How Stoicism Can Hurt You

Give it a bit more time and it might become shameful not being stoic under the pressures of cosmopolitan society. Where does the whole mantra come from? I am wondering, where are we getting stuck here?

All wrapped into the on-the-go wrapping, I wonder if we are not getting away from the real thing too much? I guess instant philosophy is instant because it’s easier to wrap your head around. Stoicism of today is pocket-size simple and comfortable.

Add a bit of that “instant coaching” flavour, as some commercial stoics do, and you get a “school of thought” that’s perfect for instant problem solving—one with little need for thorough contemplation. Perfect for personal growth on the go—in-between meetings.

Instant philosophy

Maybe it puts a light perspective on the dark parts of life and that’s something we as people cling to. Who would want to be bothered with existentialism at the time when they are experiencing hopelessness, helplessness, loneliness and pain at the heart of their existence? Pep-talking yourself with existentialism after you lost your job, business, partner doesn’t seem to be the solution of choice for most. But stoicism seems to meet you half way somehow. You don’t need to bang your head to understand it and it’s quick. Plus people around you know it—so you can chat about it.

I like it myself too—the real thing, though. Because it puts a perspective on selfish self-absorbance with importance around one’s personal problems. It takes you out of yourself and places you above the world. You actually stop and think about how you are impacting other people; how you are absorbing yourself in stuff that doesn’t matter; how you live in reality that is yours—and the problem is that it’s only yours.

I do take it with a pinch of salt, though. What good is it to keep a straight face taking blows going through life. Who are we pretending it doesn’t hurt here? Others or ourselves? And why is this pretence important to us? If you don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t exist—that’s what we believed as kids.

Being strong does not pay off

You don’t have to remain strong when things get to you and you actually should be hurting when they do. You don’t have to suppress it nor should you deny it. If it hearts, it is meant to hurt—it is meant to be felt not avoided. Box it and the lid will pop open somewhere else. Anxiety, depression, anger, agitation, hate, contempt, addiction, binging etc.

So, what it all comes down to is that we just start to be OK with getting kicked and denying that it in fact hurts. We learn from it, but we still deny it. But who said you really have to pretend it doesn’t hurt? Not unless you want to be a stone.

Don’t choose not to be impacted

Was Marcus Aurelius wrong when he implied not to “choose” to be harmed when you in fact are? Well, there’s no such thing as perfection. So, better not to choose not to be harmed, I say. If you are harmed, be harmed. But explore why you are harmed and what that is telling you. Maybe you are harmed because you live in a delusion or because you are used to having people please you. Or you are just plain looking for it—subconsciously.

If you live in this world it is highly unlikely you won’t be dealing with people and come out of at least some of these situations feeling offended, betrayed—hurt in one way or another. Is it anger you feel when that happens? Anxiety? If you do, it’s most likely not adequate one. It’s what you were taught to feel to cover up and suppress sadness, shame, guilt, fear.

So, rather than suppressing it even further and pretending it’s not there, deal with it. Because it is there. Explore it and ask yourself questions. This will be the first step towards change. Getting to a place where you are not hurt is not by denying it but by understanding and dealing with it.

Truth, perspective and modesty

Marcus Aurelius also said “It’s the truth I am after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance”. So, why would you want to deceive yourself about how you feel? What good can that do other than give you that martyr feeling, which maybe suits you well. Or maybe you just want to be perceived as a strong ruthless person. Whichever it is, it’s probably not very authentic. But it must serve you in some way. Probably as self-deception.

And modesty? Tell me how modest you are and I’ll tell you how stoic you are.