1. Crossroads Insights
  2. Understanding: Knowing the Connection Between Anger and Grief

Understanding: Knowing the Connection Between Anger and Grief

Dear Friends of the Foundation,

What the heart knows today, the head will understand tomorrow.

James Stephens

Irish author and poet.

Everyone wants to be understood. It’s a common human desire, and a gift we can give one another. How do we give this gift? Truly listening, asking what someone would like rather than thinking we know what they need, and communicating our own needs clearly to those we love are a few of the ways to begin to understand and to be understood. Also, it is sometimes helpful to gain knowledge of the cause of some of the behaviors that create stress. It is much easier to respond to angry, contrary behavior if we know what some of the causes are.

Anger is the cause of the most troubling behavior – either our own or others’. Sometimes angry responses are a mystery to us: Where did that come from? What did I do to deserve that response? It helps to know that the root of most angry behavior is hurt or fear. If we get to the cause of the anger and admit it (being hurt or afraid), we have a chance to understand ourselves, to deal directly with the root cause, and apologize if we want to.

When trying to understand our own angry reaction to something or someone, we might ask ourselves,“What is there about this that has hurt me or made me afraid?” Many times the answer will be that there has been some implied threat to one of our basic needs: Food, shelter, love, identity, social affiliation, or security.

“What is there about this that has hurt me or made me afraid?”

When someone we love has died, how many of our basic human needs are threatened? Think about it. Isthere any wonder that grieving people are almost always angry at some point in time. Added to the grief caused by the death of a loved one, many times there are other changes that follow closely behind the death: Moving to a different place, change in the way our friends and family relate to us, change in financial status, change in social status (no longer part of a couple – now a single; the feeling of being an orphan).

Anger during grief can often be displaced and/or expressed in puzzling ways to others around us. We maybe angry with the loved one who died and left us behind, we might be angry with God for taking our loved one from us, we could be angry with the disease that brought about the death. It may be easier to express anger to someone nearby than to try to figure out just whom or what we are really angry with; so the ones who get the blast of our anger are usually our nearest and dearest – those we would not want to hurt at all.

Ifit is normal to vent our anger to those nearest to us, how do we prevent doing it? Just being aware of the phenomenon is a start. Then being willing to examine our hearts for the cause of our hurt and fear comes next; and because this is not easy and can be painful, it is a good idea to talk to someone we trust aboutthis aspect of our grief. A pastor or rabbi or priest, a counselor, or a good friend who is not judgmental might be a good choice. We usually know who is comfortable to be with and talk to.

We may be angry with the loved one who died and left us behind.

When itis obvious we have caused pain and injured a relationship, an apology might be in order; and depending on the person, an explanation of why we were behaving with anger toward them could be healing.

Whenthe shoe is on the other foot, and someone is giving us angry responses, it might help for us to stepback and ponder whether the person is hurt or scared; then think about why. If we are able to manage our own need to make an angry reply, and simply ask, “What did I do to deserve that?” the angry-acting person may be challenged to step back, also, and give us an honest reply, “I don’t know.” At least you are giving them a chance to think about it. This is helpful to almost everyone.

Whenwe are involved with someone who is grieving, we might expect to be exposed to some anger. If the anger seems uncontrollable, and we do not feel we can ask for an explanation at that moment, our best option is to not take it personally. Just this much understanding will help us relate better to someone who is hurting. Later, when the time feels right, we might ask about their angry response to us, giving them a chance to explain.

Knowledge helps keep our expectations in line with reality and opens the door for understanding.

Knowing the connection between anger and grief is of benefit to the one who is grieving and to those who are in a relationship with the grieving person. Knowledge helps keep our expectations in line with reality and opens the door for understanding.

Our wish for you is that you will find ways to keep hope alive and that you will find understanding people in your path.

Your friends at Crossroads Hospice Charitable Foundation

For a smile: Speaking of understanding, here is an example of advertising gone wrong: When Coca-Cola first shipped to China, they named the product something that, when pronounced, sounded like “Coca-Cola.” The only problem was that the characters used actually meant, “Bite the wax tadpole.”


Help bring comfort, healing, and hope.

Up Next

Join our Community

Stand alongside thousands of family caregivers, those in grief, and medical professionals dedicated to excellence in end-of-life care.

We're Focused on the Mission

Over 90% of our funds are used to support the mission of hospice.