The Anger Stage of Grief: What’s It Like?

September 20, 2019
Losing someone can lead you to become permanently trapped in anger. You don't understand why this had to happen to that special person in your life. This feeling of anger is very common in the grief process.

Anger is a very common stage of grief. Unfortunately, a lot of people get stuck in it. They collapse emotionally and can’t overcome their anger over the fact that they lost someone close to them. It’s not easy to deal with that tangled knot of feelings where anger and the inability to accept what happened change your temperament and limit you.

Shakespeare said that crying could make the pain less severe, but what if you can’t reach that stage of emotional unloading? Well, you could end up turning into a rock, sinking deeper and deeper into the well of your grief. So, of all the stages of grief defined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, anger and frustration may be the most difficult of them all.

This is the stage where you really begin to assimilate the idea that you’ve lost that person. But instead of accepting it, you rebel against it. You try to find someone or something to blame. You start to feel a constant sense of injustice, resentment, and rage and they continue to build up in your mind and body.

All those intense emotions become a kind of furious windstorm, blowing the clothes on a clothesline every which way, shaking it, deforming it, and trying to tear it from the line. You want to maintain control over your life, but you don’t feel like you can. This is because your anger has become fury, and it can turn you into something you’re not.

“Suppressed grief suffocates, it rages within the breast, and is forced to multiply its strength.”

-Ovid-

A woman in the anger stage of grief yelling in the street.

The anger stage of grief

The anger stage of grief is basically a powerful rejection of the idea of your lossLet’s not forget that grief, like anger, is an instinctive response that has helped humans survive because our brain perceives it as a threat. What could be more impactful than losing someone important to you? Thus, the pain is immense, and your brain responds.

Going through these kinds of things is totally normal. At the same time, some studies, like the one conducted by Dr. George A. Bonnano at Columbia University, suggest there’s no “normative” form of grief. In other words, although Dr. Kübler-Ross may have described the stages accurately, everyone experiences them differently in a different order.

That being said, there are also especially complex forms of grief, such as frozen and delayed grief. In both of these cases, you drag your grief along with you for years without resolving it. This almost always leads to depression. But let’s get back to our topic for the day: the anger stage of grief.

An obsession with what happened and unanswered questions

When you lose someone, it’s common to ask yourself a lot of questions. One of the most common ones may seem more like self-pity, but it’s also full of anger. It’s when you ask yourself why them. “Why did this have to happen to my father? He was still so young! He was so kind and loved life so much. Why did he have to leave so soon?”

These kinds of thoughts end up becoming fixed points of obsession in your mind if you’re stuck in this stage of grief. Your obsession with what happened and trying to find explanations or something to blame is a really common part of the feedback loop of anger in the grieving process.

Hypersensitivity

The anger stage of grief also tends to involve extreme hypersensitivity. All of a sudden, any unexpected stimulus, news, event that comes out of nowhere really affect you deeply. You then build it up (negatively) in your mind and let it devastate you and throw you out of whack.

Personality and temperament change

One thing you need to understand about anger and rage is that they can truly transform you. They can turn you into someone you’re not, someone who you don’t like, or someone you don’t want to be.

You may start to lose your motivation. Things you used to be passionate about are no longer interesting. Your patience and curiosity evaporate. You stop connecting with other people. Maybe worst of all, your empathy disappears because your suffering puts you in a place where you focus only on yourself.

A man crying with his head in his hands.

Apathy, physical pain, and minor depression

The anger stage of grief can also lead to certain psychosomatic problems. Thus, you may experience things such as stomach pain, physical and mental fatigue, headaches, insomnia, or a higher risk of developing infections. You may also begin to experience some minor symptoms of depression, which can get worse if you don’t treat them.

How to get through the anger stage of grief

One of the main dangers involved in the anger that comes with this stage of grief is that it can lead you into potentially harmful behavior. Some people turn to drinking, gambling, or anything else that will help them “forget” the pain of their loss.

Thus, when it comes to treating and getting through this stage, not only is therapy a good idea, it’s probably the only effective way to take control of your life again and get back on track. Here are some of the strategies you can use:

Strategies to get through this stage

  • A prior evaluation of your health. Before beginning therapy, a patient has to get a medical check-up to make sure they have no other conditions.
  • If you’re going to do therapy, you also need to be firmly committed to following through with it.
  • One good technique is cognitive restructuring. You use it to identify your limiting and irrational thoughts. That will make it easy for you to channel your emotions, get some relief, and find resources to soothe your profound emotional pain.
Someone seen from the calves down walking down a street barefoot.

It’s also worth mentioning that this kind of therapy tends to vary a lot depending on your needs. Don’t expect it to be quick, either. This is a long process that requires a firm commitment between patient and therapist.

But don’t worry, the success rates are very high and you can certainly get past this stage if you’re stuck in it. Books such as Letting Go With Love: The Grieving Process by Nancy O’Connor can also be a great help for anyone struggling with grief.

  • Bonanno, G. A., & Kaltman, S. (2001). The varieties of grief experience. Clinical Psychology Review21(5), 705–734. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0272-7358(00)00062-3
  • Shear, M. K., & Mulhare, E. (2009). Complicated Grief. Psychiatric Annals38(10), 662–670. https://doi.org/10.3928/00485713-20081001-10
  • Kübler-Ross, E. & Kessler, D (2016). Sobre el duelo y el dolor. Ed. Luciérnagas CAS.
  • Neimeyer, R., (2007). Aprender de la pérdida. Una guía para afrontar el duelo. Ed. Paidós.
  • O’Connor, N., (2007). Déjalos ir con amor. La aceptación del duelo. Ed. Trillas.