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How To Deal With Anger And Grief

(how to deal with anger and grief)
8″ x 8″
Watercolor on Arches 140lb cold pressed paper

I enjoyed making a previous sort of personal post with one of my paintings, Heart Island, because it allowed to really explain on a deeper level how I use art to manage or express grief. Or any emotions or thoughts. So, I thought I’d make a post about another painting of mine that I just refer to as Rage. And it’s a good one to use as an example when discussing how to deal with anger and grief. Loss often invokes a lot of anger along with despair and sadness.

I did this painting when I first started back in grief counseling after my grandmother died. I’ve been to therapy and support groups before but not in awhile because I mistakenly believed that maybe I was done grieving. Then I lost my grandmother, and even though I knew it was coming, it just reignited the loss of my spouse and mother on top of it. My therapist was the one who suggested I try using art to show her what I was feeling. And this painting was one of the results.

What is Anger and Rage Anyway?

Seems like a question with an obvious answer to a lot of people. It’s that thing that happens when you’re pissed off! You know, when you feel like ripping and throwing things and wish that once, just once, you could turn into an actual dragon and burn everything to a crisp. Yes, that’s the one. That’s what it is!

But why would we feel this way? What would cause such a powerful emotional response? I knew someone once, a friend of my mother’s, who told me that he knew what the definition of anger and rage was. He said:

“Anger is what happens when you feel like something is wrong with this picture.”


“Rage is what happens when you feel a loss of control.”

I don’t know why, but that always kind of stuck with me. Long before I ever became a widow as well as losing my mother and grandmother. Whether these definitions are completely true or not, whenever I think back on those words now, they do seem to describe what I am really feeling sometimes when grief sneaks up on me. Yes, that is exactly what grief feels like to me. Like something is wrong with this picture and a loss of control. Something happened that just feels…well, wrong! Something happened that I had no control over and that makes me furious.

My dominant emotions around my losses has consistently been both anger and rage. And it’s been very difficult to get used to because for most of my life before all the loss happened, I have not been an angry person. Before, I used art to make blooming roses, pretty horses and happy little trees (thank you Bob Ross). But at a certain point, I didn’t have any inspiration to make that kind of thing. I wanted to make art still but felt stuck. And angry. It doesn’t matter how much the logical part of me tells myself that these losses and their circumstances wasn’t my fault and it wasn’t their fault and they didn’t want to leave me and wouldn’t have if they could have stayed and so on. Trying to tell myself that just made me madder. Probably because saying those things is very much like the type of things people like to say to grievers and here I am saying it to myself, knowing full well that it’s not going to help. Something about those comments just don’t get our real feelings validated somehow.

Well, anyway, this is where my red howling wolf painting came from. I painted it awhile ago but I realized recently that I still feel this way and I thought I would, maybe even should, write a post about it. Because anger is a major part of grief and one that is almost always felt, right up there with sadness. Honestly, I’m beginning to think my anger over what happened is never going to go away. It sure feels like that sometimes. So that’s why I just flat out referred to my wolf painting as Rage. It’s a watercolor and despite having originated from such an unpleasant emotion, this is one of my very favorite paintings. Weird, huh? Yeah, I still don’t understand grief.

Unfairness. Yes, Grief Can Feel Incredibly Unfair.

When I dive further into my grief rage, I think a major part of it that I wrestle with is that feeling that it’s not fair. I’m sure that you, too, have heard the charming response to, “It’s not fair,” which is…say it with me, “Life’s not fair.” Were you like me and heard that mostly as a child, too?

Yeah, the whole life’s not fair thing can feel more appropriate for childhood, where for a lot of kids, your biggest problems may be things like your science teacher popped a quiz the one time you didn’t study, or your little brother is breathing on you. Or maybe as an adult, instances where someone took the last piece of chocolate cake you saved for yourself or cut you off in traffic. But for something like grief and loss? Something that creates a giant void in your being like something took a great big chomp out of your soul?

