Sit back and think about this - how do you cope with anger? Do you let is slowly consume you? Do you sit with anger until your emotions boil over? Do you swallow your pride and admit you’re feeling anger? There are countless ways we all approach and deal with our anger, but we should look to the stoics for guidance as their anger management techniques can still be utilized today.
Anger is tricky. Especially today. We’ll look at our phones in the morning and will sometimes roll out of bed angry. Technology has changed since the times of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, sure, but emotions haven’t.
Dealing with anger was one of the most important and perplexing questions addressed by ancient Stoicism. On Anger, written by Seneca, describes Stoic self-help using psychological therapy techniques for overcoming anger. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius also encourages applying Stoic practices to anger.
Aurelius provides ten distinct strategies for overcoming anger. It is later revealed he learned these from his Stoic teachers.
We return to these ten gifts from Apollo and his Muses throughout The Meditations. Aurelius describes how he gently encourages other angry people to think the same way.
An unhealthy passion such as anger actually does us more harm than the things we’re upset about. How often have you imagined an entire scenario, that didn’t play out, only to leave you breathless and shaken but what you should have said.
During one part of Meditations, Aurelius writes, “we were born for something other than this.” Though easy to overlook, Aurelius alludes to a very important Stoic teaching.
Book Two opens with one of the text’s most loved and widely-quoted passages:
Say to yourself at the start of the day, I shall meet with meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people. They are subject to all these defects because they have no knowledge of good and bad. But I, who have observed the nature of the good, and seen that it is the right; and of the bad, and seen that it is the wrong; and of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that his nature is akin to my own—not because he is of the same blood and seed, but because he shares as I do in mind and thus in a portion of the divine—I, then, can neither be harmed by these people, nor become angry with one who is akin to me, nor can I hate him, for we have come into being to work together, like feet, hands, eyelids, or the two rows of teeth in our upper and lower jaws. To work against one another is therefore contrary to nature; and to be angry with another person and turn away from him is surely to work against him. (Meditations, 2.1)
Notice here he says he cannot be harmed by those who are angry with or even betray him. He cannot be angry with someone he views as his own kin, as long as he bears in mind the Stoic principle that Nature intended them to work together.
Nature designed humans to work in harmony. Two eyes, two hands, two feet - all working in unison towards one common goal - survival. We cannot survive if we don’t work together, much like our own features.
In the stoics eyes, humans are naturally both rational and social animals. Because of this, they conclude, we have a duty to reason well and live harmoniously with one another. We shouldn’t live by a hate-for-hate mantra. The wise are unfazed by insults or attacks and deals respectfully with others, regardless of circumstances.
All humans have potential for such social virtues as justice, kindness, and fairness. If we want to survive, we need some degree of friendship and social virtue with one another.
The list of ten strategies Marcus provides are summarized below:
Humans are naturally designed to help each other.
Put character first.
Wrong is rarely done willingly.
No one - not even yourself - is perfect.
Always be weary of someones motivations.
Memento Mori - Remember, you will die.
Our own judgements oftentimes are the enemy.
Anger hurts us more than who we’re angry towards.
Kindness counteracts anger. Tap into this natural ability.
You’ll drive yourself crazy hoping for perfect.