Circe, and the right to healthy anger
A friend pressed this book into my hands for my birthday with a somewhat crazed glint in her eye saying, “This book is SO good. I’m giving it to everyone I know.”
Having read it, it is now my turn to press it upon you, with the same fervour.
It. Is. So. Good.
And not just because it’s a well-written romp through the Greek myths.
But because it offers a blistering insight into female anger.
Traditionally, Circe is described as vindictive, bitter, violently jealous, vengeful, predatory, evil. All recognisable two-dimensional tropes associated with The Angry Woman.
The novel breathes life into the legend and makes Circe fully three-dimensional, giving insight and context to these outward expressions of rage.
We follow her key formative childhood experiences through to the challenges and adventures of adulthood. She’s rejected by her mother, derided by her siblings and humiliated by her first love. She dotes on a father whose affections are meagre at best and subject to unpredictable change, ultimately leading her to being cast out and banished to a life of solitude.
In short, Circe has plenty of reason to be angry. And we watch as she takes a few centuries to work out how to come into relationship with the power connected to the expression of that anger, through the mastery of her magic skills.
Now, you and I aren’t minor goddesses, so we don’t have a few a centuries to play with; and neither are we sorceresses with access to magic. (I’m assuming.)
But the invitation to transform our own anger is as important for us as it was for Circe.
Because anger is entirely natural.
And phenomenally useful.
It highlights boundary breaches and other feelings of discomfort.
It helps us to express a healthy 'no' (and a simultaneous healthy 'yes').
It is motivated by and supports connection, not destruction.
It keeps us connected to what Jung called our libido, the psychic energy that fuels desire, will, interest and passion.
So, you know, pretty useful stuff.
But what generally happens when a girl child tries to express her anger and her healthy 'no'?
A greater parental 'no' squashes or stifles the urge.
We’re told to be good, be nice, be quiet.
We’re told that good girls don’t rage or sulk or pout or yell or scream. That good girls aren’t spiteful or selfish. We’re not jealous or mean.
So even though it is entirely natural for us to feel all of these things, we’re taught to turn them inwards and away from the eyes of the world. And we learn to keep smiling. Be nice.
Notice that we’re not taught how not to feel anger, simply that we need to keep it hidden. And if we keep it in, then in is where it will make its home. Meaning we live with the impact of the winds of rage turned inwards, our inner chatter sounding a lot like:
Why did you do that?
You’re so stupid.
Look at your hair, it’s a mess.
Why can’t you just be normal?
Nobody likes you.
You’re gonna mess up that presentation with your pathetic stuttering.
Try harder. Achieve more. Be better.
On and on and on.
Like a forest fire gobbling up trees like tinder, our internalised rage razes the landscape of our self-worth, charring our confidence and courage in its wake.
Anger is our birth right. An incredibly valuable asset.