How to cope with anger in grief

By Lianna Champ,
updated on Nov 11, 2020

How to cope with anger in grief

Grief is the normal and natural reaction to the loss of someone we love or something we value, but what can you do when you’re also experiencing anger at the same time?

Grief is incredibly personal. When we suffer a significant loss, we go through a roller coaster of emotions – and in this mix of emotions, anger can be thrown up.

Anger is not an emotion in its own right, but stems from hurt, sadness, or fear. Grief makes us feel out of control and that in itself is scary. The anger can grow into a large ball and it can be easier to remain angry than to process the truth around the pain of our grief. And even though anger means we are not in control, it can trick us into thinking we are. It was CS Lewis who said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”

If you’re experiencing anger while you’re working through grief, consider the following tips.

Is it fear disguised as anger?

Anger is a common reaction to fear. Fear makes us feel vulnerable. Anger makes us feel powerful. If we have been programmed to hide our fear then we have been taught that fear is not to be felt, but hidden, and this can manifest behind false bravado. A pattern may emerge where we revert to anger in response to the fear which comes with grief following our loss. In effect, as children, if we are told we shouldn’t be scared but instead be brave when we are hurt or sad, then we have been taught to mask our emotions instead of how to feel our emotions naturally and in the present moment.

Is it sadness disguised as anger?

If we are not allowed to feel our sadness when something makes us sad, we will go into conflict with how we really feel. In being told we have to be strong, we are taught not to give our sadness our attention and not to burden others with our feelings. Sadness, just like happiness, needs our attention and expression. Not recognising what is making us sad can result in frustration. Frustration then can manifest into anger if we repeatedly ignore our sadness. Again, holding on to anger can be easier than admitting that we are in emotional pain. When we experience further losses, we will struggle to process the sadness and keep holding on to our anger until something gives.

Anger as a defence mechanism

If we have repeatedly resorted to anger when our needs have not been met, or we haven’t felt heard or listened to, anger can rouse others into doing what we want. If we have never had the opportunity to talk about our emotions with honesty and without criticism or judgement, our anger can be used to hide our pain and grief. We may resort to anger in an attempt to prevent being hurt again, to hide the vulnerability of exposing our pain. The pain that the child in each of us needs to be seen, heard and soothed.

Explore what is underneath the anger

It’s always a great exercise to put pen to paper. Take time to look back over your life and write down those losses that have affected you. Perhaps you can see a connection with your anger. What were you really feeling at the time? What was missing or what was it that you needed but didn’t get? Write down when you were sad or scared. You may feel uncomfortable especially if you have never explored yourself emotionally before. Really exploring these events can reveal patterns of behaviour, and can even uncover why you resorted to anger as a coping mechanism in the first place.

Reach out

Anger isolates us from the people who are important in our lives. It pushes everyone away and makes us miserable. Reach out and share how you feel. You are not broken therefore do not need to be fixed. Even though grief and all of the associated feelings are normal and natural, we are often told not to feel the way we feel. We need to give our feelings verbal expression in order to connect fully with what is going on inside. Speaking words out loud can help unravel emotional confusion and make sense of what is going around in our heads. Verbalising emotional pain is a powerful release and does not require any comment from others, apart from acknowledgement and acceptance.

In conclusion…

Am I really angry? Or do I just need to be kind to myself, accept that I am human, and allow myself to feel fear and pain and know that that is absolutely OK?

By Lianna Champ

Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief counselling and funeral care and is author of practical guide, 'How to Grieve Like A Champ'.

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