How to Manage and Move Beyond Anger
Lessons learned while coping with pregnancy loss.
Posted February 19, 2022 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
- Explore why anger can be a frightening emotion, and a life-giving one as well.
- Learn how to use your 5 senses to process anger after a pregnancy loss or other loss of a loved one.
- Understand how important it is to witness your own anger, and that it is natural to take time to process it.
- Find ways to navigate the potent and valuable emotion in everyday life.
Being in a relationship with your anger is another way of saying being in a relationship with yourself. It means knowing this part of yourself in an intimate way. This is important after any loss. It means getting to know a facet of yourself better.
I co-authored a book about pregnancy loss that came out last year. My friend, Kim, had suffered four consecutive losses, two of which were considered rare manifestations, as far as losses go. We wrote the book based on her real-life experiences, and viewed the losses through multiple clinical lenses.
I could see Kim grappling with this, and she’s written about her experience of it, but as a clinician, I wanted to dissect how we commune with anger, what it looks like, and how to find meaning in this rigorous process.
I began to think about how we process anger, and how turning inward and riding that emotion to its crest (translation: feeling the core until it no longer needs to be felt anymore) seems to be a requirement for healing.
Also, snarkiness is not the endpoint of anger expression, but many people do get stuck there. The same goes for resentment. Snarkiness seems to demand attention—everyone else’s but one’s own. Resentment lingers and keeps people stuck.
When it comes to the nature of anger and navigating this potent emotional space, consider that:
Anger is integral to the loss of a love. You love the person—your baby. And you miss them terribly. Contributing to your anger is that you may be enraged on your baby’s and, if applicable, their siblings’ behalf, as well as your own.
Your anger may frighten you. How it flares up, recedes, then explodes anew. Those “flare-ups” are akin to pure energy. Pure energy needs to be processed, mediated, channeled and understood for you to begin to not always be feeling it. I think when we say that people need to “release” their anger, what we might say instead, we need to become comfortable feeling uncomfortable—with how angry we are and the uncertainty of how long it may last.
You may hate your anger. You may want to push it away. You may feel frightened by your anger, it combustibility, especially if you have never felt the force of it to this extent before (and even if you have).
It has been long established that, after a pregnancy loss, “typical maternal reactions … are shock, disbelief, sleeplessness, irritability, crying, sadness, rage, anxiety….”2 We know today that these and other emotions can extend years after the loss, though they may not be the predominant emotion after a period of time.
Some people dread anger—yours and theirs. I have heard people say: “I don’t want to get angry.” This tells me that they already are angry and that they likely have some kind of feeling, perspective, or judgment about their own rage or about anger in general. Try to view anger as the natural emotion it is, and one that needs proper care and reverence—and for you to witness it as your own. A good therapist can help.
Paying attention to one’s anger can help mediate its combustible force while preserving its value and meaning. During mourning, it may help to work through acute anger with the help of a licensed therapist.
Some productive ways to interact with your anger include:
Movement helps us feel better. A simple walk will suffice. It can be slow. It doesn’t have to be a hard workout. Intuitive movement, which is when you listen to your body and allow it to guide how it wants to move (regardless of what it looks like) is a terrific way to get in touch with emotion. What do you see and smell? What do you want to touch (hugging yourself counts)? There is no particular or given form associated with intuitive movement. It is whatever form your body wants to take.
Make things with your hands. In The Art Therapy Sourcebook,3 Cathy A. Malchiodi, ATR, LPCC writes that “the process of art therapy and its potential to help people grow, rehabilitate, and heal also comes from the actual making of art.” So, while understanding what your art means is valuable, Malchiodi says, “the process of making art is equally important.” Journal, color draw, sew, build, cook; they work too. The only requirement is that you make something then notice what emerges from within.
Reading about pregnancy loss in longer works of literature including graphic memoirs or novels, watching films and documentaries, reading poetry, listening to lectures, and noticing the topic in current events can be helpful in giving the mind and brain a way to process and focus, too. How does your experience fit into these other narratives?
Meditate on what is troubling you. Write and reread what you have written. Listen to music or sound waves, gentle drumming, or instrumental notes, and let your mind wander. And, if you believe in a higher power, commune with this force as you work through your anger and other emotions that are a natural part of mourning.
If your anger escalates, lingers, or doesn’t improve, as may happen during grief, seek help from a licensed therapist or consult your physician for a referral to one who can help.
Teaser photo by Simran Sood on Unsplash.
Gilam G, Hendler T. Deconstructing Anger in the Human Brain. Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2017;30:257-273. doi: 10.1007/7854_2015_408. PMID: 26695163.
Leon IG. Psychodynamics of perinatal loss. Psychiatry. 1986 Nov;49(4):312-24. doi: 10.1080/00332747.1986.11024331. PMID: 3809320.
Malchiodi, Cathy. ATR, LPCC. The Art Therapy Sourcebook. 2007. McGraw-Hill.