Is Suffering Essential?

By Amy Martin, APRN, RhD

Although pain and suffering seems like a universal challenge, when it comes to daily life the question is, is it really necessary? The agony that comes from chronic debilitating illnesses, trauma and loss, from lack of basic needs, like food, shelter and clothing, is a different kind of pain than the type I want to address. This is the anguish that comes from the stable of negative thoughts and limiting beliefs about life and one’s self. This is the suffering that is optional, and mental toughness along with emotional resilience can sooth its sting.

What can we do in order to see pain as a teacher, when the tendency is to see suffering as a continual, heavy burden? Think about the last time you were hurting; did you lose a job, have a falling out with a friend or relative, allow disappointment to overwhelm you? Did you judge your self, drown in shame or get caught up in wishing a situation was different?

Self-imposed suffering requires behavioral changes; otherwise peace and happiness will become that unattainable ideal. When something isn’t going our way, it’s our choice how we will react. Become upset, angry, frustrated and cranky or come to recognize that not everything works out in our favor. The challenge is in learning acceptance. And the way toward acceptance is forgiveness, tolerance and mental toughness. Fighting reality doesn’t change it, no matter how hard you try. 

There are tools and strategies to use when your emotional reactions take you to that small and dark place that causes anxiety and depression. These approaches must be exercised regularly; as much as weight lifting builds muscles, the practice of mental toughness builds resilience. This doesn’t mean hardness or indifference; it’s simply a new approach that becomes part of your updated internal monitoring system. It says, this is a difficult situation and I now have a choice, to either overheat or self regulate. 

In order to regulate, like with any mechanical device, you must know what’s happening first. Your dashboard indicators tell you if you need fuel, water, oil, wiper fluid or even air in your tires, and your body will tell you what you need if you learn to read the signals. Are you tired or hungry? Are you uneasy or scared? What do you need in order to feel peaceful and be at your optimum wellness? No one can know how you feel better than you, and if you get into the habit of reading those signs, acting upon them is required. You know how far your vehicle will go if you ignore those indicators, and it’s the same with your mental and physical health. And the older we get, the sooner our bodies begin to protest when ignored. 

This is a simple three-step tool to help move you through pain and suffering: 




  1. Awareness is always the key to healing; are you aware of what you’re feeling? Can you name it, explain it or express it in some way?

  2. Acceptance puts you in a receptive state of mind; can you accept the reality of your situation at this moment? The way things are now is not necessarily how they will be later.

  3. Taking action places you in the position of power; are you willing to change your thoughts or behavior so you can create a different outcome? Start by imagining a wide expanse of possibilities.

Once you begin to exercise this new habit, you will no longer be a victim of your old, repetitive patterns. The music may sound the same, but your dance steps will change, and any self-imposed pain will only be optional. 

Amy Martin