When your anger is really grief

“I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief” C.S.Lewis

I read this quote a long time ago. At the time it really resonated with me. I felt like that over the death of my mother. I had a family that didn’t communicate so I couldn’t talk to my family about it. My husband was sympathetic but he didn’t really understand it at the time. I most certainly was not going to talk to my children about it.

I thought I was going mad.

ELIZABETH KUBLER ROSS AND THE “STAGES” OF DEATH

As a teenager I had read the Elizabeth Kubler Ross books about death and dying and the “stages” of grief. But what I was experiencing didn’t make sense in that formula people were using for grief.

WHAT WE KNOW NOW ABOUT GRIEF

What I didn’t know until I studied counselling was that many other theorists had come after her and their theories made a lot more sense of my experience.

It was many years before I went to a grief group and discovered that my feelings were normal.

Since then I have sat with many people grieving loss and seen their anger as well.

The difference is that now, I can reassure them that what they are feeling, although distressing for them and those around them, is completely normal.

WHEN ANGER IS GRIEF

People come to see me about anger and discover that anger is masking grief.

Children are particularly prone to anger as an expression of grief. There is not much understanding about how children grieve.

HOW CHILDREN GRIEVE

A child will be sad and then go off and play. An adult watching that may reassure themselves that the child is over it. But they aren’t. The grief is still there, they are just attending to the other needs of life.

The grief a child feels may surface months or years later, often as anger and disengagement with school. It takes a long time to process grief. Don’t think that because a child appears happy they are over the grief.

HOW ADULTS CAN GRIEVE THAT WAY TOO

Adults can have similar experiences too.

It is worthwhile considering that your reactivity and swiftness to become angry is actually a reaction to grief. That the anger is trying to tell you to address something in you that is unresolved.

THE DANGER OF SUPPRESSING GRIEF

Grief that is not acknowledged or is suppressed often becomes anger because while you are suppressing your grief your brain and body feels abandoned and ignored. Your brain builds narratives that are not correct and develops assumptions about things. This creates a conflict in your mind and often results in anger.

GIVING GRIEF ITS IDENTITY

This reminds me of an exercise I often use with people who come to me for grief counselling. I also use it with people who come to me experiencing anger.

The exercise is based on the concept that strong emotions are signals to you about things you need to deal with.

In order to deal with those things, you need to be able to listen to your emotions.

My exercise is around centring with some focused breathing and preferably eyes closed.

Once you are centred, ask the feeling who it is. What does it want? What does it want you to know?

I then ask you to draw that feeling. On the drawing write down things the feeling has said. Who it is, what it wants and what it wants you to know.

Interestingly, I have never had anyone find that this emotion wishes them harm. It is always that it is there to help and it has wisdom to impart.

I have had angry people surprised at discovering the feeling is grief and that it wants to help them.

I have also had grieving people surprised to discover that grief loves and cares for them and wants to guide them through this time. Not the way many people see grief.

LEARNING TO BE

Learn to sit with your feelings. If it helps, ask them who they are, what they want and that they want you to know. Then draw them and write down their words. You may be surprised and reassured at what you find.

If you would like to talk to me about how I can help you with your grief or emotions you are experiencing, please contact me on 0409396608 or nan@plentifullifecounselling.com.au

If you would like to learn more, I write a regular newsletter with interesting information, tips, information on courses, and the occasional freebie. At the moment I have a free mindfulness meditation for anyone who signs up to my newsletter. This meditation offers a way to safely explore your feelings and learn to be okay with them. If you would like to subscribe please click on the link here: http://eepurl.com/g8Jpiz

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