How Suffering Affects Your Brain

· September 13, 2015
Life is a process of continuous learning. You need to learn from your mistakes in order to grow as a person.

As the saying goes, “the roots of the tree grow deeper during the storms”. The idea is that sometimes we have to suffer in order to grow as individuals. We have to learn from our mistakes and gain wisdom from our failures. Today let’s learn a little bit more about this dimension of emotions, and how suffering affects your brain.

1. How suffering affects your brain

A woman with a tear on her face.
Surely you have some idea of this already. But throughout your life continual suffering affects your brain, and it undergoes profound changes that will inevitably affect your personality.

Think about children, for example. Some kids experience abuse at a very early age. There’s nothing more destructive than painful childhood events like that.

Doctors and psychiatrists tell us that suffering, in these cases, is very similar to that of a soldier in combat.

Continuous fear, high alertness, and ongoing sadness can result in disturbances in the brain and the release of certain neurotransmitters. Areas of the brain like the amygdala and the insular cortex, which are associated with feelings of pain and fear, are stimulated.

This stimulation can generate long-term consequences in terms of personality: distrust, anger, a propensity to be depressed, and even violent actions.

Obviously the responses aren’t the same for everyone, but the chances are high that the brain will be affected in some way. Think, for example, about a marriage in which one partner has been abused.

In the end, this excess of suffering reaches a cerebral level and they plunge into a state of helplessness, from which they emerge with depression, anger, and frustration… it’s important to remember this.

2. Suffering, a masterful learning tool

Naked woman trapped by a plant.
Life isn’t supposed to be an easy path of guaranteed happiness, or a straight road without any stones. Not at all. You know that there are many pleasant emotions that we can learn from, but, without a doubt, suffering is a great teacher. It might be the best one, but it’s also the most ruthless.

As they say, he who hasn’t suffered hasn’t truly lived. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s worth remembering. We all learn from our failures and losses. Someone who refuses to learn from their mistakes doesn’t understand what life is: a continuous learning process. If you don’t accept your losses it will be impossible to move forward and overcome them, and eventually become stronger.

Suffering isn’t pleasant, we know that, but it shouldn’t be a barrier to living as you want, or an excuse to shut all your doors. Your inner self, your strength, and your volition will be the engines that ignite your ability to overcome suffering. Don’t forget that.

See also: Nobody Can Stop You Once You Discover Your Inner Strength

3. Suffering seeks release

A woman on her own in a field.Don’t let your suffering build up without learning to cope with it. Trying to live with that pain can generate too many problems in your brain: high cortisol levels, stress, inability to learn new things, memory loss… gradually you will weaken, and your health and emotional balance will weaken along with it.

If you’re able to set yourself free, just do so! Has someone hurt you? Then respond to it. If something is oppressing you, find a space to breathe in or escape to. Let your eyes fill with tears, cry whenever you need to.

Read more: 7 Reasons Why Crying is Good for You

Find your voice and tear down the walls that are hurting you, and that you don’t deserve. Because no one deserves suffering, especially not the kind that has no end.

Now you’ve seen how suffering affects your brain, always look for solutions to your problems, if it’s in your power to do so. Every effort you make will be worth it to you and to your health, and you deserve it.

  • Filippi, M., Riccitelli, G., Falini, A., Salle, F. Di, Vuilleumier, P., Comi, G., & Rocca, M. A. (2010). The brain functional networks associated to human and animal suffering differ among omnivores, vegetarians and vegans. PLoS ONE. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0010847
  • Roozendaal, B., McEwen, B. S., & Chattarji, S. (2009). Stress, memory and the amygdala. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2651