On Anger: Can Anger Lead to Insanity?

According to Seneca, it sure can

Angry woman yelling
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

“The outcome of violent anger is a mental raving, and therefore anger is to be avoided not for the sake of moderation but for the sake of sanity.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic

Anger, it seems, has long been considered a close relative of madness. You’d expect the Stoics, being all into self-control, to promote avoidance of anger. What’s interesting about this quote, though, is that Seneca rejects moderation as the reason to avoid it. Instead, he views it as a risk to a person’s sanity.

Who hasn’t felt they’re losing their mind with rage? Who hasn’t done something insane and regrettable out of anger? Who hasn’t felt immense relief — in hindsight — when someone or something prevented them from acting when possessed by anger?

Wrath, anger, fury, rage: all these feelings are linked to acts of aggression that, in the moment, felt uncontrollable and that, after the fact, feel shameful and out of character.

Seneca also hits the mark with the following observation:

“It is borne of love as well as hate, and is as liable to arise in the course of sport or jesting as in affairs of a serious kind.”

Anger, as we know, can lead to fights both during a hockey game and a serious board meeting.

Our spouse, a friend, even our children, can be as much the targets of our anger as the anonymous driver on the next lane or the despised politician we’ve only seen on a screen.

Unfortunately, we can more easily act out in anger toward those close to us. How many movies are there where a character, in the midst of rage, hurts a loved one, only to later ask himself in anguish What have I done?

Seneca’s warning is this: for the sake of your sanity, beware of anger!

I’m glad to say that, even in pre-k, many schools are placing a focus on learning about and managing feelings. As it turns out, we can’t bury our anger forever. We must understand it and have tools to deal with it without hurting ourselves or others.

Day 25 of 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.

Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.

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