Anger is commonly cited as one of the five stages of grief every person goes through. However, all too many people know that this anger may not just be a phase. On the contrary, a lot of people lose loved ones with whom they have unresolved issues.
The most common example is children who still resent parents for past abuses or mistakes long after they have died. The anger is not a stage of grief, but a feeling that existed before the person’s death. While that person was alive, there may have been an opportunity to resolve the anger interpersonally. But just because they died does not mean the anger goes away. The person left behind has to deal with that anger some other way.
What do you do with your anger towards your lost loved ones? Here are some ideas to start your healing.
Validate your anger
One of the problems angry mourners face is that they feel guilty for still being angry. They feel pressure to only think good things about the person who died, and may even be told off by others if they mention that person’s flaws.
It is important to give your anger the validation that it is permitted. Death does not magically heal all wounds, and your feelings of anger do not invalidate your grief in any way. On the contrary, those feelings are a sign that you are not trying to pretend the person never existed as a complex human being. It is impossible to only think about a person’s good points without creating a caricature of them.
Furthermore, you can take comfort in the fact that your anger cannot hurt them. You do not need to put it aside out of fear that it will harm someone you love.
Identify magical thinking
Death is difficult to understand, no matter what your beliefs are regarding a possible afterlife. For this reason, many grievers give a lot of credence to dreams, coincidences, and imaginary scenarios. These things all provide a sense that you will be able to resolve your issues with the person at some point.
There is not necessarily harm in taking note of your dreams or any serendipity you encounter. However, hoping that these things will bring you resolution will only hold you back from acceptance.
You do not need to eliminate magical thinking. But try to identify it, and recognize that it cannot liberate you from the drive to find resolution for yourself.
Explore your anger
Once you have accepted that your anger is not just going away, and that resolution will not come from beyond the grave, you need to explore your anger. Ideally, this can be done in a therapy setting. A good therapist will help you identify why the person’s actions made you so angry and why you haven’t been able to let go of the anger.
They will also help you see that by holding onto the anger, you are now hurting yourself. This is not to say that it is easy to let go of that anger, but you can start the process with the tools you learn in therapy.
Anger towards a loved one does not disappear after death. While some people find it easier to move on, many of us need to learn to manage our anger and find tools to let it go.