Dealing with other people is part of being human.

However, given the explosion of social media, being exposed to other people’s thoughts and opinions can be as simple as opening our phones first thing in the morning and seeing a message or comment.

This increase in exposure means an increase in the good, but it also means an increase in the bad. By bad, I mean the things that have the potential to cause us suffering, annoyance, frustration, etc.

Some of this may even be directed specifically at us, whether it’s an online interaction or face-to-face.

Regardless of how we’re exposed to an insult, it has the potential to cause us a large amount of suffering.

Today we’re going to go through some Stoic tools to reduce that suffering and maintain our peace of mind, as well as some ways to enforce our boundaries in ways that show someone they’ve overstepped the line without losing our composure.

The Problem with Disrespect:

Respect and, more specifically, disrespect cause us issues for a number of reasons. It can be:

  1. Cultural: most cultures have some level of honor and respect deeply ingrained in their values. Lack of respect for customs, hierarchy, or cultural expectations can cause friction.

  2. Social: Respect can be a marker of social status and position in social groups. Disrespect in this context can be seen as a threat to a person’s position in that group.

  3. Self-worth: Our self-worth and self-esteem can be, in part, linked to how others see and treat us. Disrespect can negatively affect a person’s view of themselves and their worth or be seen as an attack on their self-worth.

These are a few examples, but it’s clear to see how disrespect can cause an emotional response. In many cases, the feeling we have of being disrespected is a boiling over of emotions that make us feel attacked and that we need to respond to right the wrong.

However, these feelings often drag us away from our values and cause us to act in ways that don’t represent the person we want to be, often making us look insecure as we allow the behavior of others to bait a reaction from us.

Through the use of Stoicism, we can learn a way to handle disrespect in a healthy way, maintain our composure, and, if needed, enforce our boundaries.

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus once said:

Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you.

– Epictetus, The Enchiridion


We can’t control other people, but we can control how we respond to them.

A core of Stoic philosophy is the idea that there are some things in life we can control and some things we cannot.

While this might sound very simple, we often make mistakes when judging what is and is not within our control. These mistakes cause us to suffer.

We suffer when we put our energy into things that, no matter how hard we try or how strongly we feel, will not change despite our efforts. This can cause feelings of helplessness, ineffectiveness, bitterness, and contempt.

We suffer when we don’t take responsibility for the things that are our responsibility, namely our thoughts, beliefs, and actions. This can lead us to blame the world or the people around us for our behavior, never learning that it’s us who choose how we think and act.

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”

Epictetus, The Enchiridion

So, how does this help with disrespect?

While the dichotomy of control draws a clear line in the sand about the things we control and things we don’t, the magic lies in truly grasping this:

  • Our Inner Citadel: We can think of our mind as a fortress (Pierre Hadot called it our Inner Citadel). Within these walls, you command your thoughts, feelings, and actions. This is your domain. When someone disrespects you, your first instinct might be to retaliate due to the feeling of hurt. But this is where Stoicism steps in, instructing you to take a moment and recognize that within these walls, your response is yours to choose. You decide if you let hurtful words breach your defenses or if you choose a more resilient, constructive reaction.

  • The World Outside: Now, imagine the world beyond your fortress – expansive, unpredictable, and teeming with countless other fortresses (people with their own thoughts and feelings). Here, there are countless opinions, actions, and words passing between people. Among these interactions will be disrespect. But—and here’s the key thing to remember—these winds, no matter how fierce, remain outside your walls. They are external events. While they might rattle your gates or crash against your walls, they cannot dictate how you command your thoughts and actions unless you let them in.

Why does this matter?

When we can understand the nature of disrespect through the lens of control, we can reframe the offense from a personal attack to an external event. Or simply another person voicing an opinion that we can choose to ignore.

We can then focus on our response rather than what the other person has done, and in doing so, be deliberate with how we move forward rather than acting on impulse (which we may regret)

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All you can do is behave in a way you believe is good.

