Throwing Temper Tantrums§
writer: russell j.t. dyer; posted: May 27, 2006; revised: April 23, 2018; readers in past month: 561
When I was a child, I used to be notorious for temper tantrums. No one ever seemed to have understood me during those times or why I had them. Until now, I never gave them much thought. However, I think I now know why I had them. My father died when I was three year old. Everyone assumed that I didn’t understand what that meant, what death meant. Maybe I didn’t understand it fully, but I did know that my father was gone. I wanted him, I missed him, I needed him, and yet he was gone. I couldn’t fully comprehend and accept it.
I was told that it was part of life, death was. So I quickly resented life and everything to do with it, particularly other people. It was other people who were telling me that my father was gone and would never come back. Maybe I was trying to kill the messengers. No, it was more like I resented the messenger since he wouldn’t shut-up about it, since he seemed to enjoy telling me and watching me suffer as a result. So, I resented life and people. I was too small to do anything about it, anything bold or significant. Instead, I suffered inside and either reluctantly cooperated with life and others, or I would refuse to cooperate to some extent or on some points. Some may call that passive agressive. I call it normal, a natural reaction to those I hated: everyone. Unfortunately, resistence is futile and it results in more abuse. I would not do what I was told, wouldn’t cooperate, shirk tasks, and generally not try very hard in life. If I did work hard, I would hide it in some way or other, proclaiming I was lazy, that I didn’t care, or make sure I appeared to be loafing when others were watching.
The result of my resistance was inevitable backlash from those who put me in that state, namely everyone. So I would be punished. What I wanted would be withheld from me, taken from me. I would resist more and lose more. The vicious cycle would tighten around me until I could not take it any more and I would scream, cry, kick, throw a temper tantrum. And at times, my mother, my brother, and my sister would laugh at me, make fun of me — and they now wonder why I have separated myself from them, too. They would probably say that didn’t do that. But I remember it, even if they don’t. I remember it well; I remember it as the final insult to my series of injuries. I hated them: they were everyone, along with everyone else, they weren’t on my side.
And now I’m older and now I shouldn’t throw temper tantrums. Now I shouldn’t protest or shirk my duties. But I still do, I still don’t do what I am supposed to do. Not the same way I did before, but in new ways, in ways that only hurt myself, of course. I do things like not care about family, not do my work (i.e., not in a noticable way), not pay my bills. And what are the results, what is the inevitable backlash now: Distancing and dislike from family, loss of opportunities or jobs, utilities cut off or bill collectors hounding me. The vicious cycle closes in on me until I want to scream, to cry, to kick. But I don’t any more. Instead, I sob inside and pretend not to hurt. Instead, I try to calm myself until I can recover, until I can undo what I’ve done: catch up on my work, find a new job, pay the bill so that services may be restored.
Eventually, I figured out how to do just enough to keep out of trouble: as a boy I would do just enough to make a ‘D’ or a passing grade in school. As a young adult, I’d try hard enough to keep a job for a while, and pay my bills for a while to keep the bill collectors moderately satisfied. I have had short stints in which I have done all that I was supposed to do, but it was forced and I hated it. Or maybe, I would excel for a while when I wasn’t paying attention, acting naturally, but when I would notice that I was cooperating, pull the reigns in, become obstinant, cease to cooperate.
I don’t know why I resist cooperating. My friend Richard Stringer has pointed out that I’m only hurting myself. These minor protests, these things I ignore or do, either only or primarily hurt me. Someone must have told me when I was a boy, when my father died, that death is part of life. It’s a classic line and one that people like to say when someone you love dies. I suspect it was my Aunt Giornina who said it to me — I seem to have some vague sense it was her. I don’t fault her. I know many others repeated it to me. Still, I was told with regards to my father’s death, when I was only three years old, that death is part of life. The two were linked together and the result is that I hated life, or rather the world of humans that stand as proclaimers of the rules of life. I don’t hate birds or babies or weather — not even the hurricane which assisted in the killing of my friend Richard along with tobacco, which also killed my father.
Society tells me that there are no alternatives but life or death. Sometimes I’m depressed and oppressed by this logic. I’m not bothered by it always. Many times I’m as happpy as can be with life and enjoy it in ways that others don’t and can’t. But there are times when I hate it and resist it. With regards to money, I will spend money on fanciful things, knowing that the bills for necessities will pile up and eventually strangle me. I spend to say that I don’t care, to say that I won’t cooperate or participate. And when I am waylayed later, I hate life even more. I need to stop this madness, I know. I need to find a solution.
I’m reminded of a book I once read that talked about the ultimate solution to such quandries. It talked about situations we get ourselves into in which we feel torn between two choices: submit to life and be miserable as its slave, or resist it at every turn and feel it’s wrath as a result. This is my quandry, my binary thinking. The ultrasolution is to see a third choice. The third choice is something like, I do a good job because I enjoy it, not because I am required; I do well in school because I want to learn and I get good grades as a result of my enthusiasm and work related to learning; my utilities aren’t cut off and I have money in the bank because I want less that I earn, I have no need to waste my money, and so the money just piles up and the bills get paid automatically. In recent years, I’ve gotten better on this count. In particular in the past year, I’ve been too busy enjoying life to get around to hating it. Those who enjoy seeing me miserable and are now jealously watching me enjoy myself as they endure their lives, droning on with the choice of submission to it, it is they that are filled with resentment, resentment of me. As I said in a previous posting, these people have surrendered to life, whereas I have conquered it. Or rather, life is becoming something for me to enjoy. Or perhaps, life in the sense that people describe it doesn’t exist. Working, loving, playing, paying bills — they’re all things that we do. They’re not life. Life is just life. And death is just no life, at least not here. It’s not part of life. Life is not a thing and it’s nothing else.