Stoicism: Lost Opportunities

Do you consider yourself stoic?  I run into this stance far more often than I ever anticipated.  My understanding of stoicism connected to bravery and heroism.  Stoicism is a point of stance and conduct which holds back emotions while appearing indifferent to pain or pleasure.  There are many examples of difficult circumstances I could come up with where being stoic would be a strength in a person’s character.  The dictionary definition includes stoicism as “a systematic philosophy, dating from around 300 BC that held the principles of logical thought to reflect a cosmic reason instantiated in nature”.  Huh?  How far have we morphed by accepting being stoic as a way of life — a lifestyle without emotions?

Have you ever heard too much of a good thing is not necessarily good?  Stoicism has many implications that transfer into misinterpretation.  Being stoic may appear as:

  • Being emotionless in a life bearing event where what needs to be done also needs keen focus in
  • Being emotionless in a relationship is a protective shield which creates a separating distance of intimacy. 
  • Being emotionless in life is constantly on guard which builds a molded defended stance.
  • Being emotionless leaves a person’s stance open to interpretation or misinterpretation by those present.

Emotions are a part of being human.  Many of us have learned to protect, avoid and escape parts of ourselves and other people by doing our best to eliminate our emotions.  Unfortunately, this is becoming easier and easier because the need to understand is taking priority.  Understanding is a stunning concept, but just understanding does not eliminate what it feels like to experience life.  When we protect ourselves by not feeling and avoid circumstances in order not to feel pain, there is a profound consequence.   Our hearts harden.  But there is this something that invisibly resonates in relationships.  It gets hidden or stolen away in the stoic posture which creates an intrinsic containment like a shell coating, shield or bunker.  This hardening also creates a sentry within ourselves that keeps a division between what we know and what we don’t.  This sentry develops a process of exclusions which often surface when we encounter grief, despair and loneliness.  Generally, the speech pattern sounds like a laundry list of problems, issues or why something won’t work.  This sentry is quite convincing and when this process is repeated a number of times, options and opportunities are forsaken and forgotten.

Please don’t get me wrong… stoicism works.  It works very well.  We all have a hero inside us, but this hero is not one who needs a sentry 24/7.  Here is a 3-step process conceptualized by Deborah L. Grassman in her book The Hero Within:  Redeeming the Destiny We Were Born to Fulfill.   These corrective steps create a journey of change.

  1. Abiding… is to remain, continue and stay connected in a particular condition.  This includes being aware and embracing the parts of ourselves that feel happiness and those that hurt.  The common response to pain is denial or avoidance which often appears in actions of substitution like drinking too much, working a lot or raising the importance of trivial matters of urgency.  In this step, it is important to feel the pain and know it has purpose because the feeling and circumstance are attached.  This attachment is profoundly influential, so not allowing a disconnection to happen here is crucial.

“Abiding is a journey of the heart.”  (D.L. Grassman)

  • Reckoning… is a shift that considers, plans and anticipates change.  This includes having the will to change with a trustworthiness, guts and humility that can be sustained.  Many changes happen naturally.  Some changes just happen without notice.  To make change is hard because it includes the reality of uncertainty that is attached to what is new and different.  Reckoning is not coping.  Coping is a protective reaction or distraction which is used to just deal with issues.  Reckoning is an unwavering focus on change with the persistence, perseverance and tenacity that it takes to accomplish the change.

“Reckoning is a journey of the head.”  (D.L. Grassman)

  • Beholding… is to observe and see.  In this step, beholding refers more to an inner vision or sense of truth.  This includes steadfastness in the change as a shift happens between the feelings and attached circumstance.  Often a person experiences a burden lifted off their shoulders and feel a sense of relief in this step.  The circumstance may not be any different, but the relationship between feelings and the circumstance has changed.  Support provided following experiences like this can help prevent a person from attempting to roll back into previous patterns.

“Thus, when we develop the honesty, courage, and humility to abide the effects of our past and reckon with the cause of our current distress, then we are able to behold a future filled with hope; peace replaces chaos and pain.  In other words, we experience healing.”  (D.L. Grassman)

Stoicism can be honorable and courageous.  Stoicism is a character strength when used appropriately.  Stoicism is not a way of life.  We all have a hero within us.  Let that part of you flourish in times of need, then rest and be peaceful all other times.

“Suffering ceases to be suffering the moment it finds a meaning.  Suffering has meaning if it changes you for the better.  An exceptionally difficult situation gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself.”  Viktor Frankl