So, I have an opportunity to learn something that I feel will help me master the issues caused by Borderline Personality Disorder.
The discovery has arisen from discussions about toxic masculinity and the constant reference to men who are victims of a mindset which turns them into malevolent Gary Coopers – strong and silent but destructive due to not being able to cry or show other emotion. The word stoicism generally appears in these discussions and, having only a passing familiarity with the term, decided to do some research.
When you look up the online definition of stoicism, this is what you will see:
the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.
synonyms: patience, forbearance, resignation, lack of protest, lack of complaint, fortitude, endurance, acceptance, acceptance of the inevitable, fatalism, philosophicalness, impassivity, dispassion, phlegm, imperturbability, calmness, coolness, cool; More
an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.
When talking about toxic masculinity, most people making their points seem to refer to the first definition. I wondered – yes, this is part of stoicism but not all of it and, in of itself, is this a completely bad thing?
The more complete and accurate definition is the second one. There is a LOT to unpack in that definition and I won’t get into it here, but I was intrigued and in between watching football, I started researching online resources of stoicism and stoic thinking. The more I read, the more intrigued I became.
I will continue writing (or journaling, although I hate that word, just write for Heaven’s sakes) about it but I put some of what I read last night into immediate practice.
We have two small vintage glass bowls that were part of a serving set, circa 1960. I use them to put salsa and dip into. Last night, watching football, I had used one of them for salsa. My wife dropped it on the ground and it shattered.
I put what I had just read into practice immediately. What I usually experience when things like this happen is being easily startled which makes my nerves jump. This is because I fear how my wife will react and how I will react and equally important, how I will feel about the loss of this small bowl. When my wife gets angry, I get nervous, feeling that if I do not react the right way, she will turn her anger on me because that was the mechanism of anger/fear in my childhood. Also, the loss of an item like this bowl most often makes me upset since it is a vintage piece and I will feel as though the universe has chosen to break it to spite me. In addition, this incident interrupts my watching of football which would normally cause me to become irate and angry.
Whew – that’s an awful lot of bullshit over an accidental breaking of a small glass bow isn’t it? And that is precisely the point.
So, my new thinking process was this: the small glass bowl is not worth that much money at all and is easily replaceable. We had two, now we have one. My wife should not be made to feel bad over an accident like this – no one is hurt, the bowl is easily replaceable, it will take a but a few minutes to clean up. I assured her that it was no big deal, she needn’t be upset, and I resolved for these reasons, not to be upset over it either. As for the game, it is a game, you will know what happened, it will not impact your life and to ascribe that kind of importance to it is silly. It is one of many games and you’ll only be distracted for a minute or so and that’s why instant replay exists.
Here’s practical wisdom from the website Daily Stoicism that sums it all up:
Every situation is made better by a cool head. Even powerful people who know that anger is a powerful and effective tool will tell you that there is a big difference between deliberately expressing your frustrations (to make a point, to motivate someone, to defend yourself) and flying off the handle. Without the ability to recognize and direct your emotions, you become a slave to them.
Not getting upset over so small an issue may seem like a no brainer to you. But for someone like me, it is hardly easy because I have trained myself to see such irritations as being specifically visited upon me because the universe or God, hates me and wants me to be miserable.
Crazy, isn’t it? Crazy it is.
Part of the whole philosophy of stoicism is that bad things happen, and that one can only control one’s reaction to them. And, I wondered, how many times have I heard this from therapists? Why do I take stock in it now – simple: because I discovered it on my own.
The more I read, the more it made perfect sense to me – I could get angry – but what would anger change? If could only make the situation far worse than it is and it wasn’t a big deal to begin with.
It’s funny how lights can go off in our heads when we discover classic truths like these on our own after being told the same thing literally hundreds of times. But these are not ideas in isolation – they are part of a whole body of philosophy that addresses literally ALL the issues that our BPD amplifies to make us miserable. So, in this way, it was different for me. This was not just some pseudo-babble catch phrase but a building block of an entire philosophy which offers great relief for those like me, who are prisoners of their emotions and their past reactions to adversity.
What I will close with is this thought – reading the first building blocks of stoicism, it was obvious that even though the concepts seem blindingly simple and sensible, nothing about it would be easy in practice. But therapy isn’t easy, life isn’t easy and nothing good comes easy. After 40+ years of misery, it seems like it is time for me to give this century old tried and true practical philosophy a serious try. I have nothing to lose but anger and fear.