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What is suffering?

Sheri Van Dijk
Psychiatry

Pain is an inevitable part of human life. We all experience it, it's unavoidable: we feel grief when we lose someone we love; we're disappointed when we are unable to reach a goal we had set; we feel hurt by people we care about, and so on. According to the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan, however, suffering is avoidable. Linehan defines suffering as the refusal to accept the pain in our lives.

Consider this example: Joan didn't get the promotion she was hoping for, and the job was given to someone who hadn't been there as long as she had. Joan is understandably disappointed and hurt, but then she starts to refuse to accept the pain in her life by judging it: "This shouldn't have happened", "It's ridiculous, they obviously don't know what they're doing", "It's not fair", "It's not right", and so on. By judging her reality in this way, and refusing to accept her reality, Joan is also refusing to accept her pain. And by refusing to accept the situation and her pain, she actually causes more pain for herself - this is suffering. The anger, bitterness, resentment, and so on that Joan is now experiencing in addition to her disappointment and hurt is her suffering.

When we stop fighting reality and accept the pain in our lives, we stop suffering. The pain doesn't necessarily go away, but we feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted off us; and the situation loses its power over us - we spend less time thinking about it, and when we do think about it, our emotions aren't as intense.

Deepak Chopra
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
Suffering can be defined as the pain that makes life seem meaningless. Animals suffer, of course, and often deeply. Some are capable of mourning for their kind if one dies. Humans, however, are subject to complex inner pain that includes fear, guilt, shame, grief, rage, and hopelessness.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.