Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering. These two words are so often linked that we forget that each word – pain and suffering – stands on its own. Although the difference between the two words is subtle, they are nevertheless different. Anybody who practices personal injury law, should try to understand the somewhat subtle difference between these two words. Otherwise, a client will recover for one type of damage when they should recover for two.

Catherine Carrigan puts it nicely in her blog: “There’s a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the physical experience. It’s an ache in your muscles, the strain in your joints, the fever and chills, the throbbing in your temples, the congestion in your sinuses, the stabbing in your upper back, the shooting sharpness down your leg. Suffering is your emotional experience. Suffering may or may not be connected to physical pain. You can suffer emotionally even on a sunny day when nothing apparently bad is happening to you on the outside. Suffering is the negative story you are telling yourself about what is happening now, what has happened in the past or what could potentially happen in the future. As they say, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”

I recently read an article entitled Waking Up – The Buddhist Way to Happiness. The article speaks of various Noble Truths. The second of these Noble Truths states that suffering is what happens when we struggle with whatever our life experience is rather than the alternative of accepting and being open to our experience. The author provided an example of suffering that I could clearly identify with – have you ever had a girlfriend or boyfriend who stopped liking you? Because I’ve had that experience, I was able to say “oh, that is what suffering is!” I could understand suffering because I had a great deal of difficulty accepting the rejection. I wasn’t exactly open to it if you get my point; therefore, suffering followed. But then the thought occurred to me that there was pain associated with these feelings. That’s when I understood there is physical pain and there is mental pain.

Mental pain is the suffering part. That’s when I took note that we often speak of mental pain and suffering. That appears to be the suffering part of things. That seems to describe the things we cannot seem to accept – the anguish we feel inside ourselves. When I deal with pain or suffering, I use the following three questions to quantify the losses: How long have these feelings lasted? How intense are the feelings? How have these feelings changed a person’s life? Is there any other way to measure pain or suffering? This way seems as good as any. We are so limited in our ability to narrate these losses. Certainly, some of us are better equipped than others to describe what we feel physically and mentally. The English language has obvious limitations. I think it regrettable that we are so limited in describing these losses because, in my opinion, these losses are frequently the greatest losses we suffer. With respect to pain, we seem to find a way to describe the experience. We reach for a story to explain how we feel.

For example, with people who experience a burn, we can always describe the feeling of touching a hot stove. But with respect to suffering, it is much more difficult to find the right word, the right metaphor, the right story to explain what is nothing more than a feeling. In this sense, I am convinced that suffering comes from the soul itself. Suffering relates to the feelings within us. Can we get those feelings out? Can we even describe what we experience when we suffer? I have no other answers to determining pain and suffering damages than those I’ve offered.

Despite these limitations, when dealing with situations involving pain and suffering, I often seek to understand the loss by heading to a client’s home and sitting in their kitchen. It is there – in that special room – where people come together to eat and enjoy each other’s company, that I can best determine these losses. It is as if the walls in the kitchen speak to me and tell me of these losses.

Within a person’s home, there are no secrets.