Little bird being angry on a stick
Photo by David Knox on Unsplash

How to control anger? Can Stoicism help us? To examine this we need to look into what it is. How often do you get angry? And what are the triggers that get you into that emotional state? How do you feel when you are angry and when you finally calmed down, how do you judge yourself? It is time to address this ugly side of us because it can be seen everywhere and we should avoid it. Anger blinds us to what would be the just and rational action to take. If we wish to live a virtuous and peaceful life, as the Stoics strive to, then we should avoid anger. 

“But since the first essential is not to become angry, the second to cease being angry, and the third to cure also anger in others.”

Seneca – On Anger, 5

We will take the quote from Seneca as a guide on how to control anger. First, we will examine how we can prevent or at least limit our exposure to this dark side of emotions. After that some steps we can take if we do find that we have become agitated. And finally, how we can show others not to be so angry. One way for me is to write this post to share my views on it. I would recommend reading Seneca’s essay On Anger. I have no intention whatsoever to start comparing myself to his masterwork. This can be seen as a shorter practical guide.

Living in peace and being angry don’t match

In his essay On Anger, Seneca refutes Aristotle’s claim that we shouldn’t eliminate this emotion. It is the drive towards virtue. Aristotle’s claim is that without anger the mind becomes lazy, cannot defend itself, and becomes

“indifferent to great endeavors.”

Seneca references to aristotle, on anger, 3

Seneca asks the following: 

“So, tell me, will someone call a man sane who, as if caught up in a tempest, does not walk but is driven along, and takes as his master a furious demon…?”

seneca, on anger, 3

He points out that this is not something that can help us lead a virtuous life as 

“it makes havoc of the resolutions essential to virtue achieving anything.” 

seneca, on anger, 3

Living in peace and being angry don’t match, we must thus try to control it as much as we can. You can read more about what we can control in my post about this topic, here.

We must prevent it at all costs

There are many situations throughout the day that can put us in a state where our blood can be put to a boil. These events can be the trigger, but at the end of the day, we allow ourselves to become angry. It is a decision, although it doesn’t always feel that way. There are enough frustrating people around us that seem to rub us the wrong way without even trying. Yet, we can deal with them and we can prepare ourselves for those situations. It’s time to remove the triggers.

How to control such an aggressive emotion as anger? It is not like the other emotions. This one can overtake us in a violent impulse and it does us more harm than any other. There is a difference between standing up for yourself and being angry. And we can be far more effective in the first if we can cut the latter. We lose much more because of it. Who has ever said they were proud of becoming angry or that they felt good about being in that state? Then we must prevent it at all costs if we wish to lead a peaceful life. But how can we get there?

When the tempest starts, we must pause ourselves

We start by looking at ourselves, if we look deep enough then we will find some answers. We are able to see some patterns emerging from the moments our hearts went up a few beats. If you see that certain environments induce this rage more often, then it is better to avoid them. But if you prepare yourself you can take the sting out of them. You could for example visualize these moments from a calmer state of mind and use your rationale to find different ways of reacting. It is better to walk away or to try to listen to the other person and understand their point of view. There might be hundreds of other solutions, but by reflecting on them from afar they can become clearer.

When the tempest starts and we notice it coming, we must pause ourselves. Focusing on your breath could be one solution to help you from outbursts when you are almost ready to pop. Learn to focus on your breath when you notice that you might lose control. Take deep steady breaths and use that time to assess the place you are in. Think back to the options you have seen. It is important to defuse that first reaction. When the steam is building and you can still find a way to release the pressure, open the valve. Breathe in and out, take your time and think about what you should do.

How to control anger in others

Calming picture of a cup of coffee and a book on the waterside.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It is up to you to find the right method for you. This is one example, but maybe you need to be more active to release the excess energy. Or you need to find more peace from within. Trial and error will get you there. You need to be ready for it and see whether it is something you should address. There are different levels of anger and how one expresses them, but they all have the same effect on us. We lose our calm and even worst ourselves.

Now that we have seen some ways to reduce or even prevent anger from taking over our lives, we must look at how to control anger others, or at least reduce it. As human beings, we are part of society. In our small circle or as cosmopolitans and citizens of the world, we have our duties to perform. One of them is to help others live a better life. This can be done in small or big ways, but we first must do it ourselves. Once we do, we can achieve one step toward reducing anger in those around us by setting the right example.

It is easy to underestimate the power of a good example. It feels like you aren’t doing anything because the behavior is normal to you. Or at least it should be. It doesn’t show a direct impact. Yet, it can have a longer-lasting and deeper result than giving a lecture. People don’t like to be told what to do or what not to do. Show, don’t tell.

What about anger towards us?

Black-grey cat with angry eyes.
Photo by River Fx on Unsplash

What do we do if we find someone who is angry? Our good example won’t be seen by eyes so inflamed by rage. The best way to treat inflammation is by rest and with some soothing balm. But first, we must protect ourselves from their rage. Anger can be like a virus and spread. We must make sure it won’t jump over to us. Examine the situation and look for the source of their rage. Try to move them away from this spark and take away the fuel.

