases are not science, many experience anger first as well, or even later, but anger definitely plays a role in the process. For some, this emotion is more present in a loss depending on one’s own particular emotional makeup or the facts surrounding the particular loss. Someone who may lose a person to a drinking and driving accident may experience more anger than one who loses someone to natural causes. Others who are naturally more angry with life may lash out regardless. Hence the amount and degree of anger in the grief process varies.
Anger nonetheless if felt is an important emotional release. If one feels angry over a loss, it is important to express that anger in a conducive and healthy way. If one lets anger remain dormant and does not express it, then the grief process itself can stalled. Grief Counselors should encourage all emotional expression to be exhibited in a safe and constructive way.
Here are some things to consider regarding the circumstances of anger during the grief cycle. First, anger over injustice is very common. If the loss was due to drunk driving, a malpractice case, a crime, a foreign attack, or a preventable accident, then anger usually expresses itself early. Later the anger is turned into social reform or the seeking of justice. In the recent deaths of George Floyd, we see constructive anger over the death of Floyd put to societal change and police reform. Second, anger over personal difficult relationships occur. A death can result in anger if the person deceased was not always the best person. An abusive spouse, or a conflicting individual can leave someone with guilt and anger. Some cases of anger are completely due to the person being felt left behind or alone. A struggling widow may have resentment to a husband who did not take his health seriously. Or in some cases, individuals may have resentment in how the person died. Family members who have to deal with the fallout of a suicide victim, may feel resentment and anger as well.
In all these cases, it is important that anger is expressed properly and allowed to surface. Anger itself is can damaging to someone who allows it to ferment within the soul. It can lead to future issues and poor health. Hence it is important for counselors to help it come out in individuals. After the anger is released, individuals can then discover why they are angry and dismiss potential guilt issues or surrounding beliefs about the death of the individual.
Grief Counselors should also be aware that those in intense grief and experiencing anger lash out at others. They displace their grief. Displaced grief and anger is very common. Those angry may lash out at a variety of things or persons. In most instances, the person closest receive the emotional rage, but in other moments, counselors and friends may also experience the anger. In some cases, God is a scapegoat for anger. Those in intense grief can blame God for a loss and even begin to question their own faith and world views.
It is not uncommon for existential crisis and questioning of world views to occur for those suffering intense grief. Meaning of life is questioned and anger at authority is common. Those of faith usually rebound but the initial anger is part of their process of comprehending and experiencing the grief. Grief Counselors in these cases do not enter into a logical or philosophical debate about their faith but instead patiently listen and allow the bereaved to express their anger at their faith, God, or world view. After the person is able to better comprehend the true essence of his or her anger is one able to regain rationality. Yet, still, this process is critical for many in the grief process.
Grief Counselors should never take personal attacks to heart. Instead they need to understand in their training the nature of displacement and how an individual sometimes utilizes anger in their pain. Friends and family should also be patient with those who lash out in intense grief and not take emotional words personally. Patients and love are key for the bereaved. After emotion is permitted to display itself, then true healing and understanding can begin to occur, but the time has to be on the bereaved terms.
Anger hence is an important part of the grieving process. It may be unpleasant but it has purpose towards healing. It brings one ultimately to rationality and allows counselors to see the pain that may be preventing healing. In many cases, anger is also healthy for social reform.
The American Academy of Grief Counseling offers a certification in Grief Counseling. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Grief Counseling. If interested, please review the Grief Counseling Certification program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals. Also, please review AIHCP’s Anger Management Consulting Program. The program is based on similar grounds and is also open to qualified professionals.
AIHCP’s video on Anger Management, please click here”
Grief and Sympathy article, “Anger Stage of Grief-It is Normal-How to Move on”, please click here