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Wenkart, A. (1961). The Meaning of Suffering in Therapy. Am. J. Psychoanal., 21(1):21-26.

(1961). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 21(1):21-26

The Meaning of Suffering in Therapy Related Papers

Antonia Wenkart

Pain is a tenet of existence. There can be no life without it. Education toward pain is the first responsibility of the analyst: to help the patient accept and become what he really is—a suffering human being.

While I do not wish to sing a paean to pain, there is no denying its reality. The human tragedy is not that we suffer from conflicts but that we suffer from broken integration, in the sense that we never can achieve complete wholeness, or in the sense of having gone astray in life, or of having removed oneself from the real or authentic self, or of being split away or cut off from the source of our deepest emotional responses. This produces a dividedness and alienation that spread pathological anguish. At the same time we are not able to accept the pain and suffering that are natural and inevitable facets of our lives.

The ubiquitous cult of health and happiness is the villain in the piece. Our idealized image of ourselves dictates that we be strong enough to resist the slings and arrows of this nonsensical world of ours and not be affected by the absurdities of life. At all costs we feel obliged to be impervious to pain in order to retain an appearance of “dignity.” Suffering is looked upon as ugly, debasing, humiliating. The patient experiences humiliation because he feels subjected to pain, because he is not impervious to it, and because he suffers at the hands of another person, or in the presence of another.

Real suffering, if the truth be known, elevates us. Real pain enriches and ennobles us. If suffering has been considered a perverse phenomenon of nature, it is because neurotic suffering is indeed perversity. Oriental philosophers and theologians have long sought to solve the problem of all suffering through spiritual transcendence or emotional detachment. This way of dealing with human tragedy can only be partly therapeutic, since it does not involve the whole person but tries to circumvent the problem rather that go to the core of it. The ancient Greeks have done better. Their mythical Sisyphus is ordered to roll a huge rock up the side of a hill and topple it down the other side, but each time he nears the summit the stone's weight drives him back to the bottom. He wearily retrieves it and begins all over again.

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