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Two Ways of Experiencing Pain

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March 8, 2013 by Dr. Bob Weathers

Years ago I heard Jungian analyst James Hillman speak about psychological pain vs. suffering.  He made the distinction between our taking in painful emotional experiences in one of two ways: 1) as trauma, or 2) as initiation.

What he meant here is that when we run into painful situations, it’s perhaps most natural to perceive them as solely traumatic.  (Modern psychology certainly has supported this view, now culturally widespread.)

But another way to deal with pain is by imagining it (Hillman’s phrase) as an initiation, or opportunity for growth, into new areas not otherwise made available.

One key difference between these two perspectives is that, with the first, of pain-as-trauma, we are left with primarily mental suffering.  Whereas the second view, pain-as-initiation, invites the sense of personal meaning.

Pain, trauma, and suffering, on the one hand; pain, initiation, and meaning, on the other.

All of this invites exploring the many limitations of too simplistic a view.  But this vantage point, offered by Hillman, does appear to promise one means of coping creatively, spiritually, productively with the pain we all must endure as humans in the earthly realm of time and space.

Dr. Bob Weathers

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