“Some of the affronts that were sweeping you off your feet will lose their edge in an hour, not just in a day, others will disappear altogether; if the delay you sought produces no effect, it will be clear that judgement now rules, not anger.” – Seneca
Anger can be a symptom of a disease in perception. Or anger can be an instinct meant to protect our survival. Or it can be as misplaced as my car keys were this morning. Anger is a sneaky secondary emotion that if left unchecked becomes the destroyer of reason.
Last night my son was complaining about the going to back to school once he has recovered from covid. He said that school makes him angry. Through some preschooler translation and lots of cuddles, we finally got to the root cause; my son is sad because he wants to play with a girl in his class who prefers to play with his best friend and not him.
If I was in the workplace with my husband and he preferred to go to lunch with my best friend and not me, leaving me to dine alone; I would gain the sympathy of legends of scored women and my anger would be see as justified and righteous. Never mind the context or facts of the situation – we’re talking about the nonsensical emotional realm after all.
My son is four years and the girl he likes probably doesn’t think about my son outside of school at all, but the sentiment is the same; my son feels justified in his anger, context be damned! I wasn’t sure how to respond to his dilemma. I know from previous complaints from the teacher and from the girl’s father that Jackson torments her and recently tore up a card she made for her father’s birthday and threw it in the trash. Nothing in my son’s behavior matches his desire to be her friend.
In my son’s case his fears about being rejected cause him to behave in a manner which cause him to be rejected by those he desires to be closest to. His anger is sparked from confused sadness. I would say misguided, but there is no guide for a set of emotions being experienced for the first time, as it is with my son. Confused is a better description because he’s as perplexed by his actions as we all are.
We talked about refraining from behaviors that he knows are not welcomed, which felt as useful as explaining to fish that it needs to stay in the water to live. My son knows his behaviors are unwelcomed, that’s why he does them. He’s angry and looking to punish those he blames for his unhappiness. This reaction to hurt is almost universal and sadly the dominating motive for many adults in the modern world.
Feeling a bit helpless I tried to walk things out with my son, reminding him, or perhaps teaching him for the first time, that we will face the problems of tomorrow with the same set of tools we have available to us today. We talked about other children he can play with and how he can work on respecting the boundaries of the girl he likes. Most importantly, I told him that it is normal to feel what he is feeling and that learning what to do with strong feelings is part of growing up.
Thursday, my son is due to go back to school. I have no idea if anything we talked about will influence his behavior. But I do know that anger is often fleeting and that in a few days his strong feelings will subside. Life will go on with or without him.
In my own world, anger is pops up more than I’d like to admit. I take comfort that much is written by the stoics about anger because anger is part of the human condition. I don’t have to feel bad when anger rises-up in me, I only need to be aware enough to change my actions accordingly. Sometimes this awareness comes simply by telling another person of my struggles or writing a letter I will never send. Perhaps, that will be my son’s experience.
Today, I will take pause whenever anger arises in me. I will wait for the storm to pass so I can clearly see what is left and decide if it stands to reason.