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A Philosophical Concept That Will Make You Live a More Peaceful and Fulfilling Life

A Philosophical Concept That Will Make You Live a More Peaceful and Fulfilling Life

I’m sure you’re all more than familiar with the common clichés, “mind over matter,” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But what you may not have known, is that these familiar turns of phrase are actually the paving stones of an ancient ideology: Stoicism. A disciplined system of living where you never sweat the small stuff, and keep all of your priorities in check.

Stoicism is meant to be practiced, not discussed.

Stoicism is the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint. It is a unique philosophy in the respect that it is meant to be practiced, and not just pontificated and debated upon. You must find your true passion, your true calling, and nurture it. The practice also emphasizes the importance of virtue, and a distinct separation between emotion and reaction.

Practiced by historical and modern men alike, the ideology is finding it’s way back into the mainstream.

The word Stoic is derived from the Greek term Stoa Poikile meaning literally, “the painted porch.” It is influenced by an open market in Athens where the Stoics would famously gather to discuss important matters and teach philosophy to young, eager minds.

The philosophy itself was founded as a Hellenistic [1](the time period between the death of Alexander the Great who was himself a Stoic, and the beginning of the Roman Empire) philosophy circa 300 B.C.E. by Zeno of Citium.

Stoicism is not the practice of avoiding issues, but rather transforming them into opportunities.

Incredibly misunderstood, the belief system has been given a negative stigma [2], as well as those who choose to practice it. It has been said that those who choose to lead a Stoic life choose to lead a life of avoidance and denial. A bleak existence where nothing is faced head on. Hardships are tolerated and accepted instead of challenging and overcoming the obstacles.

Perhaps for some Stoics this may be true. Acceptance is a virtue of high regard, and must be mastered to truly achieve mental strength. But the premise of stoicism is not the avoidance of obstacles; it’s the transformation of the obstacle. Turning every obstacle into a new opportunity. Instead of mindlessly running into the same dead end, creating a way around it. That is the Stoic way of thinking.

Core Values of Stoicism

As you might imagine, after centuries of discussion by the most intellectual minds throughout history, the complexity of Stoicism has developed many facets. As mentioned, many intellectuals, artists, writers and entrepreneurs live their life by these guidelines to inspire creativity and install discipline [3].

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• This system is built for action, not debate.

• The source of our discontent is derived from our impulsive need to act on emotion rather than reason. I.e. many of us don’t think before we act.

• Stoicism reminds us how short life is, and how unpredictable it can be.

• Always be in control of yourself, unwavering in your solidarity.

• It helps us to overcome toxic emotions, training ourselves not to get upset over things which we cannot control.

• All emotions come within ourselves. No one can make you feel any emotion, no matter how strong. How you feel and how you react is all entirely mental.

Example: A stranger is rude to you during your commute. You have the choice to be upset, to feel sorry for them for being miserable, or to disregard it and feel absolutely nothing at all. Whether or not you feel justified with your reactive emotions is irrelevant. You are in charge of the reactive emotion. It is too easy to place the blame on external objects.

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• Find a mentor or model- use them to inspire and encourage yourself to do better and do more.

“Without a ruler to do it against, you can’t make the crooked straight.” – Seneca

• Realize that if you fail, you will survive. You will learn, you will adjust, and you will overcome. Failure it not the enemy. It feeds fuel to the fire.

• Read books that inspire you and expand your knowledge in the areas that you want to grow in. Apply that knowledge to further yourself.

• Stop candy coating things – speak honestly and with conviction. People will respect you for your bluntness. Everyone needs a friend who will tell them the truth when they need to hear it.

• Consider what you spend the most time on. Is it beneficial to your growth? Unless your goal in life is to become a social media super star, browsing Instagram probably isn’t going to advance any opportunities for you. Pick up a book. Listen to a seminar. Do. Something. Productive.

• Fight procrastination. This one I particularly struggle with. But it’s true, get your obligations sorted out in a timely manner, leaving time for leisure and your personal goals.

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• Time is your most precious resource. Don’t waste it.

• Engulf yourself in your passion and what you love. Don’t waste your time being lazy and taking it easy. Push yourself.

“You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat.” – Seneca

Three Men famously set the standard for what it truly means to be a Stoic.

Although many powerful individuals throughout history have famously practiced and helped to shape the foundation of Stoicism, three men in particular brought Stoicism to a new platform, creating a place for it among the scholars.

