Whenever a painful event touches our life, there is often a feeling that this shouldn’t have happened to me – I don’t deserve this. It is human nature to try to assign blame.
It is rare with infant loss to legitimately assign blame. Usually the cause of the loss is unknown or was unstoppable, and gives us no human target on which to assign our blame. So what do we do with it? There are only two directions blame can go. If inward toward ourselves, we call that guilt. If outward toward others or God, we call that anger.
Anger is a secondary emotion, meaning it is always preceded by a primary emotional trigger – usually hurt, fear or frustration. In grief, anger can be triggered by all of these: hurt that someone or something I loved was lost, frustration that I was powerless to stop it from happening, and fear that it might happen again.
When anger is triggered in grief, it is a messy business. It can be directed towards others: your doctor, your mate, your boss, or even God. Many times our feelings of anger have no rational basis, but that doesn’t stop us from feeling angry and looking for someone to blame. So, what do we do with our anger?
We Don’t deny it, stuff it, hide it, or vent it on everyone we meet. We Do deal with it in a legitimate and constructive way. Ephesians 4:26a says, “In your anger do not sin.” It is perfectly all right to feel angry. God Himself experiences anger (see Psalm 30:5) and He is perfect. So we know that anger in and of itself is not a sin. It’s what you Do with your anger that makes it right or wrong.
2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to, “Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” That means when we get angry over our loss, we don’t blow up at our mate, we don’t yell at our kids, we don’t take it out in road rage - we bring our anger in obedience to Christ. We talk to God about it – we pray. We get insight into where our anger is coming from (hurt, fear or frustration) and we get the wisdom and strength from God to diffuse the anger.
There are some strategies that can act as “safety valves” for your anger when it’s about to boil over. These activities give it expression without doing damage to other people (however, be very careful not to vent your anger in front of your children). For example, when you feel yourself start to get angry:
Take a brisk walk.
Pound a pillow or hit a punching bag.
Write down your angry feelings on a piece of paper in your own handwriting.
Engage in your favorite individual physical exercise (running, swimming, bike riding, racquetball, etc). This helps burn off the adrenalin that anger provides.
In an empty room with no one else around, talk to an empty chair and pour out all your anger.
Rip an old phone book apart.
These are just a few suggestions to get your creative juices flowing. The idea is to drain off the energy that anger is giving you but in a way that doesn’t hurt those around you. And, when the anger has subsided, ask yourself, “What triggered my anger? Was it hurt, fear or frustration? What is my anger trying to tell me?” Then listen to your anger. Take what it is telling you and formulate a plan for dealing with it.
If your anger is telling you how much you hurt, maybe you need a good cry. Some people would rather get angry than cry. But crying is naturally therapeutic and an important part of the healing process. It’s good to have a cry once in awhile. Yes, that’s true even for you guys!
If your anger is telling you that you are fearful, face your fears. Give them a name and list them. Often these fears are only shadows with no substance. Once you give them a name, they may disappear on their own. For example, one woman noticed she was angry the day before her OB/GYN follow-up appointment. She was able to trace her anger to a fear: this was the office where she had found out her pre-born baby had died. Once she realized where her fear was coming from, she was able to face it and visit her doctor without fear.
But if your fears are legitimate fears, start gathering information on them and attach a probability to them. The more you know, the better prepared you will be to handle the risk of your fear. Some fears may need to be avoided, and some just need to be faced head-on with truth, reason, and prayer.
If your anger is fueled by frustration, try to determine what you are frustrated about, and then use the energy anger gives you to overcome the obstacle(s) causing your frustration. For example, if you are frustrated at the thoughtless comments of others, put together a list of “What To Say and What Not To Say” and give it to the significant people in your life (educate them). Whatever your frustration is, you can generally find a way to deal with it. The best thing to do, if you run out of ideas, is to talk to a trusted friend, pastor or counselor. They can help give you new ideas or a new perspective on your frustration that may make all the difference in handling it appropriately. Often, just talking about it with someone is enough to drain your anger safely away.