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Chronic Illness - Chronic Pain Articles Available to Read and Reprint

Coping with the Anger You Have When You are Living with Chronic Illness

By Lisa Copen

"When I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I actually felt relief," shares Cindy. "I had been trying to find a reason for my pain and it finally was acknowledged as being something physical not mental." Cindy goes on to explain, "It wasn't until months later that I started getting short-tempered and frustrated and I realized that I was angry about the diagnosis. I was angry that I had to suffer and no one understood."

A well-known doctor in Switzerland, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, wrote a book that has changed perspective on how people deal with grief for any kind of loss. This book, called "On Death and Dying," shows how she recognized a cycle of emotional stages that now is commonly referred to as the cycle of grief. Anger is the third stage of the cycle, following the stage of shock and denial.

When we are diagnosed with an illness, feeling anger is the most natural reaction. Realizing our dreams may be out of our control now that our body is redefining what is "normal" for us, can be devastating.

"It is my observation," says Linda Noble Topf, author of You are Not Your Illness, "that the absence of anger in the face of a serious illness suggests that we have already withdrawn from life, that we have relinquished our passion for living, that we are resigned and emotionally numb."

Recognizing these feelings and dealing with them is part of the mourning process. We all need to go through this process, and it comes at different times for each individual and at different levels at each stage of the illness. Ironically, the first year of diagnosis may even be easier than the third year.

Says Krista, who lives with chronic fatigue syndrome, "I know that my anger stages come and go. I have been angry at doctors, at God, myself, my church, even my husband and daughter and other family members."

One thing is certain: anger should come. If it has not, you may want to take a closer look at why.

"It is my observation," says Linda Noble Topf, author of "You are Not Your Illness", "that the absence of anger in the face of a serious illness suggests that we have already withdrawn from life, that we have relinquished our passion for living, that we are resigned and emotionally numb."

Anger can be seen as something shameful to express, especially if you are a Christian, who has been told that angry emotions are not excused or even "allowed." You may experience some of these feelings:

  • If I truly have faith in God and trust that He knows best, than I shouldn't get angry about my circumstances. Doesn't anger signify a lack of faith?
  • If I reveal to other Christians that I am angry about my situation, won't they think I am weak in my walk with God?
  • I know it says, "wise men shouldn't anger" in the Bible. How can I, in good faith, express the emotions that I am feeling?
  • I know that anger leads to bitterness. So if I don't acknowledge these feelings I will be a "better Christian" and I won't ever become bitter about life.

These feelings are not unusual, yet, they prevent us from coping with the grief that we are experiencing by the loss of our health and lifestyle.

Here are a few tips to guide you in dealing with anger.

1. If you are angry, acknowledge that these feelings exist. Then get on with life!

Don't bury these emotions, believing that it will make you a stronger person. Topf recommends "think of anger as a resource that you can learn to harness and refine for your own benefit." Being able to address your feelings of anger will help you reclaim your personal identity. Don't try to fake it through life on false emotions.

The Bible explains how Job got angry about the events in his life and cursed the day of his birth. He said, "Do I have any power to help myself, now that success has been driven from me?" (Job 6:13). In the end though, God blessed Job in many ways and Job told the Lord, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful to know" (Job 42:3b). Through his feelings of anger and frustration, character and understanding was built.

2. It is all right to have angry feelings.

God gave us the ability to feel anger. There are many examples in the Bible where even He feels anger. What does the Bible tell us about anger? Once you begin to get in touch with these feelings of anger, it may trigger every unfairness and injustice that you are experiencing. We are susceptible to becoming wrapped up in these feelings and remaining angry at the world. These are the feelings of anger that God warns us about; as He knows that they can become too prominent in our life and take our focus off of Him.

  • "For man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (James 1:20).
  • "Wise men turn away anger" (Proverbs 29:8b).
  • "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control" (Proverbs 29:11).

God knows that although anger is a natural human emotion, it should not be our lifestyle. Some people may argue that it takes anger to get things accomplished. One example of this is the emotional name of Mothers against Drunk Drivers which have a seemingly appropriate acronym called "MADD." "We discover that anger is first and foremost demand for change," writes Topf. Great things have happened in our history, because of the "I'm-not-going-to-take-it anymore-attitude," but it's not how God calls us to live our entire life.

In Amos 1:11, God says, "I will not turn back my wrath... because his anger raged continually." God isn't upset because of the presence of anger, but because the anger was continuous. God calls us to put our focus on Him and try to make a difference that will bring glory to Him.

3. Walk with God and He will walk with you through your anger.

David experienced this and wrote, "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me." (Psalm 138:7). God is there when you need to feel angry and he wants to stretch out His hand against your anger and protect you.

"I'm still dealing with anger toward this illness, after two years diagnosed, and eight years of being sick," shares Peggy, who lives with fibromyalgia. "Each time a new realization hits me about my limitations, I experience anger. And yet, I know that God has a plan for my life that is perfect. I still battle the angry feelings, which rage inside, every time I have to say no to something I would like to do. I pray and expect His perfect grace and that He will become slow to anger, counting on the scripture, 'The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love'" (Psalm 103:8).

We will all face the emotion of anger for the rest of our lives. Some of the most basic advice to cope with it is that which is in a scripture that I refer in my book, "Why Can't I Make People Understand? Discovering the Validation Those with Chronic Illness Seek and Why" where I walk through the emotions of anger and bitterness we deal with in regards to our illness. In Hosea 7:13b-14 God says, "I long to redeem [you] but. . . [you] do not cry out to Me from [your] hearts, but wait upon [your] beds." Don't flop down on your bed and wail "Why me?" Instead pour out your heart to the Lord and wholly ask Him for help.

Get a free download of 200 ways to reach out to someone who is hurting from Beyond Caseroles: 505 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend when you sign up for hopenotes, a monthly ezine. Author of this article, Lisa Copen is also the founder of Rest Ministries and National Invisible Illness Awareness Week.





Don't forget! This article can be reprinted for free or syndicate Lisa's new articles.