My favourite word is ‘Cross’. It’s fun to say, satisfying and has a nice comic flair that doesn't elicit too much.
Imagine a child with their arms folded, their upper lip quivering, their eyes narrowed, it’s very hard not to let a skip of a giggle out. I use the word ‘cross’ quite a lot. It’s a way of infantilising my anger. I don’t want to give it the grown-up-ness it deserves. That is too scary and way harder to control.
Karl Jung said: Nothing can be created without destruction. He knew his stuff. Although he was a bit questionable when it came to his views on the Nazis, however as a psychologist, he delved into the parts of ourselves that we like to keep hidden. Jung focused a lot of his work around ‘the shadow’ the darker part of ourselves. We all have one. When we begin to ignore the shadow, we have issues.
Anger is a form of destruction. But it can also be a form of creation. We create things when we’re angry. Whether it's more metaphysical: making a new thought process to understand something, or physical: throwing our phone across the room smashing it into tiny pieces an art piece I’d like to call (For fuck’s sake fucking thing won’t hang up).
I'm not very good with anger. There was a time where I bottled it up choosing to smile and face the world with a sunny disposition rather than rage at its cruelty. Now I tend to go from tears to more tears. I'm a crier. It’s annoying as it’s a cliché, but I do love crying. It releases something in me. Sometimes it feels like being sick. It can sneak up on me, however, over time I’ve made my peace with it.
I found children are far better at releasing it than I am.
“I’m cross”. The child says. His arms folded, brow furrowed.
“Why are you cross?” I say in a calm teachery tone.
“Because I want the red fire engine.” He stomps his feet.
“Okay but we’ve put it away”. On the highest shelf, I think. Calm and collected.
He turns his back and says very plainly with bile in his voice.
“I’ve had enough of you, Miss!”
I was all too happy to indulge this angry six-year-old. I didn't win the battle. He tried many tactics; Manipulation was one of them. It felt like I was talking to a Mafia boss.
“I’m sad, but if you give me the Fire Engine I'll be happy if you don’t, I will be sad and cross!"
So in mafia terms: if I give you what you want there will be no problems, but if not, I may wake up with a horse’s head in my bed? I stuck to my guns. We took it in shifts.
This incident happened at the height of the second lockdown. Where we had eight children, three teaching assistants and one teacher: each child needing a one to one. This little boy could express his anger at the unfairness of this world, but I, a thirty-year-old temporary teaching assistant could not.
I was slightly jealous of his behaviour although it was maddening: the screaming, shouting, crying, bargaining, and then eventually slumping into a corner mumbling to himself, until we could distract him with another toy. But alas, nothing could live up to the Red Fire Engine.
The elusive Red Fire Engine. We all crave it. The unattainable. The thing we want that is just out of reach. What do we do when we can’t reach it? We cause a fuss. We get angry. Or we whimper & shout: “the world’s not fair!" and give up. Now I’m not a quitter but I'm no good at getting to the boiling point either, letting it go up rather than down into the safety of crying.
I took box fit classes before the pandemic that I loved. When I put on those boxing gloves, I could get out any frustrations from the day with Kelly Clarkson playing in the background. There's something about the comfort of strangers that means you can let something out without being judged. You are all in it together. I find it harder to release when I'm in my own private space. It feels more intimate. When my rage builds, I need a concert size release which usually consists of me singing at the top of my voice to some; musical theatre or Disney song and elaborate improvised dance number. I feel the tightness builds, my teeth clench, my voice rising to reach a plateau. Why? I'm scared.
“Scared?” But you're a grown-up you are not allowed to be scared (this wasn’t a conversation with a child rather my younger self in my head, everyone does that, right?) I'm scared of what I'll do. Very ominous. Anger is used as a way of hiding the fact that we're scared because we don't understand. Now not understanding is a huge part of my life:
“I'm sorry. I don't know which way it is? Left and right doesn't help! Your hands are just holding up two L’s!”
I used to get quite let’s say, overwhelmed by things like this. My eyes would go blurry my breathing would become erratic. I’d lose balance. Now I can say:
“I'm sorry I don't understand can you say it again?”
It shouldn’t be a big thing or anything to write home about. It is, because we pride ourselves on carrying on and not asking for help. It’s basically England’s Mantra.
The colloquial term: A stiff upper lip could be mistaken for Stoicism. A philosophy dating back to the Romans. However, Stoicism is more about logic, than repression.
It’s not about pretending the day to day sense of impending doom isn’t present and carrying on regardless, but rather the opposite. It does exist. So let’s accept it and not infantilise ourselves by ignoring the gravity of the situation. The key is to acknowledge that something is or will be bad but it won’t always be. It will get better. The Stoics such as Seneca (advisor to Nero) and Marcus Aurelius believed you should prepare for all bad eventualities, but you can’t prepare yourself for everything. I don’t think Seneca could’ve prepared himself for the atrocities awaiting him (never trust a mad, paranoid, incestuous emperor).
The unexpected bad thing is where our anger appears. The immediacy of loss at the moment is overpowering. Grief is one of those unexpected bad things. It’s a timeless, shapeless thing that absorbs all energy around it. It’s exhausting to sit in it, but it is the only way. When you feel like this, the last thing you want to hear is someone saying:
“Aww don’t worry, it’ll be okay. Cheer up.”
They may be trying to help, but it feels like they are denying you the emotional release and trying to give you a quick fix. Thankfully I have a friend who shared a gem of wisdom, which I use when grief comes knocking:
“Some days you will feel shit. Feel it. Don’t try and pretend. It is shit. Take your time. Don’t rush being okay for other people. Sit in it and own it.”
The greatest lesson I learnt was to sit in it. Yet I still struggle with Anger. Grief is like a pic ‘n’ mix of emotions you don't have to focus on just one. But anger, is all-encompassing, however, as the prominent modern philosopher: Alain de Botton says in a very helpful video about Stoicism:
“One will stop being so angry when one learns the true facts of the misery of life.”
Sit in the Misery. Experience it. Relish it. Then you move on. Very rational.
The Stoics used intellectual arguments against anger. They believe people made stupid decisions when angry, not rational ones. I have been guilty of this myself. Hence the art piece of a shattered phone. People point out the reasons behind not getting angry (which can be frustrating). What feels out of reach is asking for help. It seems simple but somewhere in history, we lost the reasoning, opting for the lone approach.
Children are encouraged to ask for help. When do we stray off course? When do we stop seeing asking for help as a learning tool but as a weakness? One way of getting that Red fire engine is asking for someone’s help to reach it on the top shelf.
I used to be recklessly angry. I was scared of losing control which meant I would then lose control, a paradox. But now, it's creative. I'm not frightened of what will happen. Whether it destroys or creates it's a release that I need. I can let it out musically although, I used to opt for simpler happier lyrics with a bouncy beat, and I would mock bands that would shout and roar. I have started to understand bands like Rage against the machine and Slipknot.
‘Anger is a gift’. Roaring feels great! So does boxing! Embrace your shadow!