If someone told you or even hinted at the saying, “Life’s not fair,” while you were grieving, especially if it’s from someone who hasn’t had any significant loss themselves, I’m guessing you’d be feeling some real rage yourself. Why? Because that is not validating your feelings in any way, shape or form. That dismisses them.

Some people might say, well, what makes you so special that you should be exempt from losing anyone just because? I don’t think I ever thought I was so superior to anyone that only good things should happen to me and that bad stuff should happen to other not so superior people. I actually don’t like the idea of it happening to anyone! That’s the whole reason a site like this exists. Because this crap is NOT FAIR and you need someone and/or something to help you deal with it! So, the giant bite mark in your soul doesn’t eat you alive!

Can you tell that I’m kind of angry yet?

Bitterness and Resentment. Yes, I’ve Got Those.

So, we’ve discussed what anger and rage are and what that can feel like after loss. You listened to me rant a little about the unfairness of it all, even though none of us are promised a perfect life from the moment our hearts start beating in the womb. Now, we’re going to talk about bitterness and resentment.

So, this is another emotion I deal with, (and maybe you do sometimes, too), on a regular basis due to having my family ripped out from underneath me beginning from when I was in my early thirties. My sometimes simmering anger and rage leads me to feeling extremely bitter and resentful. Most of the time, I keep this pretty well hidden. Well, sometimes, anyway. Then other times, all of it just boils over after building up for awhile and I’m often left not knowing what to do with it. Other than painting howling red wolves and showing them to my therapist.

Grievers learn, over time, to hide emotions. Because the rest of the world? Not interested. The majority say, get over it. And they also say, either flat out or in between the lines, you should be happy for others even if they have what you want and can’t have, because if you express anything less than happy, we will shame you like nobody’s business. Believe me, I have been shamed plenty of times, even in so called grief support groups. Expressing anything less than happy sometimes appears to mean that if someone is not jumping up and down and clapping their hands in glee, then they must be downright evil. So, what do grievers do? Personally, I don’t talk anymore. I keep to myself a whole lot more. I avoid situations that trigger me too badly. Grievers learn to hide it and pretend otherwise and save this unspeakable stuff for therapy. Or again, paint howling red wolves that look like they might be on fire.

Yes, sometimes I am quite bitter. And resentful. I often see other families taking for granted what I will probably never experience – something that I wanted very badly to experience. I did not have much cozy family experience as a child (honestly, no one seemed to like each other or want to be around each other – I spent so much time hidden in my room with my art and books and wishing I lived closer to my grandmother) and had longed for something better in my adulthood. But nope, not happening. I tried very hard to create it but cancer wound up destroying it. So, yes, I feel angry about it. Or I see other families sharing their magical moments among themselves and I feel like an outsider because I am not one of them. And can never be one of them. And yes, I feel more angry about it.

Okay, I’m Mad, You’re Mad, We’re All Mad. Now What?

None of this means that I’m not grateful for what I do have. There are lots of good things in my life and there are many things I concentrate on that bring me joy. Just because I wrote an article on a deep, dark angry corner of my soul, doesn’t mean I walk around all the time kicking and throwing things.

Nope, when I feel these simmering unpleasant things, I turn as much as possible to those activities and support systems that make me feel, at least, a little better. Visual art is one, books and writing are another. I like making things for my kids. Sometimes, when I’m able to, I go do some kind of self care thing like getting my hair cut or my nails done. I still go to therapy. I try to watch my diet and exercise as I’ve noticed certain foods make me more irritable, like too much sugar. And dairy tends to upset my stomach a lot. So I try not to have too much of that stuff.

Ultimately, I concentrate as much as possible on anything that is actually under my control and helps bring me some measure of joy. Grief can make us feel so mad and full of rage because as I mentioned before, something happened, something that feels incredibly wrong, and it was something that we had no control over. And if you feel cheated, especially while other people get to have exactly what you wanted, this can make you feel even more angry.

But just know, that it’s normal to have these feelings and I hope that I could validate some of them for you. Because I am going through these things, too, and in this case, led me to express and release some of it in my watercolor wolf painting.

Take care of yourself! You deserve it!

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