Managing Anger and Grief

Why Anger Management for Grief?

Would you like life to be more peaceful and enjoyable for everyone?

Yes!

Practice anger management for grief to lighten your life and soften times of grief.

Anger: A Stage of Grief

As anger is acknowledged as a stage of grief, it is not surprising that levels rise during grieving.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1970 p44) identified anger as the second stage of grief. She said, "When the first stage of denial cannot be maintained any longer, it is replaced by feelings of anger, rage, envy, and resentment."

Can you relate to this in any way? Have you noticed an increase in your anger or levels of frustration while grieving?

During Grief, Have You Ever Been Angry With:

  • a loved one for leaving?
  • yourself for doing or saying something you later regretted?
  • yourself for NOT doing or saying something?
  • someone else (for any of the above)?
  • God, the universe or whoever you believe to be in charge?

What is Anger?

Anger is a normal part of life; it is healthy and natural.

Generally, we have learned the way we express our anger according to our temperament, the environment, and our situation.

Anger is triggered when we face a threat. Perhaps a physical threat or a threat to our beliefs or dreams. Anything that we consciously or unconsciously believe to be important.

An angry emotion can start as a mild form of unease or hurt feelings (perhaps a resentment or sense of unfairness or injustice). It can escalate to absolute rage (or not).

Particular situations or experiences may trigger an instant and full-on anger response.

Anger can be triggered or fuelled by something happening:

  • right now, 
  • a reminder of something from the past, or 
  • an expectation that something may happen in the future.

Little wonder some people can appear to be angry most of the time.

Note:

It is not what happens to us that makes us angry, sad, happy etc. It is the meaning we give to something that determines how we feel and how we respond.

Anger Picture

We can create a picture of where our anger comes from, how it manifests, how we justify it, and how it affects us and others.

Read through the following Triggers, Justifications, Responses and Costs to create a picture for your anger. You may like to add other points to paint a more accurate representation of your anger picture.

Triggers:

  • being provoked or treated unfairly
  • being discriminated against
  • having thoughts or beliefs ridiculed
  • being disappointed
  • being lied to
  • being put down or laughed at
  • being in a situation similar to a previous hurt

Justifications:

  • I deserve to be angry
  • Life isn't fair
  • I don't like being told what to do
  • They don't understand
  • I cannot control my feelings
  • People should know better
  • If I get angry, others will back off 

Responses:

  • Pulse and breathing speeding up
  • Clenching fists, jaw, muscles 
  • Sweating, feeling heated or dizzy
  • Trembling hands and body 
  • Face draining of colour 
  • Sarcasm, yelling or aggressive behaviour 
  • Anger can be directed outside or internalised with self-reproach or withdrawal

Costs:

  • Increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease
  • Feeling physically drained and exhausted (although anger initially creates a flow of adrenaline)
  • Potential for accidents
  • Possibly injuries to self or others
  • Strained or broken relationships
  • Isolation (it is hard to be around angry people)

Once you have an understanding of your anger picture you can start looking at anger management strategies to change the scenery. Or perhaps a conversion from a harsh, loud oil painting to a softer picture using water colours.


Anger isn't all bad

  • Anger is a normal emotion telling us that we may be in danger. Something is wrong.
  • It can be a call to action. Something needs to be done.
  • It can be channelled into something positive (e.g. go for a run, wash the car, learn something new, leave a dysfunctional relationship).

Note:

With perseverance, we can reprogram, or repaint the meaning given to anger triggers and consequently our level of feeling and responses.

Anger Management Strategies:

What can we do to manage and reduce anger?

Now, the tough bit (though well worth it if we want to make a difference).

Once we accept that we are the creators of our anger, we have automatically taken the first step towards doing something about it. This may not be easy, nor need it be hard.

Note:

If we resist or deny anger, it will just be reinforced and come back (often stronger). So, lets take an easier path shall we?

1. Create Awareness – and recognise our Anger Picture:

  • Start to create a moment to moment awareness (being in the NOW, not yesterday, nor somewhere in the future).
  • Identify the triggers that push those anger and resentment buttons.
  • Tune into body responses (automatic) and behaviours (generally learned patterns).
  • Unveil justifications. What 'shoulds' are we holding?
  • Identify the costs of anger to self and others.

Note:

A non-judgemental moment to moment awareness and mindfulness establishes the beginning of and momentum for change.

