The term ataraxia has its roots in ancient Greek, and means lack of disturbance.
It makes sense that a word was used to designate something so concrete, since in the Greece of Plato’s, Aristotle’s and Alexander the Great’s time, there were philosophical schools that claimed our ability not to let anything affect you. The Stoics and Epicureans, for example, practiced a renunciation of great desires and impulses linked to easy sources of pleasure, something that made them similar to monks of Eastern religions.
Ataraxia is therefore the absence of anxiety, anger or confusion . In other words, it usually materializes in the form of a tendency to be calm and imperturbable.
However, the concept of ataraxia goes beyond philosophy and religions and has gained a place in the domains of mental health.
Ataraxia in Medicine and Psychology
Sometimes the appearance of ataraxia is not due to a voluntary effort to follow the precepts of a religion or philosophical doctrine having gone through a phase of reflection on the subject. Many times, in fact, ataraxia makes its presence felt in a totally unwanted and unexpected way, as a consequence of an accident that has produced damage to the brain .
Although the idea of not getting angry or sad may seem attractive, ataraxia caused by injury has serious consequences for the quality of life of those who experience it. Both their way of relating to others and their self-image are radically changed by being involuntarily kept in a state of eternal imperturbability.
Ataraxia as seen from the neurological
This may seem strange, but it is totally logical: our brain is not only the set of organs that makes consciousness, the ability to plan and think logically or the use of language possible, but it is also the basis of all the processes on which our emotional states are based. This means that if certain parts of the human brain start to fail, some aspects of our emotional life may be altered , while the rest of the functions of our way of being remain more or less unchanged.
Just as brain injuries cause only a part of the brain to die and not all, what remains altered after such an accident is only a (more or less important) part of our mental life. In the case of ataraxia, this may be due to failures in the way the limbic system interacts with the frontal lobe, which is responsible, among other things, for “cushioning” the impact that our emotions have on our behavior in the short and medium term.
Thus, it is very difficult for a stimulus to radically change the emotional state of a person who has this kind of ataraxia; not because he has trained in certain meditation techniques, but because his brain circuits have begun to function abnormally.
What are people with medical ataraxia like?
Pathological ataraxia is manifested through these main characteristics :
1. Tendency towards passivity
People with medical ataraxia hardly take the initiative, and just react to what is happening around them .
2.Absence of the appearance of intense emotional states
Regardless of what the person wants, one does not experience anger or anxiety , but neither does one experience peak moments of joy.
3.Unusual emotional stability
Because of this, the person’s emotional state seems not to depend on the environment: it always remains more or less the same .
4.Impossibility of frustration
The fact that events do not lead to the positive consequences we were hoping for does not produce frustration in the person.
5.Disappearance of guilt
This is one of the most notable consequences of ataraxia due to injury, at least from a moral and social point of view. The person with medical ataraxia does not feel affected by the bad things that happen to him or her , but neither does he or she react when he or she sees how his or her actions can harm others.
By way of conclusion
Medical ataraxia is the mirror image of how philosophical ataraxia would be taken to the extreme . Not only does it worsen the quality of life of those who experience it, but it also makes it difficult to establish correct communication and emotional ties with others.