What Is Spiritual Suffering

Spiritual distress, also known as spiritual suffering, can occur when religious beliefs and practices fail to provide meaning or have a negative meaning, such as feelings of God's abandonment (Peteet & Balboni, 2013), or when a person's illness experience contradicts his or her core beliefs (Bartel, 2004…

Before You Continue...

Do you know what is your soul number? Take this quick quiz to find out! Get a personalized numerology report, and discover how you can unlock your fullest spiritual potential. Start the quiz now!

What is a spiritual pain?

It had been five years since I started at OSF HealthCare, and I had never been inside the executive boardroom, but there I was, surrounded by members of the palliative and supportive care teams. I felt like the odd man out as I gazed around the room. I kept my eyes down and my mouth shut unless I was asked a direct question, as if I were at the big kids' table for the first time.

I passed the time by listening to and taking notes on potential blog subjects. Sister Jacque (pronounced jack-ee) Schroeder was one of the quietest but most ardent speakers at the table, and she kept alluding to this term: spiritual agony.

I was curious, so I met down with Sister to discuss spiritual suffering. Here's what I discovered…

What is spiritual pain?

Spiritual pain is pain that originates in the “invisible” portions of our lives. Although it cannot be measured on a pain scale, it is extremely real and can have an influence on our physical and emotional well-being.

HTML tutorial
  • Meaning – having difficulty understanding the “meaning” of life, relationships, and the world around you.

Spiritual suffering knows no gender or age boundaries; it impacts people at all stages of life in diverse ways. As Sister put it, “everyone is on a spiritual journey from the minute they are born,” and “we endure pain and grow as a result of that journey.” Because our society rarely emphasizes this journey, we have a hard time dealing with the agony when it gets unbearable.

Dealing With Spiritual Pain

I asked Sister if there was anything we can do for ourselves or as caregivers to others to minimize spiritual pain from becoming too severe after learning so much in such a short time. Her response was simple yet effective: breathe and remain silent.

Sister once prayed God for advice when she was faced with some of the most difficult decisions of her life, but all she got was “breathe.” Our culture and lives are moving far too quickly these days, so taking the time to simply breathe offers us something to focus on and keep our minds clean so that the answers we seek can come to the top.

Silence goes hand in hand with breathing. Every day, we are inundated with messages and “noise” from all directions. Having a place to turn everything off and just listen and breathe helps to generate the spiritual and emotional healing environment we want. “God doesn't need time to communicate to us; we just need to take the time to be silent and listen,” Sister explained.

Doctor, Heal Thyself

It's challenging for caretakers to know how to address every aspect of a patient. To treat the whole patient, hospitals have social services, pastoral care, palliative care, and other services. But one thing all caregivers must remember is that we are the medication we bring.

“You can't assist others until you help yourself,” you've probably heard someone remark. This holds true for doctors, nurses, and all other health-care professionals. The caregivers can infuse their spiritual anguish into the medical therapies and coordinated care they deliver at the bedside once they take time to be silent, breathe, and confront their own spiritual pain.

What is the meaning of spiritual distress?

When anything is physically wrong with you, your body is quite good at letting you know. When your emotions and ideas get pressured and out of balance, it's typically easy to see. Did you realize that your spirit can be distressed as well? Years of experience working in spiritual care have taught me that life can toss us curve balls that put our bodies, minds, and spirits under stress. My research has also proven that people live their best lives when their bodies, minds, and spirits are in good shape.

Your spirit is the part of you that is responsible for your beliefs and worldview. Spiritual distress, according to Betty Ferrell and Christina Puchalski's book Making Health Care Whole, refers to a person's “impaired ability to experience and integrate meaning and purpose in life through connectedness with self, other, art, music, literature, nature, and/or power greater than oneself through connectedness with self, other, art, music, literature, nature, and/or power greater than oneself through connectedness with self, other, art, music, literature, nature, and/or power greater than

It can be difficult to tell if what you're thinking and feeling is normal processing of a stressful event or if it's something deeper in your spirit that's adding to your stress, such as when you or a loved one is facing a significant medical crisis.

HTML tutorial

What does struggling spiritually mean?

The spiritual part of our humanity might get stressed at times throughout our life. Spiritual conflicts occur frequently, regardless of religion. The uncertainty and questions might have a negative impact on our mental health. However, there are solutions to work over these difficulties.

