when anger and grief decide to visit

 

Photo licensed: shutterstock_419668975

Anger and grief showed up this week. I didn’t invite them. I hope they won’t stay long.

We’ve been through a lot these past few weeks-going-on-months. Through the crazy, uncertainties, changes, and inconveniences, I have maintained a fairly good attitude and my faith has withstood the storm.

This week, however, my heart was sucker-punched with some bad news and, as is often the case, my pain quickly turned to anger. I was angry at God. I was angry at myself and I was angry at my inability to fix things that are out of my control and that I don’t like.

As I sat with (or, more honestly, embraced) my anger for the better part of the day, the hard self-protective shell around my heart finally started to give way to the legitimate pain underneath. I recognized that I am very tired. Tired from some long-standing sadness that I’ve been carrying around for a while and tired from the emotional weight of our new reality. Tired of simple decisions now requiring an analysis of so many possible ramifications. I am grieving the suffering and the deaths, the struggles of those who are losing their jobs and those who are still working their jobs at great risk. I am grieving the loss of connection, independence, and freedom for us all.

In the midst of that unwelcome intrusion, I needed to remember (maybe you do too?) that anger and grief emotions are valid and real, and they do not need to be brushed aside immediately with positive thoughts or spiritual truths, hidden away under guilt and shame, or diminished by comparisons with something worse that someone else is experiencing. 

I have felt like an empathy failure at times because brushing aside, hiding, or comparing have been my responses all too often. That has made it more difficult for me – and for others – to process emotions and begin to heal.

I want to be more hospitable to anger and grief.

I am learning that it helps to share my emotions with a safe person, someone who can handle the authentic honesty of my heart. Many times God is my safe person through journaling or praying. I am intentionally working to be that kind of safe person for others, biting my tongue when it would be easier for me to offer ideas and try to “fix-it”, and instead simply be there for others in their pain until they are ready for something else from me. 

I recognize that anger and sorrow and healing will often share the same table with my joys and gratefulness and productivity. They are not one-time guests. Their presence makes for a messier living space than I prefer, but I am learning to be ok with that.

How do you handle anger and grief?

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**As I was writing this, I listened to Brene Brown’s recent podcast and she shared helpful tips for living with our emotions. It’s really good and covers more than I can in a few words.

anger management 101

Have you ever been so frustrated and angry that you weren’t sure what you might do? Someone didn’t do their share, left you unprotected, criticized you unfairly, took credit that wasn’t theirs… As I was coaching someone through their anger the other day, I realized I was “talking to myself”. I decided I better write down my tips; I might need them myself tomorrow!

1. Ventilate and validate – I’ve learned that it is ok to go ahead and “let it out” with a SAFE person. Anger and frustration are a normal, often very valid, part of life. It is so much better to verbalize the frustration than to drown it in food, drugs or alcohol… or haul off and hit someone. A safe person won’t use my reaction against me, but they might “push back” a bit against my reasoning, or find some bit of humor in my extreme emotions, or guide me to God and spiritual truth in the situation – all good for me and part of the process.

2. Consider my part – Once I’ve calmed down a bit, the next step is a willingness to consider that I might have some responsibility in the problem or, at least, that I might have something to learn through the situation. No matter what others have done, I am  called first to look at myself and what I can change in me… I don’t want to fall into the blame trap or the victim mindset.

3. Find some good – When I am angry, I see only the bad; I am blind to any good or positive element. We are in a spiritual battle and, no one is exempt. History proves that our anger can progress to judgment, stereotypes, and hatred of whole people groups – some pretty nasty stuff. Instead, I can turn to friends or God for help and discipline myself to find something that I can appreciate and be thankful for in the midst of difficult circumstances.

4. Follow through – Sometimes I need to deal with whatever caused the frustration and anger and initiate a difficult conversation, require restitution, or apply consequences… If it falls under my authority or responsibility, I need to follow through with appropriate action with the person – not just let it slide and keep grumbling behind their back. If there is “nothing” I can do, I can always review steps 1-3!

How do you handle your anger?