While it is true that everyone processes grief in a very unique way, it is recognized by professionals that there are characteristics or stages that many people share in the process of handling loss. The stages are fluid; not all will go through each stage and the stages are not in a chronological order. The stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance give a structure by which an understanding of the process of grieving can be achieved.

The second stage of grief that is often described is that of anger.

Anger: A Watch is Issued

As the attention turns to the second stage – anger – it might be better to think of anger as a state rather than a stage. A stage is often seen as a phase that leads to another phase or ultimately the end result. It would be better to see anger as a “state” during the grieving process where the circumstances or conditions of life are such that anger might easily be the response.

A good comparison occurs in the meteorological field. A tornado watch, or a severe thunderstorm watch, is issued when the conditions in the atmosphere are favorable for the production of the severe weather. Grief puts us under an “anger watch;” the circumstances of life are favorable for us to become angry.

There are times in the natural grieving process for the individual to feel frustrated, trapped, and hurt. It is common to have those churning emotions surface and be directed toward someone or something. When pain dominates the feelings, it is natural to look for someone to blame. Being angry is a way of releasing energy, of protesting a loss that does not make sense or seem fair. Even though deep down one understands that anger is not logical or justified, emotions are rarely logical.

Once the individual has stopped denying that the loss has occurred, the reality of the situation begins to set in, bringing additional confusion, frustration and pain. The mind and body begin to deflect the pain, expressing it instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at an inanimate object – like punching a wall or kicking a trash can. It may be aimed at people; complete strangers, friends or family members. On occasion, the anger may in fact be aimed at the deceased loved one, emotionally distraught because they left us. Anger often is a cyclical process. One feels guilty for feeling angry, which of course only leads to feeling more anger.

Anger on Display: Others Feel the Wrath

How might the anger be expressed? What are common ways to display the anger that is building inside?

Anger is often expressed and directed:

  • At yourself, for what you did or did not do during the life and death of the loved one. These feelings can be both real or imagined.
  • At your loved one, for dying and abandoning you.
  • At a surviving family member for not being the one who died.
  • At the doctors, nurses or medical staff for failing to save the loved one.
  • At the situation that left you feeling powerless.
  • At fate or God for letting your loved one get sick and die.
  • At others who have not experienced such a loss.
  • At others for being happy when you are not.

Coping with Anger: There is Hope

Are there things that can be done to assist in coping with this anger? Here are a few suggestions.

First, try to understand if there is resentment or disappointment that is fueling the anger. Perhaps there were expectations that friends would be more sympathetic. Resentment can occur when one person seems to have gotten over their grief more quickly. How many of the angry feelings are directed to people who did not live up to expectations during the time of loss? Were there things that were expected to happen that did not? Were the expectations reasonable? What are possible reasons that people reacted as they did?

Second, discover ways to release the angry feelings in appropriate ways that will bring no harm to any individual. Some people find that release through physical activity. Sports, physical labor, or intense exercise may help in processing and releasing the anger. Others may find that a creative outlet – music, art, or writing – may be the perfect way to express things that are often inexpressible. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others for support.

If the anger is obsessive, or if there seems to be feelings to inflict personal injury or injury to others, professional help should be sought to guide the grieving process and alleviate the immediate threat of danger.