My Sadness Tantrum

“All sadness is a tantrum” – I’ve seen this thought on facebook, the author has several hundred thousand page likes, so a lot of people got this message recently. Welcome to my sadness tantrum, feel free to lie on the floor beside me, thrash about and howl if you need to. I’m not ‘enlightened’ enough to have stopped feeling pain, and I’m enough of a blasphemer against this position to think that sadness is a good thing.

I have my personal sadness around loss, setback, frustration and physical pain. Things that scare me make me sad. I see these as aspects of my being human and I am not ashamed of them. Empathy makes me grieve for the suffering of friends and share in their sadness. It makes me cry over the things I cannot fix or undo. I believe that sorrow teaches us compassion. Then there is the place beyond sadness. The rage and anguish caused by images of war, and fracking; the horrors we inflict on each other and on this world. I weep over those. I invite you to weep too, because our salvation may lie in the spur to action that comes from our broken and bleeding hearts. Howling is magic. Grief harnessed begets transformation. This is where powerful, positive change starts – when we can no longer bear things as they are.

I have not achieved enlightenment, I’m not expecting to any decade soon. I’m so far from that state, I haven’t a clue what it means, and whether getting there means you dispense with human emotion. I rather hope not. I think our emotions are often our saving grace as a species; grief and joy are twins that inspire and enable us. If enlightenment means losing that, I guess I’m opting out of the spiritual race. So, I know nothing about this stuff. I do however know a bit about tantrums.

“Tantrum” is the word we use to describe a perception of disproportionate emotional outbreaks – usually from children, or from people we wish to ridicule and undermine by likening them to undisciplined infants. To class something as a ‘tantrum’ is to belittle and dismiss it. If something is “just a tantrum” it lacks worth, and relevance – it can be ignored.

Small children are prone to disproportionate emotional outbreaks, from an adult perspective. I’ve raised a child, I’ve hung out with parents, this territory I do know. Your toddler knows nothing of torture, murder, war and crime. A tiny setback and a minor pain can be the worst horrors they have ever endured. The frustration of being thwarted is unbearable because it is quite literally the worst experience they have ever had and it totally challenges their sense of self and their place in the world. Ideally as a parent you have to do two things with this, and they are equally important. You have to help your child gain enough perspective to cope with life, without traumatising them about the state of the world they have joined. This is a process. It takes years. You have to do this, ideally, whilst not undermining their sense of self. That means not entirely invalidating their emotional responses, not making them feel stupid or worthless because they cried when you thought they shouldn’t. It is a bloody difficult job.

You don’t get to fast track on this one. You don’t get to be an emotionally mature adult without first being a shrieking toddler and doing whatever you do with the chaos of adolescence. There are no shortcuts, so I’m prepared to bet that if enlightenment is available, there are no shortcuts there either. I also suspect that knocking someone back doesn’t help them grow. We are where we are – however flawed that is, however far from where we think we ought to be. You have to start from where you are, but if you start out ashamed of your point of departure, that isn’t a lot of help. More the opposite.

I don’t know what enlightenment looks like, but my gut says it should not be smug and toxic, invalidating the struggles of people who are ‘less advanced’.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “My Sadness Tantrum

  • Robin Herne

    I do wonder if some spiritual people really just want to be Vulcans, or even androids, untroubled by any chaotic human emotion and just wafting through life in a serene haze farting clouds of patchouli and never at risk of being upset, rejected, wounded or afraid.

  • Nimue Brown

    Farting clouds of patchouli! (but that would mean admitting that I may be capable of less than perfectly floral flatulence…) but yes, being human is troublesome, and a lot of spirituality seems to be about getting out of that, rather than learning how to live with it, and how to do it well, in all its messy glory.

  • angharadlois

    I read something recently which made a lot of sense to me, along the lines of the idea that sadness dissolves your boundaries and anger strengthens them. You can’t let go of anything through completely rigid boundaries; you can’t let anything in, either, so it is perfectly natural to feel sadness at things that cause regret, or when witnessing the suffering of others. Anger, meanwhile, can be a really helpful way of drawing a clear boundary between what is acceptable and unacceptable in your worldview – which is necessary sometimes, or else we would just let others trample all over us and everything we hold sacred (take fracking, for example). No emotion, on its own, constitutes a tantrum.

    And, you know, every once in a while, a good tantrum can help – the world *is* pretty bloody terrible sometimes, and any thinking, feeling person needs to find an outlet for that – be it meditation, “setting the world to rights” over a beer or just ranting on the internet!

  • Aurora J Stone

    Living with sadness and emotion is part of the humanness of us, the part that can get us into such trouble, that makes us vulnerable and tetchy. But when one can allow oneself to let go of all the held onto and held back stuff, in an appropriate way or place then one can grow. No spiritual path is easy to walk, or hop or skip or crawl along — and trying to run and take shortcuts just doesn’t work. Somethings take time and effort and that makes people frustrated or angry or sad sometimes. It is the journey that helps us deal with these. Enlightenment in small bits, found around unexpected corners and with the help of often unexpected people, give meaning as well as message.

  • joannavanderhoeven

    Hear hear! I wonder how the writer of that meme thinks of Robin Williams’ suicide – would his sadness be considered a tantrum? It is words like these that lack any and all compassion, and are witty quips to make the user feel better by belittling the state of others on their journeys through life.

    Enlightenment is not a one off thing. It happens, again and again. It is not reaching a state of non-emotion, but of becoming utterly aware of the emotion as it happens, and truly feeling it, experiencing it before letting it go and seeing the present moment. Our emotions are what make us such wonderful creatures. We NEED to be sad. We NEED to experience joy. We also need to see the glory and the despair of the present moment just as it is.

    Everyone is fighting their own battle. We do not need to blow out another’s flame in order for our to burn brighter.

    (My farts are like unicorns’ – rainbows and glitter…)

  • joannavanderhoeven

    P.S. I also wonder at how much quotes like these would resonate with people who are being shot at, who are starving, who are being beaten… and I don’t think Katie Byron takes that into consideration.

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