Anger and Illness

I just found out that the #BCSM (breast cancer and social media) community leaders are including a series about “The Emotions of Cancer” as a regular part of their Monday night community Tweetchats.  The first chat is this evening, and we are taking on anger–a tough emotion for many folks to deal with.  I have been thinking about this a bit–and I’ve written about anger before–and these are a few of my thoughts about how anger plays into cancer (and other illnesses).


As I have mentioned in other posts, anger is an emotion that many of us are not entirely comfortable with.  And when you are talking about illness, anger can show up in several different ways.  For this post, I thought I would explore some of the reasons people talk about anger with me.  I’d love to hear more about the ways that you have experienced anger.

1. Angry at the illness:   This kind of anger is one of the first that people express.  They talk about being angry at cancer, or diabetes, or FMD, or MS–the list is endless.  These are illnesses that take over your life–and threaten it.  The anger at illness is a reflection of frustration at the disruption of your life, fear for your health, guilt over the turmoil caused by the illness.  As with survivor’s guilt, this anger is actually a complex mix of many feelings.

2. Angry at your body: When you are coping with serious illness, it is not unusual to feel as though your body has let you down.  After all, you can face illness even if you participate in many healthy behaviors.  It is scary to feel as though your can’t trusty your body to function in health–and that fear makes many people angry.

3.  Angry at the medical system: If you have been dealing with illness for any length of time, you’ve been dealing with the accompanying systems: hospitals, insurance companies, large medical practices, etc.  There are wonderful institutions out there–and really wonderful health care providers who do everything they can to take care of their patients.  But there are also paperwork hurdles, providers who have had a bad day, providers who don’t listen, coordination challenges, and many other headaches.  On top of coping with your illness, these struggles can feel unfair and definitely provoke some anger.

4. Angry at the healthy: This anger is a very tough one for many folks to acknowledge or talk about.  But, when you are struggling to stay alive, it can feel unkind or insensitive when a healthy person complains about how their body is functioning.  This anger is often a reflection of jealousy, or a grief about the loss of your own health.

5. Angry at the “clueless helper:” So many of the folks that I work with, as well as people that I encounter in support communities, have had the experience of someone recommending a “miracle cure.” Or they’ve been told that their illness is “part of a plan.”  The list of well-intentioned, but misinformed or insensitive things that patients have heard is long, varied, and sometimes startling.  I know that I have thought, or said, “I can’t believe someone said that to you!”  This situation can be complicated because often, these statements aren’t malicious–and people don’t understand why you are angry.

This is just a few of the types of anger that I see among my clients.  How about you?  What ways has anger been part of your experience.  Stay tuned for part two of this post–I’ll explore some tools for coping with your anger in healthy ways.


Image Credit: Photo by angrymann via Flickr

7 thoughts on “Anger and Illness

  1. Dear Ann,
    This is great, and I look forward to Part II. I am sure that you are very helpful to people in identifying and understanding the strong feelings that come with serious and chronic illness. I especially relate to the anger at the “clueless helpers.”

  2. All very true, especially #3 for me. Oftentimes, suppressed anger before the illness is a causative factor in cancer. All the more reason to pay attention to our mental, emotional, and spiritual health just as much as our physical health!

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