“Keep in mind that it isn’t the one who has it in for you and takes a swipe that harms you, but rather the harm comes from your own belief about the abuse. So when someone arouses your anger, know that it’s really your own opinion fueling it. Instead, make it your first response not to be carried away by such impressions, for with time and distance self-mastery is more easily achieved.”EPICTETUS, ENCHIRIDION, 20
When someone insults you, is that the thing which actually harms you? Or is it your indignant and furious response that officially makes it harmful to you? In The Daily Stoic today, the author says that “our reaction is what actually decides whether harm has occurred.” In other words, if you hadn’t received the words as insulting — if you had instead brushed them off as unimportant and not worth getting upset over — then the harm wouldn’t have occurred.
That’s because harm is subjective. It’s only harmful because we say it is. We identify the event as outrageous, attacking, threatening — and we react in kind. We have determined that we’ve been wronged, and it becomes self-fulfilling.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We have a choice, because we’re not slaves to impulse and we don’t have to fly off the handle just because a familiar trigger presents itself. We can choose to let it go. We can choose to assume the best instead of jumping to conclusions about the other person’s intent. And we can decide to control our emotions, and not let ourselves get swept away at the slightest provocation.
If we realize that harm is subjective — that’s when we understand that don’t have to let ourselves be harmed, if we don’t want to. It’s our choice to focus on self-mastery and being unflappable instead.