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Bereavement Support Services

Anger - Do nice people get angry?

THEY SURE DO! Angry feelings are a normal and healthy response to the death of a loved one.  Emotions such as anger are not right or wrong, they simply are. Life at times hurts and that hurt generates anger. We often see anger as the enemy, so we continue to deny it and the pressure continues to build. Many of us were inaccurately taught as children that it is not “nice” to be angry. It is best to recognize and express this anger rather than to deny or repress it.

If we don’t deal with our anger, if we don’t allow ourselves natural responses and outlets, then we accumulate anger. We may forget about it in our brain, but it accumulates in our guts.  We slowly fill up like a reservoir. When we reach our capacity, we begin to spill over internally by turning our anger against ourselves as depression, apathy, guilt, withdrawal, or low self-esteem. We may turn to excessive alcohol or drug abuse, smoking, or eating. Anger may spill outwardly against other targets – our family, friends, or co-workers. If we keep our anger inside or just below the surface, we may experience constant tension. Unrecognized anger may be suppressed for years. So much energy is required to keep the lid on. It is very tiring; anger and hate drain you of energy.

It is important to identify your anger and allow yourself to experience it, because those who bottle up their rage often develop psychosomatic symptoms as well as experience a lack of energy.

Anger may be directed at OURSELVES.  We are cross at ourselves that we are not handling our grief better or that we somehow were not able to prevent the death.  Anger directed at ourselves can be dangerous.

It also may be directed at GOD.  He can handle our anger. We get angry with people we love. We tell then how we feel. We don’t expect them to reject us for our words or to change something that can’t be changed. We want them to give us a hearing and to care about how we feel.  Our purpose is to develop understanding and to clear the air.

Our anger may be directed at OTHERS, the ambulance crew, the funeral director, a nurse, another family member, or other “intact” families who have not had a loved one die. It is important to recognize such anger. We are not really angry with them. Often it is displaced anger.

For some people, their anger may be directed at the DECEASED.  It is understandable that our loved one might receive some of our anger.  You may feel as outraged as an abandoned child.  You may feel “how could you die and leave me?”  Since that seems unreasonable the very thought is suppressed.  It is healthy to express such anger but be sure that you are with someone who is understanding and accepting of your need to verbalize the full impact of your anger.

A more difficult type of anger to recognize is the GENERAL just plain being angry.  You are not angry with anyone, but angry that your loved one has died. You may be angry because you hurt so much.

People vary in their expression of anger.  Some people have a short fuse.  Their anger may even become rage.  They may carry their anger to dangerous extremes, some even seeking revenge.  Others have a great patience and are very slow to anger.  Some just let their anger smolder.  Still others may be someplace in the middle or go from one extreme to the other.  It may be difficult for some people to recognize, much less express their anger, while others find it easy to express. It is important to respect these differences.

Suggestions for Coping With Anger

It is important to acknowledge the anger and to find ways to deal with it constructively.  In the old days we performed hard physical labor which helped to release stored-up anger.  People had to dig ditches, chop wood, beat rugs, etc.

  • It helps to deal with anger physically -- take a walk, the longer and faster the better…go for a bike ride…use an exercise bike…work out at an exercise/aerobic club…scrub floors by hand…wash walls...tear up old magazines
  • Imagine whoever or whatever you’re angry at being on the other end of your blows – hang a tire from a tree and hit it with a baseball bat…beat boxes with a broom…hit a bed with a tennis racquet…pound nails…throw rocks into a lake or field
  • Write about your anger…in a journal or even in letters you tear up
  • Crying releases anger and frustration.  Do things which force tears, such as listening to special music, looking at photos, visiting the cemetery, doing things that remind you of your loved one
  • Talking will help you to understand the specific cause of your anger.  Often, you will feel better after getting it out
  • Deep breathing, meditation, even counting to 100 helps muscles to relax and resolves the physical component of your anger
  • Fantasies are a safe way of handling anger
  • Become aware of the dangers and limitations of “inner directed” anger and “displaced” anger.  Be careful of uninhibited expressions of rage.  They make you angrier and do harm, which is self-defeating.  It is critical to unleash your anger in safe ways.  Set limits so that no one is hurt.
  • Consider counseling if your anger and/or depression continues.