Dealing internally with insults: A stoic solution

Image: Hatim Belyamani

Grasp your left chest with your right hand… Feel a little flutter in there?

Good, you have a heart.

If this is the case (I sure hope it is), then you’re like the rest of us with beating hearts, and you’re likely sensitive to insults, no matter how tough of a stance you form when facing them.

Insults can harm us for our entire life if we don’t know how to process them.

From verbal abuse to being slighted or snubbed — even physical assaults to a certain degree, like when another man embarrasses you at the local tavern by slapping you across the face with his leather glove to challenge you to a duel (happens all the time, right?) — being able to deal with insults is a great tool to have.

From my studies, I’ve found the stoics to have incredible insight into the nature of insults and how to mentally and emotionally process them. (This book is awesome if you’re interested in stoicism.)

Before we jump into dealing with any kind of insult, there’s three things to assess.


First of all, when insulted, Seneca suggests we pause to consider if the insult is true. If someone makes fun of your unibrow, and you have a unibrow, then there’s no need to be upset. They’re merely pointing out the obvious. Maybe you should wax yourself.


Once we diagnose that the insult is NOT true, Epictetus asks us to consider whether or not the insulter is well-informed. Perhaps they’re speaking out of naive ignorance. In this case, we should calmly set the assho… — sorry, person — straight.


Next is to consider the source. If I’m learning how to play the cowbell, and the person who is criticizing me is my hired cowbell instructor, well, I can’t get upset because I’m paying this person to criticize me.

If none of these are the case, rather than feeling offended by their insults, perhaps you should feel relieved.

The truth is, most people who openly and maliciously insult you have a flawed character. If this kind of person disapproves of what you’re doing, then you should see yourself as being on the right track. It should concern you even more if this deplorable individual (we’re speaking in ego terms here) was agreeable to what you were doing.

Marcus Aurelius claims that rather than giving them the honor of your anger, these people deserve your pity.

You should feel no sting when anyone like this insults you. Much like when a dog barks at you — you might reason that the dog might not like you, but you wouldn’t let it ruin your day/week/year/lifetime hanging on to the horrid idea that the dog isn’t your pal.

A huge insight in this area is to see (and this one is a bit of a bitter pill) that the only source of any real sting from an insult is you.

“Remember that what is insulting is not the person who abuses you or hits you, but your judgement about them that they are insulting.”

Epictetus goes on to say, “another person will do you no harm unless you wish it; you will be harmed at just that time at which you take yourself to be harmed.”

When we get right down to it, what upsets us is not the insults in and of themselves, but our judgement about the insults.

Whether insults harm us or not depends on our values. The good news is, our values are things that we have total control over.

Hopefully this helps in the area of insults. The next time you set out to the local tavern, pull this up on your phone in case a verbal (or mildly physical) scuffle ensues. And if anyone challenges you to a duel, please tell me so I can know that your life is as awesome as it is.

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Steering the wagon

Ponderings on the living philosophy of Stoicism

Stoicism says that man is like a dog tied to a moving wagon — the wagon being our ‘Logos’ — aka ‘God’, ‘Providence’, ‘Nature’, etc.

They say this logos is headed in a positive direction, albeit one that we may not be able to comprehend, and that which we can’t control the direction of. All we can control, and all we need to control — the stoics say — is our choice to A) run along with the cart or B) be drug along by it.

At first, this seems harsh. I’m a dog? Tied to the back of a wagon? That sucks…

But when you look at it with calmer eyes, it’s a beautiful analogy. When you really think of it, life is kind of like that, is it not?

You also realize that the dog has a lot of free will in what his destiny is. He can give up and be drug along in the gravel and the mud (been there). Or, he can run and leap and jump and do spins and flips (been there too).

She can surrender to the great force of the wagon and let it propel her forward as she flies through time and space towards an awesome, but unknown, destiny. She has full control over her faculties — her mind and her body. That’s pretty powerful.

Instead of getting swept away by life, we can harness its incredible force to create an awesome experience.

This choice is fully available to us in any moment.

I love stoicism. It’s a philosophy that’s meant to be lived. It follows you through the grit and grime of life and can lift you out of it.

However, I’d like to append one little belief to the philosophy. Who says you can’t make your own, customized philosophy, right? We all do it unconsciously anyways, don’t we? Here’s my crack at it…

I believe that we can influence the direction of that wagon — maybe a little bit, maybe a lot — through our beliefs.

That our thoughts sink down into the soil of the Logos to create real things.

Maybe that’s not stoicism anymore. I don’t know. I’d love to hear your opinions.

I just know somewhere down deep that our thoughts can impress the logos. That we can shape — even in a small way — where that wagon is headed.

*Seriously, this is something I can’t stop turning over and over in my mind. Please add your notes. I need your help with this one.☺

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Creative Hedonism, Selfish writing, and Eis Heauton

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by Jonas Ellison

I’m 15 days into this little exercise of creative hedonism where I write about whatever topic I feel like hooking up with that day for a month. They say that things become a habit after 30 days, so if I can tough it out until then, these babies will be on autopilot. Right now, they’re a bit of a trudge, I must admit.

I gotta say, though, my thoughts are becoming clearer. As I go through my day, I find myself noticing things at high-definition. My awareness has expanded. Because I know I have to write again tomorrow, I’m always looking for things to write about, whether they be physical events or just strands of thought.

The key is to notice. And I feel that happening. Noticing my life feels awesome.

I’m breaking the habits I acquired as a copywriter where I always wrote to please an audience or an avatar. Let me put it another way… I’m still writing for an audience (you), and I DO hope you enjoy this stuff, but what’s shifted is my main driver of the work is not you. It’s me. That’s what’s changed.

My writing is more playful now. It’s random. And that’s fine.

One day, I’ll write about spiritual, metaphysical stuff. The next day, I’ll write a random short story. Then, I’ll turn around and just write about a perfectly uneventful day.

What matters is that I write something every day.

Marcus Aurelius and the concept of Eis Heauton

I’m currently reading Meditations from Marcus Aurelius — the Gregory Hays edition which came highly recommended (and I see why — Hays translates Marcus’ words in an extremely clear and readable way, which is good for people with undiagnosed ADD like myself).

Hays explains in the introduction that Marcus never intended his work to be published. He wrote them Eis Heauton, or “to himself”.

I realized this is basically what I’m doing here. I write to an audience of one — myself (although I hope you enjoy reading).

But this is scary. Because everything I learned about writing online says to write for an audience/avatar. Right now, my avatar is me☺

Back to Aurelius — Writing to himself was Marcus’ way of ingraining his philosophy into his own psyche. And because his work was published, he unknowingly helped the world become more self-aware.

Who knows? If he would have written them knowing they’d be seen by the world, he may have censored himself more. He may have watered down his message to appeal to a greater audience. More than likely, he would have.

I’m glad he didn’t.

So why do I write in a public forum like this if I write Eis Heauton?

It keeps me sharp. It keeps my thoughts clear. I know that, because you’ll be reading this, I need to package my thoughts in a way that you’ll be able to understand (at least a little bit). This, in turn, helps me understand them.

Win-win. I understand so you understand. Another selfish act that works for both of us.

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