On dealing with unavoidable suffering

  • Note that Suffering should be avoided or mitigated wherever possible. Seeking suffering, for whatever reason, is masochistic and should be avoided. These notes below are about coping strategies for unavoidable suffering.
  • There are two types of suffering

    • Emotional suffering
    • Physical and emotional suffering
  • Some examples of unavoidable suffering-

    • A prisoner in the Nazi holocaust camp or a prisoner of war : physical and emotional suffering.
    • A person who has lost a loved one : emotional suffering.
    • A person suffering from a terminal and painful illness : physical and emotional suffering.
    • A person suffering from bullying at work from a bad boss or colleague in a tough job market : emotional suffering.
  • When dealing with unavoidable suffering, i.e. a fate that cannot be changed, our most logical or perhaps the only course of action is to turn our tragedy into an opportunity, to prove to ourselves our potential to triumph over our hopeless situation.

transform a personal tragedy into a triumph , to turn one's predicament into human achievement- Viktor Frankl

  • The fist step towards achieving this is to find a meaning for our suffering. Why are we suffering? What is it's propose?

Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment we find it's meaning - Viktor Frankl

  • Understand that there is meaning for everything in nature, even suffering. We should try to unearth it's meaning when possible.

  • One clear way of unearthing the meaning of suffering is to choose to suffer virtuously. For example, if we choose to endure our suffering courageously then the meaning or purpose of suffering would be to make us more courageous. The virtue becomes the meaning.

  • An example -

    • when Viktor Frankl was sent to Auschwitz, he was stripped off his family and all his possessions. All attempts were made to destroy his dignity and sense of self worth.
    • On the first day of camp his last source of meaning was also snatched away - the manuscript of his book, his life's work.
    • Instead of giving up, he chose to use his experience to understand the meaning of life and suffering. He intended to use this knowledge for this book,in order to ease other people's suffering.
    • He found the meaning of his suffering. He found it in knowledge , work ethic and charity.
  • Another powerful way of discovering meaning for your current suffering is to imagine yourself in your deathbed having lived a happy life without your current suffering. In this way you will unearth the unknown meaning of your suffering. Imagine your life at its end without the suffering to find its meaning.

  • An example

    • A mother lost her child to a fatal illness and was left with her second physically disabled child.
    • Unable to tolerate the emotional suffering she tried to kill herself and her disabled child but was unsuccessful.
    • To help her she was asked to imagine that she didn't have children and lived till her eighties, what would she be be thinking? Would she be happy? Would she be missing anything?
    • This question made her realize that the short time her child lived gave her happiness that easily outweighs the suffering and hence provided her meaning.
    • It made her realize that taking the care of her disabled child upon herself was the reason the child has a better life, providing another significant meaning to her suffering.
  • Finally there are situations where it is impossible to find meaning for your suffering-

    • So ask yourself, does an animal who is used for experimentation understand the meaning of its suffering? Your answer might be no, as animals suffer but they don't seek a reason for their suffering like humans, as their brains are inferior to ours.( Although there is no scientific evidence for this)
    • Then what about a humans, can there not be situations for which our brains are inferior too? Do we really have all the answers?
    • One of the most powerful techniques for finding meaning for our suffering is complete acceptance of a Super Meaning, an unconditional suffering, unexplainable purpose.
    • For religious people it is easier to accept the unexplained. Use your faith to your advantage.
    • For atheists use your rationality to accept how little of the cosmos we understand.
  • Understand that in modern society we are expected to be happy. In other words to suffer is deemed to be abnormal. Be clear that this is a very new phenomenon, in ancient time suffering was accepted and was even considered a character building opportunity. To suffer is not embarrassing, it is just unfortunate. It is an inevitable hiatus between bouts of happiness.

These are notes after reading Man's Search for Meaning .

Life is a learning process , please share your experience of dealing with suffering in the comments section below.

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