I want to share with you a deeply personal story about some struggles I encountered in a past relationship and how Stoicism, mindfulness, and its virtues helped me move past it all. It was an incredibly painful experience, but by embracing the principles of Stoicism, I was able to find peace and grow as a person.
The first section is my account of the experience, as I felt then. I’m well now, wish the best for all involved, do not want to air dirty laundry, and am typically a very private person.
I simply believe sharing my experience might help others going through the same.
Please note that I am far from perfect and my journey with Stoicism, like with any personal philosophy, is never-ending. That’s part of the beauty of this way of thinking, one should always be mindful and working on themselves. Reasonably critical of themselves while being tolerant with others.
Practicing a philosophy is just that — practicing.
- The Crushing End
- Enter Stoicism
- Embracing Stoic Mindfulness, Rationality, and Acceptance
- Cultivating Inner Virtues
- The Road to Healing
- Recommended Stoic Reads
The Crushing End
It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.Epictetus
Again, I’m only recounting this to demonstrate why I felt the need to explore Stoicism — in hopes that it may help others. It’s not pretty, I’m not innocent, and I truly wish the best for my past partner. I won’t go into explicit detail of my faults nor theirs. I don’t want to paint them in a bad light but this is my side of the story.
If you’re only here for the Stoicism, I recommend skipping down.
We’d been together for years at this point, we were bound in a domestic partnership, relied on one another, had plans for a home, businesses…etc.
Reflecting on it now, the signs were there. Both of us were in a rut. We lost the spark of happiness in our relationship and with ourselves individually.
We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.Seneca
While I sensed issues, I knew that I still cared for and loved this person more than I had ever loved and cared before. Or rather, I cared and loved the person I thought I knew. The image of the person I held in my mind.
I assumed we were in a phase, one we’d tackle together and move past with time. I was confident we could but I failed to notice how far gone things were.
I never raised my voice, never raised a hand, never limited them and their activities, helped them pursue their goals, and supported them in any way I could.
That said, I acknowledge my faults. I could have been better in many ways. I could have been more present.
I’d do anything for them but I wasn’t taking good care of myself. I gained a lot of weight, wasn’t as social, was questioning my career. I wasn’t happy with myself.
No man is free who is not a master of himself.Epictetus
I had many plans for the future and acknowledged things I needed to work on. Things I planned to work on; however, plans without a timeline don’t usually turn out well. I was tricking myself, thinking there was progress being made by simply holding the “plan” in my head.
I trusted this person. I wanted to be with this person. I believed in our commitment and I believed their word. Always assuming positive intent and never doubting their honesty. I thought we had good communication.
Until I didn’t.
Over the course of a few months, the person I thought I knew was no longer there. They started to communicate some concerns — which I welcomed. But their actions didn’t match their words.
I slowly realized that I was being gaslit. Lied to repeatedly over those months.
My partner wanted to move on but didn’t want to tell me.
In fact, they had moved on in many ways already but promised that they didn’t — promised that they just needed time to think about some of the bigger next steps in our relationship.
Two weeks in a row, they took our single vehicle, my truck which I was gifting to her, out of town. With little explanation or communication other than I should trust them. Leaving me stranded, knowing I had a minor surgery during their time away and already faced some limited mobility at the time.
I posed that we should just break up before they proceed with what I feared. It certainly seemed it’d be the easier and more respectful path. They said it wasn’t necessary, that they were no cheat. Asking if they even would tell me if they had ventured astray, they said they would as I was “a good man” and continued to reaffirm that they’d never betray me.
They claimed that I needed to trust them or I’d risk pushing them away. That they were doing what was best for us.
The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.Marcus Aurelius
That time ended up being betrayal. Financially, romantically, and emotionally. With no dignity nor respect.
Even when I demonstrated evidence of betrayal, they manipulated me into questioning myself and thinking otherwise. Led to believe I was at fault for thinking such things and for seeking the truth. Betrayal that was happening right in front of me and likely for much longer than I thought.
