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The Table Video

Lynn Underwood& Array Array

How to Deal With Suffering: Thought Process, Listening, and Meaning

Senior Research Scholar, Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University
Professor of Psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University
June 9, 2017

Dealing With Suffering: Thought Process, Listening, and Meaning


One of the basic things that needs to happen obviously, for meaning making to occur, is a lot of cognitive processing. Which again, might sound kind of vague, so let me get a little more specific here. Frequently, when people are first hit with something really really hard, what happens is kind of an intrusive form of processing, you know, might be the form of intrusive thoughts, or what we clinicians call rumination, right, that going over it and over it. And the purpose seems to be just to kind of get a grasp on the reality of the situation, this is actually happening.

After that, there’s more of an intentional processing that can happen, where people spend time thinking about the event, and wrestling with it, and thinking about it’s implications for their life. And this intentional processing, since it is more under people’s voluntary control, can either happen more, or less, right.

So when you talk about practices, I would say that one foundational principle is, practices that encourage that kind of intentional processing of the event, are gonna be very helpful. So what does that look like? Well, some of it is as basic as having friends and family around, not just to provide practical support, but who are willing to sit and listen for very long periods of time.

And this is really challenging for people in our culture, because in our culture, again, we tend to try to avoid unpleasant things, and so I think that a lot of times, when we think of helping somebody out who is going through suffering, we want to distract them, we want to cheer them up, we want to take them away from their suffering, and there might be a place for this, occasionally, right, with some moderation, but I think that we also need to be willing to bear each others burdens in the sense of just being a listening board, and interacting, and just taking the time, and sometimes hearing the repetition, right, because they might not, once, just hearing it once might not be enough, and that’s difficult.