Grief and anger are often aligned. Anger is one phase within the theme of grief that is alarmingly unpredictable, erratic, and, when unexpressed, can eat up the interior of the gut.
The Grief Experience
Grief, a response to a loss of someone or something, creates an untenable yearning for what you’ve lost. Both anger and grief are unchosen experiences, sneaking up on you, often without warning, only creating responses leading to internal and external emotional combustibility.
Avoid Crushing Your Comfortable Ordinary
Think about this combustibility like a big bang that goes off and affects your mind, body, and psyche. Acting in consort, these two aspects do a great job at crushing any sense of normalcy. Or what I like to refer to as your comfortable “ordinary.” Together, they have the ability to overwhelm the senses, all the while creating emotional responses that are often unrecognizable. You may hear yourself saying “Did I just say or do that?” and, yet, all of it is part of life, part of loving, part of being.
As hard as you try, ignoring what comes up only works for a short time before it starts to come out sideways. What I mean by that is that your body or mind can feel out of it, as they hold the unspoken and hidden angers and grief.
How to Tame the Tiger of Anger and Grief
Acknowledge their presence. When you do that simple step, you create the necessary healing moves needed to feel better. It is getting to yes—I see you, I know you are there, and I can’t sleep you away, eat you away, or drink you away.
I know I can’t pretend anymore. It’s taking me away from me and the life I want to live.
Here are two questions to begin your intimate adventure into the relationship between anger and grief:
Why is anger one of the anchors in the phases of grief?
Why is it hard to temper its potency?
Like food, anger is an essential element to the core of our being. It’s primal. It’s an aspect of survival. In small doses, or when it shows up to support one’s primal survival mode, anger pushes at that which is unwanted or threatening to our sense of self. Grief is often an immobilizing experience. Anger interrupts the immobilization often inherent in the grieving process. Honor it, express it with intent to change the undermining status quo of grief, and stop being enveloped by the vortex of quicksand when long-haul grief is present.
Anger can awaken you out of complacency.
Anger can show you how you care more than you realize.
Anger can make you feel alive, especially when in the muck of grief.
Anger can expel feelings of anxiety.
Anger can be a powerful ally.
Anger Is Not Rage
For someone who has not expressed anger, and has kept it within themselves, its expression can feel like rage. Rage is blinding and binding and out of control.
Angry outbursts create combustible environments for anyone on the receiving end of a tirade. Often difficult to control, anger builds up when you’re not being true to yourself. It’s easy to want to blame others for the grief you feel. Usually, the grief you feel is not anyone’s fault. The experience of a loss is driven by the crude awakening that you are in this alone. It is your lone journey, and no one understands it the way you do.
Before lacing into someone, stop for a moment, take a breath, and reexamine the situation. Follow these next steps, and your anger and grief will be heard and tangled with so you can gain self-control and solace.
5 Tools to Re-regulate the Self When Anger and Grief Are Present
Hint: They do require your presence!
Survey is the first of The Three S’s, survey, stop, and select. It is important to mark what happens in your body and in your mind when the anger starts to emerge. There are warning signs, and they are most likely quite familiar to you. Identify the warning signs of grief and anger—hands sweaty, don’t feel heard by a friend, no appetite, angry at small things. Awareness is the first step to change. This is a body and mind scan.
Body is tight
Mind is racing
Mind unable to concentrate
Cold or hot sensations
These signs inform you of a danger zone of anger. Temper the experience by imagining the outcome. Is it the outcome you really want?
2. Now it’s time for the action of Stop, the second of The Three S’s. Stop is an interrupter. First say, “Stop it!” Take in a breath and release it and then:
Leave the room
Call a friend
Listen to music
These seemingly innocuous interventions cause the brain to change the anger response it’s locked into. Awareness is the first step to change.
3. Select is the final of The Three S’s. You select the next action based on the preferred outcome.
Keep a journal or notebook with you to create a dreamscape depicting a different outcome: “I am angry about ____________ and this is what I can do about it _____________________________.”
I am alone in my grief, and I need to find support other than friends and family.
4. Learn to breathe. Sounds funny since breathing keeps the body alive, but this is a different type of breath. In five-second intervals, breathe in through your nose, hold the breath, and breathe out through your mouth. Do this exercise five times before letting loose. This will calm the nervous system and create a shift in the ways your mind and body are interacting with the anger response. Practice breathing even when not needed. It will be of greater use when the body knows the rhythm of the breathing exercise.
5. Get smart! Know the self. Your previous behavior is filled with chunky nuggets of information.
What are you yearning for? Name the points of hunger (what feels empty) and desire (what you want or need).
What helped you tame the anger and listen to the temperament of grief? Create a list of feelings that were specific to that occurrence.
Identify the following potential emotional responses that led to the anger and grief response. Jealousy? Regret? Sadness? Lack of control? The list of emotions is endless.
Do this and the conversation between the angry self and the yearning self (grief) will emerge.
The tough emotions of anger and grief are potentially unexpected allies. They will change you through an awakening process that is not chosen yet shifts the status quo into movement and emotional calibration and grace.
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Article By: Edy Nathan of Psychology Today