“You Oughta Know”: How Breakup Anger Can Heal

Everybody called it the perfect revenge song, but that’s not what it was. It’s a devastated song, and in order to pull out of that despondency, being angry is lovely. I think the movement of anger can pull us out of things. Alanis Morissette, regarding “You Oughta Know,” Song Facts

The phenomenal new musical “Jagged Little Pill” recently ended its run at American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If there’s any justice in this world, it will someday head to Broadway so more people get to see it. And see it again. It’s that kind of superior production. [Update 2019: I got my wish. It’s on Broadway now.]

Jagged Little Pill” is also the name of Alanis Morissette‘s beloved 1995 album that provides most of  the play’s music. Angsty powerhouse song “You Oughta Know,” in the middle of the second and final Act, has repeatedly led to long standing ovations, no minor feat.

What is it about “You Oughta Know” that feels so universally empowering? It starts with this declaration from a recently spurned lover:

I want you to know, that I am happy for you
I wish nothing but the best for you both…

Whereas in the original song she’s addressing her cheating ex, a guy (“Mr. Duplicity”), in the play the offender is another female. Does the rejected one really wish the new couple well?  Of course not. Perhaps nothing hurts more in such a process than your ex having someone new. An excerpt:

…And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me
You’d hold me until you died
‘Til you died, but you’re still alive

You promised “Forever” and now, if you’re not actually still with me—and are with someone else—you should be toast.

And I’m here, to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It’s not fair, to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know

I’m in tons of pain and you need to see it. Hear it. Feel it.

You seem very well, things look peaceful
I’m not quite as well, I thought you should know…

Why aren’t You hurting too?

And on it goes. (For full lyrics, go to this link.)

In the play, the relationship killer is put in a position in which she absolutely must hear out this confrontation. No escape. About as satisfying as the rejected can hope for.

Regarding anger as a stage of grief following a breakup, Suzanne Lachmann, PsyD (Psychology Today) aptly states:

Initially, you may not be able to connect with feelings of anger. Breaking up plummets you into the unknown, which can evoke immobilizing fear and dread. Fear, at that point, trumps anger. Therefore, when anger sets in, it’s because you have let go of some of your fear, at least temporarily. When you’re able to access anger, the experience can actually be empowering—because at the very least there are shades of remembering you matter too, of feeling justified in realizing that you deserve more from a relationship. Depending on your specific temperament, life, and family experiences, as well as your unique breakup, your anger may be directed at your partner, the situation, or yourself. The good news is that your anger, no matter where it’s directed, is meant to empower you, whether you choose to see it that way or not. When anger becomes accessible to you, it can provide direction and create a feeling of aliveness in a world that’s become deadened by loss. It can also remind you that you deserve more…

The music video by Morissette (including some NSFW lyrics):

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