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with Jessica Loftus, Ph.D. & Jack Murray

Suffering: 9 Reasons Why it Can Promote Psychological Growth and Change

Most people who seek mental-health services wish to alleviate their suffering, a common cause of stress. However, suffering can serve as the springboard for profound growth and change. Learn nine psychological benefits which can be derived from suffering.

Most people who seek mental-health services wish to alleviate their suffering, a common cause of stress. However, suffering can serve as the springboard for profound growth and change. Learn nine psychological benefits which can be derived from suffering.

Swiss Psychiatrist and close follower of Sigmund Freud, offered a profound insight, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.” Although many factors that contribute to common neuroses, avoidance of appropriate suffering can increase or exacerbate neurotic symptoms.

Case of John

John grew up in an alcoholic family. During frequent drunken episodes, his father became verbally abusive and angry. When John was eight years old, his mother divorced his father, but she then struggled with the financial and emotional strains of being a single mother. Encouraged to be “strong,” John seemingly weathered many life tragedies and losses. At age 45, he was suddenly laid off from his job of 20 years. Within months, he became severely depressed and started drinking heavily. Over the next two years, his health and marriage deteriorated as he remained unemployed. After suffering a severe heart attack, John finally heeded his family members’ advice to seek counseling.

During his counseling sessions, John came to realize that his “being strong” was a form of avoidance. When his father, close friend, and grandmother died, he shed few tears and spoke little of his losses. Determined not to rely on alcohol to relieve his daily stress, he buried himself in his work, gambling and frivolous spending on unneeded tools and computer games. He even engaged in a brief extramarital affair. When he lost his job, his primary source of identity and confidence, he lost his sense of purpose. Finally, the harsh wake-up call of nearly losing his life prompted him to take a sober look at his situation. Over time, he recognized many benefits to suffering.

Clarified Values

Suffering tends to put our lives into perspective. Discerning what is truly important and what is not allows us to focus on the things that promote growth and to discard what is draining or damaging. One outstanding value is to view suffering as an opportunity for growth instead of a process to be avoided.

Fewer Grandiose Expectations

Suffering makes it easier to lower unrealistic expectations. For example, can only be happy if I have the best job, the fanciest house and constant excitement). Then the simpler, more attainable goals can offer more satisfaction.

More Patience

Long periods of suffering can help us to become more patient. When things come too quickly, it is common to expect instant gratification, which is unrealistic in the long run.

Better Communication

Keeping secrets, stuffing feelings, and maintaining silence becomes less tolerable when we are suffering. Appropriate expression of our thoughts, dreams, and feelings offers release and clarity.

Focus on Solutions

Pain serves as a very effective motivator to solve nagging problems in life.

Nurturing Relationships

Toxic relationships drain too much energy, especially during a period of suffering. Invest precious time finding relationships that promote growth.

Finding Life Purpose

Many of us struggling through an existential crisis (a particularly grave form of suffering) ultimately find a sense of meaning and life purpose.

Doing the Right Thing

When someone causes us suffering, it is natural to reflect on the suffering we have caused others. Very often, we will later rethink our hurtful behaviors and act with a sense of morality.

Compassion

Misery loves company. We will find it much easier to spend time with someone in grief or struggling with illness when we have similar struggles ourselves.

Legitimate Suffering

So, what is legitimate suffering? It’s often related to grieving our losses, facing our problems head-on, doing what is right even when it causes pain, acknowledging what is and is not in our control, trusting a higher power, accepting our life situations and our unique life path, feeling our emotions genuinely, caring about others, making the necessary sacrifices and taking calculated risks to live fully and working hard to realize our dreams.

Back to John

After a year in counseling, John explored the many losses in his life, including intangible losses (normal childhood, identity and sense of calm). Although not always pleasant, he learned the value of feeling and expressing his emotions fully. He questioned many of his faulty beliefs about being strong or what constituted success. He focused his energy on fewer relationships with more depth. Finally, he changed his career to a helping profession which his father demeaned because “you don’t make any money at that.” Consequently, he moved into a smaller home and simplified his life. He now reports that he is much more content and much less stressed.

 

The case of John is shared with permission.

Image is under license from Shutterstock.com

 

Suffering: 9 Reasons Why it Can Promote Psychological Growth and Change


Jessica Loftus

Jessica Loftus has worked as a licensed clinical psychologist and national certified career counselor for more than 20 years. Jack Murray, an award-winning journalist, serves as her co-author, writing coach and editor. Jessica just published a story, "The Queen Who Served" which is included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Life Lessons from the Cat. Royalties from this book will be donated to American Humane, an organization dedicated to animal welfare.


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APA Reference
Loftus, J. (2019). Suffering: 9 Reasons Why it Can Promote Psychological Growth and Change. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 18, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/ease-stress/2019/06/suffering-9-reasons-why-it-promotes-psychological-growth-and-change/

 

Last updated: 13 Aug 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network (blogs.psychcentral.com) prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.