Every bit of evidence was refused with another lie. One I was manipulated to believe. I was in a very anxious state and, albeit ridiculous and nonsensical, believed them.
Each discussion turned into more gaslighting. Each time I confronted the situation, I was told I was acting crazy, that they loved me, and I shouldn’t question them.
I had given them countless opportunities to be honest for me. They continued to lie.
Even before delving into Stoicism, I took some time to mediate in an attempt to calm my anxiety. This meditation, paired with more explicit and irrefutable evidence, opened my eyes. I finally realized I was being gaslit.
As quickly as I realized all of this, it was over.
Any attempt to talk about what they were doing was met with more gaslighting and anger.
In the end, I was left without closure. Albeit, the only closure I needed was their actions and lack of communication about what had happened.
I was devastated. I was losing someone I thought I loved and trusted more than anyone. I never let someone become so close to me. Never had such a shared trust. Never imagined this person could disrespect us, disrespect me, and tarnish said trust.
In this life-changing event, I was losing a social circle, my trust in others, and what I had grown to know as my normal. All while I was also facing health issues and a major role change at work.
Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.Seneca
I caught myself posting my struggles, without much detail, to social media and I knew I needed to wake up.
My life wasn’t going to be the same and I was struggling with the change.
Personally, I think I’ve typically been a bit stoic. Thanks to early struggles and chill parental influences, I already practiced a good bit of calmness, mindfulness, and rationality. Across work and friendships, I was often called upon to help manage tough and stressful situations.
But, I was struggling this time.
Everything was changing. Everything seemed challenging.
I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I lacked focus, and I couldn’t find a way to make the sadness, fear, embarrassment, and uncertainty go away.
Words and texts, that I did not mean or believe, were spewing from the dark depths. I wasn’t nice.
I was grieving. Hard.
The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.Epictetus
I knew I needed to find a way to heal and move forward. I quickly started therapy but it was only going to take me so far. I had a mission to be better and needed more tools.
Reflecting back upon how I typically handle tough situations, I started noticing various thought patterns and actions that were typically present. Those I was missing at the time.
I noticed some similarities between how I would typically operate and the philosophy of Stoicism. A philosophy I had skimmed over a few times in the past.
That’s when I decided to dive deeper into Stoicism, hoping that its principles could guide me through this dark time in my life.
Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.Seneca
Let’s delve deeper into Stoicism — its history, how it works, and why it’s such a powerful tool in dealing with emotional turmoil.
A Brief History
Stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium around 300 BCE. It quickly gained popularity and became one of the most influential philosophical schools in the ancient world. Stoicism’s teachings spread throughout the Roman Empire, with many of its most famous proponents, like Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, being Romans themselves.
The core principles of Stoicism have remained relevant throughout history, even as the world around us has changed.
Some prominent figures that have spoken in favor of Stoicism include the following.
- George Washington: The first President of the United States admired Stoic philosophy, particularly the works of Seneca. It is said that he was influenced by the Stoic principles of self-discipline, duty, and virtue. Washington even had a play about the Roman Stoic Cato performed for his troops during the harsh winter at Valley Forge.
- James Madison: The fourth President of the United States was also influenced by Stoic philosophy. He read and admired the works of classical philosophers like Seneca and Epictetus.
- Bill Clinton: The 42nd President of the United States has mentioned that he reads Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations” regularly and finds wisdom and guidance in its teachings.
- Barack Obama: The 44th President of the United States has mentioned reading works of Stoic philosophy and appreciating the focus on self-discipline, responsibility, and inner strength.
- Tim Ferriss: Entrepreneur, author, and podcaster Tim Ferriss has discussed the influence of Stoicism on his life and work, frequently recommending Stoic texts and inviting experts on his podcast.
- Arianna Huffington: The co-founder of The Huffington Post and Thrive Global, Arianna Huffington has written about the benefits of Stoic philosophy and how it can help people cope with stress and find balance in their lives.
