Suffering

Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind. –Aristotle

When entering therapy some folks view treatment as something that can remove suffering whether the suffering is caused by a mood disorder, addiction or life event.  While treatment (therapy and/or medications) can certainly help mitigate suffering, the idea that suffering will disappear as a result of treatment often sets clients up to view coping skills and/or medications as ineffective. This becomes problematic when working with addictions as immediate gratification is usually a large component of the disease.

Regardless of your beliefs with regard to whether there is an inherent purpose to suffering, purpose can be derived from suffering.  It is not possible for us to avoid suffering but wholly possible for us to use and/or work through suffering in a way that advances a higher ideal that we hold in relation to ourselves and the environment we live in. Suffering is not in and of itself a noble endeavor but we can make it so.

Running away from suffering (denial) or creating a life that seeks to avoid the onset of suffering (detachment) will probably create more suffering. The former although useful in the short term has potentially harmful consequences in the long run. Eventually, we will have to implement extraordinary measures to perpetuate a state of denial (substance use, isolation).  The latter leads to distant relationships that fail to meet the emotional needs most of us posess in relation to love, accountability and friendship.

Suffering is an unavoidable part of life; therapy and medication are not going to take all of that away, right away.  Therapy can help one tolerate and work through suffering in ways that are more adaptive and protective.  It can help ease suffering or work to address unreasonable beliefs or ideas associated with it.

The quote may come across as Pollyanna but Aristotle was anything but.  Aristotle lost his father before he hit adolescence, his mother before he turned 18 and his wife 10 years into their marriage. Aristotle was not arguing that the acts or demonstration of emotions associated with suffering were bad or wrong.  To the contrary; he believed that these were not only appropriate but that their absence was evidence of a problem.  Suffering, he would argue, is not in and of itself “beautiful” but adds to the beauty of noble action and that noble actions create a greater potential for happiness.

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