I grew up in a house of emotionless beings. There was a scarcity of extreme reactions to anything. Emotions seemed to be secreted away inside ourselves and never allowed out to ‘play’. In the 60s life revolved around the practicalities of living, not emotions. Teachers ruled with an iron fist. You learnt by rote and punishment. You spoke only when spoken to. You never talked back. You never showed emotion. You certainly never got angry.
Imagine my surprise then with the onslaught of emotions that assailed me with the death of my son. Anger seeped out of my pores. It assaulted my very being. I remember the anger sitting in my belly like a heavy lead weight. Expressing anger was incredibly alien to me but I knew that I had to get that emotion out of my body or it was literally going to ‘eat me up’.
I remember this night so well. It was blowing a gale when my eldest son and I went up to an isolated hill in the town where we lived. We both needed to let off a bit of steam. The wind was howling around us as we started to scream and yell. Almost simultaneously, I picked up a stick and began smashing it against a boulder nearby. I was SO angry. How could this have happened? It was so unfair! I swore, ranted and raved about the injustice of it all for a long long time. We returned home feeling better, the lead weight had become a little less in my belly.
That was the first occasion I expressed my anger in that way. During the months and years following, I discovered that anger seems to be an easy companion to grief. The focus of my anger was directed mainly at the omnipotent being who had allowed this to happen. Then surprisingly I became angry with my son for leaving me. It became a yoyo between the two for a while.
Over time and by allowing my anger expression, the intensity of it changed. I am no longer totally enraged in the way I once was. The anger has drained away from my body, petering out to very little.
I interviewed Andrea Reed recently. One of her key messages to someone who is grieving was “It’s OK to be angry”. It is. Anger is a normal human emotion and is very common in grief. It’s not ok, though to to internalise your anger such that it becomes self-destructive. Nor is it ok to hurt others when you are angry. Try using these ideas to express your anger in a healthy way.
10 Ways to Get Your Anger Out
1. Shout it out
2. Write it out
3. Punch it out – rocks, punching bags, pillows
4. Exercise it out – running, kick boxing, power walking, mowing the lawn
5. Paint your anger onto a canvas
6. Drum it out
7. Talk it out with someone who is supportive
8. Chop wood
9. Hammer nails into a board
10. Scrub floors
”Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” – Maya Angelou