Stoicism and Pain: Stoic’s View of Pain and Suffering

As humans, one of the things we would often experience is pain and suffering. Since change is constant, there will be times where we experience distress. Stoicism is a philosophy that offers an answer to these problems. We see Stoics as someone who doesn’t react too much, or some even think of them as emotionless. Thus, it might seem they know how to handle pain. But do Stoics feel pain?

Stoics feel pain because everyone would experience pain at some point in their lives. Like all people, Stoics are not resistant to feeling physical or emotional pain. However, unlike most people, Stoics tend to suffer less from pain because they know how to react accordingly in times of distress.

In this blog post, we are going to find out how Stoics deal with pain and suffering. We will also see what the ancient Stoics say about this and their experience regarding the matter. I also made this post as easy to understand as possible so everyone can understand what stoics say about pain and suffering.

Do Stoics feel pain?

Like all people, Stoics feel pain.

Pain is part of life. It comes, and it goes. But, unfortunately, the occurrence of pain is something we can’t control.

An example is Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic Roman emperor. He has written multiple times that he has also been suffering from pain.

Based on his texts, we can deduce that he has been suffering from ulcers which induce a lot of pain.

Pain is normal. We all feel it. Even if we are disease-free, there will be times we’ll experience pain.

How many times did my pinky toe hit the corner of the table? How many times did I fall when playing basketball? These are instances where we experience pain even if we’re not sick.

Everyone experiences pain. No matter who you are, you can’t control when pain could happen to us.

What makes a Stoic difference from others is their belief about pain.

Their central belief is what I’ve mentioned earlier. The occurrence of pain will always be there. We can’t control where or when it would come.

Thus, because the Stoics believe in the dichotomy of control, they tend not to care about this aspect of pain.

The Stoics believe that we shouldn’t care about the things we can’t control. So, therefore, since we can’t control the occurrence of pain, we shouldn’t mind them.

Instead, we can control our reaction to pain.

Since nobody can control your thoughts, you are free to think differently while in pain.

In fact, if we see the pain from a logical perspective, pain is only pain.

Our association of pain with something bad is only in our perception.

However, if we observe closely, pain is just a sensation.

While it feels bad, what makes it worse is our perception.

So, the Stoics believe that we control our reaction to pain. Therefore, no matter what pain we get, we can always react in a positive light.

Take note of the positive light. This is because we shouldn’t allow ourselves to see things in a negative light.

If we see the pain in a negative light, it only makes things worse for us.

And I would like to specify one thing here that summarizes almost all negative perspectives towards pain. That is complaining.

Since we can react to pain, what Stoics stay away from is reacting by complaining.

To Stoics, complaining is focusing on things we don’t have rather than what we have.

If we talk about pain, it is about complaining we didn’t do this or that. That’s why we suffered.

For example, if we get sick, we complain about our lack of abilities to prevent being sick.

Please take note that we can’t control the occurrence of pain. So we have to gladly accept the fact and try to live the best out of everything we have.

That’s why Stoics need to stay away from complaining. Instead, they take matters into their own hands.

But what are the things Stoics do in times of pain and suffering? Gladly, there are more things we can control, and we will discuss them in the following sections.

For now, you know what to avoid. First, don’t complain or blame either yourself or others since we have no control over what already happened.

Do Stoics Suffer?

Like all people, Stoics also suffer. However, what separates the Stoics from others is that they understand our ability to react properly to suffering. This means Stoics believe that we can find beauty in every circumstance no matter how bad it seems at face value.

Let’s now examine one of the closely related topics to pain which is suffering.

Like pain, Stoics also experience suffering.

A perfect example is Epictetus, a Stoic Greek philosopher.

Epictetus was once a slave which he spent the majority of his time being such. Thus, he has experienced suffering for a big part of his life.

However, he has always been studying philosophy, and what he followed to cope with those times is also Stoicism.

He believed that suffering would always be there. We can’t control it when it comes. What we can control is our grit and strength to face them.

If that sounds familiar to you, that is because it is also how Stoics react to suffering.

Since pain and suffering are interrelated, how Stoics deal with them is also the same.

The Stoics usually react by not complaining and finding beauty in these difficult circumstances.

For example, when you’re driving, and you got loss, it might seem frustrating. However, if you think about it as a chance to explore, it isn’t that bad.

If you’re overworked and got sick, maybe it is a chance for you to take care of your body before anything worse can happen.

As you can see, these sufferings can be a blessing in disguise. Stoics tend to find beauty in these circumstances.

Pain makes us appreciate things we often take for granted, like how we often don’t enjoy the food on our table until we are hungry.

Like how we don’t appreciate our head full of hair until we get bald.

Suffering gives us a new perspective towards life, and that’s one of the things Stoicism teaches us.

We need to find the good things no matter how bad it is at face value.

What do the Stoics say about pain?

The Stoics say that pain is ending. It comes and goes, and we can’t control when it happens. What we can do in times of pain is to be strong and gritty to get through them. This means that even if we can’t control what happens to us, we can control how we react to these events.

“Some things are in our control, and some things are not. Things in our control are pursuit, desire, opinion, aversion, and in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and in a word, whatever ate not our own action.”

Epictetus

Let’s study Epictetus’ quote. He said that there are things inside and outside our control.

He also specified that things not in our control are our body, property, and many more.

Our body is related to pain. We feel pain because that’s what our body makes us feel.

Thus, pain is something we can’t control.

So, if we can’t control pain, why should we bother?

Same as what I said earlier, the occurrence of pain is not something we can control. That’s why we should not mind their occurrence.

Instead, what we can control is our perception.

But what should our perception be in these challenging times?

Let’s now go to the second quote by Epicurus.

Nothing is unending. You just need to be strong and gracious enough to get through it.

Epicurus

To Epicurus, nothing is unending. This means things will continually change.

You might be in pain now, but it is fleeting. You might suffer some cramps. Then it will be gone once you’ve taken some medicine, or it will be gone after 10 minutes.

To see how Stoics react to pain, we would now go to the second sentence.

Epicurus said that we need to be strong and gracious enough to get through it.

What he means here is that since we can’t control when we experience pain, we need to be ready when it comes.

This is done by training ourselves to be mentally resilient.

We will never know when we will experience pain. But we can always prepare for it. We can train our minds to be gritty.

We are capable of changing for the better.

That’s how the Stoics handle pain and suffering.

What’s next? Now that you understand how Stoics handle pain and suffering, should we start knowing if Stoicism, in general, is good or bad for us? So let’s find it out here: Is Stoicism Good or Bad?

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My Audiobook Recommendation will always be the same as my book recommendations, but I personally like The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins. I like how she is so casual while reading her book.

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