I always like to start by affirming a couple of basics of grief from the Grief Recovery Method®:
- Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to a loss of any kind.
- Grief is unique and relates directly to the uniqueness of human relationships, No two relationships are the same
- Grief is conflicting feelings caused by a change or an end in a familiar pattern of behaviour.
- Grief is emotional, not intellectual. Grief is a heart issue. The events are factual/intellectual but to the person experiencing them, it is emotional.
With these out of the way, I have shared in previous posts about the unhelpful myths we have come to believe about grief and loss. many of these myths have been woven deeply into our culture. This weekend I came across a myth that I had forgotten.
This myth is:
Grief is just another form of anger.
While sometimes people who experience grief might experience anger, the two are not interchangeable. They are two very different emotional experiences. The basic rationale of this myth is we are angry that we lose something, and while there are certainly instances where anger plays a role, there are many examples where anger may not be a part of our grief experience at all.
Examples are numerous and might include the death of an aging loved one. For many, this is often experienced as both sadness but also relief. Another example may include retiring from a career. While the person is pleased with entering retirement, they must learn to live life a new way. This is often difficult for men who have built their identity on their vocation, and now that they are retired they need to rediscover their identity. In our personal experience with my wife being diagnosed with cancer, we sure experienced a lot of feelings but anger wasn’t one of them.
To be clear, anger can be a part of people’s grieving journey but it isn’t inevitable.
So what about anger?
Anger, as a primary emotion, is when we experience injustice and we respond appropriately to the injustice. This might include someone carelessly or intentionally hurting a loved one. Our anger motivates us to act appropriately to address the injustice.
Loss is not always unjust.
There is a different kind of anger that isn’t the primary emotion but a secondary emotion. It is synthesized by suppressing the natural and normal emotional responses to our painful experiences. Emotions like anxiety, guilt, and fear when suppressed and not acknowledged and experienced, are transformed into anger. This is especially true for grief and sadness.
Grief is cumulative and when we suppress our normal and natural response to loss, the pressure from other losses combines with new experiences of loss and creates a toxic inner cauldron that manifests as anger. This why it is important that we as a culture become more grief and loss literate, debunk the unhealthy myths and with healthy action deal with our grief before it is transformed into anger.
This is why it is so important that we define grief correctly. Instead of anger, we bring our attention to the underlying root that is very often one kind of a loss experience or another. When we address the cause we deal with the symptoms.