Marcus Aurelius

The Emperor of the Roman Empire, the most powerful man in existence at the time, ordained by the Gods and with wealth beyond comprehension, preached words of humility, compassion, and restraint. Each day he would write in his journal, notes about what it truly means to be a Stoic. Although that was not his intention at the time. He was merely just trying to better himself.

“Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend. Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.” – Marcus Aurelius

Epictetus

Born as a slave, he managed to gain his freedom as a teenager. After years of enduring the horrors of slavery, he learned how to channel his emotions and overcome his circumstances by maintaining psychological control. He studied Stoicism as a slave, and went on to open his own school to pass on his teachings after having been freed from slavery.

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“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus

Seneca

A man of noble and wealthy upbringing, a Philosopher who was a close consultant of the emperor Claudius. Claudius exiled Seneca for eight years for supposed adultery. During his exile, he wrote to his family to comfort them, taking no pity on himself or his circumstances. He was released from exile to tutor Nero, son of Claudius who would later rise into power. Seneca stayed a loyal consultant until his suicide was ordered by Nero. Even then he took no pity on himself, just the people who would mourn over his death.

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” – Seneca

How can you practice Stoicism in your everyday life? It’s quite simple, really.

Separate Yourself from Your Comforts

As Seneca suggests, we need to take the time to practice poverty to realize how little we really need. [4] He meant quite literally to go sleep on the streets with nothing but the clothes on your back and what little food and water you need to get by. You can practice this by actually spending a night living on the street, it would be shockingly humbling for sure. A less extreme option would be to go for a trip with a very small bag of limited items. You are not allowed to buy anything else, only bring what you actually need. By the end of the trip, you’ll probably have a few items that you didn’t even touch.

Turn The Obstacle Upside Down

Train your perception to look at things from a broader perspective. Not every occurrence is either cut and dry negative or positive. Perhaps you are faced with an issue, and it can be a bit deterring and it feels like everything is falling apart. Not too quick. Take a moment to walk away and refresh for a moment. Look at it through a new light. There is an opportunity here, you just have to find it. Use it as momentum to better yourself and your goals.

Everything is Temporary

Do not dwell. If something didn’t work out, get over it. Everything is fleeting, especially passion. Think of the things that you so passionately wanted that are bland to you now. A shirt, a new phone, a love interest. It all becomes old and dull at some point. Those things are all pointless on the grand scheme, because you yourself have such a small part in this world that we live in.

Most importantly, don’t get caught up in your passionate emotions. They eat away at your well being and distract you from your goals. Sure, someone may have done you wrong and for that they bite the big them. Maybe they’re horrible, but let them be. Someone else’ shortcomings won’t dull your shine unless you let them. So don’t sweat it.

Related Articles Recommended To Live A Stoic Life

A Really Strong Predictor of Success: Self Awareness (with Ways to Boost It) by Craig J Todd

Why Our Personal Values Matter More Than Ever Today by Heather Poole

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Stoicism
[2] aeon.co: Indifference is a power
[3] 99U: The Stoic: 9 Principles to Help You Keep Calm in Chaos
[4] Daily Stoic: What Is Stoicism? A Definition & 3 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started

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Jenn Beach

Traveling vagabond, writer, & plant-based food enthusiast.

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

You know how this looks:

  • Parents constantly comparing children.
  • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Adultery…
  • And many others.

For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

How to fix a dysfunctional family

In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

Dysfunctional… Or just average?

Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of interest and time spent together
  • Sexism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Lack of empathy
  • Unequal or unfair treatment
  • Disrespect towards boundaries
  • Control Issues
  • Jealousy
  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

How to turn it around

When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

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As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

Correction is possible

In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

Verbalize it.

All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

Putting it to work in real life

In real life it would be something like this:

“OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

Or:

“Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

Or:

“Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

This is what you have to remember:

1-Stop.

2-Why it’s wrong?

3-What you need.

And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

It’s a family thing

A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

In other words, you will need cooperation…

So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

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We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

It’s not a free-for-all battle

In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

The method

1. Drop the ego

Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

2. Not blame, but responsibility

When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

You will do something like this:

“Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

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It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

What happened here?

We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

3. Doing the work

What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

“When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

Love is all you need

You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

And what happens if it simply is not there?

What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

There is only one thing you can do:

To break away.

Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

“We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

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Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

Putting distance

So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

What do I mean?

Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

I choose my peace of mind.

And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

How to prevent it

There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

  • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
  • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

Priorities and clear thought

You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

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