Ask A Grief Coach
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Ask A Grief Coach

ASK A GRIEF COACH

Question: Am I Even Grieving If I’m Not Angry?

Answer: Anger is more than shouting at the grocery store.

Ask a Grief Coach is an online column to address commonly received questions in private work with my clients. All names are kept anonymous, and the questions are shared with permission. As you read, keep the context of your own story in mind. No answers found here will apply directly to your circumstance because your grief is unique to you. However, the hope is that you will find tools and tips of support, whether you are the griever or the supporter.

Dear Mandy,
Figuring out the grief process is confusing. I’m aware that the five stages of grief are outdated as a model for the living, but I’m also unclear on whether or not I’m doing this correctly.

Everyone else has been able to express anger over our loss. To me, I picture grief as a combination of sad and mad and glad, all happening at the same time. I know multiple emotions can exist at once, but I’m not sure I understand how to experience them. Especially because I don’t really get angry in general.

From my work with you, I think anger is supposed to give me information about how best to move forward with my own grieving process. The trouble is I don’t feel angry. I’m not mad. I understand death is inevitable, and I’m sad but not angry. But honestly I don’t feel anger in my normal life, anyway. I’m just curious how to move through grief without experiencing what seems like a very typical and expected part of the process.

Sincerely,

Everything But Anger

Photo by Clint McKoy on Unsplash

Dear Everything,
This is a profound question. As you said, anger is a natural part of the grieving process. Most people experience outright anger, often accompanied by blame. The target of the anger may be different, but it is reasonable to become enraged by loss.

However, your experience of feeling everything but anger is a curious one. I often say that anger is a secondary emotion, and emotions are just information. They direct our attention to the pain points that need extra support. With anger, we are prevented from expressing more vulnerable emotions because anger keeps us in a state of blame or self-protection. Meaning we can’t express or experience an emotion if we never acknowledge that it exists for us.

When you say that you don’t experience anger, it stirs questions about what kind of access you have to your emotional wheel. Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to identify and manage their emotions, as well as identify the emotions of others.

The emotional wheel is a tool that helps us move beyond the most recognizable emotions like fear, sadness, happiness, disgust, anger, surprise, and just bad/heaviness.

I suspect anger shows up in your life in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily name as anger, which could explain why you’re feeling confused by the grieving process. After all, it’s hard to get beneath anger to the root if you’re unable to recognize anger in the first place! But anger can also look like disappointment, humiliation, bitterness, irritation, aggression, frustration, and creating distance.

Going further, each one of these includes a more specific emotion as well (jealousy, hostility, skepticism, withdrawal, numbness, and resentment — to name a few).

Anger is not just angry outbursts and blaming someone else for your grief experience. The more time we spend engaging with the different ways our emotions can manifest, the better we can understand what really needs our attention as we move through grief.

When you struggle to identify what you’re feeling, consider using the internet to find an “emotion wheel.” It can offer you the language you may lack to describe what you feel. And once you know how you feel, you can examine what type of support could help you move from the pain point of disconnection to realignment with yourself and your understanding of healing.

To increased emotional intelligence and language for healing,

Mandy

Do you have questions about grief? Send Mandy your questions via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. All submissions are anonymous, with details occasionally changed to protected against identification.

You can also submit a question here: Ask A Grief Coach!

Mandy Capehart is an author, small business owner, editor, certified grief and life coach, and creator of The Restorative Grief Project. The Restorative Grief Project is an online community focusing on one another’s stories and new methodologies for grief, creating a safe environment for our souls to heal and our spirits to be revived. To learn more, visit MandyCapehart.com or follow her on Twitter. She thinks she is pretty funny. The jury is out.

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Mandy Capehart

Mandy Capehart

Writing about grief, beliefs, & psych/mindfulness. Editor of Ask a Grief Coach. Happily Tweeting & doing other “Very Good Things.” I apologize in advance.