An insult, when stripped down, is essentially someone’s perception. A perception colored by their beliefs, biases, and experiences.

Epictetus, one of Stoicism’s greatest thinkers, might say that an insult is similar to someone pointing out that the sky is green. It’s a viewpoint, yes, but it’s not always an accurate reflection of reality.

The Stoic Virtue of Wisdom:

The ancient Stoics had four cardinal virtues:

  1. Wisdom – our ability to use sound judgment and to differentiate between good, bad, and indifferent things. It involves seeking knowledge, making informed decisions, and understanding the nature of the world.

  2. Temperance – our ability to behave with moderation and self-discipline. It means controlling desires and impulses, avoiding excesses, and achieving balance in all aspects of life.

  3. Courage – our ability to exercise both physical bravery and the moral courage to stand up for what is right, face challenges head-on, and endure hardships. It’s about confronting both external adversities and internal fears or anxieties.

  4. Justice – our capacity for fairness, kindness, and our duties to our community. It emphasizes acting with integrity, giving everyone their due, and contributing to the common good.

For the purpose of this discussion, we’ll be looking at wisdom.

A fundamental part of wisdom is our ability to see the world as it is, free from our biases, judgments, preconceptions, and expectations that often warp the true nature of what we see.

“Appearances to the mind are of four kinds. Things either are what they appear to be; or they neither are, nor appear to be; or they are, and do not appear to be; or they are not, and yet appear to be. Rightly to aim in all these cases is the wise man’s task.”

– Epictetus, Discourses, Book I, ch. 27

The closer we can get to viewing the world objectively, the better we are able to make good judgments because our decisions and actions are made with more accurate information.

How does this help us deal with disrespect?

The Opinions of Others:

When we can learn to see the world more objectively, we learn that the things other people say and think are often projections of their own beliefs, values, and experiences.

That is to say, not everything other people say is true.

When we understand this, we can extend the idea to include the things other people say to us and about us.

If we’re insulted, we can inspect the insult and judge whether it is true (and something we should reflect on) or false and simply a projection of the person insulting us.

This filter protects us from rising to anger and allows our emotional reaction to control our behaviours (which, as we’ve already said, can cause us to behave in ways we’ll regret later on)

So don’t let the actions of other people drag you away from your values. It’s very likely they’re simply projecting their own experiences onto the world around them.

We can even learn to be thankful for it.

If someone, through an insult or a comment, highlights something that we have done wrong or a behavior we have that’s not constructive, we have been given an opportunity for reflection that we may not have otherwise had.

Epictetus once said:

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”

– Epictetus, The Enchiridion

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All that being said, there will be times when people overstep our boundaries, and we need to enforce them.

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries are essential for our well-being, self-respect, and maintaining balanced relationships.

Boundaries prevent us from being taken advantage of, protect our self-worth and self-esteem, and generally allow us to maintain our values and not compromise on what we believe to be right, fair, or just.

Here are some ways to help us maintain our boundaries:

  1. Stay Consistent: Once you’ve set a boundary, be consistent in upholding it. Consistency sends the message that you’re serious about where that boundary begins and ends.

  2. Practice Saying “No”: We need to learn to be comfortable saying no to requests or situations that compromise our boundaries. Remember, saying “no” is a complete sentence and doesn’t always need an explanation.

  3. Reassess and Adjust: As we mature and grow, our boundaries will probably need to adjust with us. Regularly evaluate them to ensure they align with your current needs and values.

  4. Avoid over-justifying: While it’s okay to provide an explanation, avoid over-justifying or over-explaining your boundaries. Your comfort and well-being are reason enough.

  5. Prepare for Resistance: There may well be cases where people resist or react negatively to you setting boundaries. This is especially true if they were used to benefiting from their absence. Stay firm, stay consistent, reiterate your stance, and distance yourself if they continue to disrespect your limits.

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”

Marcus Aurelius

Hopefully this helped to frame the subject of insult, disrespect, and the need for boundaries.

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