Responding like a stoic…
Is anger a good thing or a bad thing? Anger, when first recognized, is actually just simply a warning. A signal from your amygdala blasting throughout your brain, sounding an alarm via chemicals, that warns your body that something is not right. Message received as, “there is a present threat and there is a possibility to fight, flight, or freeze.” Anger can therefore be seen as a natural response to external stimuli. It is a response that was designed in humans to help protect us in perceived dangerous situations. After reading what Seneca wrote on Anger, I concluded that he deduced that anger wasn’t natural, that reasoning was natural. The truth is, it requires more brain function to engage the logical areas of the brain. Leaving me to believe, emotion is more natural than thought.
The emotional response happens automatically. This emotional part of our brains (amygdala) is so much more developed than the logical part of our brain, which is known as the prefrontal cortex. The emotional part of our brain has kept us alive, reacting to the world without much thought to consequences, other than one that is primal, “Stay alive!” While this much developed area of my brain has kept me alive, it has also assumed for far too long that it is in charge. I have now learned that the prefrontal cortex can be trained/stimulated so that it can show the amygdala whose boss. Seneca was then saying that allowing our emotional brain to just run rampant in our lives wouldn’t be natural. The natural thing, the “good thing” is to have what we call In DBT, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, your wise mind always aware of what your amygdala and prefrontal cortex are doing. After studying stoicism and understanding that Cognitive Behavior Therapy was designed using stoicism. I can see how it’s philosophy is also helpful in The therapy I am currently receiving now. That this higher order thinking, being cognitively aware is the practice of stoicism. “through Stoic training, Aurelius was able to master his perceptions and see each obstacle as an opportunity to improve”(dailystoic.com) mastering our perceptions, added with the knowledge of how our minds naturally respond will help most manage anger.
You can find some exercises for the prefrontal cortex below…
If you have read any of my previous posts or know anything of Borderline Personality Disorder, becoming a stoic is changing the natural way in which my BPD brain will more than likely over respond to the difficult to digest external stimuli. Like black is to white, BPD is to stoicism. The way in which one chooses to respond to this automatic alarm system is what I believe answers our question today. When anger is triggered inside the mind, it is neither good nor bad. It is not decided until we respond.
Anger, shows duality, with the possibility of being both good and bad. Stoics believe that there is no good with anger. They were told to see that there is no good, because of all the “evil” it created. They want every stoic to believe that there is no good to be found in anger. I see the justifications of their message. A calm and sound mind, not writhing with “passions” can be controlled. One drowning in anger or other “passions” cannot. So then, if looking at it from this perspective, serenity isn’t the final goal, but rather control. Or does control get us to the place of serenity? I have had moments, in which I have given into passions of anger and it has kept me alive. So isn’t it necessary to be alive in order to be serene? Can we have one without the other?
I absolutely want to be a stoic sage someday, using this higher-order thinking to get through the most complicated of situations with clarity and peace of mind… I’m left perplexed at this particular question. While I understand what the stoic philosophers were trying to convey to their followers in those times, teaching people to seek serenity. Being calm and collected leads to logical thinking and sound decisions. I have also experienced anger on several levels. Ultimately, anger has ensured my existence during some pretty tough times. More recently, I find that I am just angry at myself and my mistakes and this anger has propelled me to find better ways to manage myself, my disorder, and my life. Has it been pretty? No, fighting my way to this point hasn’t been pretty. I feel that’s why we are all built in this way. There is no way to determine which human will be placed in prime conditions and which will be placed in tough conditions. The emotional tools we are equipped with may not be dispersed equally, but we were all equipped with the ability to learn. I choose now as I am on the verge of entering my forties, to learn this higher order thinking. Working a portion of the brain more and more, so that my logical mind becomes stronger every day. My ultimate goal being serenity in this deeply maddening world.
I had a discussion with my students the other day about anger. One student said, “as a kid, my counselor told me not to show my anger, but to keep my anger to myself.” I felt that wasn’t a very healthy way to teach a young person to deal with such an intense emotion. I asked him, “How has that advice worked out for you?” My student responded with, “I’m still trying to find a useful method to control my anger.”
I then asked, “what if we started looking at anger differently?” A lot of puzzled stares looking back at me. I then said, “what if we started looking at the positive ways in which anger can be of use to us? Can anger be of use to us? Can we manage it? Or do we let that emotion manage us?”
What if we started looking at the positive ways in which anger can be of use to us?
What are positive ways anger has helped you?
Can anger be of use to us?
Can we manage anger, or do we let anger manage us?
Emotions indicate so many things for an individual, learning to understand our emotions and why we choose to respond in certain ways, increases not only our emotional intelligence but the control we possess over ourselves. Why then should anyone just ignore this emotion, anger? Especially, when anger is often the first emotion we go to when life gets confusing, or when we are afraid, when we feel threatened or rejected.
“Anger is temporary madness: the Stoics knew how to curb it” By: Massimo Pigliucci, here he states 10 ways to curb anger! Maybe one of these can help…
- Engage in preemptive meditation: think about what situations trigger your anger, and decide ahead of time how to deal with them.
- Check anger as soon as you feel its symptoms. Don’t wait, or it will get out of control.
- Associate with serene people, as much as possible; avoid irritable or angry ones. Moods are infective.
- Play a musical instrument, or purposefully engage in whatever activity relaxes your mind. A relaxed mind does not get angry.
- Seek environments with pleasing, not irritating, colours. Manipulating external circumstances actually has an effect on our moods.
- Don’t engage in discussions when you are tired, you will be more prone to irritation, which can then escalate into anger.
- Don’t start discussions when you are thirsty or hungry, for the same reason.
- Deploy self-deprecating humour, our main weapon against the unpredictability of the Universe, and the predictable nastiness of some of our fellow human beings.
- Practice cognitive distancing – what Seneca calls ‘delaying’ your response – by going for a walk, or retire to the bathroom, anything that will allow you a breather from a tense situation.
- Change your body to change your mind: deliberately slow down your steps, lower the tone of your voice, impose on your body the demeanour of a calm person.
My Conclusion: I thought about anger for an entire week. Oddly enough it kept me from getting angry. While I may not have answered the question for everyone here, my answer is… Anger, like all other emotions is necessary. It is neither a good or bad thing. To let it get out of control is bad. To see what it can do for us when we need it to survive, is good.
Have a great day! The end! 🙂
A game that could help improve logic… Chess
**Wanted to include a huge thanks to @dailystoic and @stoiccoffeebreak for wonderful podcasts! Thanks for stirring good thoughts and inspiring and motivating me to change the things I can control. Check out their podcasts if you are learning on the stoic philosophy.