My journey to the state (and enjoyment) of outraged indignance started many years ago.
I remember very clearly when I was quite young, the moment I gave myself permission to feel irritated. This was way before I became a parent, it was back in the days when I thought that being irritated was not an attractive quality for a young woman; I think something in my culture and upbringing had instilled in me the belief that if I looked irritated I wouldn’t get a boyfriend.
I just knew in my bones that looking irritated made you look ugly, and then no man would fancy you. I knew that I had to be very careful of all facial expressions which could disturb the blank face of beauty, which is what you were supposed to have to stand any chance in the boyfriend market. It was a huge liberation to me to reframe irritation as a cool quality – I think it was the punk era that did that for me. I started to revel in looking and being irritated, and I have never looked back.
Having conquered irritation, I faced another unconscious pressure when I became a mother, and this time it was the necessity to display the acceptable always-calm-and-caring face of good motherhood. I tried, but trying to be nice all the time is bloody exhausting. And if blowing up in a rage is the not-allowed face of motherhood, the only other alternatives seemed to be feeling hurt and disappointed, or helpless and depressed. That’s when I discovered outraged indignance.
I cultivated the feeling of outraged indignance because I found it empowering; I could feel indignant outrage and still feel in control of things; outraged indignance stops me feeling like a victim. It also makes me laugh.
When my kids were little and they were arguing with me, whining, or generally being really annoying, I would say ‘Hang on a minute,’ turn round and behind their backs do a hugely exaggerated ‘outraged indignance’ face, then turn back feeling much better. I cultivated a wide-eyed, outraged, indignant ‘Can’t quite believe you just did that’ face which is incredibly useful in the place of words. Funnily enough, my kids seemed to respect me when I expressed outraged indignance in a way they didn’t if I was either angry or helpless. And more important, I retained respect for myself.
Try it: next time you are wavering between screaming with rage and bursting into tears, try outraged indignance instead; it’s the acceptable face of good-enough mothering.