A note on anger and masking by Little Miss M

Little Miss M and I had a really insightful conversation this week about a characteristic of her personality which she has been exploring a lot lately as well as anger, PDA and masking. It came from this note which she wrote for me which says “Dear Mummy, Let me tell you a secret: I am… evil! (Don’t tell anyone that I am evil – Mkay?)” and the picture is of me looking shocked. She later said I could share this by the way to help everyone understand.

Savage in me

It transpired that she didn’t really understand the true meaning of the word evil but likened it to her becoming ‘a savage’ when she is angry. She recognised that her behaviour at times is what society could class a ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ and came to the conclusion that this meant she was evil, just like the ‘evil villains’ in films and comics. The term savage isn’t meant literally either but rather as a dramatic description of her behaviour (one of her favourite YouTubers describes his cat as a savage and I think this is where she picked it up from). For quite a while now she has loved The Joker from Batman and his side-kick Harley Quinn and has enjoyed playing the villain type character just as much as she has enjoyed playing the hero type character in games and shows she acts out. She can clearly identify with and see aspects of herself in both.

She appeared very comfortable with this misplaced evil label she had given herself despite saying she wanted to keep it a secret in her note and I felt that was because she felt really strongly that this ‘feisty’ side of her was recognised and understood. She celebrates that she is ‘different’ to the norm and we encourage her to love herself as she is, so this was obviously a side of her that she wanted to address and embrace with my help and doing so opened the door to much more insight than I would have dreamed possible at the tender age of 7.

Here’s an edited version of what she said in our conversation after we talked about that characteristic and I explained the meaning of the word evil. It’s clear to me that she is talking about masking when she says she hides inside, something she used to do up until about a year ago with regards to demand avoidance (she would mask her demand avoidance in public so she could join in with her friends at home education groups and trips). I realise now that she has clearly started to implement masking again in order to cope in public but it would seem to relate to masking her anger since recognising society’s expectations in that respect and masking her fears so they don’t prevent her from doing the things she wants to do…

“I’m not evil but I am a savage when I get angry. I get angry when things go wrong and when I can’t do things. I’m not in control of my anger, my brain controls that but I am in control of what I do when I am angry and when I’m at home it’s shouting, screaming, kicking, hitting, pushing and throwing things. When I’m in public I feel I need to hide my anger inside because I don’t want people to know how I feel because they will think that it is wrong and if I scream in public it makes me more angry. It’s like the anger and the scream collide and make the anger stronger. It’s my PDA which causes this – if you took out my brain and cut it open you would see all the different areas controlling the different things and PDA would be in the middle. It’s not just anger I hide in public, at my cousin’s party (which was back in August) my brain was really nervous because I didn’t know everyone there and I didn’t know if there would be any surprises but I hid it inside. Do you know why I smiled nicely in all the photos? It’s because I couldn’t be myself and pull funny faces or pose like I usually do because I was hiding inside. I really wanted to go to the party and would have been really sad if I couldn’t – hiding my feelings meant I could.”

I reassured her that it is not wrong to feel anger or any emotion, they are all natural reactions and I promised her I would help her find ways to safely express her anger (and all of her feelings) when they first appear rather than hiding them until they build up so much they explode, which is what inevitably happens and she said “just like Queen Elsa! I AM QUEEN ELSA – I’ve been hiding my anger from people, like she hid her magic and now I can let it go!”