A major life loss, like divorce, triggers grief. As I’ve discussed previously, grief comes in stages, and anger is typically considered the second stage of grief, following denial. You may recall that I compared denial to anesthesia. Denial is a placeholder in time for those who are not yet ready to face what has happened. In this first stage of grief, the events are so unbelievable and shocking that we simply can’t make ourselves confront and feel what has happened. Denial serves a useful purpose to protect us from what we can’t yet handle.
Once the shock has worn off, the emotions start to creep in. Anger happens to be one of the most intense emotions of all. As I used to tell young parents when I taught child development in an early intervention program, “anger is natural! Feeling angry is not a bad thing, it’s just a matter of how one channels that emotional energy that is either positive and productive or unhealthy.”
Questions and thoughts from the denial phase such as:
He wouldn’t do that to me!
This is a mistake! This can’t be happening!
Transform into anger-fueled ones like:
How could he do this to me!
I don’t deserve this! Why is this happening!
I’m going to make him pay for hurting me!
Anger may make us want to do irrational and dangerous things. For instance, in the heat of the moment, we may be inclined to set our ex’s entire wardrobe on fire, punch a hole in a wall, or find other ways to retaliate. Divorce (and betrayal and heartbreak that often accompany divorce) hurts! Anger is often an expression of the pain we feel, and the need we have to somehow even the score or express the depth of our pain.
The problem is, that we need to find a safe and sane way to relieve the pressure of these emotions.
We should not:
Bottle up anger and other emotions in hopes that they will go away or not hurt as much if we ignore them. On the contrary, they may become more powerful and self-destructive the longer we hold them in.
Act purely from emotion. It can feel so good to lash out, give them a piece of our mind, or hurt them back; but, it can also lead to truly regrettable actions!
Allow ourselves to feel. Feeling is healing, and an essential way to move through this phase of grief, and eventually to a state of peace and wholeness.
Find positive ways to coexist with anger. Use anger as a catalyst for forward movement, clarity, and growth! Anger can be released in numerous ways that won’t result in a criminal record or a decline in our well-being such as physical activity, journaling, creative projects, and more! Throw yourself into an activity that allows your feelings to freely flow, makes you feel good, and allows you to work through your grief in a constructive way.
I recall my foray into the anger stage of divorce. After the numbness for the fact that my marriage was ending wore off, I found myself enraged by the fact that my life (and my children’s) was being torn apart. The very sight of my ex made me see red! I certainly wasn’t thinking logically or behaving in a reasonable way. It took all of my strength to operate from a place of rationality rather than revenge. I was infuriated by his attacks on my character and sought ways to expose the truth and vindicate myself.
Anger is an uncomfortable state to live in! Although on a base level, it feels good to settle a score, it can also bring out the worst in us. I needed anger to propel me out of the depths of my misery. My soul would have withered away and died if it took up permanent residence in the denial. Anger lit a fire under me to jolt me out of my melancholy hypnosis, allowing me to remove the blinders from my eyes and see my situation for what it was. The truth was a hard slap in the face, but it was time to march forward, and anger allowed me to do so!
While denial may be the phase of grief when we find ourselves frozen and unable to act, the anger stage is when we first find the strength to do something about our situation. Anger gives us something tangible to hold onto. We may point to it, scream at it, scowl at it, pound our fists on it, and begin to use it as our muse to crawl out of the hole of despair!
Use the power of anger. Don’t become so attached to it that it overcomes you or you become a permanently angry person; however, allow yourself to feel the full range of divorce emotions so that you can confidently advance through the healing process and on to the next stage of grief: bargaining.