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The Table Video

Lynn Underwood& Array Array

Growth Through Suffering

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

Growth Through Suffering


Some people grow, Linda, I think that you’ve raised this issue. Some people grow from suffering, others are completely undone by it. How can we tease out the difference between two individuals?

One, for whom suffering is a source of strength and growth. And they come through trauma with more character, more resilience. And then others are just bound by it, totally undone. How do we make sense of this phenomenon?

It’s an important question because, I think it helps to clarify, that suffering, itself, is not the cause of the growth, right? It’s just the occasion for growth. And so, the response to your question highlights the fact that it depends a lot how people choose to face the suffering. And so, one answer to your question, not the only answer, but one answer to your question that I think is important is it has a lot to do with the decisions that we make.

I mean, I think it highlights the role of our freedom of choice, our need to choose to respond to the suffering in certain ways and not in others. And I think that’s where our religious traditions can be very helpful because often they frame for us what the response to suffering should be and paths that can lead developmentally to growth rather than to decline. Now, that’s a very simple answer. Obviously there’s circumstantial factors, right?

In psychology and your field as well, Linda, the concept of resilience. And so, why are certain individuals more resilient than others is a big question that researchers have paid a lot of attention to and that has to do with factors such as attachment-relationships, and current social support, and even things like biological vulnerabilities that they might have. And so, there are obviously complexities that kind of bound and shape the decision making process that occurs in the context of suffering.