2. Start changing reactions:

  • Practice not reacting. Slow things down, take a long slow breath (the old count to ten trick). Then, speak calmly and slowly (not a good idea to be gritting your teeth at the time).
  • Relax the muscles in your face, hands and body (you don't have to slump).
  • Pretend you are dealing with someone you admire and always want them to see the best you.
  • Create a distraction until you are more composed: count the clouds, cars passing, or the freckles on the back of your hand.

3. Let Go and Steer Clear of:

  • Angry people and situations you know will incite your anger. Take time out when needed.
  • Blaming yourself or others for problems (it does nothing to resolve the problem and creates further anger).
  • Judging (similar to blaming). Judging makes someone wrong.
  • Getting stuck in anger and justifying (because life is just not fair).
  • Wanting things to be 'perfect' (nothing ever is), or
  • Procrastinating (a strategy we use when afraid that whatever we do will not be perfect. Therefore we put it off).

4. Reclaim the Calm:

  • Be an observer of your feelings and behaviour.
  • Focus on something else such as: your breathing; a favourite poem (find one if you don't already have one); the feel of the air on your skin.
  • Practice tolerance: If someone is pushing your buttons, they are likely to have problems also. They may be looking at something from another angle and may have more or less information than you do (this does not make you wrong).
  • Practice your heart warming smile (just seen a beautiful baby, puppy, sunset).
  • Practice Mindfulness to help you focus on the here and now.
  • Practice Meditation to calm your senses and bring you peace.
  • Practice Relaxation to, well, 'feel better'.
  • Work on Stress Management Techniques to reduce stress levels.

Personal Comment

Strolling home recently after an evening of 'mindfulness and traditional drums' (fabulous), was about to cross the road with the lights, when a car came tearing around the corner. If I hadn't leaped out of the road I would have been splattered. The driver never saw me. However, another driver who witnessed the scene appeared to be verging on a panic attack.

Interestingly, for me, there was no anger to manage. I was calm and clear headed, with thanks to my evening of mindfulness and traditional drums.

Personal Comment: contributed by Jan H. Sydney

Other avenues that can help with managing anger include:

  • Problem-solving to address issues.
  • Communication skills to communicate effectively and assertively. Find a way to tell someone what is happening for you in a way that is honest, yet does not create blame or judgement on them.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) (see link below).
  • Stoicism: Marcus Aurelius said that the goal of stoicism is to be "free from irrational passions and yet full of love." Stoics acknowledge that all emotions come from within. It is not outside forces that make us feel something; it is what we tell ourselves that create our feelings (see link below).

Anger Management Exercise

Yes, give it a go.

Firstly, to find a start and focal point answer these questions on how anger may be affecting you:

  • What is happening in relationships with family or friends?
  • How is your health?
  • What is happening at work?
  • How has anger caused pain to you or others?
  • How have you used anger to escape from other pain or emotions?

Which area would you like to work on first?

Note:

Seek professional support if you are struggling.

OK, you now have a start point. You have a picture and understanding of anger, how it has affected you and the costs to you and others.

Find a notebook or journal and briefly jot down your Anger Picture. Then, create an Anger Management strategy.

  1. Choose ONE anger trigger that is recent and recurring. Don't make it a biggie. Keep it mild at this stage.
  2. Go back to the Anger Picture lists and identify the symptoms that relate to this trigger, plus any others not listed.
  3. Review the anger management strategies and see how you can apply them to your trigger. 
  4. Take 10 minutes per day over the next month to:
  • Spend 5 minutes each morning focusing on your identified trigger and how you can implement some of the anger management strategies for the day ahead.
  • Spend 5 minutes each evening to review the day. Do not judge or blame yourself or others. Note what went well and what you would change for next time?

That's it, 10 minutes per day plus being mindful of your intention during the day (as far as possible).

Note:

Start small, go easy on yourself and reflect on your progress.

All the best. Let me know how you go.


Before we go

Who's Anger is it?

Are you looking for help to deal with someone else's anger? Or, perhaps you are caught up in an anger dynamic with others.

If so, it can be a tough one to shift. It is hard enough to understand and begin to address our own anger never mind trying to change someone else.

To put it bluntly, we are each responsible for our own anger.

Having said that, there are a number of articles by Lynne Namka that you may find helpful. A good place to start is The Drama Triangle.

Best of wishes.

See Also:

LINKS and REFERENCES


Links:


References:

Kubler-Ross, E. 1970. On Death and Dying. Tavistock Publications