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Emotions Of Grief: Anger

It is very common after the death of a loved one to experience feelings of anger and bitterness. When feelings of anger are added to the mix of other painful emotions that we tend to experience as we grieve, the process of mourning a loss can become an even more difficult one to navigate.

The sources of anger after a loss are many. One can feel angry that their loved one was taken “before her time.” This type of emotional response frequently occurs after a sudden loss or the loss of a child or younger person. We can feel robbed, as if our loved one was stolen from us far too soon, without permission. Anger is also likely to occur in the case where a death is viewed as preventable. Such deaths include most suicides and homicides, and as well as many accidental-type deaths. Even some forms of natural death are often seen as having been preventable, typically when the cause of death is related to the behavior of the deceased person. An obvious example of this would be the case of a smoker developing cancer. In the case of a homicide, feelings of anger at the perpetrator of the violence toward the loved one can be intense. I have spoken with several persons who lost loved ones through a homicide, and some feel intense rage toward the perpetrator, bordering on fantasies of wanting to exact some measure of revenge against the person responsible for the death. In the case of suicide, it is not uncommon for anger to be experienced against the deceased person him- or herself. This tends to be a very painful emotion for mourners to deal with, as it runs counter to the societal norm to not “speak ill of the dead.” However, when anger comes upon us as we mourn, it must be faced and dealt with squarely so that it does not cause us longer-term harm, as unprocessed emotional reactions tend to do. It is also true that we can feel angry with ourselves for aspects of our behavior while the person was alive. Perhaps one might feel that they treated the person with less caring or tenderness than they should have, and may thus feel upset with themselves for their behavior. It is also sometimes the case that anger can function to protect us from examination of other issues that we might otherwise have to directly deal with as we grieve; issues that may be even more painful and that may cut even deeper into our selves. I want to take pause to state here that some bereaved persons do not experience anger as a significant feature of their grief – it is the same story, that each person experiences their grief in highly personal ways and in ways unique to them. If you are mourning the death of a loved one and anger has not been a part of your grief yet, you need not feel that it should be.

As was noted in the previous column that examined the experience of guilt, the ways in which we tend to think about events can influence our emotions about those events. This is equally true when dealing with anger, and leads us to be mindful that we may be unwittingly contributing to our own pain (experienced in this case in the form of anger) through our thinking about issues relating to the death.

So what can one do to deal with feelings of anger and bitterness after a loss? Many persons find that grief counseling provides a particularly effective forum within which to examine such difficult emotions. In counseling, one need not worry about revealing anger (particularly toward the deceased person or other relatives) as one may when speaking about such feelings with family members or other acquaintances. As with any emotional response, what tends to help is to be able to thoroughly examine it in the light of day. Talking to a concerned listener can be one way that you can help yourself, whether that listener be an acquaintance or a professional counselor. We do ourselves a disservice when we put the cart before the horse, so to speak, and we do so when we find ourselves not wanting to discuss our experiences for fear of the consequences of our words. What is true about most of us is that we need to express our thoughts and feelings - to speak the words that come to us as we grieve. We can then benefit by working through our thoughts and feelings, after they have been openly acknowledged.

In closing for now, let me say that I believe that it takes a tremendous amount of courage to share ones’ painful inner experiences with another person, and yet doing so can be a very healing thing to do. I would also like to say that I am here to help you deal with your grief, and that I would indeed be most honored should you grant me the opportunity to walk with you through your journey after loss, from pain to eventual healing.

Grief Counselor, Dr. Steven Bailley
Grief Counselor
The purpose of these articles is to provide interested readers with information and thoughts about loss, grief, mourning, and grief counseling. A variety of grief-related topics have been covered. It is my sincerest hope that you will find the information presented here to be of interest and assistance to you. If there are specific topics of interest that you would like to see added in the future, I welcome you to email me with your suggestions. If you have a need to talk with me, please call me at my office at (713) 914-9944.
Collection of papers and articles on grief, and coping with grief
The need to express our grief… Grief is Different For Each of Us The emotions of grief: Guilt
Grief, Mourning and Grief Counseling The Experience of Grief The Emotions of Grief: Anger
Reactions from others… The Seasons of My Heart The emotions of grief: “I feel like I’ve lost control of myself.”
The Closeness of Mortality Ambivalence
A 'Grief Journal' Grief After Suicide
Research and clinical experience support the idea that many bereaved individuals gain benefit from grief counseling. Ideally, counseling can help people to cope as adaptively as possible during difficult times that follow a loss, and can also assist in bringing grief to a more adequate resolution. Should you decide to explore the possibility of seeking professional assistance, at any time following your loss, I welcome you to contact me to explore this option (appointments and fee schedule are available upon request). Every person is unique, and I will work with you to assist you in coping with your specific needs. At this most difficult time in your life, I wish to extend to you my sincerest condolences for your loss.

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