grief week: anger

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, spiritual formation 13 Comments

anger chalkboard

it’s grief week around here, and there are a few things i wanted to mention as we continue through the 5 stages of grief for these 5 days:

1. in life, these stages take months & years and are messy & weird. 5 little blog posts about them can minimize this reality and i wanted to make sure and highlight that.

2. while these 5 stages are widely associated with grief, there are other aspects of grief and loss that don’t fit directly into these categories.

3. like most everything else in life, they are not linear. there can be a progression but real life looks much more like circling back, skipping over and coming-back-around-to, and cycling through these stages in different ways over time.

we started yesterday with the first stage of denial. the second stage is one that i think can be the hardest for those of us who were either taught that anger was a sin in our churches or that it was unacceptable in our families.

anger is a confusing emotion for a lot of us; it can be scary to feel such big mad feelings, wrong somehow.

but anger is a core emotion that’s part of grief.

8+ years ago when i was crawling on the floor after my church drama-trauma, i remember being the maddest i had ever been in my life. i was mad at the church system, i was mad at the people that hurt me, i was mad at God-for-letting-so-much-dysfunction-prevail-in-the-church, i was mad at myself for trusting them and giving myself and family over to something that tossed me aside without even blinking.

a few months into grieving the loss of church-and-faith-as-i-knew-it, a friend asked me “when are you going to stop being so angry? i’m really worried you are just going to become bitter.”  i then proceeded to go completely nuts and yelled, “this is the first time in my entire life i have let myself be angry. ask me this question in a year because i am not going to stuff these feelings down and pretend anymore!”  oh, i was a mess.  and i was exactly where i needed to be at that time.  my typical m.o. was to button everything up, put on a happy face, and make nice when i was hurting.  to let myself really be that pissed off was one of the most healing and important choices i have made in my spiritual journey.

i discovered God could handle it.

i discovered true friends could handle it.

i discovered i could handle it.

there are certain losses and pains that deserve anger. losing people, losing relationships, losing jobs, losing faith, losing dreams, losing hope hurts. 

and when we try to stuff it down, make it all okay, pray-our-way-out-of-it-in-a-snap, in the end we don’t get to the other side.  that’s actually when bitterness slips in.

do i mean that we get to hurt people in our anger or spew all over the place all of the time? no, that’s not a good idea and we have to consider the right places and spaces to express it.

but anger must be acknowledged, felt and embraced as part of grief. 

the Bible does not say “do not ever be angry.” it says “in your anger, do not sin.”

we have to be willing to feel our anger, even though it’s scary. the more we feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more we will heal.

also, there are many other emotions under the anger–fear, rejection, shame, resentment–and over time it is good to identify what’s going on underneath. i had all 4 of those going on in full force–fear, rejection, shame, and resentment.  it helped to recognize them as primary emotions underneath the anger.

if we were all together in my living room or at the refuge, there are all kinds of good things we could do to express some of our anger.  at walking wounded live, we had a plate-throwing station outside with a huge target.  at the end of the day, every single plate was broken.  at some of our grief and church baggage nights we have had paper shredders and nails and wood and chewing gum to express it viscerally.

one simple exercise i did at a faith shift night at a local ministry was just to write down what we were mad about and then tear that paper into little teeny bits.  it’s amazing how good that ripping can feel.

what are you really angry about related to your loss(es)? don’t try to justify anything or add disclaimers on, just get in touch with “i am so angry that..”

  • is it easy or hard for you to express this anger?
  • what are some other emotions underneath it? fear, rejection, shame, resentment, or ?
  • how are you expressing it?

i have no idea if you can find a way to do something physical with it, but if you can, try.  there’s nothing like a big piece of wood and a bunch of nails to bang into it. or a punching bag. or a friend who can sit and listen to you vent and vent and vent and not edit a thing.

if it helps to vent some here, feel free.

tomorrow the fun continues (goodness gracious, what was i thinking on this for a summertime series?) with bargaining.