Dealing with Anger and Emotions
As we affirmed in our last blog, I believe that anger, guilt and blame share a similar root in our feelings of helplessness or powerlessness. In our grief, we often question “Why”. Why did my loved one have to die? Why does my life have to be one of suffering and sorrow? We feel anger because there are no easy answers to such questions. What has happened does not seem fair.
Harold Kushner once wrote that: ” ‘Why’ is not so much a question as a cry of pain”. When we feel powerless, finding more questions than answers, our response may be one of anger. Anger, like grief, is a protest against loss. Because of the loss, we feel helpless: we are not in control of the circumstances. When we are powerless to do anything to change the finality what has happened, we are angry. This might explain why we become irritable with friends and family: because they cannot give us what we want most, the return of our loved one or the return to “normality”.
Sometimes anger is regarded as an unwelcome intruder in our lives. We are told we should not be angry, encouraged to simply “accept things”, or to passively submit to “the will of God” or “the ways things are”.
Well, to be honest, I struggle with that. You have every right to feel angry; allowed to protest the “Why” of death; justified in questioning the reasons such tragic circumstances have impacted your world. Life is not always fair. Someone has described anger as a “hedge against humiliation”.
But the greatest problem with anger is that it tends to be focused in the wrong direction and transferred to the wrong people. We are angry, irritable with doctors and medical systems, with government or institutions and the people who represent them; at circumstances, over material things like the loss of a job or income and many other targets. Sometimes we are angry with everything!
We must be careful. We have to ask ourselves “Why?” we are angry before we can deal with the “what to do” or “how to cope”.
Recognize the real source of your anger. What am I really angry about? You may come to realize you are really angry because you are in a situation you did not want, you do not like and worst of all you cannot change. You are angry because you have been left. You have every right to protest that your life has been changed but make sure you focus the anger in the right direction in order not to hurt yourself or others.
Healthy anger needs to be channeled into helping us gain a sense of personal control over the situation, a determination that has the constructive purpose of helping us choose what we will do in the situation.
But here a word a caution is in order: healthy anger involves more than merely “letting it out”. Simply venting our anger and letting off steam can actually lead to a more deeply entrenched anger. Anger needs to be focused on helping us gain a sense of personal control over the situation.
Thus, anger channeled into determination has the constructive purpose of helping us choose what we will do in the situation. The reality is that probably very little could have been different. Hindsight is always 20/20. You did your best with the limited information you had at the time, even though, in the light of what has happened, you might act differently now.
Every time we experience a death or a loss, we confront a dragon. We have to choose whether to slay the dragon or be vanquished by it.
While we can do nothing to change the fact of our loss, we can choose what we are going to do in the circumstances. Loss is inevitable, but recovery is optional. The real question is: will we allow what has happened to force us into the role of victim, or aid us in becoming victorious? , Every time we choose to move on in life, we slay the dragon.
But getting rid of dragons involves choosing our weapons…carefully. Guilt and anger can be constructive or destructive…it all depends on how you use them. In life, there are always more things we could have done, but that’s not important now. You did what you could, and that’s what counts.
We have identified a number of emotions that can arise in grief after a loss, and tried to understand them. But what do we do with them. In our next blog we will look at some strategies of working through our feelings.