Meryl Reist Gibbel, Ph.D. works as a clinical psychologist at WellSpan Philhaven, a central Pennsylvania-based behavioral health institution. Her area of expertise is Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, with a focus on spiritually integrated psychotherapy and spiritual struggle in both clinical and research settings. Dr. Reist Gibbel co-directs the Institution for Spiritually Integrated Care at WellSpan Philhaven, a virtual center whose aim is to develop competency in the provision of spiritually integrated mental healthcare.

MRG: During a tough period in my early adult years, I had my own “dark night of the soul,” which prompted me to ask religious and spiritual questions: Where is God in this terrible and confused time? Why isn't God removing my suffering? Is it possible that God could have stopped everything from happening? Fear, anxiety, and shame accompanied these inquiries.

I acquired a love for understanding the confluence of spirituality and health, particularly mental health, as a result of my own personal struggle and conversations with others who had similar problems. Instead of cheap platitudes or clear answers, I yearned to bear witness to others' spiritual suffering and provide acceptance and serious questioning. After becoming a psychologist, I wanted to continue to provide a safe space for people to talk about their spiritual challenges and how they intersect with their mental health, to explore spiritual concerns without being judged, and to widen and develop their understandings of the holy.

MRG: It is well documented in the literature that people suffering from mental illness frequently interpret their condition in religious or spiritual terms. Furthermore, we know that people with mental illness are especially prone to the detrimental impacts of spiritual struggle, especially when such challenges are not addressed well and in a timely manner.

Spiritual struggle, in its broadest sense, relates to religious or spiritual sorrow (i.e., feeling punished or abandoned by God, having doubt about religious or spiritual beliefs, or experiencing conflict with other people that is centered on religious matters). The literature on how spiritual challenges in people with mental illness are addressed in the context of psychological treatment was lacking.

My research was the first to use an intervention called Winding Road to evaluate a systematic method to resolving spiritual issues among people with mental illness. Winding Road is a 9-session spiritually integrated intervention developed by a group of colleagues and me to address spiritual challenges in a religiously diverse population of individuals with mental illness.

The mission of Winding Road is to promote acceptance of spiritual conflicts, increase readiness to investigate spiritual challenges, reduce stigma associated with spiritual difficulty, broaden and deepen understandings of the divine, and make spirituality more integrated into daily life. Patients in a partial hospitalization program at a private psychiatric hospital in central Pennsylvania took part in the study. The study's volunteers were randomly assigned to either Winding Road or standard care.

What is the characteristics of spiritual distress?

What does it mean to be in spiritual distress? A disruption in a person's belief or value system is referred to as spiritual discomfort. It can happen when a person is unable to find meaning, hope, love, comfort, strength, or connection in their lives, or when there is a conflict between his or her beliefs and what is happening in their lives.

HTML tutorial

How can I overcome spiritual struggles?

It may seem self-evident, but the solution to any situation is to seek God's help. God already knows what we're going through, and he wants us to come to him with all of our concerns. If there is apparent sin in my life, I must first seek forgiveness from God. However, even when I am not conscious of evident transgressions, God might appear distant. I can still pray to God for assistance. “You make known to me the way of life,” says Psalm 16:11, “and you will fill me with delight in your presence, with endless pleasures at your right side.” I can pray that God will reveal his ways to me and fill me with delight when I am in his presence.

How do you know if your soul is gone?

A: Soul Loss refers to the loss of contact with one's soul. You can never completely lose your Soul; it is constantly present in the background of your existence, albeit often unreachable due to tragedy. Many people mistake the word “soul loss” to mean “the loss of one's soul.” Instead, it's about losing access to your most crucial core.

A: The Soul never ‘disappears,' it simply becomes more difficult to access and reconnect with. Anxiety, sadness, emotional numbness, loneliness, emptiness, chronic exhaustion, feelings of hopelessness, boredom, and profound unhappiness with life are all indications of Soul Loss.

What is spiritual pain and how does it relate to clients at the end of life?

When people are unable to discover sources of meaning, hope, love, serenity, comfort, strength, and connection in their lives, they experience spiritual distress, also known as spiritual anguish or suffering. Their physical and mental health may be harmed as a result of their distress. Patients, as well as their family and friends, might experience spiritual pain as a result of terminal disease.

How do I stop spiritual burnout?

Realign your thoughts. Remind yourself that God is in charge, and spend daily time with Him, renewing your mind in His Word and asking Him to lead and guide you as you serve His people. If you're feeling burned out, ask God for rest, renewal, and guidance.