Anger and its role in processing grief

The grief resulting from the death of a loved one knows not the passage of time. There are five stages of grief according to the late psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross. In 1969, she first laid out her theory of these five stages in her best-selling book On Death and Dying. This paradigm on the process of grieving is not new and has become familiar to professionals and lay people alike. 

The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There is no prescribed time to travel through each stage as every person and each loss is unique. Some people experience these stages in order, but many do not. It is quite normal to go through one stage, only to come back to it later and process it through once again. 

Today, I want to address the stage of anger. It is a stage I have only come out of recently in regard to a loss I’ve been wrestling with for the past five years. For a time, my anger served as a stalwart support preventing me from becoming overwhelmed and swept away by the heavier feelings that swelled underneath. However, as time moved on, this method of coping carried me into a very dark place within myself. The flame of my anger had transformed from a humble and contained campfire that provided comfort into an uncontrollable blaze that threatened to consume me. 

This change happened so slowly, I failed to notice when it reached the tipping point between a healthy way to cope into an internally destructive force. What I did notice were the thoughts of self-harm becoming more intrusive. This happened a little more than a month ago and in tandem with the collapse of an important friendship. Being stranded without the support of my estranged friend, I decided to check myself into a local psychiatric hospital to get the help I needed. 

 While working through the program, I limited my divulsions to the frustration and grief I felt at losing the current friendship. Getting into the gritty history of the older wound was not something I was ready or willing to do in a group setting. The parting advice of the therapist leading the group was that I work with a counselor who specializes in grief and loss. He couldn’t have known how badly I needed that type of specialty. 

Since being discharged from the hospital, I have dived into the older grief with a personal therapist who specializes in trauma work. Therapy, combined with my own process of journaling my emotions, are the primary tools I needed to get myself out of the fiery pit of anger I had created for myself. Reaching out to those who were also intimately familiar with the loved one I had lost was of great help. These are people who also felt the hole left in the world when he parted and they too knew my struggle. This helped me to feel less alone in my grief.

If you are someone who is also struggling with a difficult loss, I want to give you assurance that you are not alone in this fight. Despite how isolated you may feel now, there are many who have suffered great loss. Although, what you have lost, your experience of that loss, and the emotions around it are all uniquely your own. You deserve the chance to work through it with love and support. 

I wish you the very best in the difficult journey that lies ahead.

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