By Donna Rothert, PhD
“I just kind of hate people right now.”
“I’m mad at God.”
“My doctor/nurse/midwife/doula/hospital did something that made things worse and I can’t forgive them.”
Anger is an emotion that can make us squirm with discomfort. We worry about being rude, mean or just appearing less than “nice.” Many women, in particular, don’t get a lot of practice acknowledging or expressing anger. Whether or not we feel comfortable speaking about our anger after a loss, however, it’s likely to be a part of our experience.
After my first loss, I remember my own anger feeling like balls of fire inside me that I sometimes wanted to hold and sometimes wanted to throw- at the one insensitive doctor I encountered during my hospital stay, at my husband who wasn’t sharing my reactions, and sometimes at anyone who was acting like the world was still an OK place.
One of my favorite descriptions of anger after loss is from the novel “Luscious Lemon” by Heather Swain. In this excerpt, the narrator, who has just experienced a miscarriage, reluctantly attends a baby shower for a relative:
From the living room, I can hear the squeal of women’s voices cooing over rubber nipples and car seats. As I peek in on the scene of my slavering aunts and cousins gathered around Trina in full bloom, I wish that I had the technical knowledge to construct a bomb out of a Diaper Genie, Enfamil and tiny plush toys. I imagine the whole place exploding in one giant poof of confectioner’s sugar and me escaping through an open window, shimmying down the drainpipe to freedom.
Sometimes we find ways to express our anger outside of words. One night when I was facilitating a pregnancy loss group, I recall the group members describing various ways of coping with their anger including screaming, breaking things, and for one woman, going to the rifle range and shooting until exhausted. They all expressed relief from their actions. Although a bit embarrassed at the beginning of the discussion, they gathered steam and disclosed more throughout the session. Through their disclosure, they had normalized each other’s feelings. They expressed comfort knowing they were not alone in their bouts of fury.
This is not a time when you have to decide if your anger is justified. A good start might be to just notice your feelings. We often treat anger as a “hot potato” and worry that the expression of it will hurt us or others. As long as we are not lashing out or otherwise doing injury to ourselves or others, anger isn’t necessarily something that has to be lassoed and managed. It may be the one emotion that makes you feel alive and active right now.
It can be challenging to feel anger without knowing where or at whom to direct it. Maybe you’re mad at someone in the medical field for either their actions or their attitude related to caring for you. Maybe you’re mad at your higher power or the universe at large. Maybe you’re mad at your partner for not grieving the same way as you. Maybe you’re mad at your family and friends, for doing too much or too little to help you during this time. Maybe you’re mad at yourself for not having the power to keep your loss from happening. Maybe it all feels rational and maybe it doesn’t.
If your anger is focused on the behavior of another, forgiveness may be useful. This is not in order to be some kind of superior being or do-gooder, but for your own sense of peace. Fred Luskin is a psychologist who writes on the concept of forgiveness and how doing so decreases stress and increases happiness. If your anger at another is taking away from what you want in your life, it may help to look at the work of Luskin and others to work through steps to forgiveness.
Anger is only a feeling. Like any other feeling, it’s just looking for a way to be expressed. Experiment with not feeding or starving anger, but just acknowledging it. Find a way to express your anger that works for you. You may want to verbalize your feelings to people or write a journal entry, letter or blog. Your anger can be expressed through art, hitting a pillow, exercising (as appropriate to your physical condition), or ripping something up.
If you are behaving in a way that is hurting yourself or another with your anger, find some support to learn to work through it in another way. If your anger involves feeling hurt by another, consider whether you want to help yourself through working on forgiveness.
Further Reading: Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness by Fred Luskin, PhD
Visit Donna's blog here:
Seeing Thestrals: living and growing after baby loss