Sunday, September 20, 2009


I think that most people have a personal sense of what I mean when I say "suffering." We all have experienced pain, discomfort, and distress at times as we have gone through life's many experiences. And our natural reaction, as living beings, is to avoid suffering. We spend much of the time and energy in our lives to avoid discomfort, yet most of the time we find that our suffering continues and often becomes more intense as we progress through life.

Is suffering unavoidable? Can we live life without suffering? I believe that suffering is necessary in life and actually necessary for life. Without suffering, life would not last long. Now I understand that this may sound a bit crazy.

Consider how we would live a life without any pain or discomfort. When we needed food or drink, we would not experience the discomfort of hunger or thirst. When we stepped on a nail or broke a bone, we would not even necessarily recognize our injury or seek medical care. When someone that we love had died, we would feel no loss or experience grief--all we might feel is indifference at most, if that is even a "feeling."

As you probably can see, life without pain or discomfort would threaten our survival and make life an extremely dull and uneventful experience. We would remain unmotivated to do much of anything.

Suffering, that is to say discomfort, pain and distress, is an important motivator in everyone's life. It helps us want to change. And when we react to suffering in adaptive ways, our lives can actually be improved. On the flip side, when we react to suffering in maladaptive ways, our lifes can be more difficult, and our suffering can and often does become more difficult and intense. Ironically, the most instinctive response to suffering, avoidance, can actually lead to more intense suffering in the long run.

The choices we make in how to respond to our suffering is the key factor here. Learning how to respond to suffering in healthy ways is key to surviving, growing, and thriving!

Monday, July 20, 2009


"What disturbs a person is not the situation, but the view the person takes of the situation."

This is not my conclusion, but my take of a conclusion drawn by the Greek, stoic philosopher, Epictetus, who lived nearly 2,000 years ago. Despite the millenia have passed, his wisdom appears to apply aptly to the decisions that people make in their everyday lives. Yet, many individuals have convinced themselves that they are indeed disturbed by situations and that they have few, if any choices, in how they deal with situations.

I have found through the years that many people believe that they have little to no choice in many matters of life. However, in reality, we almost always have more choices than we believe and oftentimes we have choices available that we have never considered.

One common situation is that we sometimes tell ourselves that we have no choice in a decision or situation because we have no options, or perhaps only one, which which we like or feel comfortable. However, the truth is we almost always have other options available, but have discounted them because of their undesirable consequences.

So what's the big deal about feeling we have no choice in a situation? When we view situations or circumstances as forced, we oftentimes will feel trapped, frightened, angry, resentful, or out of control of our life situation. By simply realizing that we have choices in every circumstance, we can oftentimes feel much less anxious, sad, angry, or frustrated. This is accomplished not by changing the situation, but by only changing our perspective of the situation.

The simply stated, though not always as simply executed idea, first proposed by Epictetus, is the foundation for many approaches psychologists use in helping people who get stuck in uncomfortable or troubling life situations. Understanding and applying this idea can provide realization of the choices and an improved sense of control and freedom.

Please feel free to send me comments or questions on this or any of my other blog postings.

---R. Timbrook, Ph.D.