How To Control Anger (Seneca)


Using a reductionist method, anger, frustration and agitation are the result of a conflict between how we think something ought to be, and how it actually is. 

Anger, frustration and agitation, are just emotional symptoms, manifesting themselves because of how we are thinking about something. That’s it.

This conflicting state of affairs leads us to the destructive emotions because we can’t accept that sometimes a thing, or state of affairs, is just what it is.

Sometimes, however, it doesn’t need to be any different. We just think it does—usually brought on by our beliefs, derived from our societal or cultural norms.

There is no swifter way to insanity. Many have continued in the madness of their anger and never recovered the reason they had cast out…they call down death on their children, poverty on themselves, ruin on their home, denying that they are angry just as the mad deny their insanity…the force of anger is sudden and total…it overcomes the most ardent love — leading men on to stab the bodies that they love and to lie in the embrace of those whom they have killed…there is no emotion anger cannot master.¹


We must tone down our overly optimistic views of people and the world. Seneca states that if we can change our ideas about things, we can be at peace. If we hold steadfast beliefs that things should be a certain way, when there is no logical reason why they cannot be the way they are, then we are destined for anger and frustration.  We must change what we think is normal. If someone close to us is acting in a particular way, which causes us to be angry, or frustrated, it is most likely that we believe it is not normal for them to act in that way, or to live in a world where that sort of behavior occurs.


Anger and frustration can be a by-product of being too hopeful. 

If we get angry with a partner for doing something clumsily— knocking over a vase, or some plates onto the floor, then we have an implicit belief we live in a world where plates and vases don’t get broken. Much too hopeful.

What are we when you take away our clothes, our possessions, our sense of identity?

It is a timely reminder to remember the Goddess of Fortune. We are all just as prone to her spinning wheel as the next person.

Snatch the pleasures your children bring, let your children in turn find delight in you…no promise has been given to you for this night…no promise has been given even for this hour.²


Always keep the thought of accident or misfortune in the back of your mind, it should never be too unexpected. We must never forget that the problem of anger has little to do with the world, and everything to do with ourselves.

Our anger and frustration only exists to show us we hold a belief that needs changing. 

Change the belief. It will set you free.









¹Seneca, Lucius Annaeus, John M Cooper, and J. F Procope. 2007. Moral And Political Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 75.

² Sevenster, Jan Nicolaas. 1961. Paul And Seneca. 1st ed. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 231.




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