Stoic advice on overcoming anger

In the last couple of weeks I’ve  read a few books on nonviolence communication and  conflict management (How To Be Your Own Bodyguard; Verbal Judo (re-read); and How to Survive Aggressive People).    Tonight, in a similar vein,  I encountered a post from Medium.com that recapped reflections from Stoic authors on how to address anger — that most crippling of human emotions, which leads to the ruin of relationships and nations alike.  Medium  isn’t merely recycling one-liners from the books, either, as one of their contributing authors (Donald Robertson, How To Think Like a Roman Emperor) is a practicing Stoic who  has also done more formal work on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which has stoic links.   The entire article is worth reading, but I wanted to share a couple of them which are especially salient, or which are not often enough expressed.   Medium has a more extensive article available here.

1.Recognize it is your opinion that is making you angry.

We often think it is the other person’s action that is making us angry. But, in fact, it is our opinion of their actions that is making us angry. Suppose someone calls you an idiot. Instead of becoming angry you can just ignore him: “After all it is his opinion. I am not an idiot because he thinks I am one. If he thinks I am an elephant I am not going to be an elephant and I am not going to be upset. Why should I get upset because he thinks I am an idiot?” If you are angry because you are stood up, remember it is your opinion that you should not be stood up that’s making you angry. You can get rid of your anger simply by changing your mind about things — ”It’s no big deal if I am stood up”.

2. Recognize anger has consequences.

The first flush of anger feels good. When we vent our anger, we feel elated and righteous. But what we fail to recognize is that anger has consequences. It can damage our reputation. But our anger can have legal, moral or material consequences. Before you express your anger, take a moment to understand the consequences of expressing it.

11.Recognize that you have the power to endure.
We get angry because we can’t ‘stand it anymore’. But you have the resources to cope with the situation without getting angry. Think of your internal resources such as endurance and patience. Use them. You don’t have to act helpless and be pushed around either by what others have done or by your own anger.

16. Develop a contrary habit.

Anger can become a habit. Once you are angry it gets easier to get angry the next time. How do you get out of the habit of anger (or avoid it becoming a habit)? Epictetus has some good advice here: Develop a contrary habit. For example, laughter is a contrary habit because you cannot laugh and be angry at the same time. So, whenever you are angry, find something funny in the situation and smile about it. Or you can simply laugh at your own self-importance expressed as anger.

 

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Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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7 Responses to Stoic advice on overcoming anger

  1. Mudpuddle says:

    good advice… i’ve found also, that anger and fear are very much related: people tend to become aggressive and pushy when they’re scared…

  2. Marian says:

    I appreciate the distinction Seneca makes between “emotions” and “passions” (article 2). Recognizing the choice we have between our initial feelings and our subsequent actions is a small window of opportunity to prevent disaster.

    #16 is good advice… I would just add the contrary habit must be positive. I spent some very confused years thinking it was a good idea to channel anger into sadness. It “worked” in that I remained calm, but it was extremely unhealthy and only slightly less harmful. My new contrary habit is stepping away from the situation/person immediately (if possible) and releasing the stress by journalling, taking a walk, etc. It takes longer to bounce back, but it’s a better solution in the long run.

    • Good call on the latter. One of the reasons I’ve been reading a lot of this material is because there’s a potentially violent schizophrenic who frequently comes into the library, who has a particular animus for me. I’ve trained myself when I see him to breath deliberately to counteract adrenaline (A 4-count intake, hold, 4-count release.). There’s always this war of instincts in me, like a Viking and a monk debating who should be in charge.

  3. Mudpuddle says:

    that’s awful… maybe one of those shock-buzzer gadgets? or a 45 magnum colt? maybe he’s that way to everyone? want me to come down and take of him?

    • @Marian The central police department is just a block away, and we’re literally next door to City Hall, so they’re usually here within 4 minutes, I’d say. I think if he attacked me, my size (6 ft even) and age would work for me.

      @Mudpuddle: The particular instigator is often arrested for assault, intoxication, etc, so he’s fairly obnoxious. When he’s going on one of his conspiratorial rants, however, there’s usually an enraptured audience. Some people just don’t have very active BSmeters, I suppose.

  4. Brian Joseph says:

    Some really good advice. Though I am in no way violently or hyper angry. Too many little things get me annoyed. Interestingly I think that it takes some self discipline to avoid the thoughts and actions that exacerbate this.

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