But what about anger towards us? How should we act then? We can take similar steps as before. Examine the source. This person can be right in his views but chooses to express them in a tormented way. We can then, instead of being attacked, take the sting away by reasoning their position. If they are wrong or at least not within our possibilities of satisfying their demands, then we are best to let them ride the fumes of their explosive behavior. Insults shouldn’t harm us unless we allow them to. As Marcus Aurelius teaches us in his Meditations: 

“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.7

If we do feel harmed by the anger, by their words or actions. How should we proceed then? Again, we can turn to Marcus Aurelius for advice.

“The best revenge is not to be like that.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.6

Final words from a Stoic

How to control Anger Through Stoicism. "Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of passion and yet full of love." Marcus Aurelius
Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

It is in our power to be the better person. If we feel that we must retaliate, then we are adopting some of their anger. Which brings us down to their level and takes away our peace and removes us from the virtuous path.

We have now seen what anger is and what it can do to us and those around us. Look at the situations that make you angry. These will help us learn how to control anger. It could be a lack of nutrition or sleep, then address this. Or could it be a stressful situation or some continuous frustration? It is up to you to look into the causes and reduce them. If you do find yourself in a state of anger and you manage to see it at the moment. This is difficult with an aggressive emotion like anger because it shuts down the rational side of our minds. But if you do see it or feel it coming up, then take a pause and step back.

There are ways to deal with this, it is up to us to acknowledge that we can do something about it. What are your ways of dealing with anger? Have you managed to control it or does it still take over? Let’s leave this topic with some words of wisdom from our Stoic Emperor. This is what Sextus taught him:

“Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of passion and yet full of love.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.9
How to Control Anger Through Stoicism
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21 thoughts on “How to Control Anger Through Stoicism

  • 16 July 2022 at 13:57
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    Dealing with anger is not good and I had some issues dealing with it. This is an interesting read.

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    • 18 July 2022 at 18:55
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      Thank you for your comment, Fransic, and happy to know that you found it interesting.

      Reply
  • 16 July 2022 at 14:36
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    I didn’t know I needed to read this 😅 It’s a sensitive topic and something I question myself a lot. I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle between Aristotles and Seneca, not ready yet to settle the argument. I grew up surrounded by high levels of anger, I feel very overwhelmed when I sense that energy around me, and I made my vow not to display anger myself. That vow wasn’t smartly set up though because instead of displaying it, I turned it against me. I get angry a lot with and at myself as a way to not be angry with others or show it. It’s automatic, and although I let anger come up in passive ways at times, it does me more harm than good. It’s no wonder my body fights against itself, I taught it that way, and it’s no wonder I match up with abusive people. I’m slowly embracing a different way of dealing with myself. I dropped fifty pounds already from reading this and connecting the dots. Now it’s up to me to find a way that works better for me as you said. Thanks, Benny! It’s a very enlightening post.

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    • 18 July 2022 at 18:55
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      Thank you for sharing that, Vanessa. We have to acknowledge that anger is a part of us and then examine when and how we do become angry. That’s the moment where we can choose to deal with it in a more positive way. And I can fully understand that you are somewhere between Aristotle and Seneca. It’s about finding our own way of dealing with it, as you highlight. Great to hear your views. Thanks

      Reply
  • 16 July 2022 at 19:00
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    I’ve held a lot of anger since my husband became ill (not at him but at the healthcare system and all extra difficulties this put us in) and it has been so great to finally be in a place where I can process (and release) it properly; in a way that is healthy and healing. This was an interesting read; very eye-opening!

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    • 18 July 2022 at 18:52
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      Dear Molly, I’m sorry to hear about your husband. It’s great to hear that you manage to put these emotions to use and guide them to the proper destination. It’s also interesting to hear that you found it to have a healing effect. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  • 16 July 2022 at 20:06
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    I find myself thinking often when I am about to get angry what the outcome would be.

    When I was 7 years old, I saw my aunt get angry once; the only time I think I ever saw her get angry. It was a storm and she tore the house apart and everyone was a target. That was the only and last time because her anger was so reckless that it lead to an fractured relationship with another family member from that day.

    That was a harsh lesson for her and we all saw it. For me, that was a lesson that maybe at the time I didn’t get, but one that stayed with me. Anger serves only one purpose for me since then, in sports, all that I had pent up flashes through my mind and I use it as fuel.

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    • 18 July 2022 at 18:51
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      Thanks for sharing that story, Tate. The results of anger can be very destructive and those results can last a long time. It is always good to find an outlet and have a positive way to let that energy out.

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  • 16 July 2022 at 20:47
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    This was a really interesting read! I think learning to control our anger and not take it out on others is so important. I really like the comparison of it spreading like a disease – that’s so true! Thank you so much for sharing.

