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Understanding the Anger Stage of Grief

The anger stage of grief is an important part of bereavement.


Anger is a part of grief we don’t talk about as much. Despite it being a stage of grief, anger is often thought of as being immature or unhealthy. This is far from the truth. Anger is a healthy part of the mourning process. With the right coping skills and support, you can learn to accept your loss while celebrating your relationship with your deceased.

When people think of mourning, they usually think of sadness and a deep, aching loss. Anger is often considered an ill-adjusted response to grief. However, anger is a perfectly normal (and healthy) response to losing someone you love. 

While not everyone will experience it, feeling betrayed, outraged, frustrated, and angry at a loss is a part of the acceptance process. Although anger is often shamed by general society and looked at as immature, unhealthy, or a sign of emotional instability, it serves a purpose. It alerts us and lets us know that what happened is not okay. You have a right to be angry over your loss, and you have a right to express it. The key is learning how to express anger in a way that is healthy and constructive.

Overview of the Grief Process

When most people think of grief, they think of the five stages: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance. While this model has been used to describe mourning, it’s not the only way. 

Anger plays a role in all of the grief processes. Let’s explore four common models of grief to understand how grief and anger interact.

The Five Stages of Grief

Introduced by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969, the most common model we have to explain the mourning process is the five stages of grief

  • Denial 
  • Bargaining 
  • Anger 
  • Depression 
  • Acceptance

As popular as this theory is, it doesn’t always accurately describe people’s grieving experience. Dr. Kubler-Ross even said that people may not experience these stages in this order or at all. It’s entirely possible that you’ll go from loss to acceptance without experiencing grief. What’s more, Dr. Kubler-Ross wrote about these five stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying, which was intended to highlight the mistreatment of terminally ill patients. The five stages of grief, so ingrained in modern pop psychology, were originally intended to describe the grief of dying, not the grief over the loss of a loved one, situation, or experience. 

A closer look into other models of grief shows similar emotional and behavioral patterns—anger being one of them. Let’s look at a few below.

The Six R’s of Mourning

Clinical Psychologist Therese Rando came up with the Six R’s of Mourning after observing grief patterns in patients who experienced a loss. They are: 

  1. Recognize the loss: Fully comprehending a loss can be difficult, and understanding what has truly happened is the first step. 
  2. React: Emotionally reacting to the loss is important. Anger is a big part of this. 
  3. Recollect and Reexperience: Review memories of the loved one. 
  4. Relinquish: Accepting the change that has happened and resolving to move forward. 
  5. Readjust: The loss starts to feel less painful; a return to “normal” life. 
  6. Reinvest: Forming new relationships and connections, having put the loss behind them. 

Notice step 2 - React. Grief cannot exist without the expression of emotion. In fact, many researchers suggest that grief is an emotion all on its own, albeit a complex one. 

This theory, among others, reminds us that emotional expression is not only normal—it’s healthy.

The loss of a loved one is so painful it activates the physical pain system in the brain, meaning you’re experiencing grief in a similar way you would a broken bone. Anger has long been linked to physical pain, with physical pain causing chronic anger and chronic anger causing physical pain. 

The loop between anger and pain is well-documented, and grief is just another type of emotional pain. Grief and anger feed on one another and have the potential to trap you in its unhealthy cycle. 

Continuing Bonds Grief Model

Continuing Bonds theory rejects the idea of a perfect “acceptance” stage. Instead, it argues that it is perfectly normal to continue an emotional bond with the deceased. This would explain certain grief actions such as: 

  • Feeling close to the deceased, even after death 
  • Talking to pictures, grave tombs, or places the deceased may have been 
  • Making new routines around their death 

In general, the continuing bonds model suggests that full detachment from the deceased is not necessary for healing or mental wellness to be achieved.

Tasks of Grieving

Psychologist J. William Worden came up with the 4 tasks of grieving to summarize how people heal from grief. 

  1. Accept the reality off the loss
  2. Process pain of grief
  3. Adjust to a world without the deceased
  4. Find a new balanced approach to life

Similar to the Continuing Bonds theory, it claims that keeping a relationship with the deceased is healthy. You don’t have to “let them go”. You do have to adjust your relationship with them. They’re not here, but that doesn’t mean the love has to go. 

Once again, there is the theme of processing the pain. For many people, anger in grief is a way to process the intense pain of loss.

What Does Anger in Grief Look Like?

Anger isn’t always explosive emotions and rage. Especially with anger during grief, it can be directed in many different directions and look different. 

Grief in anger can be directed towards:

  • Yourself
  • Others 
  • The deceased 
  • A higher entity

Often, grief is a result of or mixed in with guilt, sadness, and fear. Because of that, it can take many different forms. Let’s look at a few below.


Examples of anger in grief as emotions include: 

  • Irritableness
  • Feeling impatient 
  • Loss of control 
  • Sudden, unexplained bursts of rage
  • Resentment
  • Pessimism


Examples of anger in grief as thoughts include: 

  • "Why did this have to happen? It's so unfair."
  • "I can't believe they're gone. It's not right."
  • "I'm so angry at myself for not being able to save them."
  • "This shouldn't have happened to them. They didn't deserve it."
  • "I'm furious at the universe for taking them away from me."
  • "Why did God let this happen? It's hard to find meaning in it."
  • "No one understands the depth of my anger and pain."
  • "I want to blame someone for this. I need someone to be held accountable."


