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How to Manage Anger After a Loss?

Experiencing anger is a common response when losing a loved one. For Christians, this anger may be directed towards the deceased, themselves, other people, or even God. To mitigate the adverse effects of anger, it is essential to confront it, view it from a healthy perspective, and express it appropriately.

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Rage after a loss

Its been observed that when someone experiences a loss, their initial response is often denial, followed by grief, anger, self recovery and eventually moving beyond sadness.

However, when asking those who have lost a loved one about their anger, direct inquiries may not yield honest responses. This holds true for Christians as well. Many people may not be aware of these emotions, or might suppress them due to religious beliefs. Experienced pastors may use negative questions to help individuals recognize their anger, such as asking them to reflect on qualities or disappointments related to the deceased, or unanswered prayers, etc.

Interestingly, not all angry feelings produces negative outcomes. Research suggests that moderate expressions of anger can facilitate the grieving process and help individuals cope mentally and physically with the loss. Otherwise, suppressing these feelings can lead to complicated grief, potentially hindering or prolonging the recovery process, resulting in enduring sorrow.

Can Christians hold grudges?

In the church life, the biblical teachings on wrathcan be perplexing for many Christians. On one hand, certain verses encourage us to control our anger. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret -- it leads only to evil. (cf. Psalms 37:8) Because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.(cf. James 1:20) On the other hand, there are verses that seem to support Christians to express their anger. For example, Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.(cf. Psalms 76:10) Love is ... not easily angered.(cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-5) Although these verses may appear contradictory, its essential to differentiate between destructive anger and constructive anger.

Destructive anger is driven by negative emotions and can lead to actions that offend God and harm others. The Biblical figures Cain and Jonah provide examples of such anger (cf. Genesis 4:3-7, Jonah 4:1-9) In contrast, people can benefit from constructive anger, as demonstrated by figures like Job and his wife who expressed their angry feelings to God (cf. Job 2:9, 3). The release of anger was often accompanied by a greater obedience to God, allowing them to furthered their steps in the faith journey. Rooted in trust in God, constructive anger is a suitable emotional response, and provides room and strength for problem-solving. Nevertheless, its important to remember the guidance: In your anger do not sin: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. (cf. Ephesians 4:26)

In general, anger can dissipate over time. Meanwhile, acquiring techniques to manage and mitigate angry feelings is good for reducing the harm caused by these emotions.

How to mange anger after a loss

People in the loss may feel anger directed towards themselves, the deceased, others or even God. Factors such as personal unhealthy habits that contribute to the person’s death, feelings of refusal towards God during the person’s life, or discovering that the deceased was a domestic abuser, can be the reason why people are angry about them. When dealing with this type of anger, individuals can resort to write letters, use symbolic items to communicate their feelings, draw a painting or simply use their imagination to let off their angry feelings. Their anger may gradually disappear.

Self-directed anger often arises from a sense of responsibility for the person’s death, including the thoughts like “I should have done more,” “I didn’t do anything at all,” or “If only I had...” People may feel that they didn’t show enough care, concern, or tolerance towards the deceased. While some of these feelings may be valid, others might be distorted. To address this anger, people can reflect on the efforts that they made for the deceased during their lifetime. This could include prayers for their repentance and conversion, accompanying them to church or preparing meals for them. Recognizing these actions can help them realize that they did care and were not doing nothing at all. Additionally, people can re-frame their thinking by considering whether any actions on their part could have made any difference to the result? If they believe they had genuine duty they failed to fulfill, they can choose to write an apology letter. In response, they can imagine the deceased forgiving them and accepting the apology. These exercises can be instrumental in easing self-directed anger due to guilt and self-blame.

Feelings of anger can be directed towards different individuals, including doctors, other family members, perpetrators, or those indirectly responsible for the death. To manage this anger, people can engage in cathartic activities like yelling, or venting frustration by kicking pillows. When necessary, they can employ legal means to protect the right and interests of both the deceased and the living. Talking to others involved in the incident can help clarify misunderstandings. Switch thinking is also a way for them to consider whether they could do better given the circumstances.

For Christians, their anger towards God arises when they cannot feel the companionship, love, healing, or mercy after a loss. This feeling can be intensified if the person they have lost played a pivotal role in their family or spiritual life, and it may cause their faith to waver. However, with abundant love God shows His tolerance for His people, providing solace and healing to remove their resentment, despair, doubt and misery.

In the Grief Recovery Handbook, co-authored by John W. James (the founder of the Grief Recovery Institute) and Russell Friedman, it said that those who are angry at God should not be made to feel guilty or blamed for their anger; otherwise, the feelings persist and hinder their spiritual growth. Rev. Alvin Dueck shares a similar perspective, noting that people often become calmer, more insightful and faithful after expressing their anger, disappointment and suffering to God. In Job, the experience of Job serves an illustrative example. Therefore, Christians can freely express their anger towards God through prayers, complaints or even roars, and then receive inner peace and healing in the conversation with God.

Beyond these, there are many other ways to mitigate anger, including reading the Bible, singing hymns, participating in fellowship activities, confiding in friends or someone in church, engaging in relaxing training, pursuing hobbies, diverting attention, etc. Discovering ones own way to confront and express anger in a honest and candid manner is essential for effective grief recovery, which can prevent the escalation of emotional distress.

Author: Liu Kai

Translator: Bei Feng