[The psychology of suffering]

Folia Med Cracov. 1998;39(3-4):59-66.
[Article in Polish]


Man's common experience interpreted in the humanities points to the inevitability of suffering. Suffering was even termed a basic border situation (C. Jaspers). The so-called scientific psychology hardly analyses human suffering. S. Freud regarded culture as a source of suffering and the behaviourists did not see the need for an analysis of man's inner experience. Radical change of the view on suffering was brought about in the works of V. E. Frankl who thought man to be homo patients (to be a man means to suffer). There are various sources and kinds of suffering. Based on his own vast researches the author characterizes three kinds of man's suffering: physical (pain, somatic diseases), psychical (hardships, mental disorders and illnesses) and spiritual (lack of a meaningful life, moral dilemmas). He also puts forward a hypothesis that a psychic suffering is a correlative between both mental and spiritual sufferings. Suffering fulfills a variety of functions in the life and personality of a human being; it can cause a personality degradation or can further a personality development. Therefore, we can speak of the ambivalent character of suffering. The elementary psychological problem, encountered in suffering, is to give suffering some meaning. In order to do this one must ask about future: for whom and what do I suffer? Whereas the question about the ultimate origin of suffering (why do I suffer?) not only makes it possible to explain the issue fully but first of all allows us to recognize suffering as a mystery of human existence. The author proves that the analyses carried out by John Paul II in Salvifici doloris are coherent with the principles of logotherapy. However, the analyses are more profound since they point to individual, social, cultural and transcendental dimensions of suffering.

Publication types

  • English Abstract

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Chronic Disease
  • General Adaptation Syndrome / etiology
  • General Adaptation Syndrome / psychology
  • Humans
  • Morals
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Personality Disorders / etiology
  • Personality Disorders / psychology
  • Quality of Life
  • Sick Role
  • Stress, Physiological / complications
  • Stress, Physiological / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / complications
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*