- James Mattis: The retired U.S. Marine Corps general and former U.S. Secretary of Defense has mentioned the influence of Stoic philosophy on his life, particularly in terms of leadership and decision-making.
- Wen Jiabao: The former Premier of the People’s Republic of China, has mentioned that he is a fan of Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations.” In interviews, he has shared that he has read the book multiple times, keeps it with him on foreign travels, and considers it an important source of inspiration and guidance.
Today, Stoicism continues to inspire people from all walks of life, providing a practical guide to living a more mindful, resilient, and fulfilling life.
How Stoicism Works
At its core, Stoicism teaches us to focus on what we can control in life and to accept what we cannot change via mindfulness, rationality, acceptance, and a series of virtues. By doing so, we can cultivate inner peace, reduce suffering, and develop virtues that allow us to lead a more meaningful life.
Stoicism is built on four primary virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. These virtues guide us in our thoughts, emotions, and actions, helping us navigate the challenges that life throws our way.
Embracing Stoic Mindfulness, Rationality, and Acceptance
The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.Marcus Aurelius
Note that I’m not perfect at these things. I’ve experienced great benefit from the practices I’ll detail below; however, while I’ve moved past the relationship, I have to work on them regularly and still occasionally falter in the context of other aspects of my life.
True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.Seneca
One of the core tenets of Stoicism is mindfulness — the practice of being present and aware of our thoughts and emotions without judgment. I started by dedicating time each day to reflect on my feelings and the situation I was in.
While I’m not perfect at it, it has allowed me to better understand my emotions and helped me gain a sense of control over my reactions.
- Observing Thoughts and Emotions: I practiced mindfulness by paying close attention to my thoughts and emotions, observing them without judgment or attachment. This allowed me to better understand my reactions to the betrayal and helped me develop healthier ways of coping with my emotions.
- Meditation: I incorporated meditation into my daily routine, which helped me cultivate mindfulness and inner peace. Through regular meditation practice, I was able to develop greater self-awareness and emotional resilience, which supported my healing process. This started with a simple 5-10 minute meditation session, focusing on my breath, each morning and night.
- Mindful Communication: As I sought support from friends, family, and professionals, I practiced mindful communication by truly listening to their perspectives and advice without judgment. This open-minded approach helped me gain valuable insights and facilitate a more meaningful connections with those around me.
- Present-Moment Focus: Instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, I made a conscious effort to focus on the present moment. By practicing mindfulness in this way, I was able to appreciate the simple joys of life and cultivate a greater sense of gratitude and contentment.
- Mindful Decision-Making: In all aspects of my life, I strive to make decisions mindfully, considering the long-term consequences of my choices and ensuring that they aligned with my values and goals.
By embracing mindfulness, I’ve been able to recognize when negative thoughts and emotions surface and let them pass without getting caught up in them. This newfound mental clarity has made it easier for me to accept the end of my relationship and focus on my own well-being.
It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.Epictetus
Stoicism emphasizes the importance of reason and rational thinking in guiding our actions. By understanding the world and ourselves through the lens of reason, we can make better decisions and develop a more balanced perspective on life.
- Evaluating Beliefs: I practiced rationality by examining the beliefs and assumptions I held about my relationship and myself. By questioning these beliefs and evaluating their validity, I was able to let go of unhelpful thought patterns and develop a more balanced and objective perspective.
- Analyzing Emotions: I acknowledged that emotions are a natural part of the human experience, but I also understood that they can sometimes cloud our judgment. By analyzing my emotions rationally, I was able to identify their underlying causes and address them in a constructive manner.
- Problem-Solving: I approached the challenges I faced during my healing process with a rational problem-solving mindset. Instead of being overwhelmed by my emotions or getting stuck in unproductive thought patterns, I focused on identifying practical solutions and strategies to overcome obstacles and move forward.
