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Why Suffering Matters

It is difficult not to notice the suffering that is taking place in the world. You need only wake up to be alerted of a new tragedy that has befallen humanity. In fact, suffering seems to be an unwanted element of the human existence. People die, people are hurt, people are scarred and bruised.

From the moment we are born, our suffering begins. We cry out when our stomachs are empty. We even cry out when our stomachs are full. We cry out more and more as we begin exploring the sharp corners of life.

Suffering is an unfortunate component of the human experience. There are moments in our lives where suffering can appear endless. Suffering can promote unhealthy habits as we look to find a respite from our pain and discomfort. Suffering may also push us towards unhealthy relationships. We venture to seek some remedy or an elixir to our malaise. There is no mistaking the fact that humans do not like suffering.

The nature of suffering is one of growing discomfort and psychological stress. Suffering is also a dynamic and never ceasing element of our existence. This begs the question, why do we suffer?

This question has been posed before. Like many timeless issues, the question will remain an integral part of the human existence. For the individual, suffering is not necessarily the existential question that occupies their minds. For the individual, suffering is a culmination of events or the totality of their capacity to manage the appropriate emotional response in the face of pain.

Suffering inflicts its mark on our lives. It creates both visible and invisible marks on us. It can linger long after the initial event that caused us such pain has long since passed. The psychological suffering that we can endure is perhaps that most damning of all suffering humans face.

Even more perplexing is that fact that we often inflict these injuries upon one another. Humans are capable of both good and evil. At the opposite ends of these extremes lies the unfathomable reality of the human existence. Humans have provided the world a multitude of unbelievable moments of self-sacrifice. These sacrifices are in the service of another human and can humble any of us. Conversely, humans are also capable of great and unspeakable evil. Evil that takes away our ability to even rationalize one’s ability to do such things.

Suffering is clearly a universal truth of life. What purpose does it serve? It does bind us to an unwavering commonality that we will all face in our lifetime. It would be the ultimate cruelty of this world if suffering’s only purpose is to bind us in such a miserable manner.

Yet, while we all will suffer, what we choose to do with that suffering is what matters. Suffering can offer several unenviable opportunities for self-exploration. Too often though, those who suffer the most choose to reside in the trapping feelings of guilt and shame. There should be no doubt that our tendency to self-blame in the wake of suffering is more reflective of the true nature of humanity. In the absence of a rational explanation of why suffering happens, there must be something we are doing to deserve this.

For this reason, so many victims of trauma find themselves locked in years of self-loathing blame and thoughts of death. True and innocent victims of the most heinous elements of humanity are often marginalized when they seek some measure of relief in a drug or find themselves seeking sexual encounters for the sole purpose of reassuring themselves, they can have back control.

Suffering allows us a chance to grow and renew. While this can seem counterintuitive, it is nonetheless true. We do not seek suffering. We do not look for these opportunities and you will not find many motivational speakers telling you to get a hold of your suffering. But that is exactly what we need. We need to face our suffering and control our suffering. Suffering is simply the acknowledgement of a hurt or a series of hurt. It can perpetuate a cycle of negative experiences and, for some, it can come to define their life.

“Hi, I am Suffering, how are you?”

This is what we need to ask ourselves because suffering is coming. Suffering is an essential building block that we need in order to grow. The adversity that often stems from suffering is what deepens our ability to take on more. Suffering molds and shapes us. Yet with all that suffering can do, what we choose to do with our suffering will determine how we grow. Embrace your suffering. Suffering is life and in life, we have the greatest teacher we will ever know.

As a child, you may burn your hand on a hot surface. Through that suffering, you readily learn not to touch that surface again. As a teenager, you may be thrown from a bike because you were being careless. You learn to pay attention. As an adult, you may have your heart broken because you maintained poor personal boundaries. You then learn to put in place better and more appropriate boundaries. Lessons in life are often delivered through the auspicious nature of suffering. So that next time you find yourself suffering, be thankful, you are about to learn something about yourself.

Why Suffering Matters


Dennis Steelman, LPC, LCDC


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APA Reference
Steelman, D. (2020). Why Suffering Matters. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/why-suffering-matters/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Jul 2020 (Originally: 21 Jul 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 21 Jul 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.