Stoic’s Guide to Anger

Can anger be controlled? Should it? Is it really temporary madness?

Here is a Stoic’s Guide to Anger, written by Massimo Pigliucci, Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York and published an article in Aeon worth a read. In it, Dr. Pigliucci features Seneca and his treatise On Anger, which may be one of the oldest treatises on anger in Western antiquity.

Seneca held that there was no such thing as moderate anger. Anger is, instead, denounced as a temporary madness whose intensity is not limited by its cause. Anger “rises to the greatest heights from the most trivial beginnings.” Seneca applied this characterization to all anger, even what we might call moral outrage.

Pigliucci’s article, titled Anger Is Temporary Madness: The Stoics Knew How to Curb It, is about how to control anger and gives ten basic principles for doing so. It’s worth a look. (And don’t miss the snarling raccoon.)

This article left me feeling discomforted (notice I didn’t say angry) because of all the good I’ve seen anger, when acknowledged and examined, accomplish in the lives of survivors of abuse. Anger as fuel for therapy. As motivation to make scary changes. As a sign of new-found self-respect in abusive settings–but also as a sign to leave. As an alarm for personal boundaries that are not second nature–but also as a sign to remove self or change the dynamic. As inspiration for creativity–but not as a license to follow some great writers into death by alcohol, addiction, or delusion.

Upon reflection, I had to admit that there’s the down side of anger. Seneca has a point, and I won’t hold him accountable for how his student, Nero, is proof that not everyone can benefit from a stoic’s approach to anger management.

However, I see how anger can consume our best energies. It can turn back on ourselves as self-harm that follows abuse. It can be the kernel in depression. Worst of all, it can move from being a feeling to being an identity. Anger can become a dead end. And, that’s not productive either.

Anyone grappling with anger, or a hot temper, or depression linked to unprocessed fury, may find this Stoic’s Guide offers new ways to reduce triggers for rage–and to accept a defining role in how you choose to live each day. Even if you’re fueling your recovery and your artwork with angry energy, this article and the author’s books may be the perfect resource.

And, there’s more. Massimo Pigliucci is the K D Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living (2017) and A Handbook for New Stoics: How to Thrive in a World Out of Your Control (2019), co-authored with Gregory Lopez. He has a new book for how to choosing your personal philosophy to live the best life possible.

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