The Differences Between Pain and Suffering

One thing I have been reflecting on with clients lately is the difference between pain and suffering. This distinction, is one I continue to be reminded about. Subsequently, I am going to share a little more around this topic of pain and suffering.

In this post, I will discuss –

  • What is Pain?
  • What is Suffering?
  • The Differences Between Between Pain and Suffering

Let’s get started…


What is Pain?

There are a number of definitions on pain. A couple indicate say pain is –

  • “physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury” ~ Google
  • “physical suffering or distress, as due to injury, illness, etc.” or “a distressing sensation in a particular part of the body” ~
  • “acute mental or emotional distress or suffering” ~ Merriam-Webster
  • “Highly unpleasant physical sensation caused by illness or injury” ~ Oxford Dictionary


What is Suffering?

Suffering is –

  • “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship” ~ Google
  • “the state or experience of one that suffers” ~ Merriam-Webster
  • “the state or an instance of enduring pain, etc.” ~ The Free Dictionary


The Differences Between Between Pain and Suffering

There are a few distinct difference between pain and suffering. They include –

  • Pain is the physical sensations or signals (within your body) that tells you something is happening within your body in relation to an event or situation.
  • Suffering is the interpretation or story that you tell yourself about the pain (i.e thoughts, judgements, beliefs etc). For example – “I am never going to get over this.”
  • A certain amount of pain is inevitable in life. For example – we will all experience loss, change, challenges, illness etc. in life. However, the suffering is optional.
  • Pain x acceptance (not approval) = limited or no suffering. Pain x resistance (limited or no acceptance) = suffering.
  • Pain is real and we need to feel and experience the pain (not fix it) to allow healing to take place.


Over to You

If you have some time, you may like to reflect on the following –

  1. Is there anything you would add to the differences between pain and suffering? If so, please share below.
  2. How has this distinction helped you? Feel free to share your responses below!

If you are ready to reclaim your courage and take the next step towards your freedom and opening your heart, why not join our Toolkit?


  • Roger

    Reply Reply May 21, 2020

    A great piece
    Thanks and God bless you

    • Jane

      Reply Reply May 21, 2020

      Thank you!

    • Walt Sears

      Reply Reply March 13, 2021

      Great topic, Jane. I recently began working as a hospital-based chaplain. With all the patients I see there’s a difference between those experiencing pain and those who are suffering. There seems to be an element of emotional oppression in those who are suffering. They are very conscious of being subjected to what they are experiencing…almost as though something or someone is actively squeezing them. Unrelenting pain is no picnic, but suffering seems to include emotional buy-in on the part of the one suffering that is on a different level. It’s almost as though they have given themselves up to the situation or oppressive force. Please comment and make suggestions for further reading.

      • Jane

        Reply Reply March 13, 2021

        Thanks for sharing Walt – let me sit with it and see what evolves for further reading. Cannot guarantee anything though as I am not in the situation and know the details you have written. Am wondering if you have spoken to a psychologist or psychiatrist about this also? Am hoping you are part of a team? I sense this is deep work and requires a team-based approach. Take good care 🙂

  • Shona

    Reply Reply April 6, 2019

    This was interesting for me as I’d posted on my FB page a Buddhist quote: “pain is inevitable, suffering is not.” I thought I understood it but felt I needed some research.
    I have an illness which affects my mobility and causes muscle spasms. I have a fantastic neurologist and the negatives are kept to a minimum.
    I also have a four legged friend who I walk in beautiful woodland everyday. For the last two or three days I have been having painful spasms but between them I can enjoy my walks and the emerging spring as well as the company of my lovely dog.
    Is this a useful contribution it have I misunderstood?

    • Jane

      Reply Reply April 9, 2019

      Thanks Shona for your comment. Yes it is useful and I appreciate your comments!

      If I understand what you have written, it sounds as though you have pain (which you have accepted) and therefore the suffering is limited as you are doing what you can do. Does that make sense?

      When I originally came across this equation it helped me immensely: Pain x acceptance (not approval) = no suffering. Pain x resistance (limited or no acceptance) = suffering.

      Is that useful Shona? Warm wishes, Jane

  • Venkatesh

    Reply Reply December 18, 2017

    Great explanation! Now I’m able to differentiate pain and suffering.

    • Jane

      Reply Reply December 18, 2017

      Glad it was helpful!

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field