- Seeking Evidence: In order to make informed decisions and challenge irrational thoughts, I actively sought out evidence and information related to my experiences. This rational approach allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my situation and make better choices for my future.
Do not seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go on well.Epictetus
Stoics believe that we should accept what we cannot change and focus our energy on what we can control. This acceptance allows us to let go of unnecessary suffering and frees us to take positive action.
- Acknowledging Reality: I practiced acceptance by acknowledging the reality of my situation and the end of my relationship. Instead of clinging to denial or wishful thinking, I faced the truth head-on, which allowed me to begin the healing process.
- Focusing on What’s in My Control: I recognized that I couldn’t change my ex-partner’s actions or the past, but I could control my response and the choices I made moving forward. By focusing on what was within my control, I was able to channel my energy into productive and healing activities.
- Letting Go of Resentment: Holding onto resentment and anger would only prolong my suffering and prevent me from moving forward. By practicing acceptance, I made a conscious effort to let go of these negative emotions and release the burden of bitterness.
- Embracing Change: I acknowledged that change is a natural part of life and that all relationships, whether they end in pain or joy, contribute to our personal growth. By accepting change as an inevitable part of life, I was able to view my experience as an opportunity for growth and self-discovery.
- Accepting Imperfections: I recognized that both I and my ex-partner were imperfect human beings, prone to making mistakes and experiencing pain. By accepting our imperfections, I was able to cultivate empathy, forgiveness, and a more realistic perspective on the relationship.
Cultivating Inner Virtues
We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.Epictetus
Stoicism teaches us that we should focus on cultivating the inner virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. As I continued to practice mindfulness, I began to explore these virtues and how they could help me heal and grow.
Again, I’m not perfect at these practices. I’ve benefited greatly from the pursuit of them. While I’ve moved past the relationship, I have to work on these virtues regularly and still occasionally falter in the context of other area of my life.
As long as you live, keep learning how to live.Seneca
I realized that wisdom meant learning from my experience and using it to make better choices in the future.
Wisdom, in the context of Stoicism, refers to the ability to discern what is truly important, to learn from our experiences, and to make rational decisions that align with our values.
- Reflection and Learning: I took the time to reflect on my past relationship, acknowledging both the good and the bad. I asked myself questions like: “What can I learn from this experience?”, “How can I grow as a person?”, and “What do I truly value in a relationship?”. By engaging in this self-reflection, I gained valuable insights that helped me understand my needs and priorities, which in turn has guided my decisions.
- Recognizing Patterns: As I reflected on my past relationship, I started to recognize patterns in my behavior and in the dynamics of the relationship itself. For example, I noticed that I often overlooked red flags because I wanted to believe the best in my partner. I also identified what appeared to be my biggest shortcomings and failures I had been ignoring. By identifying these patterns and issues, I’ve been able to work on changing my behavior and making better choices.
- Seeking Knowledge: I actively sought out the wisdom of others to help me grow and heal. In addition to reading books on Stoicism, I leveraged therapy, CBT tools, and extended conversations with minds I trust. This pursuit of wisdom provided me with the tools and resources I needed to navigate the healing process and make more informed decisions in the future.
- Practicing Patience: Eventually, I understood that healing and personal growth take time and that rushing the process would not lead to true wisdom. By practicing patience, I allowed myself the time and space to properly process my emotions, learn from my experiences, and ultimately make wiser choices moving forward.
Be like the cliff against which the waves continually break; but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.Marcus Aurelius
Courage meant facing my pain head-on and not letting it control me.
In the context of Stoicism, it means facing challenges and adversity head-on, confronting our fears, and standing up for our values, even when it’s difficult.
I applied the virtue of courage in several ways as I navigated the aftermath of my broken relationship.
- Confronting Painful Emotions: Instead of suppressing or avoiding my feelings, I focused on developing the courage to face them head-on. I allowed myself to experience the full range of emotions, from anger and sadness to fear and disappointment. This honest confrontation helped me process and eventually release the pain I was carrying.
