This is an excerpt from the book: Understanding Anger during Bereavement by Bob Baugher, Carol Hankins & Gary Hankins. You can order it at:


Components of Anger Expression

One way to think of anger is in terms of the way it affects our body, mind, social life, and emotional state. Let’s look at each.

The Physical Component


1.         Verbal expressions

•                     Swear words

•                     Substituted swear words (“shoot, dang, darn, heck, son of a gun, cripes”)

•                     Labeling words (“idiot, stupid, heartless, psycho, chicken, geek, nerd”)

•                     Questions (“who . . . , what . . . , when . . . , where . . . , how . . . ”)

•                     Commands (“You shouldn’t . . . , should’ve . . . , must . . . , need to . . . , “)

2.         Voice Tone

Anger is easily noticed in an angry person’s tone of voice.  The better you know someone, the more adept you are at picking up even subtle cues in their voice tone.  Sometimes, you will get two messages from a person.  When a person yells, “I’m not angry!” it’s more likely you’ll believe the message from their tone of voice, than the message in their words.

3.         Voice Intensity

Voice intensity occurs simultaneously with voice tone.  Some people’s voices get quieter as they become angrier, while others become louder.

4.         Silence

One of the most powerful means of showing anger is silence.  It comes in a variety of forms: the silent stare, silence following a question, and the silent treatment.

5.         Body Language

People tend to stiffen their bodies when they are angry, particularly the muscles in the neck.  Anger frequently triggers facial changes, such as: the entire face contorts and/or turns red;  pupils dilate;  eyes squint (“throwing daggers”); the lower lip curls over the upper lip; the jaw moves forward;  and the teeth clench.

Some of the most common hand motions that express anger are: fist shaking; finger thrusting (pointing toward another); karate chop (a vertical downward slice with an open palm); fist of one hand hitting the palm of your other hand; open palm(s) facing toward another person (indicating “get out of here!”); and the middle finger thrust upwards toward another person.

6.         Aggressive Behaviors

Examples of aggressive behaviors are: invading another individual’s  personal space, yelling, screaming, grabbing, pinching, pushing, punching, pounding, hitting, slapping, slugging, scratching, biting and kicking.


The Cognitive Component

The cognitive component refers to what you are thinking or perceiving at the time that you are angry.  Two examples of the cognitive component are self-talk and anger schema.


Sometimes thinking occurs so rapidly or subtly that at times it seems impossible to answer the question, “what are you thinking about?”  At other times, thinking is similar to an internal conversation. This is called “self-talk.”   Consider the anger you have been feeling since the death of your loved one.  What do you say to yourself when you are angry?  The self-talk of grieving survivors often includes:  “They can’t do this to me . . .  Why did this happen . . .   I’m not going to take this . . .  and  . . . this is the last straw!”

Anger Schema

A schema is a set of related ideas stored in our brain.  For example, we have a cluster of related concepts about the way that men and women in our society should look and act.  This is called our gender schema.  If you saw a person with a beard and were told that person was a woman, your gender schema wouldn’t have a place to put such information.

What does schema have to do with anger during bereavement?  When a loved one dies, an anger schema may be activated whenever you encounter anything related to that person’s death.   For example, bereaved people, whose loved one was murdered, report becoming very angry at many things which did not elicit their anger prior to their loved one’s murder.  Now their anger schema includes violence on the media, unjust treatment of one person by another, ineptness in the justice system, and newspaper and television glorification of a violent news story.

The Social Component

While it is true that people get mad at themselves, it is more common for anger to be directed at other people.  Therefore, anger can typically be seen as a social phenomenon.  How would you answer the following questions?

Since the death of my loved one, whom have I pushed away with my anger?

Who has pushed me away?

Who has been there to give me the support I expected?

What have people said (and not said) about my loved one or my bereavement that has made me angry?


The Emotional Component

Anger influences the way we feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It also influences our relationships with others.  What we sometimes call “anger,” is really another feeling, such as animosity, annoyance, bitterness, disgust, displeasure, exasperation, indignation, irritation, resentment, or feeling perturbed, disturbed, or upset.

Telling someone they don’t have a right to be angry is the same thing as saying they do not have a right to experience their own emotions.  While it is important to remember that it is okay to feel angry, the critical thing is what you do with your anger.  Focusing on how you express and manage your anger is the key to using your anger constructively.


Bob Baugher

Bob Baugher, Ph.D., is a Psychology Instructor at Highline Community College in Des Moines, Washington where he teaches courses in Psychology and Death Education. As a trainer for LivingWorks he has trained more than 1,000 people in suicide intervention. He has given more than 600 workshops on grief and loss across the U.S. including England, South Africa, and Namibia. As a professional advisor to the South King County Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, Bob has been invited to speak at many of the TCF national conferences during the past 20 years. He earned a certificate in Thanatology from the Association for Death Education and Counseling and in the 1990s he was a clinician with University of Washington School of Nursing Parent Bereavement Project. Bob has written several articles and seven books on the bereavement process. Reach him at Dr. Baugher appeared on the radio show "Healing the Grieving Heart" with Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley to discuss Coping with Anger and Guilt After a Loss.

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