The true understanding of yourself comes from the inside. Many great thinkers tried examining the psyche. Despite the task’s difficulty, they all did a pretty good job. How to strive for composure and get to know yourself better?
You may be familiar with works of some of the most acknowledged psychologists and philosophers in human history. You may have learned at school about Freud’s id and superego, read in depth on Marcus Aurelius’ reason and emotion, or heard about the internal critic.
What do these complex theories tell us about the structure of the human mind?
You are not you. I mean, you are you, but not you. No, wait up. You’re you, but not the you that you think you are. Or the you, that is yourself, is a sum of other you’s inside you.
Animals are way easier to understand, so let me put it this way:
Imagine an angry dog. He runs around your neighborhood, destroys others’ property, does his business wherever he wants to and wreaks havoc all around.
In his madness, he leaves everyone bitter. Putting a smiley face isn’t possible when your front yard has been demolished for the third time in a month.
In his ignorance, he leaves everyone scared. How can you let your children play outside, when the beast is running around freely.
There’s no control over the angry dog, no supervision. Nobody knows when or where he will strike. Regardless if the damage left behind is big or small, it’s still damage. Berserk and unpredictable, he’s simply dangerous.
Why should you care about that?
One may reason: if there are four houses in my neighborhood, then I will suffer a loss only once every four times. That’s a 25% chance of my harm, and that’s not too bad.
Don’t make foregone conclusions yet. Yes, the 25% probability of your misfortune is mathematically correct, but it takes into account the materialistic loss alone.
If each one of your neighbors – so people who live close to you, whom you perhaps see day in day out – is upset, then that’s going to affect you, no doubt about that.
The quality of your relationships mirrors your well-being, so making sure that those around you are at least alright ought to be your own goal.
When your every neighbor is distressed, then the negativity is going to spread among the community and have immediate impact on each one of you reciprocally.
Hence, after an in-depth analysis, the situation is the following: the probability of your suffering is equal to one. That’s a 100% chance of your loss, in different aspects of your life.
Sure, you can leave the angry dog to itself and turn a blind eye to him. Taking no action is also a decision, thus you decide to make your life and lives of every one around miserable.
Neither a reasonable, nor a responsible thing to do, is it?
Let’s say that you eventually decide to do something about the angry bastard terrorizing your neighborhood. The solution is twofold.
First, you catch the dog and put him into a cage. Either bait him, or use force, doesn’t matter. The animal is in a cage now.
But is the matter truly solved?
Caging him leaves room for failure. An angry dog in a cage is still angry. What’s more – he’s getting more annoyed. Incapable of getting out, banging his head on the metal bars, frustration grows inside him.
This is a recipe for a disaster. Whether he breaks the locks himself or some prankster lets him out, the damage will be done again, maybe on a greater scale. No longer random biting or barking, but a volcanic eruption of madness; severe and devastating.
You can try catching him again and repeating the same scheme, but you’re risking another explosion. So there’s one more way you can go.
You can try to tame him.
Now, this approach is unquestionably the most difficult. Ignorance is easy. Force is easy. Taming is a process that takes time, and that’s an effort.
Yet, it’s the only successful one nonetheless. The dog will try to bite you and to escape. You’ll think about surrender, you’ll have doubts.
The long-term results will please you, though. You will see that because of your individual deeds you’re improving the lives of everybody around you. Because of you, your neighbors can be happy, and share that happiness with you.
Even the 14th Dalai Lama says so, and he’s quite a wise man, as far as I’m concerned:
The dog, as he follows his instincts, will try to chase after cats. Maybe he will set himself loose, once or twice, but you will not give it up. After a while there will be time, when your single ‘Heel!’ will make the beast tuck his tail and approach you on his own, embarrassed. In the end, you won’t even need a leash, or a chain.
They didn’t live happily ever after, but the dog wasn’t bothering them anymore.
What should you make out of this story?
Negative emotions manifest themselves through our behaviors. Anger, aggression, and anxiety poison our conversations. In arguments, we lose control. Faced with challenges, we break down, beaten down. Confronting failure, or human meanness, is tough.
How we react to adversity has an immediate impact on our thoughts, feelings, and relationships. Uncontrolled fits of anger can cause chaos around us, hurting those we care for.
This is a no-go for a healthy living.
Forcibly suppressing your emotions inside also isn’t a life you want. This I can tell for myself, having been in a situation, where I muzzled every little thing that bothered me.
It wasn’t nice. I closed myself off, searching for consolation in sinful activities and substances. Acting in that manner wasn’t composure, it was weakness.
Whatever you do, your actions have consequences, and it’s those repercussions that you should take responsibility for. Furthermore, you are the master of your body, not the other way round.
As Buddha did – asked Mara for tee – so should we aspire to comprehend and govern our negative feelings.
As soon as you notice your heart beating faster, acknowledge it.
Call the emotion by its name – and be precise.
Is it frustration? Powerlessness? Pure anger or poisonous envy?
That’s the first step – but it’s an absolute milestone.
Feelings don’t just happen to you anymore, since now you see them. And you better keep an eye on them.
Ask yourself questions. Don’t take it too easy on yourself, it’s for your own good!
Try to get to the root cause of a given emotion. What’s its innermost core, where does it stem from?
In other words: what exactly made you feel something?
Was it a bus you missed?
Was it poor Internet connection?
Maybe a specific person who dared to disagree with you?
Analyze, go through the details, do some research on yourself. That will help you comprehend things that are going on inside of you.
Explain yourself to yourself (told you, it’s complicated).
So now you know what you feel and what the reason for a particular feeling was.
Try using that brilliant mind of yours and take a look at the situation from a broader perspective.
Think about long-term causes of the one thing that vexed you. Could you do something about it? Maybe it was even your fault? Maybe you’re just looking for culprits, to escape from blame and responsibility?
Think about the negative consequences of your fits of anger. How does it affect your friends, or other people you love? Aren’t you being narcissistic, putting your problems at the front page, so that they can get everybody’s attention?
Ask questions. They will lead you to answers.
They may not be definite answers, but they’re answers nonetheless.
And that’s a damn good place to start.
This process of self-development isn’t about becoming cold – it’s about becoming wise. Of course, it’s time-consuming as hell, but the sole ambition to become better is in itself improvement.
Through individual change you grant yourself the power to influence the lives of people surrounding you. And by changing a person’s life, you’re changing the world.
Coming back to the main issue: you are not just you.
Want it or not, humans are complex beings. Negotiate with yourself and strive for composure.
Whenever you feel like you’re about to explode, follow these 3 steps:
This technique helped me out in a lot of situations.
Don’t worry if you find it difficult at the beginning. Practice won’t make you perfect, but it can get you really close.
Change yourself. Time will come for the rest.