How to Reduce Our Pain and Suffering

Most people experience some physical and emotional distress in their lives. These experiences also render many individuals helpless, depressed and feeling victimized. Are there ways to help sufferers reduce their misery and increase their comfort?

The human struggle with physical and/or emotional pain has long needed effective tools for alleviating these states. As medical, surgical and pharmaceutical treatments evolved, they provided significant relief from emotional or physical pain and offered greater comfort to patients. The thought that sufferers may be able to reduce their own physical and emotional discomfort was foreign until recent years.

Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology offered a new antidote to misery through self-enhancement of one’s happiness. He encouraged individuals to increase their happiness and resiliency as a remedy for helplessness, anxiety and chronic stress. Dr. Seligman recommended five tools to help individuals lift their spirits: “1. Learn to want what you have, which fosters gratitude. 2. Develop a tendency toward optimism. 3. Increase the frequency of feeling “flow” by being fully engrossed in an activity. 4. Practice being present in the “now”. 5. Focus on spirituality for finding greater meaning in your life.”

The transition from previous treatment models that saw distress as a form of emotional pathology to the use of self- enhancing methods has been refreshing. In his book “Log On”, Dr. Amit Sood of Mayo Clinic found “three essential skills that will help you move away from stress toward resiliency: 1. Train your attention by finding novelty within the ordinary. 2. Interpret your world based on principles not prejudices or egocentric preferences. 3. Practice self and other- forgiveness.”

For couples whose relationships were fraught with miscommunication, misunderstanding and unwarranted hurts, Dr. Sood found that “Forgiveness was essential in helping them to reduce the emotional wounding and restore their unity and love bond.”  Dr. Sood adds, “In a study of eighty-seven wives and seventy–four husbands who had experienced a significant betrayal, positive forgiveness (increased understanding of one’s partner and decreased anger about the betrayal) was associated with several positive outcomes that included improved marital satisfaction, stronger parenting alliance and lower level of children’s perceived parental conflict.

It appears that the same tools of kindness, consideration, forgiveness and compassion that have been shown to repair strained marital relationships have also been effectively used for individuals’ self-healing.  The excessive use of negative self-talk, self-blame and personal discounts leads individuals to become overwhelmed, distraught and hinders their ability to live effectively, healthily and joyfully. Reversing these patterns toward kinder and gentler self-treatment are health producing and stress reducing.

To reduce your emotional pain:

  • Develop positive self-talk, count your blessings, and be optimistic, and non-judgmental of yourself and others.
  • Delve into life experiences with a sense of awe and wonderment.
  • Practice being present and delighted with your endeavors.
  • Be forgiving of your errors and those of others.
  • Be principled and ethical in your relationships.
  • Treat yourself with the same kindness, caring and consideration that you extend to others.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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