Pain and Suffering: What's The Difference?

While I joke around with most of my new clients that I'm glad to be meeting them despite the circumstances, the reality is that most people are coming to me in pain. Rather, most people are coming to me with pain but also with a lot of "suffering". What's the difference?

Being that the school of therapy I practice is rooted in some Eastern philosophy, "pain" as a concept, is inevitable. There will always be situations or circumstances that will cause us "pain" based on their initial impact: a Cancer diagnosis, a divorce, childhood abuse, an affair. Pain is an unavoidable circumstance of life.

While it's easy for us to imagine that there will be more happy days, we have a hard time as a culture accepting that some days will be filled with bad events and situations. We do a pretty good job at trying to pretend we can outrun them or that they won't ever happen, but that is an illusion. It also limits us from really knowing how to deal with the unfortunate incidences when they come up. That is where suffering comes in. 

"Suffering" can be described as all of the extra weight we voluntarily/involuntarily add to avoid dealing with, experiencing, or suppressing the original "Pain". Avoidance is something we're very good at trying to do, but it's one of the roots of all of our issues.

An example might be helpful here, one from a great book about the subject.

Let's say you've got a meeting or appointment downtown. Unfortunately, you couldn't find your keys so you're running a little late. Instead of being able to park in the free lot a few blocks away, you have to park at the meters in front of the building you're going into. You throw a few quarters in the meter giving you 30 minutes of time and you figure that should be enough to get you in and out. 

Sadly, it wasn't and you get a parking ticket. Frustrated and angry with yourself (and maybe a little embarrassed), you throw the ticket in your glove box. Over the next few days, you're feeling uncomfortable about the whole situation and are trying to not think about it. So much so that you forget to pay it and, after two weeks, it doubles in price. 

When you finally remember it, you realize that you're now out of even MORE money than you would've been otherwise. This causes you to be even more frustrated, angry, confused and embarrassed.  Maybe you even avoid your partner a little more than usual so you don't have to tell them about it. This causes distance and uncomfortable tension in your relationship... from there, you can see how this scenario might pan out.

In this example, the "pain" is getting the first ticket. The "suffering" is all of the mental gymnastics that you did to avoid dealing with the "pain" and all of the subsequent issues that came from not dealing with the "pain" itself. 

The seemingly-obvious solution here is to deal with the "pain" right away so that none of the other bad stuff comes along but most people aren't naturally good at. 

Counseling is about dealing with not only the pain but also the suffering. It allows me to teach you how to avoid having so much suffering in the future and to also get comfortable with dealing with the initial pain right away. If you find your self in pain or in suffering, well, let's get you taken care of. Give me a call and together, we can change your experience of life.

Until next time,


Alexander Michaud