What to Know About the Anger Stage of Grief

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While people generally associate grief with sadness, anger is also a common reaction to grief. If you’ve lost a loved one, you may find yourself wondering why it happened, and be angry at yourself, the world, the person you lost, or the circumstances.

Apart from the loss of a loved one, you may also experience grief and anger if you’ve lost other things that were meaningful to you, such as a relationship, a job, or anything that ties to your identity, says Angeleena May, LMHC, Executive Director at AMFM Healthcare.

This article explores anger as one of the five stages of grief, discusses the forms anger may take and suggests some coping strategies that may be helpful.

What Are the Five Stages of Grief?

There are five stages of grief, according to a theory proposed in 1969 by the psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying.”

May explains that the five stages of grief listed in the theory are:

  1. Denial: In this stage, people act as if the loss did not occur. This is a natural defense mechanism the mind uses when the loss is so great, the brain is essentially too overwhelmed to begin the grieving process.
  2. Anger: In this stage, people question why something occurred and express outward anger. This stage can be particularly difficult when the loss is unpredictable, or if it was blindsiding. Anger is manifested as a control-seeking behavior and allows us to seek temporary control of our environment by asserting aggression to avoid feelings of helplessness.
  3. Bargaining: Bargaining is used to seek hope when feeling hopeless. This stage is motivated by an internal belief that our bad behaviors have somehow contributed to a negative consequence either directly or indirectly. We tend to seek understanding and control in an otherwise hopeless or helpless situation.
  4. Depression: Depression is an evolved emotion from anger. Depression typically drives anger and aggression. When you begin to feel depressed after a loss, you are actually moving through the stages of grief in a healthy way as you are allowing yourself to feel more evolved emotions.
  5. Acceptance: The acceptance stage of grief is the final stage, which is when you have experienced the other stages of grief, allowed yourself to feel the weight of the loss, and found a way forward through more positive coping skills and acceptance of what you can control. Acceptance is not forgetting, and does not mean a person has fully healed from a loss. Once you have obtained acceptance, you may still backslide into other stages from time to time. 

However, it's important to note that recent research shows that grief isn’t necessarily as linear or neatly organized as this theory suggests. Everyone’s experience of grief is different because everyone reacts to it differently.

Therefore, May says the current understanding of this theory is that the stages are not unidirectional; you may experience grief in any order of stages, jump stages, or even repeat stages. Furthermore, she says unresolved grief can resurface if triggered by even seemingly insignificant events, which can catapult a person back into any of the previous stages of grief.

Characteristics of the Anger Stage of Grief

These are some of the emotions you may experience during the anger stage of grief:

These are some examples of thoughts you may have during the anger stage of grief, according to May:

  • “This isn’t fair.”
  • “Why is this happening to me?”
  • “I am to blame for this” or “Someone is to blame for this”
  • “How could God let this happen”
  • “No one understands”
  • “They deserve to pay”
  • “I want revenge

According to May, someone experiencing anger in the wake of a loss may also be prone to:

  • Being short-tempered and emotionally unstable
  • Being verbally or physically aggressive
  • Self-harming
  • Neglecting their personal hygiene
  • Using substances such as nicotine, alcohol, or drugs

Coping With the Anger Stage of Grief

May shares some strategies that can help you cope with the anger stage of grief:

  • Allow yourself to feel the loss: Find an emotionally safe place, either with a supportive friend or by yourself, and allow yourself to feel, cry, and think about the loss.
  • Recognize your underlying feelings: Feelings of sadness and being overwhelmed can easily manifest as irritability and anger. It’s important to identify and address the root cause of your feelings.
  • Don’t ignore your feelings: Suppressing your feelings causes them to come out in less desirable ways, such as externalized anger towards others or internalized towards yourself. Allow yourself space to feel angry before the anger escalates to outward aggression.
  • Find ways to express yourself: If you are having trouble verbalizing your feelings, try expressing yourself through art, journaling, poetry, or other non-verbal outlets.
  • Explore different perspectives: Think about the situation from each person's point of view to gain a better understanding of your own feelings and the feelings of others.
  • Work on changing your cycle: There is a cycle of thoughts and outcomes: thoughts lead to feelings, feelings lead to behaviors, and behaviors circle back to your thoughts. Intercept one of your cycles to change your view of the situation or change your behavior, so you get a different outcome.

A Word From Verywell

While you’re grieving a loss, particularly if it was an unexpected one, you might find yourself feeling extremely angry. Anger is a defense mechanism that helps us feel in control and avoid our helplessness and grief.

However, it’s important to become more aware of your feelings and their underlying causes, in order to cope with anger and come closer to accepting the loss, says May.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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