Modern psychotherapy borrows from the great intellectual thinkers through the ages, and philosophers from the East and the West – and an acknowledged king in the evidence based psychotherapy world is the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus – the practical rational thinker and teacher, whose text The Enchiridion (or ‘Manual for Living’ as it’s more generally called in these modern ages), teaches us understanding about our thinking and feeling and behaving, and how we can achieve inner calm and happier lives through seeing things as they really are, and knowing what we can control, and what we cannot.
He teaches and helps us to discover how to train ourselves not to worry our lives away, but to have calm rational thinking so that we can feel good and have life enhancing behaviours – accepting facts and living in the present – no matter how challenging the circumstances.
Let’s take one of his oft quoted passages as a guide to handling negative events – read through this thoughtfully, and examine how this strategy and outlook might help you, and whether applying it’s principles to your own thinking habits might change your life:
See things for what they really are ~ (Epictetus Ἐπίκτητος; AD 55–135)
Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.
Open your eyes: see things for what they really are, thereby sparing yourself the pain of false attachments and avoidable devastation.
Think about what delights you – the tools on which you depend, the people whom you cherish. But remember that they each have their own distinct character, which is quite a separate matter from how we happen to regard them.
As an exercise, consider the smallest things to which you are attached. For instance, suppose you have a favourite cup. It is, after all, merely a cup, so if it should break, you could cope. Next build up to things, or people, toward which your clinging feelings and thoughts intensify.
Remember, for example, when you embrace your child, your husband, your wife, you are embracing a mortal. Thus, if one of them should die, you could bear it with tranquility.
When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.
What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.
Stop scaring yourself with impetuous notions, with your reactive impressions of the way things are. Things and people are not what we wish them to be or what they seem to be. They are what they are.
Do you see what he means? Einstein chimes in “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” And Shakespeare: “Nothing is good or bad, thinking makes it so”. And Buddha: “With our thoughts we make our world”.
You are a human being not a robot, so of course you must acknowledge and accept your sadness and disappointment rather than deny them, we all have negative responses to negative events – but you can make a choice to fight depression and despair with learning and logic and rational thinking, and by applying thought stopping and reframing. The situation is what it is. You may very well have a preference that it be another way, but if you cannot effect change and it is out of your hands then it is irrational for you to have a demand that it be another way – you cannot control that. But – it’s going to be okay, you’re going to be okay, and this too shall pass. And in time (beautiful healing time), you’ll look back and find it hard to comprehend or access today’s pain. And… breathe…
The Kubler Ross ‘Five Stages of Grief’ apply in loss of relationships as well as bereavement:
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance…
Let’s fast track to acceptance with rational thinking skills – through awareness and self management.
The translation I used in this post is from the wonderful little book ‘A Manual for Living – Epictetus – by Sharon Lebell’.
Amazon book description: “The essence of perennial Stoic wisdom in aphorisms of stunning insight and simplicity. The West’s first and best little instruction book offers thoroughly contemporary and pragmatic reflections on how best to live with serenity and joy.”
Click HERE to go to Amazon to purchase or peek inside or read reviews…
Download full Epictetus translations here.
An interview with one of the founding fathers of CBT, Albert Ellis, about his ‘Guide to Rational Living’ theory, which was heavily influenced by Epictetus: here.
A quick read: famous quotes by Epictetus.
Related posts: ‘Musterbation/demand thinking‘.
Start your self help journey through CBT here: a chronological ordering of posts