We all have our emotional ups and downs - highs and lows, peaks and valleys. And, when you are dealing with loss and grief, it seems like you get to spend a lot of time in the valleys. Not everyone experiences anger as part of their grieving processes, but many do. What is distressing is that your anger can come out of nowhere when you least expect it. It can be upsetting to feel anger towards yourself, the person who left, the doctors, the courts, at God even. Know that anger is a normal and understandable emotion at this time of loss, because of the extreme stress you are dealing with.
Underneath it all is pain and a sense of a loss of control. Nothing is as it should be. It's as though a typhoon has blown through your consciousness and you know your life will never be the same again. You didn't ask for this.
Sadness is certainly expected and even tolerated by others more easily than anger. Society tells us that anger is not OK. We internalize this by telling ourselves we shouldn't feel this way. Perhaps your friends and family are telling you that you need to see a therapist or giving you pamphlets about "anger management" workshops. Your loved ones may not be prepared for dealing with your expressions of anger. It's a difficult situation for everyone. So then, you might try to suppress, mask, avoid, push away, deny the feelings. And what do you think happens next? Do the feelings go away just because you will it so?
Researchers at Harvard discovered that bereaved spouses have a 66% chance of dying in the three months after their partner's death. Intense emotion and stress have been linked with heart attack risk and a condition known as stress cardiomyopathy. There seems to be a direct link between suppressed emotional material and somatic illness.
Anger is catabolic energy and energy that cannot be destroyed. We can't "get rid of it" or will it away. This energy can be shifted into higher levels of coping, forgiveness, compassion, and ultimately acceptance, wisdom, peace, and unconditional loving. The first step to shifting the energy is giving the feelings of anger full expression.
We tend to be scared of strong emotions, that we will "lose it" and dump all that negativity on others and ruin the relationships we still have. If you are trying to suppress your anger, you may have been at the receiving end of another's anger, perhaps as a child, and vowed never to do that to anyone else. It's hurtful and frightening to see someone blow up and direct that energy at you.
Your mind and emotions are only part of who you are. When you safely express EVERYTHING that is in your mind and heart, without holding back, you can then move into the experience of reconciliation, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Here are a few ways I recommend to express strong and explosive emotions:
- Talking it out with someone you trust
*See my blog Finding Solace in Writing for more information about this.
Also, some activities for moving the emotional energy of anger up and out of your body are:
- Screaming in the shower, the car, into a pillow
- Doing vigorous exercise
- Dancing or moving to loud, powerful music
- Pulling weeds, raking, working in the soil
- Playing sports that involve hitting a ball - baseball, tennis, golf
Here's what you DON'T want to do: Dump your anger on others or indulge in other expressions of anger that are destructive. The key is expression within the bounds of safety.
"Anger is like a storm rising up from the bottom of your consciousness."
~Thich Nhat Hanh
I am thinking of a lighthouse, the way it represents our inner strength. It is built at the highest point of land where it meets the sea, and its purpose is to warn sailors of the dangers of the rocks at its feet. It shines a beacon of light to guide us away from that which would destroy us (choices that don't serve us). It is built to withstand the storms of wind (thoughts) and water (emotions) and shines a light (spiritual and emotional guidance) to bring us safely home. It steers us into the calm waters of the safe harbor.
The message of the lighthouse is, regardless of how turbulent your thoughts and emotional seas may become, you can focus on the guiding light of the Spirit within you in order to navigate to the inner peace and tranquility of your safe harbor.
God is in all of it: the storm, the lighthouse, and the safe harbor to rest in when the storm has passed. Faith is so important when you are grieving - to have faith in God and faith in yourself, to trust the Light to bring you home. Knowing that God is your partner helps you outlast fear, anger, depression, wanting to give up, any of the storms that blow in to try to steer you off your course of healing and adapting to your loss.
What can you do if you feel that you have lost that faith, or never had it to begin with? There is counseling, therapy, coaching. With support, you can learn how to appropriately express ALL of your feelings. There is no feeling so bad or wrong that it cannot be released in positive and therapeutic ways.
Knowing that you have feelings but you are not your feelings is the key to giving yourself the space to release and heal on your way back to wholeness.