My previous post, Resolving Anger in a Healthy Way, discussed how anger arises in response to a transgression and how anger can be resolved by acknowledging it as well as by setting boundaries to prevent future transgressions. However, not all anger can be processed in this way. This is particularly the case for anger that arises in the context of loss.
It is true that when we lose someone, a transgression has occurred; something or someone has been taken from us. Perhaps this is why anger is one of the universal reactions to loss. Yet, clearly, we cannot protect ourselves from the inevitable and natural experience of loss, be it the loss of a beloved person or animal, a relationship, our physical or mental health, a job, or even our sense of safety or identity. These are universal experiences.
It is important to deal with the anger that arises in the grieving process because not dealing with it can lead to being caught in unconscious patterns of resentment which can, not only have serious negative mental and physical health consequences, but also interrupt the grieving process.
What often gets in the way of dealing with the anger that arises in response to a loss is that people disavow it. Perhaps there is a sense that anger is not an appropriate feeling to express in the context of loss, or perhaps there is general lack of comfort with feeling angry that harkens back to childhood and the messages received about the expression of anger. Whatever the reason may be, the result is that the anger is either stuffed (acting in) or displaced (acting out).
It is either pushed out of our conscious awareness and relegated it to the shadows of the unconscious mind where it can wreak havoc by finding expression in the body (manifesting, for example, as back pain or headaches), or in the mind (expressing itself, for example, in the form of depression, obsessions, or anxiety), or it is displaced onto other objects (exaggerated anger towards other people or institutions). Anger can also be obscured by an exaggerated, inappropriate involvement in other people’s lives that may find expression as outrage over someone else’s problems.
What is problematic about these strategies of coping with anger is that its original source is never dealt with. People seek chiropractic help, or find a psychiatrist to prescribe medication, or they engage in a lawsuit with their annoying neighbor, yet none of these solutions seems to get to the root of their pain. (Note: I am in no way disregarding the importance of the ways people seek to address their pain—chiropractic and psychiatric help, for example, can offer vital support—my point is that the root of the pain lies elsewhere and that true and lasting healing comes from addressing the issue at its source).
Becoming aware of these manifestations of suppressed or misplaced anger in the context of a safe and supportive relationship can foster a greater understanding and compassion for its true source (the original loss) and so allow for deeper, more vulnerable underlying feelings of hurt and sadness to find expression—a process that is essential to recovering a sense of wholeness and balance after experiencing loss.