Suffering Explained Simply

Suffering – All You Need To Know

In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about Suffering, determining the exact source of it, the science behind how it impacts the brain, the three primary patterns that lead to it, how to end it and more.

What Is The Source Of Suffering?

Suffering occurs when subjective reality doesn’t align with objective reality. In other words, it results when our expectations about how life should be don’t match how life actually is.

The Science – Suffering & The Brain

We are, consciously or subconsciously, constantly forming beliefs about the world around us. These beliefs form our Model Of The World ― a mental map of how reality operates.

When your subjective beliefs don’t align with objective reality, your brain triggers the release of pain hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) which create the experience that we call Suffering. However, this is simply the brain signalling to us that we are not aligned with our goals.

In other words, when the brain doesn’t get what it expects, it triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline. The importance of this signal is to facilitate learning.

Pain Versus Suffering

Pain refers to the unpleasant sensations created by our bodies. It is a survival mechanism that signals to us (via emotions) something needs to change.

Suffering refers to the unpleasant sensations created by our minds. It is by-product of the stories and beliefs we generate that form seemingly unpleasant emotions.

For example, while pain is the sensation you’d feel after burning yourself on a hot stove, Suffering is the sensation you’d feel after ridiculing yourself for doing so.

Pain Has A Purpose

Pain serves to encourage behaviours that enhance our survival. For example, boredom encourages you to seek out novelty. Loneliness encourages you to seek out social interaction.

Instead of using pain as a compass to direct their behaviour, most people try to avoid pain. However, what you resist, persists. Thus, avoiding pain creates a self-perpetuating cycle.

  • Pain x Resistance = Suffering.
  • Pain x Acceptance = Minimum To No Suffering.

Below is a table summary of the differences between the two.

Manifested by the body.Manifested by the mind.

The Three Patterns Of Suffering

There are three primary patterns of focus that lead to Suffering; loss, less and never. We focus on the loss of something, having less of something or never having something.

For example, maybe you lost your job, a partner or a big investment (loss), maybe your income or investment decreased (less) or maybe you believe that no matter what you do you won’t achieve success or find an intimate relationship (never).

How To End Suffering

To end Suffering, we can either change our internal world or the external world. Since it is almost impossible to control everything externally, it makes sense to direct our energy internally.

Therefore, the key is to refine our internal Model Of The World so that our subjective beliefs align with objective reality. In doing so, we see things as they are, rather than how we want them to be.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.” ― Viktor E. Frankl


Suffering occurs when your subjective reality (how you think life is) doesn’t match objective reality (how life actually is).

The three patterns of focus that lead to it are focusing on the loss of something, focusing on having less of something or focusing on never having something.

The key to moving beyond it is to change our internal Model Of The World by creating beliefs and stories that empower us. In doing so, we shift our internal state and therefore how we perceive, experience an interact with the world around us.