This blog post is a continuation of a previous Udall Shumway posting entitled “The Grief Cycle, Stage One: Disbelief”, discussing the way individuals grieve when coping with a difficult experience.
Stage Two: Anger
In the previous post, we discussed how the human body, mind and psyche are ingrained with defense mechanisms that help us cope and deal with threats to our well-being, real or perceived. We discussed “Fight, Flight, or Freeze”, and explained how disbelief, the first stage of the grief cycle, correlates nicely with ‘flight’, in that not accepting the reality of of a recent traumatic experience is a mental effort to distance itself or evade a threat to one’s emotional equilibrium.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but the second stage of grief, anger, is an excellent example of “fight”. The concept of ‘fight’ as a defense mechanism typically translates to eliminating the source of the threat, therefore removing its negative influence(s). When someone experiences something particularly painful, whether that be a death or any other kind of loss or change, the second layer of defense is to become angry, typically for the cause or ‘fairness’ or ‘justice’ in life.
People feel wronged by what has happened, and make their case very aggressively now that the experience is no longer being disbelieved. In the case of the loss of a loved one, sometimes the anger is inadvertently turned inward, and results in targeting one’s self for blame, which is almost always inaccurate or skewed.
Although it is important to voice and experience the anger and other emotions one feels surrounding a difficult experience, this anger can quickly become blame, and then guilt, something that strongly inhibits the human psyche from truly coping with, and moving forward from, a tough scenario.
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