April 15, 2020 - The Stoic Gym Blog
Tag(s): Stoic Self-help

How To Deal With Adversity

By Dr. Chuck Chakrapani

We all face some form of adversity from time to time. The list of things we consider adverse can be long: insults, isolation, illness, loss of material things or people close to us, poverty, betrayal, heartbreak, and so on. When any of these things happen, we are stressed. How do we deal with them? Here are a few strategies to help cope with adversity.

Don’t take it personally

When you face adversity, remember this: it is not personal. Things unfold as links in a long causal chain.

"Has anything happened to you? Good. It’s supposed to happen."

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.26. (Chuck Chakrapani, Stoic Meditations, Bk. 4.26)

It is impersonal and things are not as bad as they seem. The person who just insulted you may be going through a rough patch in their life. You just happened to be the object available to them against which they express their frustration. You are not the target. If somebody else was in your place they would have been subjected to the same insult.

Adversity also contains an element of instrumental goodness. It gives an opportunity to practice kindness or wisdom. Good cannot exist without bad. You can counterbalance what you see as bad with what you consider good. Things are not as bad as they seem.

Adversity can be an opportunity to strengthen ourselves

If you want to excel in any sport, you would want to train with the best. For example, if you are a wrestler you want to practice with the best wrestler. This gives you the best opportunity to not only maintain your current level of fitness and expertise but to increase them. Weak opponents cannot be of much help.

"Each needs someone with whom one may make comparisons and investigations. Skilled wrestlers are kept up to the mark by practice."

Seneca, Epistulae Moralis 109

Adversity is like a wrestler and strong adversity is like a strong wrestler. You can view great adversities you face as wrestlers you were sent to practice with so you can increase your resilience. Seneca even suggests that,

"Fortune offers us opportunities … we ought to move and not to become frozen and still by fear. Nay, he is the best man who, through peril menaces him on every side and arms and chains beset his path, nevertheless neither impairs not conceals his virtue; for to keep oneself safe does not mean to bury oneself."

Seneca, On the Tranquility of Mind, 5
Adversity is temporary

Adversity and good fortune alternate in our life. Therefore,

"In the day of prosperity let no man exult, in the day of adversity let no man faint; the successions of fortune alternate."

Seneca, Natural Questions, Book 3, Preface
Adversity is an indifferent

Adversities are external to us and therefore they are indifferents, neither good nor bad. Since they are not in our control, we deal with them as they present themselves to us. They are bound to happen in the course of one’s life. Since indifferents are not essential for our happiness, we put them in perspective and examine what appropriate action we can take that would be compatible with virtue. We act accordingly.

"You have seen all that [adversity]. Now look at this. Your part is to be serene, to be simple… … Life is short. Get as much as you can from each passing hour."

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.26. (Chuck Chakrapani, Stoic Meditations, Bk. 4.26)

The next time you face adversity, remember it is not personal. It is temporary. See it as something designed to let you practice your resilience. Your job is to be serene and simple in the face of adversity and get the most out of your life in spite of the adversity you face.