Is your anger and your temper hijacking your life? We can help you get anger under control and express your feelings in healthier ways.
Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.
Anger can be a good thing. It can give you a way to express negative feelings, for example, or motivate you to find solutions to problems.
But excessive anger can cause problems.
Anger can take control of our lives if left unrestrained. The intense emotion often leads to regrettable words and actions that make situations worse instead of better.
Uncontrolled anger harms relationships and takes a toll on our health and happiness.
Fortunately, the ancient philosophy of Stoicism provides timeless wisdom on managing anger effectively.
Following the techniques below, you can substantially reduce irritation and cultivate tranquility.
The Stoic View Of Anger
The Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome saw anger as an unhealthy passion against reason.
They believed anger arises from mistaken judgments and unrealistic expectations about the world and other people.
To control anger, the Stoics advocated correcting these false judgments through logic and adopting an attitude of calm acceptance.
Stoics saw anger as a pointless, destructive emotion. They believed anger serves no good purpose, leading people to act irrationally and often making situations worse.
According to the Stoics, the ideal state of mind is tranquility – being clear-headed and unperturbed by emotional turmoil.
As Seneca stated, “No plague has cost the human race more dear than anger.”
The Stoics saw anger as an irrational disease of the mind that we must master through reason and self-control.
How To Challenge Your Judgments
Much anger comes from our subjective judgments and opinions rather than objective facts.
When you find yourself getting angry about something, take a step back.
Analyze the situation rationally rather than emotionally.
- Is this judgment accurate, or am I exaggerating?
- Is this situation truly bad or only different from what I wanted?
- Is the other person acting with ill intent, or are they just ignorant?
Challenging your judgments in this way can prevent anger from taking hold.
The Stoics practiced continuously analyzing their impressions to ensure they aligned with truth rather than knee-jerk reactions.
Example: Your coworker fails to invite you to an important meeting.
You initially judge that they sabotaged you intentionally. But upon reflection, you consider they may have just forgotten or not realized you needed to be there.
Separate Desires From What You Control
Another source of anger is the frustrated desire for something to be different than it is. The Stoic insight is that you only control your judgments and actions – not external events and other people. When you mentally separate what is in your control from what is not, anger has no room to operate.
The next time you start feeling angry, ask yourself if you want something you influence over.
If not, try to accept the situation as it is – while focusing on what you can control.
Example: You are stuck in traffic and getting increasingly frustrated.
Rather than raging uselessly against the traffic, accept you cannot control it. Focus instead on controlling your response – breathing deeply and listening to calm music.
Change Your Desires, Not The World
Closely related to the above, Seneca advised:
“Man is bothered by nothing so much as by searching for someone to blame, and he finds fault as if he thought it necessary that someone should be at fault. We get angry because our illusions about the world do not match reality. Rather than get angry, it is wiser to adjust your desires to accept whatever happens.”
The healthiest approach is to want only what you have and what is within your power.
Practice seeing events as indifferent – neither good nor evil by nature. You will then accept situations as they arise with equanimity.
Example: Your partner fails to do the chores you wanted them to do.
Rather than get angry and try to force them to change, accept their nature and adjust your desires for what they will and won’t do.
Watch Your Judgments About Others
Anger often flares up because we judge that someone else has purposefully done something to harm us.
But in most cases, the other person is not intrinsically evil or acting out of ill intent.
They are likely just ignorant or mistaken in some way.
Catch yourself when judging others’ character and attributing negative motives to their actions.
Remind yourself that they are fellow human beings stumbling through life like the rest of us. Withholding judgment will help dissolve anger.
Example: A driver cuts you off aggressively on the highway. It’s easy to assume they are a terrible person.
But for all you know, they could be rushing to see a dying relative. Withhold negative judgments.
Master Your Emotional Response
When anger builds, it often creates a physiological response – increased heart rate, tightened muscles, and rapid breathing.
Left unchecked, this response propels rash words and actions.
The Stoics advise mastering your physical reaction using these techniques:
- Take slow, deep breaths to calm your body and mind. Count to 10 with each breath.
- Relax your muscles, unclench your jaw, and loosen your posture.
- Visualize your anger melting away or yourself resting peacefully.
Doing this won’t make the cause of your anger disappear. But it will ensure a thoughtful rather than heated reaction.
For example, stop and take ten slow deep breaths during a heated argument with your partner. Feel the tension release from your body as your anger dissipates.
Speak Slowly And Gently
When sharing anger-provoking opinions with someone, avoid hurtful language and fiery criticism. Speak slowly, calmly, and use measured words. Even if the other person is being unreasonable, stay grounded in reason. Your gentle demeanor will help defuse the situation.
The Stoics called this technique apatheia – maintaining an even keel amid the turmoil. Pausing and speaking gently prevents anger from escalating to rage. It also models the productive communication you want from others.
Example: Your employee made a severe mistake. Rather than angrily call them incompetent, calmly but firmly explain the problem and how to rectify it. Your composure makes resolution more likely.
Case Study: Using Stoicism To Overcome Anger Issues
John was struggling to control feelings of anger that were disrupting his relationships and work life. Minor frustrations would trigger raging outbursts. These anger issues strained his marriage and made colleagues uncomfortable working with him.
After learning about Stoic philosophy, John started applying its principles to manage anger. Whenever anger flares up, he pauses to examine his judgments about the situation. He asked himself if he was overreacting or making unfair assumptions. This helped him gain perspective.
John also focused on only desires within his control – his work ethos and care for his wife.
He accepted that lousy traffic, incompetent coworkers, and unruly children were simply facts of life to endure calmly.
Over time and with practice, John found these Stoic techniques extinguished his anger almost immediately. His wife felt relieved, and colleagues noticed his new air of tranquility.
By mastering rather than repressing his anger, John improved all facets of his life.
Unchecked anger and rage lead to countless ruined relationships, careers, and well-being. But the Stoic philosophers recognized anger as a useless, destructive vice well over 2000 years ago.
Using their timeless wisdom, we can control anger by correcting faulty judgments, focusing on our desires, accepting externals, withholding judgment about others, and mastering our emotional reactions.