Grief and Anger

Have you ever known someone who, when you try to offer comfort, responds with anger? anger

Maybe you’ve seen this in yourself. I know I have.

Why would grief masquerade as anger? There could be several causes. A common one is that feeling grief scares a person. They don’t know how to deal with it; they fear being seen as weak, they think no one will understand, etc. Fear is a powerful motivator and often shows itself as anger.

Another reason for an angry response is that the grief is actually interrelated with anger. Think about it: if you suffered abuse of any kind, it made you angry. But if a child isn’t allowed to express anger at parents or authority figures, they stuff it out of fear. That fear causes more anger, and the cycle continues. To this emotional stew add the stuffed grief over what happened and you get inappropriate emotional expressions all over the place.

A common factor between grief and anger is death. No, I don’t mean just physical death, though crying womanthat can be a part of it. I mean death in any form. An abused child experiences the death of innocence, the death of hope, the death of a happy childhood, the death of a good parental relationship—lots of death can be enmeshed in the torment.

We all live with the fear of some type of death. Fear, when unacknowledged (whether denied, buried, or purposely ignored), will lead to anger. Anger can easily become the default reaction to any deep emotion, including grief. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s hard to get around.

What can a friend do to help someone caught in the cycle?

Pray first. Ask Jesus to bring comfort to the person. If emotions are stuck in survival mode, healthy expression is nearly impossible.

Identify with their anger. Doesn’t what happened to them make you angry, too? Tell them. It’s likely that no one they trusted ever gave them permission to feel the anger, much less express it. That emotional isolation is horrible. Give them permission to feel whatever they feel—fear, anger, sadness, despair—since feelings are individual and complex. They cannot be dictated.

shamed woman in heavy coatConsider identifying with the guilt of wrongdoing. If a woman was sexually abused, it often is helpful for a trusted man to apologize on behalf of the perpetrators. It’s important for someone considering this kind of action not to say, “I’m sorry that happened to you.” That’s a true statement, but very noncommittal. Ask God for guidance.

Be patient. This is not an easy process. But God will prepare the broken heart for healing.

And you can be the “birthing coach”.

This is part 5 of a series on grief

Part 1|Are You Living With Grief?

Part 2|Time Heals Grief?

Part 3| I Deserve My Grief!

Part 4| How Can You Miss What You Never Had?

 all illustrations courtesy of