Suffering is a human element that no one on the planet is free from experiencing. If each and every person experiences suffering, it is then part of the human condition. No one is exempt from this experience.
Each experience of suffering is as unique as the person. People who share similar experiences of suffering might not share the same understanding of the experience itself.
Suffering, what is suffering?
If we were to define the word suffer, we would find the meaning is to endure pain, illness, or injury; to experience something unpleasant. If we use this definition as a compass to measure what suffering is, it’s fair to say that we suffer in many aspects of our life. It is also fair to say that every human being on the planet knows what it means to suffer based on this definition.
We label this experience as such because as humans, we are far more comfortable with labels than with allowing. If we know what something is, we can deal with it, for the most part. That’s why labels are so important to many people.
Suffering is merely a verb, a label used as an umbrella for the varying degrees of emotions a person is experiencing. When people get caught up in the label of suffering, they tend to struggle with feeling their feelings in a way that is healthy. This can make life difficult for some.
Feel Your Feelings
Rather than feeling their feelings, some get caught up in the words and the situation. They start to lose connection with the world and themselves. All they can see and perceive is their suffering.
This sometimes will cause depression and anxiety as this person bit by bit loses their ability to see the situation as unique to them. They may begin to wonder why other people don’t understand what they are going through. This adds more suffering and they feel more isolated in their pain.
When this happens, it is difficult for a lot of people to see the suffering of others. Their suffering is used to measure all others’ suffering. There isn’t anything wrong with this. This is how all people are.
Comparison Minimizes The Other
Somewhere along the way, someone has most likely said to you, everyone has problems or, it could be worse. They begin to think that what they are experiencing or have experienced is unique and only felt by them.
This comparison of “who suffers more” is not helpful to either person. When people start comparing their grief to another’s they minimize the other person’s suffering. They also hold onto their grief and relive it.
They do not understand, truly understand what the other person is experiencing because their experience is unique to them. They lack empathy and the person suffering becomes defensive and there is a connection lost between these two people.
If the comparison is taken out of the equation, and the suffering person’s pain is seen and felt by another, empathy is felt. Empathy is a powerful emotion and can heal the deepest of wounds.
When you practice empathy, you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Without knowing, you start to slowly remember your own suffering experience and though you may feel the emotions to a lesser degree since your own experience has passed.
If you are fully healed, you can feel the scar. You can sense the broken part of you again. You have an opportunity to be there for another person in a way that some cannot. Your healing now becomes their healing.
The suffering person sees that they are not alone. Your empathy for another is a powerful gift of healing for another person. Your empathy tells the other person, “Hey! I see you, I’ve been where you are, and I know what you’re going through.”
When you share a similar circumstance with another, the dread and shame they were feeling lessens bit by bit. Their grief may still be present, but a healing process has begun.
Simply looking at another person, recognizing that their suffering is very real to them even though you may not understand is practicing sympathy. When you have sympathy for another person, you might not have the words to say because you may not have experienced what they are going through.
For instance, if you have never lost a parent or child you are incapable of knowing that kind of grief and pain. It’s impossible to know what they are feeling because that experience has never happened to you.
This is the big difference between empathy and sympathy.
If you were to look at all the varying degrees of suffering, is it fair to say that what each person perceives as suffering changes from one to the next? What is suffering to one, is not suffering to another.
A mother who lacks sleep from taking care of her newborn suffers in her own world, but that may because she does not know the pain of not being able to bear children.
A man who is divorcing his wife knows suffering, but he cannot truly know the suffering of a man who has unrequited love.
A person with a toothache suffers immense pain but does know the suffering of a person with chronic pain and debilitating pain.
A person inflicted with the stomach flu for a week, suffers greatly for seven days and yet does not know the experience of someone with incapacitating digestive issues.
A child who doesn’t like their dinner and goes to bed hungry suffers that evening and yet may never know what it feels like to scrounge the streets for food and water.
We All Suffer
Suffering occurs every day in the world. It’s one of the very many facets of human life. People suffer in varying degrees. What one perceives as suffering is not suffering to another though each one suffers in their own right.
Stay Tuned for Parts 2 and 3: Why We Suffer (Part 2) and How to Heal From Suffering (Part 3)