Epictetus part 20: Responding to insults

This article is part of the weekly Epictetus series. New articles will be published every Monday.

In part 5 of the Enchiridion, we learnt that even death is nothing terrible, but we only make it so by believing it is terrible. The same is true for insults: we can only be insulted if we allow ourselves to be insulted. Whether we feel bad about somebody’s taunts is up to us. So Epictetus says:

Remember that the person who taunts or hits you does not insult you, but your opinion about these things as being insulting does. So whenever somebody upsets you, know that it is your own opinion that upsets you. Accordingly, first strive to not be carried away by the appearance. For if you take the time and pause, it is easier to control yourself.

His advice on dealing with insults is very practical and can be attempted immediately. First, recognize that it is up to you to feel insulted or not. Don’t let the appearance mislead you. Second, take some time and pause. Perhaps it helps to count to ten or just take a deep breath. By doing so, you will see that you can regain self-control, withstand your feelings of anger or distress, and remain calm and composed.

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