Depending on the nature of your loss, anger may be a central part of the grieving process.
Anger is a natural emotion. It’s often expressed as a reaction to confrontation, conflict, or challenging situations. It may not always be the first emotion you think of when thinking about mourning a loss.
Experiencing a significant loss often results in intense sadness and other strong emotions. You may feel frustration, confusion, or shock — all feelings that could also fuel anger and irritability.
Why did this happen to you? How could someone do this? What do people expect you to do now?
It’s OK to feel anger when you’re grieving. This is an intimate process and you have the right to experience it fully.
Sadness is a part of grieving but not the only one. You may also experience it simultaneously with other emotions. You can be angry and sad at the same time.
In fact, “bereavement anger” is a phrase commonly used to describe the intense, angry feeling associated with facing an important loss.
“Most people feel both sadness and anger during the grieving process, but for many people, anger is such a strong emotion that it overshadows other emotions such as sadness,” explains Brandon Santan, PhD, a board-certified counselor from Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Santan adds that some people may be more prone to anger during grieving due to genetic, personality, or experiential factors. This could lead them to feel anger before other emotions and possibly more intensely, too.
Feeling anger during grief doesn’t mean you’re not sad about your loss, even if it seems like anger is the only emotion you’re feeling.
There’s also no “should” in the grieving process. Everyone experiences and reacts to loss in a different way.
In some cases, anger may be a symptom of a mental health condition like intermittent explosive disorder (IED), activated by intense grief.
There’s no wrong way to grieve. How long it takes, and how you work through loss, can be unique to your personality and experiences.
One of the most popular models to understand grief was pioneered by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and her associate David Kessler.
Their framework explained grief as an experience lived through 5 emotional stages:
Not everyone experiences all of these stages of grief, or in the same order. But, anger is recognized as a common and early step in the grieving process for many people.
According to Roberta T. Ballard, PhD, a clinical psychologist from Jerusalem, Georgia, how someone feels anger can depend on the situation.
“Someone might feel angry at the unfairness of the universe or God, for taking their loved one away from them,” she says. “It’s also common to feel angry at the person who died, depending on the circumstances.”
“Someone also might feel angry at the situation,” adds Ballard. “For example, when a person now has to deal with life on their own since a loved one has died, they might feel overwhelmed and angry at being ‘left’ on their own.”
Ballard explains Kübler-Ross and Kessler developed this model for insight purposes, not as a guideline on how to grieve.
Prolonged grief disorder (PGD), also known as complicated grief, refers to living with grief for a long time without experiencing improvement in the severity of your grieving emotions.
Research suggests between 1.2% and 1.5% of the population experiences this condition.
It’s possible for someone with complicated grief to experience anger for a long time. It may also be possible that if anger is your primary emotion during mourning, it could lead to prolonged grief disorder.
“Prolonged grief often results when there is something interfering with the grieving person’s ability to process their feelings associated with the loss,” says Ballard. “A predominantly angry response can interfere with resolving your grief.”
Ballard says some research supports the idea that a high level of sustained anger after a loss is associated with prolonged grief.
“It might be because being preoccupied with anger […] prevents a person from dealing with the pain associated with their loss,” she says.
Sometimes feeling angry can make you feel angrier. It can make you feel guilty for expressing your emotions in a way your culture may view as inappropriate.
But it’s natural to feel angry. According to Santan, anger and grief are inseparable.
“Almost everyone who goes through the grieving process will feel anger at one point or another,” he says.
Suppressing anger may not be the answer. Instead, try to find ways to cope with grief while managing anger.
1. Regularizing anger
When you feel angry, being critical of yourself for feeling the way you do may only make you feel worse.
Anger is an emotion like any other, and like other emotions, expressing it in controlled ways is healthy.
“Some people feel anger more intensely than others but it’s important to see it as a normal part of the grieving process to help reduce the shame, guilt, and stigma surrounding such a strong emotion,” says Santan. “It’s perfectly common to feel anger after a loss and during the grieving process.”
2. Finding another outlet
Try learning about the circle of grief and sharing the information with your loved ones. This may help you find an outlet for your emotions without overwhelming others.
Writing can also be a great alternative for getting angry feelings out. It may allow you to say what you want to say — without actually saying it to someone. Consider using writing prompts to process this and other strong emotions.
3. Problem solving anger
You may not know why you lash out in anger in the moment, or why you can’t sleep from ruminating on angry thoughts.
You could suddenly react at something someone said, or at something that would otherwise seem unnoticeable, like an open cupboard cabinet.
In these moments, taking time to follow your anger back to its roots may help you understand — and avoid — potential triggers down the road.
You may not be angry at the person, or the cupboard. It may come from your grieving, and pausing to say this to yourself may help you manage the emotion in more constructive ways.
4. Slowing down a little
When grief is recent, big changes can pack on the feelings of overwhelm and frustration.
Consider allowing yourself time to grieve. You don’t have to make that move right away. You don’t need to change jobs or bring in a new addition to the family. There might be no urgent need to clear out that closet.
When you allow yourself time to adjust to your loss, you can help minimize other frustrations that might add to feelings of anger.
In any case, if anger still arises, consider giving yourself permission to feel it before moving on.
5. Seeking help
Speaking with a mental health professional can help you better understand the emotions you’re experiencing and identify the signs of complicated grief. They could also help you develop coping skills to work through grief.
Ballard says there’s no typical or correct way to grieve. Feeling waves of anger combined with other emotions is natural.
“But if someone is stuck in feeling angry, it would be a good idea to talk to a therapist to help them process their loss,” she says.
Experiencing anger is natural during the grieving process. It doesn’t mean you aren’t sad.
As a naturally strong emotion, anger can overshadow other emotions, though.
If you’re experiencing grief and anger that don’t improve over time or worsen, speaking with a mental health professional may help.