Grief and Anger: What’s the Link and How to Work With It

As counterintuitive as it might seem, anger is a crucial emotion experienced during grieving. While grief is commonly associated with sadness and loss, anger usually shows up along the way. This may be uncomfortable in general, but especially for someone who isn’t used to having a lot of anger. Anger can come seemingly out of the blue and make a challenging experience harder. For example, you’re making your departed loved one’s final resting place on Ecorial’s Memory Map, and a wave of anger that this person is gone washes over you. Why anger? Isn’t grief supposed to be about sadness? Anger during grief is common and may be intense and uncomfortable. This article will discuss the link between grief and anger, anger’s role in the grieving process, and how to work with and through your anger. 

What is the Link Between Grief and Anger?

Anger is a normal human reaction to loss and is a natural part of grief. Something terrible has happened to you, and it’s ok to feel anger, rage, and fury. It’s also important to remember that feelings are not rational. This might seem silly or obvious, but it is very common for people to deny big emotions and the thoughts that come with them because they don’t make sense. For example, it’s very common to feel anger at the person who passed and to feel abandoned, or as though they “left” you. Emotionally, this math makes sense, even though, rationally, we know the person who passed didn’t leave us intentionally. (However, if they did, this makes grief even more complicated and any anger even more rational and easy to understand.) Most people feel deep anger after a loved one has passed, and it’s ok if you are angry that you lost someone you love. 

Anger in the Stages of Grief 

Eminent psychiatrist Elizabeth Kϋbler-Ross describes anger as a core part of the grieving process; in fact, in her original five steps of grief, anger is listed as step two. Of course, grief is not a linear process; many people feel her stages in a different order, some cycle through them several times, etc. But, experiencing anger is well known to be a common part of loss and the recovery process. 

Dealing with Anger and Grief

  • Recognize that anger is normal.

Feeling shame, self-judgment, or self-criticism when angry is normal but unhelpful. The best thing you can do is to let yourself feel any anger as it comes up. Mentally give yourself permission to feel anger because it is normal to feel anger after a huge loss. Allowing yourself to feel anger is also a safe and healthy thing to do. Anger is a big emotion and, used unsafely, can do a lot of damage, usually to ourselves or others, but when felt and expressed safely, it can be what helps us heal the most. 

  • So, now that you’re angry, what do you do about it? Sometimes feeling it is enough, but usually, there’s an accompanying need to scream, cry, or destroy. Safely channeling your anger lets you fully express yourself without harming anyone or anything….important. Break goodwill glass in the corner of your driveway or garage. Scream into a pillow, throw beanbags or pet toys, or go for a long walk. If you work out, a difficult regimen can help, but stay within your physical limits. Writing freely can also be a constructive way to move through anger. You could use paper or your computer, whichever feels most accessible. 

Other commonly used tools for processing emotions are creative outlets like art or cooking and spending time in nature. Even if you’re not an artist, you can still create art, and it’s the creative process that heals, not so much the clay mug. (Though good, nourishing meals are a vital part of healing.) Nature is also a time-honored place where people go to sort through thoughts and feelings and find restoration. Even walking around the block will be helpful if you’re not up for a hike. 

  • While feeling anger is good, acting on it can be tricky, especially in deep grief. Consciously decide to go slowly with any significant changes or decisions. Wait for twenty-four hours before confronting a friend or colleague who has upset you. If you want to quit your job, that’s ok but do so in a way that will protect you from regret once your anger has cleared. Remember that any big feelings of anger are also likely connected to your grief and loss, even if your boss was a total jerk. Take your time so you can make clear, strategic decisions about important things like your job and close relationships. 
  • If you are at a loss regarding how to experience and process anger during grief, especially if it is unexpected, consider talking about it with a grief support group or a professional counselor. In a grief group, there are likely people there who have been in a similar place as you and who will have tools for coping with intense anger. And seeing others who also have anger during loss may help normalize the experience for you. 

A good counselor or therapist will be a safe person to talk about intense feelings and thoughts. Plus, they’ll also be able to teach you coping skills as you work through this difficult time. While therapy isn’t always needed, many people find it incredibly helpful while they are in the midst of intense mourning. 

There is no denying that grief is incredibly difficult and comes with many intense emotions. Try to give qualities like patience and compassion to yourself right now; you’d give them to a friend if they were angry and grieving. Remember that anger after loss is normal and simply means that you are human.

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