Hot blooded, short fuse or simply a bad temper. Bad tempers runs in my family; my dad has a penchant for cursing up a storm when doing renovations and something goes awry. One of my sisters and I have the same temper. My kids get visibly angry and aggressive when upset, as opposed to simply sad and crying. I get really angry when something with a purpose fails to perform it’s only function, such as a network hard drive that isn’t accessible over the network. Small series of annoyances tend to build up and set me off as well. I’ve always known these reactions were irrational, but the feeling of frustration washes over me. For some this manifests as tears, but for me its anger and vocal or physical outbursts. Too many times I’ve broken something I care about or put a whole in a wall during an outburst.
I’ve always been embarrassed about this, but within my family it has been understood that this is just the way my dad, sister and I are. That may be who are are and who we’ve learned to be, but there is no reason why we can’t change it.
When I’m stressed for long periods of time, or have been working extra hours for a few days my tolerance for these annoyances is greatly reduced. Little things, like breaking the yolk in my fried egg by accident might cause me to say fuck and throw the spatula in the sink; a minor outburst but usually startling to my wife and kids. It’s foolish and childish behaviour, but when I start to lose my reason and let my emotions drive this is what happens.
So far, while practising stoicism, I’ve definitely reduced my number of temper tantrums and I’ve been able to be more aware of myself in the moment. Just yesterday I sensed some anger rising and I quickly observed the feeling and considered its cause. By using logic and fatalism I forgave my sons for their outbursts which were annoying me, and focused instead on helping them end their tantrums.
A few weeks ago my network drive started to malfunction, leaving me unable to backup my computer over the network or to access downloaded media to watch on TV. This sort of thing historically has been the bane of my existence. I’ve put holes in walls before for similar failures of inanimate objects. I was able to remain logical and stay aware of my emotional state. When repeated attempts to fix it didn’t work I told myself I can’t control completely wether it works or not, there could be a manufacturer’s defect or other elements outside my immediate control. All I can do is use my reason to diagnose the problem and try my best. I may end up getting a different network drive, or just abandon the added complexity to my life and plug the drive in through USB. The important thing is I’ve been able to realise it’s not that important if I lose the contents of my computer or hard drive. These things are jut artifacts of memories, that should be appreciated but not coveted. I’ll still have my health and my family, and they are much more important.
Marcus Aurelius would consider the cosmic scale of things which I’ve also found helpful. What is one broken egg yolk in the grand scheme of the universe? Or, if I’d like to make myself feel guilty, I may consider what is one broken egg yolk in my life relative to that of a poor starving child elsewhere in the world?
I’d say my temper is my biggest flaw, or at least the flaw that disappoints me most. It is also going to be the most difficult to eradicate. My strategy is simple, try my best to be aware of myself, remain reasonable and logical and surrender to the fact that everything leading up to and shaping my current personality has already happened and I can’t change that. All I can change is my behaviour in the future.
I’ll close with a quote I find useful in reducing the effects of annoyances.
Seek not for events to happen as you wish but rather wish for events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly.
Epictetus, Handbook 8
January 7, 2014 at 11:59 am
Boy, can I relate. For me, it’s not so much the occasional blinding rage so much many and frequent irritations. In addition to the kind of disputing you described above, I have found mindfulness meditation has been a big help.
January 8, 2014 at 2:45 pm
There’s an area I need to focus on more. I certainly found during Stoic Week, practicing mediations daily, helped foster mindfulness. Thanks Ben.
January 8, 2014 at 2:35 pm
Don’t forget that as you age comes wisdom. I like you used to have a nasty temper that I got from Dad. However I have learned that getting upset over the little things just aren’t worth it. But I believe that age has something to do with the fact that I don’t have temper tantrums anymore.
January 8, 2014 at 3:16 pm
Absolutely. I wouldn’t have even considered doing something about my temper a few years ago. Additionally, I can’t blame my temper on anyone but myself—I may have had an example or two in my life that modelled inappropriate behaviour, but my actions are my own.