Against an Hierarchy of Suffering

Is there some kind of division between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ suffering, noble sufferers and self indulgent rich kids?

In my previous post (“Counselling and Social Change”) I contrasted clients in a university counselling room who sometimes suffered from problems caused by contradictions in, or an inability to grasp, their sense of self, and clients who were living in a society which was oppressive towards them in an institutional and obvious way, and who suffered from, alongside their practical concerns, a total lack of sense of themselves as real people with needs. They usually saw themselves only as a kind of mediating fluid which tried to keep the peace between abusive, violent, or helpless (young or ill) members of the family.

I feel the need to answer my own post here. Is this not setting up some kind of division between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ suffering, noble sufferers and self indulgent rich kids?

If it sounded like that, I apologise, it wasn’t my intention.

I meant rather to imply a process of awareness in society. Now, in, let’s loosely call it ‘Western society’, many people feel that there is this thing called a ‘self’, a self-confident, self-aware, powerful entity, creating happiness for itself and others. The snag is, that they can’t seem to locate it, create it, or hang on to it. Other parts of themselves contradict it, block it, get in the way. This idea of the self may well be an unrealistic one in the first place, but it is certainly advertised to us on many levels, all around. The distress caused by our relationship to it, as well as the poverty, abuse, discrimination and myriad other social problems which exist in the UK and other rich countries too, is very real. People’s experience of distress caused or exacerbated by their social conditions is more or less coloured by how they feel their ‘selves’ to be affected.

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But the women I worked with had not yet got the message that they were supposed to have selves, and they were supposed to do something with them, be somebody. The advertising message was different. They were being fairly explicitly told that they were nobody. While this regularly happens on an individual level in abusive relationships, here it was practically being preached from the pulpit to a full church.

Suffering is suffering is suffering, and I don’t mean to impose an hierarchy. I find the different kinds of suffering which occurs in different kinds of society, to be worth attention, though. And the different kinds may well require different therapeutic approaches. But that’s another post…

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