My parents always like to recall how good I was at throwing tantrums. Every time it was time to leave the park, or take a nap, or eat my veggies, I promptly fell to the floor, screaming and crying and flailing my limbs. It didn’t matter if I was in the presence of other adults or kids my age. If I was angry, I expressed it.
So what changed? I still get angry. Basketball games don’t go the way I want them to, or someone makes a rude comment, or the jacket I’ve been looking at online for months just sold out. But I don’t throw myself to the ground in despair or fury anymore.
As we grow up, we are taught how to deal with our anger in a “healthy” way. But how much of what we learn is “healthy”, and how much is really just tips to not humiliate ourselves, or cause trouble or attract attention. We are taught not to be violent, not to be rude, not to show our anger at all unless we are alone. Avoiding violence makes sense, but think about what the other rules mean. If someone makes us angry, we should not be rude to them. But what if they deserve it? What if they need to know how they made us feel? If we never talk to them, rudely or politely, then they will continue walking all over people.
On the same note, many people are told that anger should be hidden. While this is usually a gendered message, both men and women are advised that anger is not attractive, or wanted. Many people are told that anger can be seen as negativity, or baggage, and won’t attract friends or mates. While I agree that I don’t want to be around someone who is angry all the time, everyone gets angry sometimes. If they don’t, that means they just aren’t showing it, and are bottling it up inside, which never ends well. But anger, just like happiness or sadness or jealousy or just about any emotion, is NATURAL. And healthy. It’s okay to get mad. It’s okay to be filled with rage.
Social norms tell us that tantrums are no longer an acceptable way to perform anger, and those should probably be respected. If you are throwing a tantrum and you are not a three-year-old, you could loose your job or credibility or be given the label of “unsteady”. But you should be allowed to be angry in visible ways. Take a boxing class, or go for runs, or just rant for a minute or two. Don’t let that anger sit for too long, because that could be just as dangerous.