Spirituality and Support: Tools for Surviving Suffering

Elderly woman holding faceLast month’s article, Reflections on Suffering,  took a broad view of suffering and my observations of those who suffer in life. With this article, I want to expand on ways of dealing with suffering and give my suggestions on how to survive painful and difficult periods in our lives—whether physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, or a combination of the above.

Historically, suffering has been viewed through many different lenses. There are those who feel that suffering in this life will be rewarded in the next. Others feel suffering is a form of divine retribution, visited upon us for bad deeds. Then there are those who believe that suffering is just a normal part of life, often “undeserved.” Did Job do anything, for example, to deserve God’s wrath?

One thing suffering does typically cause is an examination of our lives. When we suffer, we tend to want to answer the question: why? In my opinion, trying to figure out the “why” of our suffering is just a way of wishing to pinpoint specific causes and find solutions to end our suffering.

Sometimes that can be fairly simple. Let’s say someone is suffering from acid reflux. In its simplest form, symptoms can be eliminated or lessened through dietary changes, herbs, and a change of sleeping position. The person will feel better, but chances are that if they go back to their old habits, the symptoms will return. Thus, we do have some control over some forms of suffering. Sometimes physical problems can’t be reversed, or we didn’t do anything to cause them, like high cholesterol in some people. But often, we can take action and make changes.

When it comes to emotional suffering, the same behavior and solutions may apply in part. We may be unhappy professionally or in our primary relationships. With the help of a competent psychotherapist or counselor, we can examine these things in order to determine the causes of our suffering. We can also come up with solutions ourselves, though this is not always easy and may initially create more anxiety. For example, we can go back to school and change careers, look for another job, leave a toxic relationship, or work to improve it. Many forms of emotional suffering lend themselves to solutions that require effort and time. The gain is that suffering can be either eliminated or reduced.

For other kinds of emotional suffering, like depression or anxiety, other factors come into play. These include genetic predisposition, early childhood experiences, and lack of a strong support system, to name a few. This doesn’t mean that we are doomed to suffer for the rest of our lives. It does mean that we must be vigilant to the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety and take steps to manage these conditions, whether through counseling, medication, or a combination of the two. Having a healthy lifestyle and developing a good support system on a personal and spiritual level will also help.

This brings me to what I consider one of the most important tools for surviving suffering of all sorts: having a strong spiritual support system. By this, I don’t mean asking the God of our understanding to send us information about why we’re suffering, but rather asking for help enduring it. One of the most difficult aspects of suffering is feeling like we’re alone with it—that there’s no one who understands it, identifies with it, or can make it any less awful.

When we suffer, we feel abandoned and lonely. There is no need to feel that way. With a strong faith in the caring presence of a power greater than ourselves, we increase our capacity to endure the hard parts of life. We can view our lives as a whole, not just in these moments of difficulty. We can recall and be grateful for the good times.  We can accept that it is all part of the process and experience of being human.

Does suffering ennoble us? Probably not. But it does remind us of the need to be grateful for the joy in our lives.

© Copyright 2011 by Kalila Borghini, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • F.J.


    December 29th, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    Thank you, Kalila. I’m of the “suffering is part of life” school of thought. Without experiencing it in one form or another, we cannot hope to grow. What makes the difference in how traumatic an experience that is and continues to be is our mindset, which we can choose to change at any moment.

  • Elsa Wade

    Elsa Wade

    December 29th, 2011 at 8:54 PM

    I enjoyed this article. Suffering is not purely a bad experience. Most make that assumption but it’s simply not true. I’ve had many trials in my life and can look back on them as times of learning just as much as times of pain. You may not know that at the time, and nor will it feel like you’ll gain anything, but do not discount the possibility.

  • diana r

    diana r

    December 30th, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    Suffering is a part of life but it does not have to always define who you are and what you are going to become.

    I try to think about the things that I have gone through in my own life, and try not to worry on them but to move on and be thankful that I have come through it all a whole lot healthier than I could have thought at one time.

  • NickNick


    December 31st, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    There are some people that you meet in life who seem to be able to work their way through their grief, and then there are those who never seem to be able to get past it. It is all about how strong someone is mentally and whether they are going to choose to dwell on the bad things in life or if they intend to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and move forward. Personally it seems horribly depressing to me to get stuck in that one place in my life and refuse to move on. There are all sorts of ways that you can help yourself out of a funk like this but you have to be willing to try. There are simply some people that I know who refuse to ever try to help themselves.

  • kel


    January 1st, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    no matter what kind of suffering it is it’s reduced by sharing with others close to us.why,even physical pain has lesser effect when there are near and dear ones around.this is one important fact that we forgot to study in science class.

  • brock


    January 2nd, 2012 at 6:54 AM

    I went through a time in my own life a few years back where there was a lot of pain and suffering.

    I lost both of my parents within a year and then found out that I had cancer. And of course the only thing that I could think was why.

    Was I such a bad person that I deserved all of this? Was I going to be able to handle all of this on my own?

    It took a lot of soul searching but I have come through it healthy and whole. I still miss my parents but I think that the anger at losing them at such a young age actually gave me a little more of a fighting spirit to beat back the cancer and now I am free of that too!

  • Kalila Borghini

    Kalila Borghini

    January 2nd, 2012 at 8:06 AM

    Thank you all for your comments thus far. Glad you found the article helpful. We do have a lot of control over our own mental attitudes. As Bob Marley once said, “free yourself from mental slavery.” We can do that by focusing on our recovery and not on our pain.

  • gillian


    January 2nd, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    “focusing on our recovery and not on our pain.”

    this makes so much sense..we often see people who loathe and cry for their pains but its rare that we come across someone who has been through suffering and is working on the recovery rather than investing the energy in looking back.I think that is the difference between most people and someone who is truly successful,not only worldly but also on an individual level within himself.

  • W.Fleming


    January 3rd, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    when in trouble,look at ways of getting out of it.

    once out,look at why you got into the trouble and prepare yourself.after all,a wise man will not fall into the same problem twice!

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