Primary & Secondary Suffering

When you have a long-term health condition, the obvious problems come from your symptoms, for example pain, fatigue, and neurological symptoms - these can be described as primary suffering. However, living with a long-term condition can bring other difficulties, including stress, worry and low mood. Your health may stop you doing things you want or need to do, or you may not see as much of your friends and family. Treatments you try may have unpleasant side-effects, or may not help as much as you hoped, leading to disappointment. All these additional difficulties can be described as secondary suffering. Some people find that these secondary difficulties can make their symptoms worse, for example being stressed and worried means that pain increases, and so a vicious cycle develops.

Cushions Metaphor

It's a bit like having to carry a cushion everywhere you go - it makes it difficult to go about your life. But when we start adding more and more cushions to a pile in your arms, life becomes increasingly difficult. Your symptoms are like the first cushion, but your secondary suffering is the additional cushions piled on top. If we could find a way to put down some of the cushions, wouldn't life feel a little bit easier?

Although we don't mean it to, how we respond can add to the suffering we are experiencing overall. Whilst we may not be able to completely get rid of the symptoms, we can think about how we respond to it. Our service will focus on ways which you can manage and start to reduce your secondary suffering.

The worksheets to the right will help you to think about your primary and secondary suffering, and the impact they have on your life. You may also find it useful to think about things you have tried to help manage your symptoms and the ways in which these may have been helpful and unhelpful.