- Setting Boundaries: I realized that it was essential to establish healthy boundaries in order to protect myself and move on from the betrayal I had experienced. This meant having the courage to cut ties with my ex-partner, even though it was a difficult and emotional decision.
- Rebuilding Trust: After experiencing betrayal, it’s natural to feel guarded and hesitant to trust others. However, I knew that to move forward and form new, healthy relationships, I needed to have the courage to open up and trust again. This involved taking small, incremental steps to let people in and gradually rebuild my trust in others. Something I’m still working on.
- Seeking Support: Opening up to friends, family, and professionals about my experiences required courage. It meant being vulnerable and admitting that I needed help. By seeking support, I was able to gain new perspectives, learn valuable coping strategies, and feel less alone in my healing journey.
- Personal Growth: I embraced the courage to step out of my comfort zone and pursue personal growth. This included trying new hobbies, meeting new people, and investing time and energy into my own well-being. These experiences not only helped me heal but also allowed me to discover new passions and strengths.
Treat your inferiors in the way in which you would like to be treated by your own superiors.Epictetus
Justice meant treating myself and others with fairness and compassion, even when it was difficult.
- Self-Compassion: I made a conscious effort to treat myself with kindness and understanding. I reminded myself that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s crucial to forgive ourselves in order to heal. By practicing self-compassion, I was able to let go of self-blame and focus on moving forward.
- Empathy for Others: Even though I felt betrayed and hurt, I tried to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. I acknowledged the complex emotions and motives that may have led to my ex-partner’s actions, and while it didn’t excuse their behavior, it allowed me to view the situation with a more balanced perspective.
- Fairness in Judgment: I aimed to be fair in my judgments of both myself and my ex-partner. Instead of focusing solely on the negative aspects of the relationship, I also acknowledged the positive experiences and the growth that came from it. This balanced approach helped me avoid becoming consumed by bitterness and resentment.
- Supporting Others: I recognized that I was not alone in experiencing pain and betrayal. By offering support and understanding to others going through similar situations, I was able to practice the virtue of justice and create meaningful connections with those around me.
It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.Seneca
Temperance meant practicing self-control and moderation in all areas of life. Including our emotions, desires, and actions.
To me, it doesn’t mean avoiding all instances of luxuries and indulgences in life — I don’t think it did to Seneca either.
Rather, I take it as acknowledging, but not succumbing to, desires, impulsive decisions, and self-destructive behavior that could spawn from uncontrolled feelings. Especially those of sadness and anger.
I recognized that it was natural to feel anger, sadness, and even a desire for revenge after what I had been through. However, by practicing temperance, I was able to acknowledge these feelings without letting them dictate my actions or consume my thoughts.
For example, instead of allowing my anger to fuel impulsive decisions or engaging in self-destructive behavior, I chose to channel that energy into positive outlets like exercise, journaling, and spending time with supportive friends. This moderation allowed me to process my emotions in a healthier and more constructive manner, ultimately contributing to my personal growth and resilience.
- Emotional Regulation: I made a conscious effort to manage my emotions, ensuring that they didn’t overwhelm me or dictate my actions. By practicing temperance, I allowed myself to experience my emotions without being consumed by them, which enabled me to make rational decisions and maintain a sense of inner peace.
- Avoiding Overindulgence: In times of emotional turmoil, it’s easy to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like excessive eating, drinking, or other self-destructive behaviors. By practicing temperance, I tried to be mindful of my choices and focused on engaging in activities that promoted my well-being and emotional balance. Something I’m still working on.
- Maintaining Balance in Relationships: As I began to form new connections and rebuild my trust in others, I practiced temperance by ensuring that I didn’t become overly dependent on any one person or relationship. This approach helped me maintain a sense of autonomy and balance in my life.
- Patience and Time: Recognizing that healing takes time, I practiced temperance by being patient with myself and not expecting immediate results. This patience allowed me to focus on my long-term growth and well-being, rather than seeking quick fixes or shortcuts.
