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Handling Anger from Loss

Chapter 5: Handling Anger from Loss

Tools for Handling Loss

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What are the two types of anger?

Anger In: This is feeling angry but directing it toward oneself, or inwardly directed anger. is depression or suppressed hostility.  

Anger Out: This is feeling angry and directing it toward other persons or things, or outwardly directed anger. It is the showing of repressed hostility and resentment.  

What is the Anger Cycle? 

The open  expression of "anger out" by one person on another person is almost always followed with guilt. Immediately the person may feel some elation for having "gotten it out" but the frequent normal response is guilt. Guilt then will lead to remorse that the person had been so hard or mean to the person upon whom the anger was vented. This remorse will function like a "self-checking" device and result in the anger being held in so that the anger becomes "anger in", which can lead to depression. This "anger in" over time will lead to resentment towards the original person towards whom the open anger expression was delivered. If this person down the road begins to irritate the "angry person" over time the angry person will not hold in any more and express anger out all over again. This new "anger out" then leads to a repeat of the anger cycle of guilt, remorse, anger in, resentment, irritation and anger out expression. This is a maladaptive model of handling anger.

 What is the anger reaction to loss in a dysfunctional family?
  • Anger at having to strive so hard and to be so good.
  • Anger at living in a family that needs so much and gives back so little.
  • Anger at parents for being so critical and irritable when one is trying so hard.
  • Anger at self for constantly discounting one's own needs and selling out to other's demands.
  • Anger at parents for not caring about me.
  • Anger at a troubled person in the family for engaging in a dependency behavior.
  • Anger at family members who conspire to belittle and manipulate the troubled person.
  • Anger at self for causing a problem for self and others.

How is anger often dealt with in a dysfunctional family?

  • To maintain a “good'' son or daughter image one must not show anger toward parents but must bury the feelings (anger in), which feeds guilt and depression.
  • Anger leads to feelings of inadequacy that lead to a belief that "I never do good enough." This leads to resentment that leads to more buried feelings, resulting in guilt and depression.
  • Intense anger at self and others can become frozen into a chronic attitude of hostility.
  • Submerged anger leads to being vigilant for any attacks (real or perceived) on self. This provides a stimulus to draw the anger feelings to the surface, resulting in overreaction "Your anger in this situation is disproportionate to the importance of the event."
  • Self-hatred leads to turning off feelings, which can lead to projection and blaming others for the problems.
  • Anger leads to rage that leads to severe punishing of the troubled person or other family members.

What can you do with anger (or depression) over loss?

  • Face the anger for what it is and don't try to avoid it.
  • Identify feelings that are at the root of the anger or depression over the loss.
  • Use “I statements'' to express the feelings of anger and loss.
  • Identify the guilt, resentment, rage, fear, embarrassment, depression, etc., involved in this anger over loss.
  • Confront the “issues'' that stimulate the anger over the loss and analyze them for what they are: stimuli drawing on deep-seated subconscious feelings of anger that indicate unresolved emotional blocks from your past.
  • Use imagery, role playing, an empty chair to confront past hurts and pains; express feelings, long since submerged, that come out as you deal with this loss.
  • Inform people in your current life of your need to analyze your anger responses; seek their assistance and understanding in this exploration process.
  • If your current anger over loss is not the result of efforts to uncover submerged feelings of old anger, then treat the current anger with rational “I” statements: “I feel angry because I have lost ... (the following and list what you have lost in the here and now)"

What are some ways to redefine anger?

