My Contribution to a Misunderstanding
Today, at my monthly Sunday Morning Mindful Men’s group, I contributed to a misunderstanding.
When speaking about a member who didn’t seem to verbally express emotional content in the same way some of us do, I used the adjective “stoic” as I went on to suggest that I found him to have some skill with respect to his composure.
The friend then began to talk about his own personal life, but only after he described his father as being stoic. He observed that his father never showed emotion. My friend never once saw his father cry. And soon enough the adjective “stoic” was being used group-wide to more or less mean “repressing or hiding one’s emotions.”
For the rest of the visit, I had something I wanted to bring back to this conversation but, as the topic had changed, there was not an appropriate opportunity. So I’m doing so here.
While a Stoic may very well seem less “emotional” than others on the outside, I would suggest that what is going on internally is not void of emotion at all. Instead, the Stoic is allowing themself to experience the emotion and choose whether or not to give it assent into Cognition. From there, they may or may not want to express that emotion verbally or physically. This may *seem* like repression, but the entire point of Stoicism is to go through the exercise of recognizing one’s own tendencies and question them in the manner of the Sage — ie. Socrates.
When you get a group of Stoics together to practice, they rigorously work through everything they’re experiencing, in order to better process it. You will hear them talking about their experiences with great honesty, compassion, and intricacy. They offer one another support to better understand, respond, and prepare for what’s to come.
This is not repression.
Hear a Conversation with Philosopher Cassie Finley about this very topic at Curiosophy Now.
I have no idea whether this friend’s father was a Stoic in this sense or not. If he was not breaking down weeping, or lashing out in fits of rage, I suspect that in some sense he was. Perhaps he expended all his emotional energy via physical labor. Or perhaps he had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and prayed to God internally throughout the day, provoking a sort of Socratic dialogue with himself via confession to the One.
All speculation. Can’t comment.
What I can do is think through the situation and set my thoughts to type, wondering about what I may have been feeling in the moment. My therapist has me working to fully experience my own emotions in the present as often as I can. He recommends that when I’m in a situation, particularly a troubling one, I try to allow myself to deeply feel without imposing a narrative. The narrative, he argues, is part of what allows me to dissociate. John Vervaeke would say it's what allows me to bullshit myself, shifting my attention from what is relevant to what my self-protecting (and illusorily fearful) ego is using to try to distract it.
While it’s nice to write things like this after the fact, it’s better to learn to lean in to the potential for living in the moment, even when that may be difficult. Sometimes physical expressions of emotion are useful for doing that. Sometimes they are not. Again, I can’t comment on my friend’s father, or even on my friend. All I can do is sit with these thoughts, and use them as best I can to assist myself in the pursuit of the Good. Thanks for helping me along on the path.