By actively working on these virtues, I started to see the positive changes in my life. I became more resilient, more compassionate, and ultimately, a better version of myself.
The Road to Healing
Our life is what our thoughts make it.Marcus Aurelius
It wasn’t easy, and it certainly didn’t happen overnight. I’m not perfect at these practices.
I said things I didn’t mean. I was in a constant panic. I was in unexpected pain.
But through Stoicism, mindfulness, and the cultivation of inner virtues, I was able to slowly heal and move past the grief of my broken relationship.
Through practicing wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, mindfulness, rationality, and acceptance, I was able to cultivate a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me.
By confronting my fears and pain, and maintaining a balanced and compassionate perspective, I discovered inner strength, emotional resilience, and self-awareness. This growth empowered me to make more thoughtful decisions and fostered a more present, harmonious way of living.
I learned to accept what had happened, and I grew stronger because of it.
While I’ve moved past the relationship, I still find myself needing to improve my practice — especially in the context of other areas of my life.
Ultimately, these Stoic virtues and principles guided me on my healing journey, paving the way for a more authentic, fulfilling, and resilient life. Something I’m still working on. Again, not perfect.
The things I’ve outlined are simple. Simple and easy to outline but not necessarily easy to apply. Not without practice. That’s all practicing philosophy really means — practicing and inching forward bit by bit. Not getting too caught up in the past and just trying to be a tiny bit better than the day before.
Overall, I’m well but I still have moments that challenge me. Which then become new opportunities to practice.
If you’re going through a tough time, I encourage you to explore Stoicism and its principles. It may just be the tool you need to help you find peace, acceptance, and personal growth.
Remember, friends, we can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react and grow from it. Stay strong and keep moving forward.
Recommended Stoic Reads
Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.Seneca
Now that you’ve heard my story and how Stoicism has helped me heal and grow, you might be wondering where to start on your own Stoic journey.
Below, I’ve compiled a list of both classic and modern books on Stoicism that might help you delve deeper into this philosophy.
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius – Written by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, this timeless book is a collection of his personal thoughts and reflections on Stoicism. It’s a fantastic starting point for anyone interested in exploring the Stoic way of life.
- Note that this doesn’t read like a normal book as it was a personal journal. Marcus gets a bit repetitive with himself as he works on reaffirming his practice. I recommend reading in short bursts and reflecting.
- Out of the various translations I’ve enjoyed, I prefer the Gregory Hays translation by far. Hardcover – Softcover.
- Letters from a Stoic by Seneca – Seneca was a Roman statesman, philosopher, and playwright. In this collection of letters, he shares his wisdom and insights on topics ranging from adversity to friendship, making it a valuable resource for anyone looking to learn more about Stoicism.
- The Enchiridion by Epictetus – Epictetus was a former slave who became a renowned Stoic philosopher. The Enchiridion is a guide to Stoic ethics and practical advice on living a virtuous life.
- The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday – While not truly a book on Stoicism, Ryan Holiday plucks the core principles of Stoicism and shows how they can help us turn obstacles into opportunities. He shares real-life stories of people who have used Stoic principles to overcome adversity and achieve success.
- How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life by Massimo Pigliucci – Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher and scientist, provides a practical guide to applying Stoic principles in everyday life. He combines historical context, personal anecdotes, and practical advice to make Stoicism accessible to modern readers.
- The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman – This book offers a year’s worth of daily Stoic insights and exercises, designed to help you cultivate mindfulness, resilience, and wisdom.
- Stoicism and the Art of Happiness: A Teach Yourself Guide by Donald Robertson – A practical guide for leveraging Stoicism for leading a happy life.
- The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy by Donald Robertson – An examination of the relationship between modern psychotherapy, CBT, and Stoicism. Heavy focus on psychotherapy applications but written in a way that can be easily consumed by those who aren’t therapists and academics.