Examples of anger in grief as behavior include: 

  • Snapping at people, even if you don’t mean it 
  • Self-harm 
  • Inciting arguments or fights 
  • Becoming physically aggressive
  • Neglecting personal hygiene or mental health 
  • Sabotaging relationships or events

How Long Does the Anger Stage of Grief Last?

Symptoms of grief usually resolve themselves in 1-2 years. However, it really depends on the person—how close they were to their loss, what support system they have after the loss, the use of healthy or unhealthy coping mechanisms, and co-occurring mental health issues such as pre-existing depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. 

The anger stage of grief can last during some, none, or all of this grieving period. People who are already prone to anger may experience anger in grief more intensely, whereas people who do not experience high levels of anger don’t experience it at all. 

Mourning is a unique experience and there is no one way to mourn. Anger in grief does not mean that you are mourning wrong or should “get over it”. It may be a completely healthy response to your pain and loss.

Why Do We Get Angry When We’re in Mourning?

There are many reasons we get angry when we’re grieving. They include: 

  • Feeling a lack of control over your loss
  • Pain at your loss
  • You feel unable to express emotions in safer ways, like when you’re told to “put it behind you” or “get over it”
  • The loss was sudden, unexpected, or could have been prevented

It’s normal to experience anger when you’re grieving. It’s important to feel that anger fully and explore it if you are to heal and accept your loss.

Coping with Anger During Grief

Anger in grief often gets worse because it is shoved down. It is seen as an inappropriate reaction to losing someone you love and therefore is ignored instead of fully explored. However, letting your grief fester can result in outbursts of rage, chronic anger, or a resurfacing of both anger and grief later on. 

It’s important not to rush your grieving process. Remember that grief can take up to 2 years to fully heal from. If this sounds daunting, you’re not alone. It gets easier, and with the right support and coping mechanisms, you can still have a healthy, happy life as you mourn. 

Coping Mechanisms for Grief

  1. Talk to your deceased: The Continual Bonds theory of grief, among others, has found that maintaining a sort of relationship with your loss can be healthy. Going to a place that reminds you of them—Whether it’s their resting place, a place of emotional significance, or somewhere they used to reside—and let them know how you’re doing. It’s not crazy, it’s a normal expression of love and grief.  
  2. Engage in your community: As you process this loss, it’s important to continue to engage with your current and active support system. This can be your friends, family, or a grief support group. 
  3. Journal, talk, or make art about your grief: It’s vital to actively process your grief. Not everyone will process through words, so find something that works for you. 
  4. Practice good personal hygiene and self-care: It can be easy to let yourself slip into despair while you grieve, but it’s important to keep up the daily habits that fuel your brain and body—get light exercise, sleep well, and eat healthily. 
  5. Get help for co-occurring mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and substance abuse: Anxiety and depression Disorders are not a symptom of grief. If you experience chronic anxiety or intense episodes of depression that last longer than 2 weeks, reach out for professional mental health.

When to Seek Help

Grief is a natural process and usually resolves on its own. However, sometimes the symptoms of grief, such as anger, can get out of control. When grief and anger make it difficult to complete daily life tasks or get in the way of your enjoyment and health, it could be a sign to reach out for professional grief counseling. Other signs grief counseling can help you include: 

  • Anger is pushing away loved ones. 
  • The presence of substance abuse, depression, and anxiety 
  • Difficulty completing daily life tasks, such as going to work or school
  • Self-harm or suicidal ideation 
  • Consistent grieving lasting longer than 2 years 

Grief counseling is always here for you. You don’t have to wait for it to get “bad enough”. If you are grieving a recent loss and are thinking about getting professional help, that is more than enough reason. Grief therapy can be instrumental in providing healthy coping mechanisms and repairing lost social connections that are vital to the mourning process. 

For more information on Lifebulb’s grief counseling, give our team a call.

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Resources for Grief

You should never have to grieve alone. These organizations provide education, support groups, information, and therapy services to those experiencing grief and loss. 

Of course, Lifebulb is always here for grief counseling. Our grief therapists are licensed, trained, and have years of experience in grief and anger.

Frequently Asked Questions

The duration of the anger stage in grief varies from person to person. It can last for weeks, months, or even longer, depending on individual circumstances and the emotional processing involved. It's important to remember that everyone experiences grief differently, and there is no set timeline for each stage.

During the anger stage of grief, individuals may exhibit a range of emotions and behaviors. They may lash out at others, express frustration and resentment, or experience intense irritability. It's crucial to approach someone in this stage with empathy and understanding, recognizing that their anger is a natural response to their loss.

Yes, anger is a common and normal part of the grieving process. When we experience loss, we may feel a deep sense of injustice or frustration, leading to anger. It's essential to acknowledge and validate these emotions, as suppressing or denying them can hinder the healing process.

Grief counseling can provide invaluable support for individuals navigating the complex emotions and challenges of grief. A grief counselor offers a safe and empathetic space to express and process feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, and more. Through counseling, individuals can gain coping strategies, develop a deeper understanding of their grief journey, and find healthy ways to honor their loved ones while moving forward with their lives.

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