January 14, 2021
Anger; a part of Life and a part of Death
Anger emerges at the same time as thinking is developing, therefore it is always possible to access cognitive abilities and feel anger at the same time. Parker Hall proposes that it is not anger that is problematic but rage, a different phenomenon entirely; rage is conceptualized as a pre-verbal, pre-cognition, psychological defence mechanism which originates in earliest infancy as a response to the trauma experienced when the infant's environment fails to meet their needs. Rage is construed as an attempt to summon help by an infant who experiences terror and whose very survival feels under threat. The infant cannot manage the overwhelming emotions that are activated and need a caring other to attune to them, to accurately assess what their needs are, to comfort and soothe them. If they receive sufficient support in this way, infants eventually learn to process their own emotions.
Rage problems are conceptualized as "the inability to process emotions or life's experiences" either because the capacity to regulate emotion has never been sufficiently developed or because it has been temporarily lost due to more recent trauma. Rage is understood as "a whole load of
different feelings trying to get out at once" or as raw, undifferentiated emotions, that spill out when one more life event that cannot be processed, no matter how trivial, puts more stress on the organism than they can bear. By making this distinction between anger and rage it might be worth to consider if anger-management shouldn’t be called rage-management. It seems that the previous negative attachment to anger is much more at its place when attached to rage. Not only would this have implication for working therapeutically, but it would have a great impact on the, often as negative perceived, conglomerate of emotions present while grieving. Also it might bring a greater understanding of how the element anger in a grieving process is expressed.
While anger can be expressed both in an aggressive way and in a passive way, it seems that anger in grieving manifests itself more in a passive way. This is recognizable with the distinction made between widows’ grief and widowers’ grief. Widows seem to need a more direct verbal and emotional expression of their anger while widowers express their anger in more abstract ways.
Passive anger can be expressed with dispassion, evasiveness, obsessive and/or secretive behaviour, self-blame, and self-sacrifice. While aggressive anger may be expressed by bullying, destructiveness, grandiosity, hurtfulness, manic behaviour, selfishness, threats, unjust blaming, unpredictability, and vengeance.
When looking at the expressions of anger in a grieving process it may very well be possible that the above mentioned passive and aggressive anger is not recognized. But when the word anger is replaced with rage and anger is viewed as just the expression of an emotion the above mentioned passive and aggressive anger seems more fitting to rage than to anger. When the description of rage is reviewed it becomes clear that a distinction between anger and rage should be made more often, and that most of the expression of anger falls may be categorized as rage.
“Rage” is a feeling of intense anger. It is associated with the fight-or-flight response and often times activated in response to an external cue, such as the murder of a loved one. The phrase, 'thrown into a fit of rage,' expresses the immediate nature of rage that occurs before deliberation. If left unchecked rage may lead to violence. Depression and anxiety lead to an increased susceptibility to rage and there are modern treatments for this emotional pattern.
It seems that humanity has become so afraid of rage that anger has taken its place without making the distinction between the different levels of anger and that rage is the “ultimate” form of anger. With this in mind the expressions of anger in relation to dying, death and grieving becomes more recognizable. Only the question can be asked if rage in the grieving process is either suppressed or not evident. There might be an explanation in the fact that the cause of the anger must be found in either a disease or a deceased person. Both are recognizable subjects, but not present in a form to which anger can be expressed. Also human convention does not do well with the expression of anger against diseases and dead persons. You will have to bear it, it is your fate, and of the death nothing but good won’t make is very easy to express anger let alone when the anger becomes rage. Sooner one will feel shame for the perhaps uncontrolled emotion expressed.
As with any emotion, the display of anger can be feigned or exaggerated. Studies by Hochschild and Sutton have shown that the show of anger is likely to be an effective manipulation strategy in order to change and design attitudes. Anger is a distinct strategy of social influence and its use (i.e. belligerent behaviours) as a goal achievement mechanism proves to be a successful strategy. But manipulation of the cause of the anger is not possible when it comes to dying death and grieving. The in-reversibility of the cause of the anger has a direct influence on the way the anger is expressed.
Larissa Tiedens, known for her studies of anger, claimed that expression of feelings would cause a powerful influence not only on the perception of the expresser but also on their power position in the society. She examined in her study whether anger expression promotes status attribution. In other words does anger contributes to perceptions or legitimization of others' behaviours? Her findings clearly indicated that participants who were exposed to either an angry or a sad person were inclined to express support for the angry person rather than for a sad one.
Showing anger during a negotiation may increase the ability of an anger expresser to succeed in negotiation. A study by Tiedens et al. indicated that the anger expresser is perceived as stubborn, dominant and powerful. In addition, it was found that people were inclined to easily give up to those who were perceived by them as powerful and stubborn, rather than soft and submissive.[32] Based on these findings Sinaceur and Tiedens have found that people conceded more to the angry side rather than for the non-angry one.
A question raised by Van Kleef et al. based on these findings was whether expression of emotion influences others, since it is known that people use emotional information to conclude about others' limits and match their demands in negotiation accordingly. Van Kleef et al. wanted to explore whether people give up more easily to an angry opponent or to a happy opponent. Findings revealed that participants tended to be more flexible toward an angry opponent compared with a happy opponent. These results strengthen the argument that participants analyse the opponent's emotion to conclude about their limits and carry out their decisions accordingly.
The above mentioned studies by Tiedens and Van Kleef may cause the question in how far the expression of anger, as an emotion in the process of dying and grieving, is of influence on people who are not the dying or grieving person. The acceptability of the cause of the anger seems to be of a great influence. In other words as long as a dying or grieving person expresses why they are angry the cause of their anger will influence how people will respond to that anger. This could go to that the anger in these situations may be accepted, anticipated, and required. This would answer the question why cognitive behavioural affective therapy is not the preferred remedy for anger in a grieving process. In non-complicated grief the anger is part of a process that is needed to reach the stage of acceptance and peace. In complicated grief the anger is an emotional expression of grief, which cause is to be found in dying and death, and those are irreversible bythemselves. The circumstances and or persons causing the death may have anger directed to
them but not the death itself.
In 1969 the psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote “On Death and Dying”, one of the most influential books in the history of psychology. She described the five stage of dying and “anger” was one of those stages. By itself a correct conclusion but she may not have realized the impact of the use of the terminology “stages”. Although she admits that people confronted with dying and grieving may go through certain stages, and that those stages may be concurrent, in concurrent, reoccurring, or not occurring at all, her use of the word “stages” seems to have started to have a life by itself. These so-called “stages” have become such an issue that one is expected to go through all of them and if one of them doesn’t occur something is not correct inthe way the dying and grieving is done. Medical professionals, who first seem to have been adverse of her findings, now take them for granted and think that something is wrong when one of the stages does not take place. Even though the word stages is more and more being replaced with the less time limiting word “phases”, its repercussion towards the expectancy that a stage/ phase must occur has not diminished.
When an elderly loved one dies at the end of a long-term illness, there’s usually no anger in those left behind. Along with feelings of sadness, there may be a sense of relief that the suffering is over. Things do happen relevant to a death that can make us angry: anger at a disease or God; anger at doctors or hospitals or the drunk driver who killed our loved one; even anger at loved ones who didn’t take good care of themselves, or who took their own lives. But anger is not a universal feeling when someone important to us dies, and therefore is not a stage.
When anger is perceived as a stage, there are no actions the griever can take to end it. They must stay angry as long it lasts or as long as they are alive. Stages imply that time is an element, so when time fails to end that stage; people re-create and re-live anger for years. Staying angry can have dangerous consequences, causing people to damage relationships, lose jobs, and worse, affect their health or restrict their will to live.
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