Can it ever be sweet?

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - BODY & SOUL -

than it ac­tu­ally mak­ing the avenger feel bet­ter. That’s all very well, but I won­der what they would have to say about a friend of mine who still laughs joy­fully a decade later when she talks about throw­ing her ex-part­ner’s beloved bi­cy­cle off a cliff on a cy­cling hol­i­day dur­ing which it came out that he was sleep­ing with their neigh­bour. It’s funny to imag­ine a group of men in cor­duroy try­ing earnestly to ex­plain to her that she would have been bet­ter off sim­ply shrug­ging and say­ing, ‘Never mind, dear, she seems like a nice enough lady.’

There is of course the broader ques­tion of ag­gres­sion and what place it ought to have in the world. One of the most im­por­tant lessons we learn as chil­dren is how to con­tain up­set and rage, but how­ever many times we are told not to scream, snatch, slap or shove, it can take quite a while to learn to be civil. ‘Don’t hit your brother/sis­ter’ isn’t gen­er­ally a mes­sage that sinks in the first time. Hav­ing mas­tered the art of treat­ing other peo­ple with re­straint, even when they en­rage us, there’s still the ques­tion of what hap­pens to our de­struc­tive im­pulses. Do they ac­tu­ally dis­ap­pear, or do we just get bet­ter at hid­ing them? Logic would point to­wards the lat­ter. Still, it’s tra­di­tion­ally been the case that men have had more so­cially sanc­tioned vents for their ag­gres­sion than women. They could al­ways go to war, play sports, put a ri­val com­pany out of busi­ness or get into a pub brawl. On the other hand ‘ fem­i­nin­ity’ largely meant be­ing pas­sive and ac­cept­ing. This may go some way to­wards ex­plain­ing women’s rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing a lit­tle crazy when rubbed up the wrong way.

With­out nor­malised out­lets for hos­til­ity, any bad feel­ing that erupts might man­i­fest it­self weirdly. One pos­si­ble ef­fect of this is that cer­tain women be­come adept at ex­press­ing their fury in in­ven­tive ways. If you don’t have the op­tion to punch some­one, you may come up with a more ele­gant so­lu­tion. In 1992, Lady Sarah Gra­hamMoon be­came fa­mous for giv­ing her cheat­ing hus­band’s bot­tles of vin­tage wine to their neigh­bours, and for snip­ping the cuffs off his Sav­ile Row suits. Aban­doned wives ev­ery­where cheered her on. If you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced the pain of be­ing jilted, it’s easy to em­pathise. Psy­chol­o­gists will have to try a bit harder if they se­ri­ously want to per­suade peo­ple that it’s bet­ter to let a vil­lain slip away.

If you don’t strike back, you are left with the ques­tion of what to do in­stead. If there’s a se­ri­ous risk of un­ex­pressed anger turn­ing in on it­self, is it really fair to ad­vise peo­ple not to act on their venge­ful im­pulses? In­ter­nalised anger can lead to

Tellingly, the word re­venge has

its ori­gins in the Latin ‘vin­di­care’, mean­ing ‘to lay claim to’, in­di­cat­ing

pos­ses­sive­ness

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