International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology

Spirituality and Pain: Finding Purpose, Meaning and Hope in the Midst of Suffering

Harold G. Koenig, MD


I am going to be talking about spirituality and pain as the focus of my presentation: A bit on pain, about suffering as a gift, the role in which spiritual transformation can help people cope with pain, and how religion influences coping. I will also review some of the research on religion and coping with illness, and then look at some spiritual approaches to pain with regard to application. Pain has multiple components to it or expressions of it. There is physical pain—the kind of pain that people have that is caused by disease or illness . I experience chronic pain. I have for about 30 years and it is pain that is related to inflammation of the joints and the tendons. Then there is emotional pain—the pain that people experience because they feel bad emotionally—they feel depressed or anxious. Depression is probably one of the strongest forms of emotional pain where people feel so desperately in pain that they would rather kill themselves than be alive. Then there is spiritual pain—pain that derives from existential kinds of feelings like, “Why am I here?” “Why did God allow such and such to happen?” These are the kinds of spiritual struggles that we experience. Then there is the experience of all of these interacting together. Physical pain causes emotional pain because people become depressed over their physical pain and then they wonder, “Why is it that they have been picked to experience pain in life?”

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