Anger can be a troublesome emotion, especially when it happens in our grief. Most of us have been taught to think of anger in a negative, destructive way. But sometimes anger is justified. And sometimes there is no way we can suppress the feelings of anger that well up inside of us. In fact, few life events can justify anger more than the feelings of injustice and unfairness in losing a loved one to death.
In order to get a handle on anger in your grief journey, you may want to remember the following facts:
- Anger is a part of the human experience. Anger is simply wanting things to be different than they are. There is nothing wrong with wanting things to be different.
- Anger can either be a direct primary emotion (caused by external events) or a secondary emotion (produced by internal events, how you perceive or think about events or feelings experienced). Many people (especially men) have been trained to think anger is okay to feel and and display — rather than displaying feelings of hurt or vulnerability.
- Anger is a natural, adaptive response to threats (or what we perceive as threats). Anger is associated with aggression, but that is only one way to express anger. Anger can also be expressed in assertive behavior. How we react to anger is our choice.
- Anger can be healthy or unhealthy. Most people are aware that on-going, unchecked anger can eventually lead to serious physical conditions or illnesses such as high blood pressure, ulcers, strokes, and heart disease.
- Anger can also be mentally and emotionally destructive. Anger can consume huge amounts of mental and physical energy, reduce our enjoyment of life, interferes with judgment and good decision-making, destroy relationships and careers, and kill self-esteem. But expressed in healthy ways, anger can help us grow from our experiences.
- Anger is an emotion that springs often from our need to control the world around us. Ironically, most of the time anger controls us and makes us its victims. When you allow someone else’s words or behavior to make you angry, they are controlling you without their even knowing about it. While you fume and fret about what they did or said, only you are experiencing the effects of your anger.
How Do We Deal With Anger? Most experts say we have three healthy ways to deal with anger:
- Expressing anger – being assertive, not aggressive. Stating clearly to others what you need or expect, without hurting others. Not being pushy, but respectful of yourself and others. Anger expressed in aggressive ways can destroy lives, relationships and careers.
- Suppressing anger – holding in anger, and redirecting the feeling toward constructive behavior. Suppressed or denied anger can lead to self-destructive behavior, health problems, depression, and cynical/hostile attitudes.
- Calming – being aware of your physical symptoms of oncoming anger, analyzing your reason for anger and taking steps to “take control” of your thinking, your behavior and your internal responses. This involves taking steps to lower your heart rate/breathing, calm yourself down and let the feelings subside. Anger unchecked can soon take control of the person experiencing it
Strategies to Keep Anger From Controlling You:
Identify the reason(s) for your anger – when you recognize your oncoming symptoms of anger, analyze why you are angry and try to determine if your thinking is logical and constructive or irrational and destructive. Remind yourself of three important facts:
1. You are not all powerful.
2. You and everyone else in this world are not and never will be perfect.
3. Recognize anger hurts you much more than it hurts others.
Relax – when anger is threatening to control you do the following:
- Breathe deeply from your diaphragm
- Count to ten or repeat a calming word or phrase.
- Use your imagination or memory to produce a relaxing experience in your mind. Try to experience the visualization with all your senses.
- Use muscle-relaxing slow movements or exercises (such as yoga) to calm you.
Know your anger triggers – try to avoid those things that always make you angry.
Go into a problem-solving mode – let the situation become a challenge to overcome or a problem to solve.
Use good communications skills – expressing yourself in an assertive, constructive, respectful manner can defuse anger and help you avoid further frustration.
Use humor – learn to not take yourself or others so seriously.
Change your environment – sometimes changing environments/situations can lessen stress, frustration and anger.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help – when anger is destroying your life, career, or relationships, consider professional assistance.
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” available online at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Love-Never-LPC-S-Larry-Barber/dp/1613796005 ), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/love-never-dies-lpc-s-ct-larry-m-barber-ct-larry-m/1104364890?ean=9781613796016).
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa”
Both English and Spanish versions are available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.