As a child I learned it was shameful to “throw a fit and fall in it.” That was my grandmother’s expression. While it is refreshing to hear young parents request their toddlers use words instead of bad behavior to express their anger, we have generations of adults who still believe anger in general is bad.
Being a grief counselor, I often ask clients about their feelings of anger. It is common for them to say they’ve felt a lot of different emotions since the death, but they aren’t aware of feeling anger. I believe them. They aren’t aware.
As homework I ask them to keep a one-week daily diary of their head chatter and when they do, they are surprised to learn that they are downright mad—about a lot of things. The realization, however, usually brings remorse: “How could I possibly be angry at someone for dying? That sounds awful!”
Angry because of the death rather than angry at the person for dying.
Yes it does sound awful to be angry at someone for dying, but if you examine your anger, you will likely conclude that you are not angry at your loved one for dying but you are indeed angry because they have died.
Whether it is the loss of a child, a sibling, a mate, or an untimely death of a parent, the person you counted on being part of your life is gone. As a result you are not only disoriented, disorganized and anxious, you can’t control your emotions and you don’t know what to do to feel better. In addition you feel compelled to pretend that you are fine so others won’t feel uncomfortable around you. If that isn’t enough to make you angry, what will it take?
The Dalai Lama’s take on anger
When the Dalai Lama was asked if he feels anger, he said:
“Oh, yes of course (I get angry). I am a human being. Generally speaking, if a human being doesn’t feel anger… he’s not right in the brain.”
Right in the brain. What a wonderful phrase.
The truth is when we stuff our anger instead of accepting it, we feel wrong in the brain and bad behavior results. For example, we may start to explode unexpectedly, seemingly without cause, or turn to alcohol and prescription drugs—all in an attempt to feel “right” again.
Addressing anger can provide structure to grief
I suggest you not only accept your feelings of anger but use them to help you focus during the scattered crazy-making period of your early grief. The next time your mind is hijacked by anger, grab a pen and paper and ask yourself the following questions.
- Are my thoughts based on assumptions, misinformation or facts?
- Am I expecting too much of myself or another?
- Am I entranced by the power I feel when angry?
- Is my anger really a cover for what I fear?
- Is there a genuine problem that needs my attention immediately? If not, is their value in my reassessing the situation again later?
It is always good to question your thoughts. Remember: you question others’ thoughts on a regular basis so why not your own?
Having a conversation with yourself sends a signal to your brain that you are interested in thinking clearly once again: that you intend to accept your feelings of anger, but you want to put a bit of distance between the feeling and your response.