Conceptualizing Human Pain and Suffering

  • Ronald E. AndersonEmail author
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Well-Being and Quality of Life Research book series (BRIEFSWELLBEING)


Humans spend much of life suffering or trying to avoid suffering, yet there is little precision or consistency in the definition of ‘suffering’. To rectify that, a classification scheme or taxonomy is outlined that distinguishes mental, physical, and social suffering, and then offers subcategories. For example, depression, anxiety, grief, and existential suffering are all types of mental suffering. Suffering is defined as distress resulting from threat or damage to one’s body or self-identity. Next, to capture the principal, dominant cultural meanings of suffering, eight frames (essentially, major points of view) for suffering are summarized. These frames are suffering as punishment, suffering as reward, suffering as craving, suffering as sacrifice, suffering as natural destiny, suffering as manageable, relief of suffering as human purpose, and lastly, relief of suffering as progress in quality of life. Suffering and negative quality of life have a lot in common. Understanding perceptions of peoples’ desired relief of suffering requires that we distinguish their own suffering from suffering of others important to them. Thus, in measuring subjective quality of life, it may be necessary to distinguish a person’s perception of their own quality of life from that of others who are important to them.


Anxiety Depression Emotions Existential suffering Grief Physical suffering Suffering Meaning of life Pain Quality of life Relieving suffering Social suffering 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MinnesotaWayzataUSA

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