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    • 18 July 2022 at 18:49
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      Thank you for your comment. You highlight a point from my post that I feel strongly about. It is better not to take it out on others, because the only thing you’ll spread is not constructive for society.

      Reply
  • 17 July 2022 at 13:54
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    Such an interesting read Benny. I like your suggestions on using the breath to calm emotions before it gets to the point of no control. This is difficult to do, but I think once you become aware of your emotions you can get a hold of them a bit better. Anger is often a result of anxiety, which is something I’ve had to deal with most of my life. I’m very familiar with anger! But I don’t feel it as much these days because I’m trying to take steps to be a happier person. Affirmations, journaling, yoga and meditation and breathing help me with this. Thanks for sharing.

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  • 17 July 2022 at 15:59
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    Such a great post,
    It is in our power to be the better person. If we feel that we must retaliate, then we are adopting some of their anger.
    Are the words I will remember this week when I feel I am being pushed to come out of character 🙃

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    • 18 July 2022 at 18:48
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      Thank you for your lovely comment, Rea. It is great to read that you can use parts of my post and that you’ll use them during the week. I hope it helps.

      Reply
  • 17 July 2022 at 18:06
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    This was a very interesting read! I live with CPTSD and it can be difficult to control outbursts. It’s good to know what your triggers are and take a pause. Good advice!

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    • 18 July 2022 at 18:46
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      Thank you, Julian, for your reply. It’s great to learn that knowing your triggers and taking a pause is something that works for you. As it does for me.

      Reply
  • 18 July 2022 at 15:32
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    There’s an assumption that anger is a negative emotion, but it’s not. All our emotions serve a purpose, otherwise we wouldn’t have them. When it comes to anger, this can be the motivator to take action over injustices, such as saying Black Lives Matter and doing coordinated protests.

    It can also be the moment when you stop being a doormat and stand up for yourself, motivating you to take action to change your situation. For me, anger can be the motivation I need to tackle complaints and issues I actively avoid because my mental health is too poor to deal with it.

    It’s not anger that’s the problem, it’s how you manage that anger and how you make that anger work for positive means. Anger is within everyone’s control (excusing some psychological and physical conditions, such as brain damage), and those who refuse to control it, are making a choice not to. It’s this choice of not controlling anger that is societies problem, not anger itself

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    • 18 July 2022 at 18:44
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      Thank you for your comment. You make really valuable points and I understand the angle you take here.
      Especially when you say that it is our choice to try to control anger and that it is within everyone’s control.
      As I mentioned in my post, we can try to prevent it as much as we can once we realize our triggers. And when we do feel angry we can take a pause to let it reduce in strength.
      This doesn’t mean that we should fight injustice, which I completely agree with. But we shouldn’t need anger to do so. It should be our duty as members of a society to tackle these issues. Anger is definitely a part of us, but I believe that it isn’t a productive emotion. It overtakes the rational mind and could even harm the causes we fight for.
      Being assertive and standing up for yourself is something different from being angry.
      Anger is usually quite violent and its results can be destructive.
      I think I do understand what you mean with the anger you’re talking about. That it’s long-term and driven by injustice or a certain passion regarding topics a person feels strongly about. But in my idea, that’s different from anger. More related to fighting for justice and doing your duty.
      But action out of pure anger is not the best starting point. It will bring the same emotion to the message and can cross over to the listener. Thus distracting from the real point.
      I always appreciate and fully respect your views. It makes me think and keeps me sharp. And I do believe your views are completely valid.
      Thank you.

      Reply
  • 19 July 2022 at 04:16
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    Anger is such a big emotion as you said. It has a way of taking over your mind and wreaking havoc in your life. I don’t think being angry is useful because it has only ever led to sorrow, but I do think it is important to recognise what our anger is telling us. When you get triggered and feel the anger start to rise, listen to what it is saying and then find a way to honour that need in a healthier way. More often than not, we experience anger when some goal of ours is being blocked, think of children throwing tantrums when they don’t get what they want. Knowing this can allow you to pause, breathe and find a way to remove the block in a logical, more constructive way.

    I’m still learning to control my anger and find better ways to deal with blocked goals.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • 19 July 2022 at 11:43
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      Thank you for sharing your views and I really appreciate them. You add an interesting reason for anger by mentioning the blocked goals. Understanding these things and yourself will help you better deal with these emotions.

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  • 27 July 2022 at 22:04
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    “It is in our power to be the better person. If we feel that we must retaliate, then we are adopting some of their anger. ”

    This is a powerful statement. There are some people in my circle who are always angry and I didn’t use to notice that while being with them I did adopt some of that. It took my better half to actually realize it myself – he said that I changed and was a different person around them. Of course, my first reaction was to deny and reject, but I next time I did feel it – something changing inside of me and it took a while to understand what and how to prevent it.

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    • 6 August 2022 at 16:47
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      I recognize myself completely in the situation you described. It takes time and some reflection to see how those situations change us. But then we can grow and as you say, prevent it. Thank you for sharing and for your kind words and highlighting that phrase.

      Reply

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