  • Anger is a signal that things are not going our way.
  • Anger is a motivator for us to change things or to rectify them.
  • Unresolved anger is a block to our emotional growth.
  • Anger is a sign that we must take an assertive stance to tune into how we are feeling and why we are feeling that way.
  • Anger is directly related to our thoughts. If we have angry thoughts we will become angry. However, if we don't have angry thoughts, we won't become angry.
  • Depression is anger that has been suppressed, turned in or held in.
  • A hostile attitude is often the sign of an individual with chronic, unresolved anger who expresses the anger in passive and/or aggressive ways.
  • Aggressive anger, which is verbal or physical, only intensifies one's anger once it begins to be expressed.
  • Catharsis of anger, which is the ventilation of anger, usually leads to an increase in anger, and the expression of the anger usually intensifies.
  • Anger is usually related to me and my reaction to something or someone. It is controllable by teaching myself new ways to handle the “anger provoking" situations, events, or people.
  • My angry reaction to a “current situation" may be because the situation is a “trigger event," one that drags up “old" anger that has never been resolved.
  • Anger can be turned into a source of strength to change my ways of acting and reacting to situations, events, or people.
  • Ventilating anger directly on people is aggressive behavior and typically benefits no one. I usually feel guilt, shame, or greater anger after such ventilation, and whatever provoked my anger usually doesn't change.
  • Harnessing anger into a productive force in my life will assist my emotional growth.

What are some steps to take in handling current anger?

Once your anger is aroused:


Step 1 Relax yourself by using deep, natural breathing and muscle relaxation.

  • Take deep breaths and silently repeat the words "relax'' until you are able to calm down.
  • Do not say or do anything until you are calmed down.
  • Avoid words or actions in the “heat" of the moment.


Step 2 Recognize what arouses or provokes your anger:

  • Is it a situation, an event, a person?
  • Is it real or imagined?


Step 3 Use a rational approach to “rethink" “reframe" and reason in your mind what is going on and why you are angry:

  • Is this a trigger event bringing up old unresolved anger or resentment in me?
  • How is what is happening to provoke my anger a product of my past?
  • What is really getting me angry?
  • Maybe this person provoking my anger is having a bad day or needs more of my understanding.
  • How am I feeling about this?
  • What needs to be changed here?
  • What alternatives could I use to get the best results in handling this situation?


Step 4 Once you have a “clearer" idea of what is going on, take steps to change the situation that is provoking the anger:

  • Use “I” statements: “I feel angry when you “
  • Clarify your feelings about the situation.
  • Point out issues needing clarity.
  • Relate to the person how what is happening now is triggering anger feelings from your past.
  • Identify the unresolved anger, resentment, hostility, or depression and work on it.
  • Inject some humor into the situation to defuse the anger or hostility.

What are some steps to work out unresolved anger?

In handling a “current" anger situation you may have come upon a “trigger'' event that brings up past feelings of hurt, pain, resentment, hostility, or anger. The trigger event is not what you are actually reacting to, but rather it is the past situation, (one that went unresolved) to which you are reacting.

The following steps will assist you in working out this unresolved anger:

  1. Take a pillow or cushion and go alone to your bedroom or to a quiet location.
  2. Position yourself so that you are kneeling in front of the pillow or cushion, which is either on a bed, a chair or the floor.
  3. Begin to visualize a scene or series of scenes surrounding the situation, event, or person with which you have unresolved anger.
  4. As you are visualizing the scene, begin to pound your pillow and yell out how you ”feel" about the situation, event, or person. Yell your guts out!
  5. Continue pounding the pillow and letting out your feelings until you feel satiated.
  6. At this point begin to use your reason and rationality to reframe or restate the situation. Begin to allow yourself to forgive those situations, events, or persons for what happened to you. Do not proceed to the next step until you can come to a “healing'' of your spirit at this point. If you are stuck, repeat Steps 3 and 4.
  7. Once you feel as if you have been able to forgive and you feel healing beginning, write down what it was that made the reframed or restated situation have less blame and thus be able to be forgiven.
  8. If person(s) involved in the unresolved anger situation are still available (alive) and capable of communicating on a healing, nonblaming, feeling level, share your resolution with them and let the forgiveness and healing become alive. If the person(s) involved are unavailable, let the forgiveness and healing take hold in your heart.

If a future trigger event brings up this same unresolved anger, repeat Steps one through eight. For some unresolved anger situations, you may need to repeat these steps many, many times.